A nagging question over the years has been: Why aren't there more good players who are women? Since the game’s governing body, Fide, began ranking players more than 40 years ago, only one, Hungary’s Judit Polgar, broke through the glass ceiling to make her way into the top 10 and also qualifying as a ‘candidate’ to challenge for the world title.
Many have suggested that women do not have the psychological makeup (meaning aggressiveness) or intellectual capacity to play high-level chess. But one scientific study from back in 2013, Sex Differences in Intellectual Performances, by Massachusetts psychologists Christopher F. Chabris and Mark E. Glickman, claimed that this was not necessarily true. They concluded that a likely reason for the dearth of good women players was that not enough of them played competitive chess.
Moreover, chess educators observe that, in very general terms, girls appear to be just as interested and as good at the game as boys until early adolescence, when they tend to find other interests. Again, that’s not about cleverness or competitiveness. But when girls do want to become competitive at chess, invariably they let their results do all the talking.
In our previous column, we reported on 14-year-old IM Awonder Liang dramatically coming from behind to capture the top prize at the recent 2017 U.S. Junior Championship held at Rex Sinquefield’s Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis (CCSCSL). But also running simultaneously was the 2017 U.S. Girls' Junior Championship, and the CCSCSL is an impressive arena to showcase and support our game’s future stars - however unlike Liang, in the Girls’ championship, there was a runaway winner.
The star turn proved to be 14-year-old Akshita Gorti, from Chantilly, VA, who dominated from start to finish. She led the pack by 1½ points with two rounds to go, and sealed the deal by comfortably drawing her final two games to cruise to victory, going on to take home not only the girls' junior title but also the top prize of $3,000.
2017 US Girls’ Junior Championship
1. WIM Akshita Gorti 7/9; 2. WCM Maggie Feng 5½; 3-5. WIM Emily Nguyen, WCM Thalia Cervantes Landeiro, WIM Annie Wang 5; 6. WFM Rachel Ulrich 4½; 7. WFM Apurva Virkud 4; 8. WFM Carissa Yip 3½; 9. WIM Agata Bykovtsev 3; 10. WIM Ashritha Eswaran 2½.
WFM Carissa Yip - WIM Akshita Gorti
2017 U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship, (2)
French Defence, Tarrasch Variation
1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2 c5 4.exd5 Qxd5 As Nigel Short rightly commented in his book New Ideas in the French Defence, "When else will you get the chance to play a Scandinavian as good at this!" And the outspoken former title challenger is right, as this line has become one of the main reason for the 3...c5 in the Tarrasch once again become popular, as it avoids the main drawback - as fought-out in those many Karpov-Korchnoi world title fights through the mid-1970s - of having to contend long-term with the isolated d-pawn. 5.Ngf3 cxd4 6.Bc4 The d-pawn isn't going anywhere, and eventually White will reclaim it with Nb3 and have three pieces attacking it - but for now, there's the chance to develop with a little tempo. 6...Qd6 7.Qe2 Not so good. The mainline runs 7.0-0 Nf6 8.Nb3 with equal play. I can only assume Carissa was not so well versed in this line, and perhaps getting a little over-worried about Black possibly following up with ...e5 to protect the pawn - but in the mainline above, where White castles, this isn't an issue as you can play Nxe5! due to the skewer on the queen and king with Re1. And this little hesitation gives Akshita a little edge in the game, as it is not as easy now for White to reclaim the d4 pawn. 7...Nf6 8.Nb3 Nc6 9.Bg5 a6 10.0-0-0 b5 11.Bd3 Be7 12.Nbxd4 White may have regained the pawn, but it has taken time to do so and Black now manages to complete her development while retaining a minuscule of an edge. 12...Bb7 13.Kb1 Nxd4 14.Nxd4 0-0 What's not to like here? Black has completed her development, has her king castled to safety and retains a little edge due to more control of the center - the only thing she has to be careful of is following into a sudden kingside attack. 15.Rhe1 Rfe8 16.g4?! Better was 16.f4 as then White has Nd4-f3-e5 and equality. But after 16.g4, Akshita takes the opportunity to command the center and start her own prospects of attacking her opponent's king. 16...Nd5! 17.Bxe7 Qxe7 18.Be4 Rad8 Also worthy - and arguably safer - was 18...Nf4!? 19.Qe3 Bxe4 20.Qxe4 Nd5 all but forcing the bail-out with 21.Nc6 Qc5 22.Rxd5! Qxc6! 23.Rd4 Qxe4 24.Rdxe4 Red8 where Black has slightly the better of the double-rook ending with control of the only open file on the board and no pawn structure weaknesses. 19.Qf3 It's obvious by now that the threat of ...Nf4 was beginning to niggle Carissa. 19...Qb4 Not bad per say, but stronger and simpler was 19...b4! with the idea of following up with ...a5-a4 in an attempt to bludgeon open a path to White's king. 20.Nb3 Better to be safe than sorry, so Akshita just tucks her bishop back to a8 where it is defended. 20...Ba8 21.g5 Qe7 22.Rg1 b4! Not only threatening ...a5-a4 etc as mentioned above but also, in certain circumstances, there could well be the added threat of a ...Nc3+ with a possible mating attack in conjunction with ...Qa3 if White captures the knight. And yet again, it was Carissa was concerned about this. 23.Rd3 Qc7 24.Rg4? It looks good and strong, as it threatens Rh4 and carnage with the 'heavy furniture' down the h-file - but looks can often be deceptive chess, as it only takes one very good, accurate and brave move here to show just how good Black's position really is. 24...f5! 25.gxf6 Nxf6 26.Qxf6 Bxe4 Black has all the bases covered on her kingside and the ...Be4 now threatens c2, leaving Carissa's only hope now being that her opponent blunder in the ensuing melee - but Akshita sees through all the trickery. 27.Rxg7+ Qxg7 28.Qxd8 Winning, if Black plays ...Rxd8 or anything else, save for the exception of one move. 28...Qg6!! This leaves White poleaxed, as she can't simultaneously defend her queen and rook now. 29.Qd7 Bxd3 30.cxd3 Rf8 31.Qd4 Qg1+ 32.Nc1 Rxf2 The game is basically over at this point, with Black's queen and rook the dominant force. All she has to do now is make sure she doesn't fall for any queen repetition tricks. 33.Qe4 Qg6 34.Qa8+ Rf8 35.Qxa6 Qg4 36.Qb6 The real problem White has is that she can't get her knight back into the game, as it's the key to stopping mating threats from the queen and rook. 36...h5 37.d4 Qe4+ 38.Ka1 Rf1 The clinical kill was 38...Rc8! and safely winning the knight, as there are no nasty queen checks left to defend it or perhaps stumble into a repetition. However, all roads here - eventually! - leads to Rome. 39.Qd8+ Kh7 40.Qc7+ Kh6 41.Qc4 Rd1 42.Qc8 h4 43.h3 Qf5 44.Qh8+ Kg5 45.Qd8+ Qf6 46.Qa5+ Kh6 47.Qc5 Rxd4 The rest needs no further comment, as Black's domineering queen and rook picks up the debris left in the wake of White's hopeless position. 48.a3 bxa3 49.Qxa3 Qf4 50.Qc3 Ra4+ 51.Kb1 Qe4+ 52.Nd3 Rd4 53.Qd2+ Kh7 54.Kc2 Rc4+ 55.Kb1 Qh1+ 56.Nc1 Qxh3 57.Qd7+ Kh6 58.Qd8 Qf5+ 59.Nd3 h3 60.Qh8+ Kg5 61.Qg7+ Kh5 62.Qg3 Rd4 63.Kc2 Qxd3+ 0-1