- The Washington Times - Friday, July 14, 2006

Its membership included a future world champion, an American chess legend and some of the top British players of the first half of the 20th century, but the Vera Menchik Club was one club no player ever wanted to join.

Menchik, born in Moscow 100 years ago this year, was the first female chess star and the women’s world champion from 1927 until her untimely death during the London Blitz in 1944. Menchik’s father was Czech and her mother British, and she spent the bulk of the career in London.

The Menchik Club was the tongue-in-cheek name for the fraternity of male chess masters defeated by Menchik over the board during her career. The story goes that Austrian master Albert Becker came up with the “club” idea while ridiculing the decision to allow Menchik to play in a strong 1929 Carlsbad tournament. Menchik finished last but beat Becker in this individual game, making him the club’s first inductee.

Many others would follow: Dutch great Max Euwe (twice), who would go on to win the world championship in 1935; American legend Sammy Reshevsky; and British stars such as Frederick Yates, George Thomas, Henry Golombek and Sultan Khan.

Menchik studied under German great Jacques Mieses — also a member of the club — and possessed a solid positional style and a real talent for the endgame. She also was capable of flashes of tactical lightning, as she showed in a game from her 1937 women’s world title match against her great rival, Germany’s Sonja Graf-Stevenson. (Stevenson would late emigrate to the United States and win the U.S. women’s title.)

When the center opens early, as happens in this QGD, even a small loss of time like Black’s 15. Bc3 Be7?! can have large consequences. Menchik keeps her powder dry until just the right moment before firing off a devastating tactical shot.

Thus: 19. Qh3 h5 20. Rad1! (White may have taken a long look here at 20. Bxg6!? fxg6 21. Qd3, since 21…Kxg7?? 22. Nxe6+ wins at once; but Black stays in the contest after 21…Bd6! 22. Qxg6+ Qg7 23. Qxg7+ Kxg7 24. Nxe6+ Kf7 25. Nxf8 Bxf8, when her active pieces make up for the material deficit) Ng4, leading to today’s diagrammed position.

Tougher for Graf might have been 20…Qxc4, but White has some beautiful variations on tap with 21. Rd4 Qxa2 22. Rd7! Ba6 (Nxd7 23. Qxh5! echoes the game) 23. Re1 Rac8 24. Rxe7 Rxc3 25. Qxc3 Nd5 26. Nxf7!! Nxc3 (Nxe7 27. Bb3! Qa5 28. Qh8+ Kxf7 29. Bxe6+ Ke8 30. Bf7+! Kd7 [Kxf7 31. Qh7 Kf6 32. Qxe7+ Kf5 33. Qxf8+] 31. Rd1+ Kc7 32. Qxf8, winning; while 26…Rxf7 loses to 27. Re8+ Rf8 28. Qg3! Qxb2 29. Qxg6+ Qg7 30. Qxe6+ Qf7 31. Rxf8+ Kxf8 32. Qh6+ Kg8 32. Re5 also is decisive) 27. Nh6+ Kh8 28. Bxg6 Nd5 29. Rh7 mate.

With her 20th move, Black banks on 21. Qxh5 Qxh2+! 22. Qxh2 Nxh2 23. Nxe6 Nxf1 24. Nxf8 Ne3 25. fxe3 Bxf8, and White’s extra pawn may not be enough to win. But Menchik finds a startlingly beautiful deflection with 21. Rd7!!, forcing instant resignation as 21. Qxd7 22. Qxh5! Nf6 (gxh5 23. Bh7 mate) 23. Bxg6 fxg6 24. Qxg6+ Kh8 Qh7 is mate.

• • •

Aside from the living room of Hungary’s Polgar family, the greatest concentration of female chess talent on the planet today is in China, which has produced three of the last four FIDE women’s champs: Xie Jun, Zhu Chen and current titleholder Xu Yuhua.

None of the Big Three took part in the just-completed Chinese women’s national championship in Wuxi, won by WGM Li Ruofan. Still, some quality chess was played in the event, as can be seen in the fine attacking game by WFM Hou Yifan in her win over master Ju Wenjun.

Try as she might, Ju as Black never succeeds in breaking White’s grip on the critical d5-square in this Najdorf Sicilian, and by 21. Ncxd5 Bxd5 22. Nxd5 Qc5 23. g4!, White has held serve and pursues her opening advantage with admirable alacrity.

As the White king-side pawns press forward, the power of open lines is seen in variations like 28…Bxf6 (instead of Ju’s 28…h6) 29. Qg4 b5 30. Nxf6+ gxf6 31. gxf7+ Kxf7 32. Rg3 Ke7 33. Qg8 d5 34. Rg7+ Kd6 35. Rxd5+ Kc7 36. Rgxd7+ Kb6 37. Qg1+ Rc5 38. R5d6 mate.

White’s 29. Qg4 Rf7 30. Qe6! paralyzes her opponent’s game, and Ju may have missed her last defensive hope after 32. Ne3!? (simpler was 32. Rdg1 g5 33. hxg5 hxg5 34. Rh1 and Black won’t survive long), when 32…Kf8! 33. Rdg1 (Rxg6 Qxe3 34. Rdg1 Qxg1+) d5 34. Qxd5 Qd4 35. Rxg6 Qxd5 36. exd5 Rb6 at least makes White work some more.

Instead, Hou invades decisively on 32…g5 33. hxg5 fxg5 34. Rh1 d5 (Bf6 35. Rxh6! Kxh6 36. Qxf7) 35. Qxe5+ Bf6 36. Qe8! Bxb2 (desperation, but no better was 36…Be7 37. Rxh6! Rxh6 38. Nf5+ Rxf5 39. Qxe7+ Kh8 [Rf7 40. Qxg5+ Kf8 41. Qd8 mate] 40. Qd8+ Kh7 41. Qc7+ Kh8 42. Qc8+ Kg7 43. Qxf5) 37. Rxg5+!, and the Black defensive wall collapses.

The finale: 37…Rg6 (hxg5 38. Qh8+ Kg6 39. Rh6 mate) 38. Nf5+ Kf6 (Rxf5 39. Rxg6+ Kh7 39. Rhxh6 mate) Qd8+ Ke5 (Ke6 40. Qd6 mate) 40. Qxd5+, and Black gives up as mate is a couple of moves away.

Women’s World Championship Match, Semmering, Austria 1937


1. c4e612. dxc5Qa5

2. Nc3d513. Be3Bxc5

3. d4Nf614. Bd2Qc7

4. Nf3Nbd715. Bc3Be7

5. e3c616. Qe2b6

6. Bd3Be717. Ng5g6

7. 0-00-018. Qf3Bb7

8. e4dxe419. Qh3h5

9. Nxe4Nxe420. Rad1Ng4

10. Bxe4Nf621. Rd7Black

11. Bc2c5resigns

Chinese Women’s Championship, Wuxi, China, July 2006


1. e4c521. Ncxd5Bxd5

2. Nf3d622. Nxd5Qc5

3. d4cxd423. g4Rd7

4. Nxd4Nf624. Rh3Rc6

5. Nc3a625. Kb1Bd8

6. Be2e526. g5Qa7

7. Nb3Be627. g6h6

8. f4Be728. f6fxg6

9. f5Bd729. Qg4Rf7

10. Bg5Bc630. Qe6gxf6

11. Bxf6Bxf631. Rg3Kg7

12. Bc40-032. Ne3g5

13. Bd5a533. hxg5fxg5

14. Nd2Qc734. Rh1d5

15. Nc4Rd835. Qxe5+Bf6

16. Qe2Na636. Qe8Bxb2

17. h4Nb437. Rxg5+Rg6

18. Ne3Qb638. Nf5+Kf6

19. 0-0-0Rac839. Qd8+Ke5

20. a3Nxd540. Qxd5+Black


David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by e-mail at [email protected]washington times.com.

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