First ND Women’s Tournament in Berlin

11/23/2006 – Last week the German broadsheet Neues Deutschland revitalized the old tradition of "Newspaper Chess Tournaments" and, in cooperation with the chess magazine Schach, the Lasker Society, and ChessBase they organized a chess tournament with four talented young ladies. It was well visited and provided the spectators with gripping chess.

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First Women’s Chess Tournament in Berlin

By André Schulz

A large number of spectators had the privilege to witness the rebirth of an old tradition. The newspaper Neues Deutschland initiated and sponsored a chess tournament. In the early days of tournament chess newspapers all over the world were the first chess players and organisers turned to. Every prestigious newspaper had a regular chess column. Thus it was only natural to provide the news to be published by making them happen. Of the all the tournaments in Germany linked to newspapers, the “Eliteturnier“ in 1928 might well be the most famous. It took place from 11th to 29th October in the Café König in Berlin, one of the great chess coffeehouses of that time. The organizer was Jacques Mieses, who staged the tournament for his newspaper, the famous Berliner Tageblatt. The prize fund of 10,000 German Marks and Mieses’ organizational skills attracted a very strong field that made for what we today would call a supertournament.

The above drawing in the Berlin Tageblatt shows Capablanca, Spielmann, surrounded by Tartakower, Reti, Marshall, Rubinstein and Nimzowitsch. After three rounds Tarrasch had to withdraw because he was ill, and thus he does not appear in the final cross table.

              1  2  3  4  5  6  7       Marks
1 Capablanca  ** ½½ ½½ ½½ 1½ 11 11  8½   2000  I
2 Nimzowitsch ½½ ** ½0 ½½ 01 11 1½  7    1400  II
3 Spielmann   ½½ ½1 ** ½0 11 ½0 ½½  6½   1000  III
4 Tartakower  ½½ ½½ ½1 ** 00 ½0 1½  5½    800  IV
5 Rubinstein  0½ 10 00 11 ** 01 0½  5     600
6 Réti        00 00 ½1 ½1 10 ** ½½  5     500
7 Marshall    00 0½ ½½ 0½ 1½ ½½ **  4½    450

In his Memories of Dr. Emanuel Lasker Salo Flohr reports how he visited the tournament as chess correspondent for a newspaper from Prague: "I came to Berlin to the tournament of the Berliner Tageblatt as an unknown correspondent. My excitement soon to get to know Lasker, Capablanca, Tarrasch, Nimzowitsch, Rubinstein, Marshall etc. was indescribable. I promptly went to the Café König, where I immediately recognized all the heroes I knew from pictures and who were idolized by the young chess player that I was. But: when morning came I asked myself: where, in fact, am I staying? Because of the great excitement my chess heart beat so fast that immediately after arriving I took a hotel room with lightning speed, put down my suitcase and rushed to the Café König, without caring to look what the name of the hotel was and in which street it was situated. What now little chess player? I went to the police to ask for help. They looked a bit bemused. I seemed to be too young to be deranged. The police in Berlin proved to be up to the task and found the hotel where I had registered. If they had not found it, this would not have been such a great catastrophe, because in my little suitcase I probably had not much more than, as they use to say in Berlin, "an old hat“.

Flohr also explains to us why Dr. Emanuel Lasker did not take part in the tournament: "I did not see Dr. E. Lasker in the Café König. At that time he was not much interested in chess, which sometimes happened with him. However, a few days later I found him after all, in the Café Trumpf, if I remember correctly. I was patient, waited till two or three in the morning, and together with a group of his friends and companions we accompanied Lasker home on foot. These were not chess, but bridge partners."

Later the Berliner Sommer, organized by Alfred Seppelt from 1981 to 1997 was at least temporarily supported by Berlin newspapers until the tournament was finally put to rest due to the lack of sponsors.

As far as chess reporting is concerned, with Neues Deutschland and the TAZ at least two great daily newspapers in Berlin have maintained the tradition. In both papers there are regular articles or interviews about chess tournaments or topics related to chess. Now Neues Deutschland went a step further and organized a small chess tournament.

This idea took hold at the opening of the Lasker exhibition this spring, when in the rooms of the Lasker Society in the Dorlandhaus among other things an exhibition game between Matthias Deutschmann, a cabaret artist from Freiburg and former player in Germany’s first league, and the former Women’s World Champion Susan Polgar was shown via internet. Olaf Koppe, CEO of Neues Deutschland, saw how great the interest of the lay public was and asked the director of the Lasker Society, Stefan Hansen: "Can’t we also do this?"


Stefan Hansen, managing director of Dorland and the Lasker Society


With Raj Tischbierek and his magazine "Schach" a capable co-organizer was found.

The organizers decided to stage a women’s tournament, with four participants playing a preliminary and a subsequent knock-out round. "Women also play very attractive chess, though as far as tournaments are concerned, they always seem to fare a little worse,” said host Paul Werner Wagner. As the tournament was to be carried out on a Saturday afternoon, rapid chess was the mode of play. With the two Germans Elisabeth Pähtz and Melanie Ohme, the Swiss champion Monika Seps, and the Ukrainian Olympic gold medalist Inna Gaponenko a strong and interesting field was gathered.


The four ladies: Seps, Gaponenko, Pähtz (standing), Ohme

Elisabeth Pähtz by now has established herself as the clear number one in German chess. The 21-year-old private in the German army has already two world junior championship titles under her belt. Currently she is number 25 on the world ranking list – with an upward trend.


Germany's top female player Elisabeth Pähtz,
with her first trainer, GM Thomas Pähtz (her father)

In the Bundesliga Elisabeth is, together with Almira Skripchenko and Eva Moser, one of three women who play there in the open (men's) section. In an interview she recently said that with a bit of luck even the World Championship could be within her reach. Melanie Ohme from Leipzig just finished sixth at the junior world championship U-16.


Melanie Ohme, sixth at the World U16 Championship

Together with Maria Schöne, Sarah Hoolt and Judith Fuchs Melanie belongs to a new generation of young players nominated by the German national coach Uwe Bönsch for the C-squad. Some of them will certainly take part at the Chess Olympiad 2008 in Dresden.


Monika Seps from Switzerland

Monika Seps is the best Swiss women player and is also one of the best chess players of the country. The 21-year old already represented Switzerland at European Championships and at the Chess Olympiad, and has made considerable progress during the last two years. "The weak will try to beat the strong, in rapid chess everything is possible,” she explained her goal for the tournament. Apart from that she just wanted to play challenging chess.


IM (and WGM) Inna Gaponenko of Ukraine

Because the other players were hardly older than 20, the Ukrainian Inna Gaponenko, who plays for the Ukrainian national team, was the oldest participant, although she is just 30. Inna is chess professional, plays in several leagues, and also has to take care of her weven-year-old daughter. In her home country she ranks as number 80 on the overall ranking list. In the women’s ranking list she is number three behind Lahno and Zhukova.

About a hundred spectators found their way to the Leuschnerdamm, where the Lasker Society resides in the Dorlandhaus. This should easily exceed the average number of spectators at the World Championships in San Luis or Elista. It is obviously good to stage chess tournaments in big cities, when you are interested in attracting spectators. They can come by public transportation and don’t have to wait for the charter flights or hotels. Just imagine what would happen if a candidates match or something similar would take place here.

With the help of DGT boards the games were projected on a screen hanging on the wall above the players. The games were also transmitted to an adjoining room where they were commentated by GM Thomas Pähtz. ChessBase provided a world-wide live broadcast, with video and audio streams, on the Playchess server.

The spectators, who included a number of chess celebrities from Berlin, saw four young ladies with friendly smiles on their faces, even though at the same time on the chessboard they were going for each other's throats. A lot of blood was shed: only two of the ten games were drawn, and even they only ended after a long fight.


Monika Seps about to take battle against Elisabeth Pähtz

After the preliminary the two "strong" players, Gaponenko and Pähtz, led the table, while the other two had to fight for third and fourth. Melanie Ohme was a bit unlucky when she failed to hold a drawn rook endgame against the experienced Elisabeth Pähtz. Here the results of the preliminary:

In the final between Gaponenko and Pähtz the latter at first had the better chances, but spoiled a won endgame to a draw. In the second game Gaponenko overstepped the time in an unclear position and thus Elisabeth Pähtz won the tournament.


Elisabeth Pähtz vs Inna Gaponenko in the final

In the small final Ohme and Seps both won a game and agreed to share third place.


Apart from flowers the players received travel vouchers donated by the GIS-Reisen travel company

Pictures by André Schulz and Dagobert Kohlmeyer
Translation by Johannes Fischer

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