Danny is back with his thoughts on a diverse bunch of current topics including the Gashimov Memorial, women’s chess, Viktor Korchnoi and Muhammed Ali!
How do women chess players compare to men? I think the question is worth asking because it’s an interesting one. Recently we’ve had some controversy with comments by Nigel Short and Sergey Tiviakov getting some stick - their views were regarded as sexist by many. Nevertheless it’s clear that women play chess slightly different to men. Their brains work differently. Perhaps not much differently, but differently.
In my experience the fairer species tend to be very good CALCULATORS. They are good ATTACKING PLAYERS. They are not so strong on UNDERSTANDING. But these are generalizations of course. Some women have good understanding and not great calculating skills. Some women are good at all of these things, like Hou Yifan and Judit Polgar, for example.
Women also for me have better temperaments. They are calmer. They are not so competitive as men, so therefore I think can often handle the ups and downs of a game much better. On the other hand that lack of competitive desire can sometimes be a downfall. I don’t think that women players are as good defensively as they are in an attacking sense. If I have an attack or an initiative against a women player, I’ve nearly always won because they don’t fight as hard. But playing against other men, it’s a different story.
On the other hand, if a female player gets an advantage against you, you’re in trouble. Their equable nature means they don’t get so nervous so are more likely than a male player of roughly the same strength, to nurse that advantage home.
Hou Yifan is by far the best female player around. Maria Muzychuk and others might get as much attention because of the glamour factor, but Hou Yifan is the boss in women’s chess at the moment. She’s simply much stronger than the other girls. However recently she has gone through a tougher time in men-only events.
If we can trace that loss against Mamedov to any one move, then it was perhaps this slightly faulty Qa4 move in the opening. If I could give Hou some advice it would be to not go for so much in the opening. She has excellent middlegame skills and can just outplay most people later on.
Just look at the following game as an example, where she completely outplays her opponent from the recent world championship match.
Can Hou improve? I’m not so sure, because like most Chinese players she’s already been trained to a high degree and I’m sure she works very hard on the game already. She can still tighten up her game though in ways that I’ve already indicated. She doesn’t need to improve anyway to maintain her dominance over the other female players, but needs a significant step up to challenge the top males you would think. That leaves another interesting question: will we ever see a female world champion?
I certainly think we could do in future, because as I said I don’t think there are any strength differences between men and women, just stylistic ones. The main reason why we’ve never seen a female world champion is because there have simply been a lot more men who play chess than women. There’s no intrinsic reason why men should be stronger than women at chess.
It’s the same reason why Russia have had several world champions in the modern era but England have never had any. Russia simply has a much bigger population than England. Ok you could point out Norway as an example, but there are exceptions to every rule. Now we see much more coaching in schools and as a matter of course many more girls taking up the game, I think that we might see a much bigger percentage of girl players playing at a high level in future.
I certainly hope we see more girls playing, because English women’s chess is in a dire state. Not so much the standard but just the percentage of girls who are playing chess now.
Turn up to any tournament in the UK and you are lucky if you get even a handful of women chess players and some get none at all. That can hardly be a healthy thing. I think a lot of promising girl players are turned off by the thought of staying on and playing chess into adulthood by the fact that chess is dominated by male players. They also reach a stage where they start going to parties and going to uni and stuff like that, and the thought of hanging out with all these sexist and boorish male chess players (like Gormally) loses it’s appeal.
Something needs to be done to attract more girl players to carry on playing chess. Hopefully a player like Akshaya Kalaiyalahan, who seems so promising and can go on to great things, can inspire others to do the same. Because at the moment it’s far too big a difference between men and women in this country.
The winner of the Gashimov memorial this year was Mamedyarov, who defeated the long time leader Caruana in a play-off. I wonder if Caruana is starting to develop some sort of complex about finishing off tournaments now. Although these might seem harsh words about a guy who recently won the US Championships, it’s easy to forget he was in a position to win the candidates recently as well, and couldn’t quite finish.
I can hardly talk as I’ve failed to finish off several British Championships I could have won, however the expectations of Caruana are far greater than a patzer like me and he might just begin to wonder if the Candidates left some mental scars.
Certainly the most important game was his round eight game against Mamedyarov and it featured a quite remarkable moment in the early middlegame.
Two real icons passed away this week. Muhammad Ali, perhaps one of the greatest figures of our times, and the other being Viktor Korchoi. In my view Korchnoi will be best remembered for a match he lost - the match in the Philipines against Karpov.
Apparently this match was played in a oppressively humid atmosphere, and the tension off the board was matched on it. This was a seriously unfriendly match where both sides tried to outdo each other in trying to unnerve the opposition.
Kasparov often said how playing Karpov was really the making of him as a chessplayer, and I think to an extent you could say the same with Karpov, that playing all those matches with Korchnoi toughened him up. That’s because Korchnoi was just such a tough and combative character.
He spend his formative years surviving the siege of Leningrad where you’d have to scrap by your wits to survive. Nothing he could encounter in the chess world could frighten him. Korchnoi really gave Karpov a fright in Baguio city. It wasn’t quite like that fight that occurred a few years earlier, a thriller and a killer in manila, but there were some incredibly tense and exciting moments.
Like Ali, Korchnoi was no angel. He also in his later years aquired a reputation for belligerence and intolerence. I recall Joe Gallagher, who played on the same team for him for Switzerland, telling me about how Korchnoi would come up to him during the games and tell him what insult he was going to say to his opponent after the game.
This gave an insight to a part of his character that wasn’t particularly pleasant. Perhaps he felt the harsh circumstances of his life gave him some excuse for his behaviour, or perhaps he didn’t care. Either way if you are sitting there playing one of your heroes, and all he is doing is thinking about what clever way he is going to insult you after the game, I think that’s pretty sad. Your estimation of him is automatically going to go down after the game.
I think a better influence Korchnoi had on the game of chess was to show how you could maintain a lengthy career and play at a high standard into old age, even in the world of modern chess. I used to think that players would be washed up once they reached their early forties but Korchnoi was a living refutuation of that.
In fact he achieved his best results in his late forties and early fifties. A lot of that is down to motivation. He had the kind of personality that meant he was always pushing himself forward, afraid of accepting the welcoming pastures of fading mediocrity too early. You see that in English chess as well, that players like Mark Hebden and Keith Arkell are following in Korchnoi’s footsteps and winning tournaments even well into their fifties.
The lessons we can draw from Ali’s life are in some ways similar. Here was a man highly motivated to draw his own impression onto the world. He believed he was GREAT, he said he was GREAT and so it was. I think if you go around in life thinking that people are better than you, that you really can’t achieve much unless you get lucky, then you probably won’t amount to much. But if you just dream, if you aspire to be something greater than your sum of parts, then indeed you might just achieve some wonderful. That was the lesson that Ali taught us.
Danny Gormally is a talented English Grandmaster. He lives in the bustling market town of Alnwick, somewhere near Scotland.
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