International women’s chess has often been a poor relation of the men’s game, but in the past few months there have been dramatic changes. Established events have been upgraded or opened up to women, while an important new tournament, the $150,000 Cairns Cup, is in progress at St Louis.

The energetic administration of the global chess body Fide has reformed the structure of the women’s world championship to bring it into line with the open (effectively men’s) competition. An eight-player candidates tournament in May will produce a 2020 challenger to China’s Ju Wenjun. The Isle of Man and Gibraltar opens offer generous women’s awards within the main event.

This week there is the inaugural Cairns Cup, a tribute to the maiden name of Dr Jeanne Sinquefield, wife of the St Louis benefactor. Eight invited players from outside the US are playing alongside two Americans. Russia’s former world champion Alexandra Kosteniuk was the early leader.

In England, the annual Varsity match at the RAC, London, on March 2, will feature the world No1 woman on top board for Oxford. China’s Hou Yifan, a Rhodes scholar who is taking a Masters degree in education, is arguably the best player ever to compete in the traditional contest, launched in 1873 and the longest running fixture in chess.


White mates in three moves (by Fritz Giegold). The challenge is to find the single forced sequence which solves the puzzle.

Click here for solution

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