One hundred years ago on the evening of 6 February 1918 – due to the pressure of Emmeline Pankhurst‘s inspirational “shoulder to shoulder” campaign – the British Parliament passed the Representation of the People Act, affording some 8.5 million women over the age of 30 the right to vote for the first time. It was only partial suffrage, but it was a monumental victory that paved the way for universal gender parity. Two years later, in 1920, the 19th Amendment was enacted also allowing women in the US to vote for the first time.
This rise in gender parity also mirrored the rise of women playing competitive chess. In 1927 FIDE, the game’s governing body, created a Women’s World Championship title – it was won by Vera Menchik, who went on to become a 7-time undefeated champion before her untimely death in 1944 following a German air raid on Kent, England. Menchik was also the first woman to play in a competitive international tournament against the top male players of the day.
The most celebrated woman player of all-time is unquestionably Hungary’s Judit Polgar – and at the same time as Polgar was burgeoning a name for herself, there was also Sweden’s Pia Cramling, who became the first Western female player to attain the full grandmaster title. In 1986/87, Cramling became the first woman to play in the professional German Bundesliga. And much like Polgar, she represented Sweden in four open Olympiad teams between 1990 and 2000.
Nowadays many of the top international opens encourage more women players to compete amongst top-rated grandmasters by offering lucrative prizes for the top-placed female player – and one tournament that arguably does more than any other is the recently-concluded Tradewise Gibraltar Chess Festival. And although Pia Cramling is now 54, she’s still a very formidable fighter at the chessboard, finishing undefeated on 6½/10 to be the popular winner of the £15,000 ($21,000) women’s prize in the Tradewise Gibraltar Masters.
GM Pia Cramling – GM Tamas Banusz
Tradewise Gibraltar Masters, (4)
1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.cxd5 cxd5 The Slav Defence is an easy-to-play system for players of all levels looking for a reliable Black defense to the Queen’s Pawn opening. The problem for a higher-rated player is that, with the Exchange variation, the sterile symmetrical set-up on both wings makes it difficult to avoid a lot of draws. And to try to avoid this, Black has to take risks that can easily backfire – as happens in this game, as Banusz, the higher-rated by 200 points, tries to force something that isn’t there. 4.Nc3 Nf6 5.Bf4 Nc6 6.e3 Bf5 7.Qb3 Na5 8.Qa4+ Bd7 Often seen here with grandmasters looking for the rest day is the “short GM-draw special” of repeating the position with 8…Nc6 9.Qb3 Na5 10.Qa4+ Nc6 11.Qb3 Na5 etc. If you are higher-rated by 200 points as Banusz is, then you avoid this and play 8…Bd7 – but the drawback with the bishop retreat is that White removes the bishop from its most active square on f5. 9.Qc2 e6 10.Nf3 Be7 11.h3 Ne4 12.Bd3 f5 13.Ne5 Rc8 14.0-0 0-0 15.Rac1 Nc6 16.Qe2 White wants to avoid …Nb4 exchanging off the light-squared bishop. 16…Nxe5 17.Bxe5 Qa5 18.Bxe4 dxe4 19.Rc2 Black has the two bishops – but White is planning Rfc1 and a mass exchange of rooks down the c-file, leaving nothing much in the position between the two sides. 19…b5 20.a3 Qb6 21.Rfc1 Qb7 Black can’t be too hasty here in pushing forward his queenside pawns. After 21…a5 22.d5! and Black’s pawns are beginning to look just a little weak and vulnerable. So to avoid this, Black defends the d5 square from b7. 22.Na2! A very finely timed strategic retreat from Cramling. 22…Rxc2 Black is forced into the mass exchange of rooks down the c-file, leaving a very drawish position in its wake. And if 22…a5 23.Rc7! suddenly White has gained an advantageous foothold in the heart of Black’s position. 23.Rxc2 Rc8 24.Qd2 Bd8 Banusz is fishing for more than there is in the position. And having a 200 point advantage over most opponent’s, it could well have worked for him – but Cramling’s wealth of experience more than belies her 200 point rating deficit. Instead, he should have played the safer option of 24…Rxc2 25.Qxc2 Qc6 26.Qxc6 Bxc6 27.Bc7 h5 28.Kf1 g5 29.Ke2 where Black has a “little something” with the bishop-pair – but even here, there’s not much to work with, and White will get in Nb4 with excellent prospects of successfully holding this position for the draw. 25.Nc1! The knight is heading for the wonderful outpost on c5 to compliment the strong bishop on e5. 25…Rxc2 26.Qxc2 b4 27.axb4 Qxb4 28.Nb3 Bh4? With the rooks exchanged, Banusz had let his position drift a little – and now he’s simply ‘cracked’ trying to bluff his opponent that his bishop-pair could well be threatening something that isn’t there. But Cramling soon spots why 28…Bh4 is a big error. Instead, Black had to accept that 28…Bb6 29.Nc5! Bxc5 30.Qxc5 Qxc5 31.dxc5 a5 32.h4 and the opposite color bishops will lead to a draw. 29.Qc7! Cramling pounces, and her queen combining with the power of the Be5 makes for a potent force! 29…f4 Forced; the only way to stave off a mate on g7 – but it comes at a huge price. 30.Bxf4 h6 31.Qb8+ More clinical was 31.Qxd7 Qxb3 32.Be5 Bf6 33.Qe8+ Kh7 34.Bxf6 gxf6 35.Qf7+ Kh8 36.Qxf6+ Kg8 37.Qg6+ Kf8 38.Qxh6+ etc with an easily won Q+P ending – but Cramling takes the “safe” route to victory by first exchanging queens, thus hopefully avoiding any lurking threats of the Black queen finding a repetition. 31…Qxb8 32.Bxb8 Be7 What else is there in this hopeless position? If 32…a6 33.Nc5 and the knight can pick which of the pawns to capture to go two pawns up. 33.Bxa7 Ba4 34.Nd2 Bc2 35.Bc5 Bd8 36.Nc4 Bd3 37.b3 Bc7 38.f3 Kf7 39.fxe4 Bxe4 40.Bd6 Bd8 41.b4 Ke8 42.Be5 Bd5 43.Nb2 Kf7 44.Bd6 Ke8 45.Nd3 Bc4 46.Nc5 Bb6 47.Ne4 Bd3 48.Nc3 Bd8 49.Kf2 Kd7 50.Bf8 Bf6 51.Na4 Ke8 52.Bd6 Bd8 53.Nc5 The game is all over bar the shouting now, as the knight returns to the powerful c5 outpost – the best Black can hope for here is some sort of ‘Hail Mary’ draw with the bishops of opposite color ending. 53…Bc4 54.Be5 g6 55.Bd6 h5 56.Kf3 Bb6 57.Na4 Bd8 58.Nc5 Bb6 59.e4 Bxc5 60.bxc5 Kd7 61.h4! Black get’s the opposite color bishop ending – but there’s little hope of a saving draw, as Cramling calmly fixes her opponent’s pawns before using her mobile central pawn unit as a decoy to win. 61…Kc6 62.Kf4 Bf1 63.Kg5 Bxg2 64.Kxg6 Bf3 The only hope, as after 64…Bxe4+ 65.Kxh5 White will easily win with passed pawns on both wings of the board. 65.Kg5 Be2 66.Bg3 Bf3 67.Bh2 Be2 68.Bg1 Bf3 69.Bf2 Be2 70.Kf6 Bf3 71.d5+! [see diagram] With …Bf3, Banusz prevents the simple White win of Ke5 and pushing on with d5+ etc – but Cramling’s king is so far up the board now, she finds a nice way to win by sacrificing a pawn to make a powerful passer in the e-pawn. 71…exd5 72.e5 d4 Black has to try jettisoning the d-pawn, otherwise White’s c-pawn plays an influential part in the proceedings after 72…Kd7 73.e6+ Ke8 74.c6 d4 75.c7 Bb7 76.Bxd4 Bc8 77.Bb6 Kf8 78.e7+ Ke8 79.Bc5 Be6 80.Kg5 Bg4 81.Kg6! putting Black in zugzwang winning the h5-pawn. 73.Bxd4 Kd5 74.Bf2 Bg4 75.c6! Black can’t stop one of the passed pawns winning the bishop. 75…Bh3 76.c7 Bg4 77.Bg3 1-0 Black resigns, faced with 77…Be6 78.Ke7 Bf5 79.Kd8 winning the bishop and an easy win.