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#GibChess Battle of the Sexes Chess Tournament: Round 1

Main photo by Johnny Bugeja. Photos in text by John Saunders.

by John Saunders

Round one of the #GibChess Battle of the Sexes Tournament, held at the Gibraltar Garrison Library on Monday 24 January, got off to a pulsating start as the team of women’s players, dubbed ‘Team Pia’ after their captain, GM Pia Cramling, scored a big win over ‘Team Sabino,’ as the men’s team is now known, with four of the ten women’s players scoring wins against their male adversaries, with only one male player able to win in reply.

The men’s team thus find themselves 31⁄2-61⁄2 down after the first round, with the consolatory thought that they have yet to handle the white pieces. They will hope to come roaring back in round two when colours are reversed. Even so, three points is a significant deficit to overturn in the space of one visit to the chessboard and they will feel the pressure.

The first game to finish was Zhansaya Abdumalik versus Andrés Merario Alarcón. As her female rivals discovered in May/June of last year, when she won the FIDE Women’s Grand Prix tournament held in the Caleta Hotel in Gibraltar with a tournament performance in excess of 2700, Abdumalik is a formidable adversary but the Spanish IM, drafted into the side as a last-minute replacement for Gillian Bwalya (still on the way from Zambia to the Rock - he has since arrived) was up to the task and stood his ground well.

Out of a Giuoco Piano opening, he dreamt up a novel manoeuvre to regroup his pieces and secure a comfortable position in which White had no clear way to make progress.

Another draw followed as French Marie Sebag drew with Leandro Krysa of Argentina. This began with a variation of the Caro-Kann named after a Gibraltar regular, Nigel Short. Krysa achieved a solid position from the opening and was at least equal when the draw was agreed on move 20.

Olga Girya was the first to score a win shortly afterwards after exploiting an early inaccuracy by Joe Gallagher. Gallagher is one of the most experienced King’s Indian Defence players around but the early and unusual deviation 6 Be3 took him into lesser known territory and 8...Qe7 was a serious inaccuracy. By the time he blundered with 19...Be8 his position was already close to lost.

Marsel Efroimski’s game with Eric Rosen started with a Bb5 Sicilian and then developed into an unusual queenless configuration in which White had two dim knights on the rim on the queenside and Black two pairs of doubled pawns on the kingside. Rosen’s position seemed fine as was his subsequent pawn sacrifice, but the position suddenly turned sour on him and White consolidated her extra pawn. Worse for Black was the loss of a further pawn and, when faced with three connected passed pawns, he was forced to resign, increasing Team Pia’s lead to two points.

The one man who hoisted the tattered male standard on day one of the inter-gender stand-off was Balazs Csonka of Hungary who defeated Jovi Houska of England. The game opened with a Queen’s Gambit Accepted and remained in known territory until move 15 when White tried Nd6. This proved to be flawed and was exploited by an immediate Na4 which exposed White to some serious problems on the dark squares. White gave up a pawn but her positional problems mounted and proved insoluble.

Antoaneta Stefanova’s game against Bobby Cheng started with a King’s Indian Attack and remained fairly even throughout. Eventually the pieces came off and there was nothing to play for when the draw was agreed on move 32.

Gunnay Mammadzada tried an offbeat but known variation (10 Re2) against Husain Aziz’s Berlin Ruy Lopez. Another cagey encounter ensued which was drawn after White evaded a slightly awkward pin on her knight and exchanged some material.

Newly minted English GM Ravi Haria defending an exchange line of the French against former women’s world champion Mariya Muzychuk. Queens came off early and a gambited pawn was returned to reach a fairly comfortable endgame.

That just the games of the two team captains, who fought through to the end of the round but with contrasting fortunes. Sabino Brunello seemed to be faring quite well against Irine Sukandar’s orthodox Ruy Lopez opening and might conceivably have been better placed but for a careless 22...Qa7 move which allowed White to strike immediately with 23 Bd5! From that point Black’s game disintegrated rapidly. Black made a partial recovery before a further error obliged him to resign.

Last to finish was the game between Pia Cramling and Bilel Bellahcene. The opening was a cross between a Nimzo-English and a Nimzo-Indian but looked fairly orthodox in structure despite its lack of ‘book’ corroboration. Black gave up a pawn for counterplay which might have worked but an inaccurate follow-up which left him a pawn down for very little. It still looked hard to win for White but she found an ingenious trick which deprived her opponent’s knight of feasible moves near the middle of the board. There might have been a way out but Black failed to find it and was lost.

Round one was exactly the sort of entertaining and enterprising chess envisaged when the idea for the tournament was dreamt up by organiser Brian Callaghan. Team Pia have thrown down a strong challenge with this 6½-3½ scoreline. Will Team Sabino rise to the challenge when they get their first go with the white pieces?

The best way to find out is to watch the show at 1500 CET every afternoon.

Incidentally, kudos to Lawrence Trent who singlehandedly manned the microphone for the first part of round one, and huge credit also to the intrepid and unflappable Irina Bulmaga for responding to a last-minute invitation to cross Europe to occupy the seat beside Lawrence for the second half of the round. Further good news is that Gillian Bwalya has completed his long and trip across Africa to join the men’s team, while chief arbiter Ana Srebrnic will also soon be joining us after recovering from Coronavirus.

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