Over-the-board chess has returned in impressive style to Moscow’s historic Central Chess Club this week.The building and its elegant playing hall, once the hub of the Soviet chess empire which dominated the game for half a century, is hosting the Russian men’s and women’s championships and the emergence of a new teenage star.
Polina Shuvalova, aged 19, won her first six rounds in the women’s championship and is set to battle for the title in Saturday’s penultimate round with the current world No 2, Alexandra Goryachkina, 21, who is unbeaten but 1.5 points behind. So far Shuvalova’s best game has been her tactical slugfest with Alina Kashlinskaya, top woman at Isle of Man 2018.
Shuvalova’s performance has a wider significance for global women’s chess, which has received a huge status boost from Anya Taylor-Joy’s role as the fictional Beth Harmon in The Queen’s Gambit, plus the much acclaimed online commentaries by Judit Polgar, who is already established as the best woman player of all time.
USSR/Russia was No 1 in women’s chess for 45 years until China took over in the mid-1990s, while Polgar played only in open events against men. Hou Yifan, 26, the all-time No 2, was at the top for a decade but recently became a university professor and now plays less.
Hou’s comeback at Danzhou last week featured a smooth win where her bishops and central passed pawns outwitted the runner-up’s rooks, but two defeats marred her overall result.
China’s Ju Wenjun is world champion, though ranked only No 4, while India’s No 3, Humpy Koneru, favourite for the women’s Grand Prix at Gibraltar next month, is also in the mix. Yet Shuvalova, the youngest in the top 20 and already a triple junior world champion at under‑18 and under‑20 levels, looks the player to follow. Dominance in women’s chess tends to last for decades, so the early 2020s could see Russia back on top thanks to its young duo.
What of Magnus Carlsen? The world champion is online at 5pm on Friday as the Norwegian, whose 30th birthday birthday celebrations on 30 November were marred by his loss to Wesley So in the Skilling Open final, takes on France’s world No 5, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, in a semi-final of the chess.com speed championship. The format is 90 minutes of 5/1 blitz, 60 minutes of 3/1 blitz and 30 minutes of 1/1 bullet.
If he scores the expected win, Carlsen will face his old rival, Hikaru Nakamura, who narrowly defeated So in a semi-final watched by a record audience of around 40,000. It seemed ominous for Nakamura as it was also his birthday, his 33rd, but he squeezed past his US rival by tieing after the two blitz sections and winning the bullet.
Hungary’s Richard Rapport won the men’s event in Danzhou ahead of China’s world No 3, Ding Liren, and was also the beneficiary of an offbeat record. Veselin Topalov and Rapport were in the process of halving out quickly with two rounds to go, until the Bulgarian, planning Qd8xQd1+, instead landed the queen on d2 where it could be taken by any of Rapport’s queen, bishop and king!
The Danzhou incident echoes Carlsen’s mouse slip against Ian Nepomniachtchi in the first round of the Skilling Open. Players do not enjoy winning through such an accident, and it could be time for a special rule for elite tournaments that allows, say, one takeback per game and a maximum of three per tournament where the arbiter is satisfied that a mouse slip is the reason. Additional safeguards like no takebacks with less than a minute on either clock would be needed, but it seems to be a simple and workable innovation, an online version of saying “j’adoube” before adjusting a piece in an over the board game.
Meanwhile Michael Adams, the England No 1, will be top seed for the online British Championship, whose qualifying rounds start on Friday evening. Entries are accepted until 7 pm Friday.
3701: 1 Ra3! b4 2 Ra4! b3 3 Rh4! Kxh4 4 Nf3 mate.