The battle of the sexes

12 February 2022

9:00 AM

12 February 2022

9:00 AM

One tradition at the annual Gibraltar Masters is a high-spirited skittles match played in the evening between teams of men and women, dubbed the ‘Battle of the Sexes’. In 2020, to much amusement, the women won a playful miniature after the flamboyant 3…f5 quickly backfired: 1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bc4 f5 4 d3 fxe4 5 dxe4 Nf6 6 Ng5 Qe7 7 Bf7+ Kd8 8 Ne6+ Black resigns.

This year, Gibraltar hosted a real ‘Battle of the Sexes’ event with a £100,000 prize fund. It featured the unusual Scheveningen format where players in teams (ten women and ten men respectively) faced each member of the opposing team over ten days. The teams (with one reserve on each side) were carefully selected to ensure a balanced match. They included both Ravi Haria, England’s newest grandmaster, and Jovanka Houska, the nine-times British women’s champion, alongside 20 other nationalities with players from every continent.

The women raced out of the blocks with two 6.5-3.5 wins in the first two rounds. But by the halfway mark, the men had nearly caught up, and they carried that momentum to the finish for a narrow 53-47 victory.

Two moments caught my eye in the sixth round. In this position, the pawn on g2 looks poisoned, so White hopes to castle and launch an attack on the Black king. But Marie Sebag had seen further:

Eric Rosen–Marie Sebag (see diagram above left)

Gibraltar Battle of the Sexes, January 2022

22…Bxg2! 23 Qg5+ Kf8 24 Qxg2 Qxe5 Suddenly, White is in desperate trouble. Now if 25 Rc2 Qa1+ 26 Bd1 Re8+ 27 Ne4 Rad8 wins material, or 25 Ra2 Rac8 and the loose Be2 still precludes castling. 25 Rb5 Qc3 26 Rd5 26 O-O Rxd2 27 Qf3 offered slightly more hope, but Black should win. Nc7 27 Rxd8+ Rxd8 28 O-O Qxd2 29 Qxb7 Qxe2 30 Qxc7 Qg4+ 31 Qg3 Qxg3+ 32 hxg3 Rd3 33 Ra1 a5 34 a4 Rd4 A pawn up with a dominant rook, the rest was easy for Sebag. White resigned at move 66. Later that day, Bobby Cheng was struggling to convert his extra pawn for more than 30 moves, until the last move, 77…Bc7-d6 allowed a little trick. It calls to mind the ‘star flights’ theme, which often appeals to composers of chess problems.

Bobby Cheng–Gunay Mammadzada (see diagram above right)

Gibraltar Battle of the Sexes, January 2022

78 Rf3+! Each king flight allows a winning knight check. Retreating to e6 or g6 allows Nd3-f4+ followed by Rxc3, while 78…Kg4 79 Nf2 is mate! And finally: Ke4 79 Nf2+ Now 79…Kd4 defends the rook, but 80 Rxc3 Kxc3 81 Ne4+ picks up the bishop. So Black resigns

Puzzle 689 uses the ‘star flights’ theme. It belongs to a set of four problems: the symmetry of the position entails a different first move depending on whether the White king starts on g4 (as in the diagram), or e2, or a6 or c8.

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