Lipstick over the board

Women at the men's Olympiads 1950-2012

The history of Chess Olympiads spans back to 1927, yet women's tournament was introduced only in 1957. While traditional division between men's and women's events was, and still it, predominant, technically speaking there are no "men's" Olympiad in chess, since they have always been open for every player, regardless of his or hers sex. This article thoroughly guides thru history of women's participation in the "men's olympiads". And it has never been easy for women to be successful, given there are no gender parities prescribed in chess, and all of them qualified for the national teams only because there were no stronger male players in sight.

Vera MenchikDefinitely the first woman who threw down the gauntlet to the men's world was Vera Menchik. Born from Czech father and British mother she was raised in the Soviet Union, from where she left for Great Britain. She took her first World Championship title in 1927 with 100% performance and had since outclassed her female opposition in consecutive championship tournaments. She attended many top men's tournaments, e.g. Hastings Premiers, with decent results. She was the reason for ironic calling of The Vera Menchik club where membership was acquired automatically once you stopped the clock and bitterly shook hands with Ms. Menchik. Notable members of the club were Euwe, Colle, Sultan Khan, Reshevsky, Thomas and the likes. Although she never appeared on any of the Olympiads, according to Chessmetrics she was around no. 50 in the World and no. 5 in Great Britain in her prime, so she could have been serious contender, had she only been taken into account.

We must not foget to mention Mrs. Edith Holloway, British chess player who appeared in Paris 1924 to participate in the individual olympic tournament and scored +1=2-9 not to finish last. She was 56 at that time and notably she beat Peter Potemkine, Russian expatriate living in France in penultimate round.

Chantal Chaudé de SilansYet it did not take a long time to see a women on the ring. Chantal Chaudé de Silans was already renowned for her achievements, e.g. she came in shared 5th in recent Women's World Championship. In 1950 she was reserve player for France at the Dubrovnik Olympiad, thus becoming team-mate for legendary GM Tartacover and IM Rossolimo. De Silans was very charming and attractive woman, yet her chess skills had to be appreciated: she took bronze medal in French Championship only the following year and certainly deserved her position. She would have probably gone further, yet she heroically merged top class chess with taking care of her husband and four children. The first days of the Olympiad were no good. Mme. De Silans castled long in the very beginning, but the fate was finally on her side: in round 13 she beat leading Dutch master Haije Kramer (who was strong enough to qualify to European zonals on a number of occasions) in respectable style. Please find historic game below. She led French team at the premier Women's Olympiad held in Emmen in 1957. Already in 1950 she was awarded WIM title and became iconic figure in French chess (a.o. chairman of Caïssa Paris Chess Club) until her death in 2001. She is today widely remembered as pioneer of women's chess in men's world.

Anne Marie Renoy-ChevrierA full decade must have passed as we saw the player who followed the way paved by De Silans. Madame Anne Marie Renoy-Chévrier was reserve player for Monaco in Leipzig in 1960, but she had little of Chaudé de Silans' charisma and chess skills. Berna CarrascoHer team was one of the weakest in the pool and Renoy-Chévrier herself scored a mere 1/7 without single win, despite facing obscure opposition. The third woman in the line was Chilean Berna Carrasco Araya. She was considered as chess prodigy in her native country and indeed, aged 25, won bronze medal in Women's World Championship in Buenos Aires in 1939, only behind Vera Menchik and Sonia Graf. Yet Doña Berna, who was part of the team in Havana in 1966 was unsuccessful in her first and only Olympic attempt. The following Olympiad saw Cypriot player Ismini Cababe as part of the team, where she had qualified through national championship in which she came in 9th. Not much can be added here, but she put up relatively long resistance vs former world champion GM Smyslov:

Susan GrumerSurprisingly nothing of real importance happened in the 1970s' era, even though women's chess made huge progress in terms of popularity as well as level of play. Actually we saw just three women between 1970 and 1984, all of them for Virgin Islands, and all of them taking part by coincidence: Susan Grumer was in sixth month of her pregnancy in late 1972 and came to Skopje after her husband. One of members of the team came late and Susan agreed to play a few games in place of her missing compatriot. Rani Hamid Women's participation in the US Virgin Island team in 1974 was subject to a rather amusing controversy. As there were just three players on the spot, wives of two of them (who, by the way, could hardly play chess) were asked to replace the missing ones temporarily, until the rest arrive. FIDE allowed this, even though deadline for submitting line-ups had already passed, not to mention it made the VI team be represented by seven players, one above the limit. As it happened, the VI team earned final D spot edging The Bahamas on tie-break. The latter filed official protest (claiming no further alterations are possible after line-up submission deadline), yet it was rejected. In 1984 in Thessaloniki Anna Bener, 18-year old junior played at third board for British Virgin Islands and had plus score. Later she migrated to Sweden to represent this country at many international chess events and then she quit chess to become respected doctor and mother of seven. Equally intriguing was that WFM Rani Hamid arrived to Greece as part of Bangladeshi team. She was by far the strongest female player in her country, and also six time women's national chess champion. She took part in 1984, 1988 and 1992, but without remarkable results. She won women's British Chess Championship title as much as three times, as it was open for all Commonwealth nations until 2004.

Pia CramlingMeanwhile some extremely strong chess players emerged in the Soviet Union: Nona Gaprindashvili, Maia Chiburdanidze, Nana Alexandria. While they steamrolled over female opposition easily to score long series of victories, their Elo ratings (possibly a bit underestimated until major women's rating adjustment in 1987) showed they were nowhere close to earn spot in the Soviet Union men's team; Gaprindashvili was around no. 40 in the World and no. 15 in USSR in her peak, and so was, more or less, Chiburdanidze. As the Olympiads moved to the 90s era two bright stars appeared on the horizon: GM Pia Cramling for Sweden and GM Judit Polgár for Hungary. Judit Polgár Both of them hold every kind of statistical records to this day: in terms of number of participations, points scored, percentages and most valuable performances. Pia Cramling participated on four occasions for Sweden, for the first time in 1990. Prior to this, she was leader of Swedish women's team many times, but it actually made little sense, as she was way too strong for her relatively weak team, and would contribute more as part of men's selection (in 1990 she was no. 3 among Swedish players, and 335 Elo points above the second strongest woman). In Manila she scored 75% and missed board medal by a fraction. Her notable games include wins over GM Schmidt (Poland), GM Espig (GDR), GM Blatný (Czechoslovakia), GM Arencibia (Cuba) and draw vs GM Yusupov. Here is her famous game vs IM Tsuboi (Brazil) where she finished the game with series of brilliant tactical shots.

Once Manila Olympiad is mentioned, we must keep meticulous exactitude and mark the participation of Mary McDermott for Guernsey-Jersey, who is the only one to hold 100% record, Mary McDermott yet only thanks to one game that she won by forfeit, and Lizette Hodgson, wife of GM Hodgson, the Virgin Island expatriate living in UK, who appeared in the line-up of her native country, Lizette and Julien Hodgson and was recorded in the protocol, although did not play (forfeit). Now back to Judit. From the very beginning she was set to become men's World champion one day. The overbearing Polgár father had strong belief that her playing other women is waste of time and disheartens Judit. Generously he let his three daughters lead Hungary to the Olympic gold at the Women's Olympiads in 1988 and 1990. Judit was aged 12 and 14 respectively, and in 1991 she won Hungarian men's national championship and was awarded with GM title. Nonetheless, she was not selected for the Hungarian team in 1992 (she was then no. 5 on Elo list). In 1994 she was already top rated player in Hungary and so the Hungarian Chess Federation, conflicted with the Polgár family for ages, had no choice. Judit was top board in Moscow Olympiad, yet her debut was rather disappointing compared to her potential. She scored 6½/13 (performance 2578) and in Yerevan in 1996 things were no better, as she finished with modest 6/13, again on top board, losing as much as three games with White pieces. She was World's no. 10 by that time. She came back in October 2000 in Istanbul playing board 3, where she scored impressive 10/13 (second highest points total of any player) and narrowly missed bronze medal for the team and board medal for herself. But... what goes around, comes around. The next time in Bled she was board 2 behind Lékó and the team went on to silver medals (only behind dominant Russians) and Judit herself scored 8½/12 without a single loss to win individual bronze medal too. Her memorable, old-style win vs Mamyedarov roused the home crowd and is believed to be one of most brilliant games of the tournament.

Judit had a break to take care of her children, but she was back in the team in 2008 and she is one of key members of her strong team, scoring e.g. 7½/10 in Istanbul in 2012. As for 2013, her official record accounts for 7 appearances, 48 points in 79 games, 60.8%. Median performance = 2665. Hats off! As Judit was the only Polgár sister who ever took part in men's Olympiads, Zsuzsa was around no. 7th-8th in her country, so she must have been seriously considered, hadn't Polgárs been conflicted with local federation. But Susan was actually successfully pursuing women's World Championship title and she was never really focused on entering men's Olympiads.

Throughout the 1990s the number of participating women grew, as so did the overall number of teams (1986 in Dubai was the last time when there was no single woman). Martha Fierro Baquero Marina Naira was reserve for Honduras in 1996 and talented junior Amelie Payet represented Seychelles twice, as first female player from Africa, and she played well, scoring overall 8½/15 as reserve for her team. The insular micronation has developed women's chess surprisingly well, as there were more: Petrina Valentin on top board and Dominique Furneau, both representing their homeland in 2004, and so we saw the only team in the history with two women in the make up. Antoaneta Stefanova Martha Fierro Baquero from Ecuador appeared surprisingly as part of men's selection in 1998 - she was leader of women's team as much as nine times before and after, and only once she decided to step into men's world, which may be puzzling, as she was Ecuadorian no. 17 those times, way below par. As she moved up the list (no. 5 in Ecuador in 2001) she never made it again in the men's team, although she was definitely strong enough to be selected. IM Antoaneta Stefanova, future World Champion entered very strong Bulgarian team in 2000, as she was no. 8 in her country. In fact, her consecutive Elo ratings entitled her be picked for men's team selection for next Olympiads, but she chose pursuing medals in women's section and have consequently led Bulgarian women's team since (sadly, no medals so far, but time will show).

Julia Lebel-AriasArgentina born WIM Julia Lebel-Arias was a pupil of IM Bolbochán and GM Panno and represented her homeland in numerous Women's Olympiads. She was one of strongest players in South America, winning a.o. four national women's championships in 1970s. Then she married French player and arbiter Patrick Lebel and moved on to France. She was successful there as well, she won French women's national championship and was key part of the national team. She even managed to qualify to the interzonals a couple of times. As the couple moved to Monaco they were both selected for the national team in 2002 (Patrick on board #4 and Julia as a reserve) and her score was better than that of her husband. Eva Moser Julia (but not her husband!) was back in the team in 2004 and 2006. In 2012, once Monaco decided to send women's team as well, she was selected for board three. By the way, 2004 Olympiad in Calvià was somehow unique - not only as much as six women participated (a record that was later equalized, yet not beaten), but four of them were playing on top board. Even more - for the first time two women met in one game: round 11, Bermuda-Seychells, board #1, P.Valentin-Z.Kovacova 0-1. The winner of this game Zuzana Kovacova was born in Slovakia and then moved to Bermuda to lead the men's team in 2004 and 2006 (she was then Bermuda's no. 2 according to Elo lists). Another top board was IM Eva Moser, who lead Austrian team and she definitely withstood the pressure. Viktorija Čmilytė Eva has been leading Austrian player since (incl. men's national title in 2006!) but she decided to focus on Women's Olympiads and did not enter men's competition anymore (even though she was around 200 points stronger than some members of men's team on one occassion). Well-known Lithuanian GM Viktorija Čmilytė (rated 2500+) was board three for her native country in 2010 and displayed relatively poor play as for her level. In 2012 she was back part of women's selection, although actually her Elo was higher than that of any member of men's team! Scottish GM Ketevan Arakhamia-Grant was one of World's strongest female players in late 1980s and early 1990s. Ketevan Arakhamia-Grant She qualified for candidates tournaments in the women's World Championship cycle twice. In 1988 she was part of Soviet women's team in Thessaloniki and registered famous 12/12 record. After collapse of the Soviet Union she was set to represent her native Georgia four times, with respectable results. She contributed to two Olympic wins in 1994 and 1996 and bronze medal in 1998 (she was also awarded with bronze medals for individual board performances on a couple of occasions). In 2007 she decided to play under Scottish banner, where she had lived for more than decade. As she turned out to be one of top rated players in her new homeland (and over 200 Elo stronger than her husband!) she was selected to represent Scotland at Dresden Olympiad in 2008 and she scored remarkable 6½/9. She beat GM Halkias in the last round after sharp, tactical battle for overall score 2605 and finally got her missing GM norm.

Least but not least, we would like to mention a couple of talented masters of Asian origin, who showed impressive display throughout recent years. Anya Corke Notably WGM Anya Corke, talented youngster was selected for Hong Kong men's team in 2004. Playing on board four, the then untitled 14-year old Anya steamrolled her opposition to 9 wins (more than anyone else in Calvià) and 4 loses, beating many 2200s and 2300s on her way to the success. Anya's stunning Elo performance 2316 (almost 300 above her rating) was enough to get international applause and earn WIM norm. See her win over FM Pacheco (2320) below. As she progressed the following years she was top board for her native country and achieved highly esteemed results incl. draw vs GM K.Georgiev and win over IM Simutowe. Zhu Chen In 2012 we saw Anya at top board of England women's team. GM Zhu Chen of China was World's leading player and won multiple medals for her country (incl. team gold in 1998, 2000 and 2002 and many board medals). In mid 2000s the married Qatari GM Al-Modiahki and soon went on to represent her husband's nation. In 2006 she was board three for Qatar and scored impressive 7/13, defeating a.o. GM Hjartarson of Iceland. She did even better in Khanty-Mansiysk where she registered 7/11 at board three (effectively board two, as her husband, top seed for Qatar, did not arrive). In 2006 Jeslin Tay Li Jin was reserve for Singapore and scored 2½/4. On her way she beat IM Grigorian, rated equal 400 points above, to cause biggest upset all-time. Prior to that, she drew WIM Knarik Mouradian, Armenian born member of Lebanese team. Knarik was champion of Lebanon both in women's and men's division. Chinese IM Li Ruofan migrated to Singapore with her husband GM Zhang Zhong and both represented their new homeland in Istanbul, Li Ruofan scored 4/10 at board three.

So this is it! The text is big, as so is women's contribution to the Olympic games. Certainly there are more women who could possibly mess up. For example Anna Muzičuk, rated 2600+, is no. 3 in Slovenia and is certainly good enough to enter men's Olympiad, but she consequently captains women's team. GM Humpy of India, GM Hou Yifan of China or IM Batkhuyag Munguntuul of Mongolia are among top rated players in their federations too, and we are likely to see them in the future. Given that more and more young women focus on pursuing chess career on equal rights with men we expect the trend to be continued.

Wojciech Bartelski

Statistical appendix

  • A total of 34 female players participated in men's Olympiads on 54 occasions since 1950; as there were 6,035 players overall, women account for mere .006 of the pool. Of these 12 were from Europe, 7 from Asia (incl. 2 Arab and 1 from Oceania), 3 from Africa and 12 from the Americas (8 Latin America+Carribbean and 4 from South America).
  • Women represented 24 different nations, the record held by the Virgin Islands - 6 women (of this figure 4 were from US Virgin Islands, 1 from British Virgin Islands and 1 from united VI team), Seychelles - 3, Bolivia, Monaco and Singapore - 2 each. Only once there were two women in one team (Seychelles 2004).
  • Women's overall score is 210/463 (including three games between themselves), percentage 45.4%, with 148 wins, 124 draws and 191 losses.
  • Judit Polgár was member of Hungarian team to take silver at Bled Olympiad, she was awarded bronze medal for her individual performance on board 2 too. These two are the only medals ever taken by women.
  • Of nine women to take part in more than one Olympiad seven have plus score (Cramling scored 24/38 which makes 63.2 - highest among all of them).
  • Biggest upset: Jeslin Tay (2011) — IM Grigorian (2411) 1-0, Turin 2006.
  • Out of 54 appearances the board distribution was as follows: board one - 8 times (2x Polgár, 2x Corke, 2x Kovacova, Moser, Valentin), board two - 7 times, board three - 11 times, board four - 8 times, reserve boards - 20 times.

no. ttl name team ap years pts gms + = - %
1. GM Polgár, Judit HUN 7 1994-1996, 2000-2002, 2008-2012 48 79 31 34 14 60.8
2. GM Cramling, Pia SWE 4 1990-1992, 1996, 2000 24 38 18 12 8 63.2
3. WGM Corke, Anya HKG 3 2004-2008 18½ 35 15 7 13 52.9
4. GM Arakhamia-Grant, Ketevan SCO 3 2008-2012 15 28 10 10 8 53.6
5. WIM Lebel-Arias, Julia MNC 3 2002-2006 13 29 10 6 13 44.8
6. WIM Hamid, Rani BAN 3 1984, 1988, 1992 32 4 11 17 29.7
7. GM Zhu Chen QAT 2 2006, 2010 14 24 8 12 4 58.3
8. Kovacova, Zuzana BER 2 2004-2006 13½ 26 11 5 10 51.9
9. Payet, Amelie SEY 2 1998-2000 15 7 3 5 56.7
10. Fierro Baquero, Martha ECU 1 1998 13 5 1 7 42.3
11. WIM Steil-Antoni, Fiona LUX 1 2010 5 8 3 4 1 62.5
12. GM Čmilytė, Viktorija LTU 1 2010 5 9 4 2 3 55.6
13. WIM Mouradian, Knarik LIB 1 2006 4 8 2 4 2 50.0
14. IM Li Ruofan SIN 1 2012 4 10 3 2 5 40.0
15. IM Moser, Eva AUT 1 2004 4 10 3 2 5 40.0
16. WCM Mody, Ila ISV 1 2008 4 11 4 0 7 36.4
17. IM Stefanova, Antoaneta BUL 1 2000 3 7 2 2 3 42.9
18. Tay Li Jin, Jeslin SIN 1 2006 4 2 1 1 62.5
19. Bener, Anna IVB 1 1984 4 2 1 1 62.5
20. WIM Estrada, Lucia BOL 1 2010 3 1 1 1 50.0
21. Chaudé de Silans, Chantal FRA 1 1950 6 1 1 4 25.0
22. McDermott, Mary GBG 1 1992 1 1 1 0 0 100.0
23. WFM Luna, Raisa BOL 1 2008 1 6 1 0 5 16.7
24. Renoy-Chevrier, Anne Marie MNC 1 1960 1 7 0 2 5 14.3
25. Valentin, Petrina SEY 1 2004 ½ 10 0 1 9 5.0
26. Bushnaq, Renata ISV 1 1974 0 1 0 0 1 0.0
27. Hodgson, Lizette ISV 1 1992 0 1 0 0 1 0.0
28. Fyfe-Reussner, Karen ISV 1 1974 0 2 0 0 2 0.0
29. Naira, Marina HON 1 1996 0 4 0 0 4 0.0
30. Carrasco, Berna CHI 1 1966 0 4 0 0 4 0.0
31. Furneau, Dominique SEY 1 2004 0 5 0 0 5 0.0
32. Grumer, Susan VIR 1 1972 0 5 0 0 5 0.0
33. Cababe, Ismini CYP 1 1968 0 7 0 0 7 0.0
34. Manuel, Elizabeth PLW 1 2012 0 11 0 0 11 0.0
35. Nguyễn Thị Kim Ngân VIE 0 0 0 0 0 0 0.0
36. Hodge, Debra IVB 0 0 0 0 0 0 0.0
37. Kayle, Christine PLE 0 0 0 0 0 0 0.0

1950 (1) Chaudé de Silans (FRA)
1952 (0)
1954 (0)
1956 (0)
1958 (0)
1960 (1) Renoy-Chevrier (MNC)
1962 (0)
1964 (0)
1966 (1) Carrasco (CHI)
1968 (1) Cababe (CYP)
1970 (0)
1972 (1) Grumer (VIR)
1974 (2) Bushnaq (ISV), Fyfe-Reussner (ISV)
1976 (0)
1978 (0)
1980 (0)
1982 (0)
1984 (2) WFM Hamid (BAN), Bener (IVB)
1986 (0)
1988 (1) WIM Hamid (BAN)
1990 (1) GM Cramling (SWE)
1992 (4) GM Cramling (SWE), WIM Hamid (BAN), McDermott (GBG), Hodgson (ISV)
1994 (1) GM Polgár (HUN)
1996 (3) GM Polgár (HUN), GM Cramling (SWE), Naira (HON)
1998 (3) Fierro Baquero (ECU), Payet (SEY)
2000 (4) GM Polgár (HUN), GM Cramling (SWE), IM Stefanova (BUL), Payet (SEY)
2002 (2) GM Polgár (HUN), Lebel-Arias (MNC)
2004 (6) IM Moser (AUT), Lebel-Arias (MNC), Kovacova (BER), Corke (HKG), Valentin (SEY), Furneau (SEY)
2006 (6) GM Zhu Chen (QAT), WGM Corke (HKG), WIM Lebel-Arias (MNC), WIM Mouradian (LIB), Kovacova (BER), Tay Li Jin (SIN)
2008 (5) GM Polgár (HUN), IM Arakhamia-Grant (SCO), WGM Corke (HKG), WFM Luna (BOL), WCM Mody (ISV)
2010 (6) GM Polgár (HUN), GM Arakhamia-Grant (SCO), GM Zhu Chen (QAT), GM Čmilytė (LTU), WIM Steil-Antoni (LUX), WIM Estrada (BOL)
2012 (4) GM Polgár (HUN), GM Arakhamia-Grant (SCO), IM Li Ruofan (SIN), Manuel (PLW)

The article was written and compiled by Wojciech Bartelski on a basis of archival data. The author made his best to provide the highest quality of data and most complete and accurate list of female players. Although the data was verified in numerous ways, minor mistakes might still be there. There is no copyright, but please cite the source.