How strong was Vera Menchik

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John Moore
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How strong was Vera Menchik

Post by John Moore » Fri May 07, 2010 7:35 pm

Clearly the strongest woman until the Russians started letting their women's games be shown - and, of course, she died young at 38 in 1944. But, her games don't impress - it looks like shovel the bits out and hold on until the opponent gets into time trouble. Did she ever sacrifice anything!

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Re: How strong was Vera Menchik

Post by John Moore » Fri May 07, 2010 7:42 pm

By the way, don't tell me about her bloody club - just as an example, Reshevsky lost on time.

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John Saunders
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Re: How strong was Vera Menchik

Post by John Saunders » Fri May 07, 2010 7:45 pm

Jeff Sonas' Chess Metrics site has a page on her here.

It says she was 2535 at her peak, when she was 52nd in the world. I guess these ratings are relative, but there has also been rating inflation.
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Re: How strong was Vera Menchik

Post by John Moore » Fri May 07, 2010 7:50 pm

I know about Jeff's site - but if Vera is 2535, that's only because she turned up. She played in some big tournaments but her chess was solid 180-190.

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Re: How strong was Vera Menchik

Post by John Saunders » Fri May 07, 2010 8:00 pm

I think she was a bit better than that. One of the first games I had a look at was a win against Euwe at Hastings 1931/32 and she had him on toast inside 15 moves. He was 30 at the time and only a few years away from winning the world title. Not many 180-190s can beat such players. Of course, it is true that opening theory could be a bit primitive in those days but I don't think it detracts too much from the general standard of play compared with now. Maybe Sonas's figure of 2535 is a bit high and 2350-2450 is closer to the mark.
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Matt Mackenzie
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Re: How strong was Vera Menchik

Post by Matt Mackenzie » Fri May 07, 2010 8:05 pm

John Moore wrote:By the way, don't tell me about her bloody club - just as an example, Reshevsky lost on time.
Yes, but that was an exception. Most of her wins were prefectly "legitimate", for want of a better term.......

She wasn't a bad player at all, IMO.

BTW, the next few (Soviet) WWC's were a *lot* weaker than her. Not until Nona G did that change.
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Re: How strong was Vera Menchik

Post by John Moore » Tue May 11, 2010 6:36 pm

John - the Euwe game is not great is it. You'd have fancied your chances after 10 .. c5 - maybe one of the worst moves played by a world champion.

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Re: How strong was Vera Menchik

Post by John Saunders » Tue May 11, 2010 6:49 pm

John Moore wrote:John - the Euwe game is not great is it. You'd have fancied your chances after 10 .. c5 - maybe one of the worst moves played by a world champion.
Not great, indeed. But we have seen a few terrible moves played in the current world championship match, including Topalov's ghastly fxe4 this afternoon. Having said which, I don't think it is fair to judge the old-timers by a strict comparison with today's players. Modern players have so many more resources to draw upon and far more opportunities to play top-level chess. You certainly can't judge them by their opening play which was generally pretty stodgy and unappetising. But, relatively speaking, Menchik's results were pretty good and I think she had two wins against Euwe around that time. Haven't looked at the other one.
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Re: How strong was Vera Menchik

Post by John Moore » Tue May 11, 2010 6:56 pm

Thanks John - find a good game by her. No-one has long enough. I played through Carlsbad and her games are dull (like mine!) but she is 190 max.

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Re: How strong was Vera Menchik

Post by Matt Mackenzie » Tue May 11, 2010 7:03 pm

John Moore wrote:Thanks John - find a good game by her. No-one has long enough. I played through Carlsbad and her games are dull (like mine!) but she is 190 max.
She had a win against (G) Thomas which was quite pleasing to the eye, I recall.......
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Re: How strong was Vera Menchik

Post by John Moore » Sat May 15, 2010 3:19 pm

London 1932 - and a N sac on f5 - I presume. But I always thought Sir George Thomas was fairly ordinary. In this game, it seems he had learnt the Kings Indian, maybe from Yates. I know he had the result of his life at Hastings when he beat Botvinnik and Capablanca, but that was a complete one-off. JS will tell me that 190 players can't beat these sort of guys - then I think they could.

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Re: How strong was Vera Menchik

Post by Leonard Barden » Sat May 15, 2010 5:29 pm

John Moore wrote: I always thought Sir George Thomas was fairly ordinary. I know he had the result of his life at Hastings when he beat Botvinnik and Capablanca, but that was a complete one-off. JS will tell me that 190 players can't beat these sort of guys - then I think they could.
Poor Sir George, who apart from chess was the world No1 badminton player and who in his old age always made a point of turning up to the London and British Boys championships and passing on his ideas to rising talents-for which I, along with the Penrose brothers and Gordon Crown, was grateful.

Aside from those accidental victories which Mr Moore lists against Botvinnik and Capablanca he also had wins against Nimzovich, Spielmann, Reti, Tarrasch, Tartakover, Marshall, Rubinstein, Sultan Khan, Flohr, Lilienthal, Stoltz, Najdorf and Euwe, all at a time when these opponents were in the world top 10-50.

But of course, any 190 hacker could do that.....

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Re: How strong was Vera Menchik

Post by Leonard Barden » Sat May 15, 2010 7:41 pm

John Moore wrote: I always thought Sir George Thomas was fairly ordinary. JS will tell me that 190 players can't beat these sort of guys - then I think they could.
Writing my previous post jogged a long-ago memory of the Britain v Czechoslovakia match in summer 1947 at the Bonnington Hotel in Central London. It was the first international event I ever witnessed. Thomas was paired with Cenek Kottnauer, who was already one of my heroes after his Bxh7+ against Kotov and fine performance in Prague v Moscow 1946 and performing creditably at Groningen. I reckoned that he would be too strong for Sir George, by then in his mid-sixties.

In fact Kottnauer as White narrowly escaped in a pawn ending, while Thomas as White outplayed him with the 2 Nc3 Sicilian which along with the Qe2 Lopez was the baronet's favourite weapon. A positional pawn sac got Thomas two rooks on the seventh and he converted despiter Kottnauer's tough defence. Both games are online at chessgames.com. I came away from the match impressed-this was a man who due to badminton had only become a serious international player in his 40s, was now 65, and could still outplay one of the best masters in Eastern Europe in the endgame.

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Re: How strong was Vera Menchik

Post by Leonard Barden » Sun May 16, 2010 11:20 am

Reverting to Vera Menchik, I would assess her as 2300-2450, which is a similar judgment to John Saunders above. Her best results were in the period 1929-36, including 2nd with Rubinstein half a point behind Capablanca at Ramsgate 1929, 3rd at Maribor 1934 ahead of Spielmann and Vidmar, and 7/17 at the strong Podebrady 1936. And she scored 5.5/11 in the 1938 (all-play-all) British championship which looks a 2300-2350 performance.

Vera was a major pioneer figure in chess history, the only woman before Gaprindashvili who demonstrated that women could hold their own with the top men.

It seems that her lifetime score against Euwe was +2=1-1. all played at a time when Euwe was already in the world top 6-10. That would be the equivalent today of Kosteniuk having a 2.5-1.5 lifetime total in classical games against Aronian or Ivanchuk.

I'd like to see her memory properly honoured. This is what I wrote in the Evening Standard three years ago:



Agnes Stevenson v Vera Menchik, world women's championship, Hamburg 1930.

This unpretentious position with a one-move solution is notable because of a tragic link between what later happened to the players. Stevenson, England's best female player, regularly competed in world title tournaments and in 1935 was on her way to Warsaw when the plane stopped at Poznan for passport formalities. Heading back to the aircraft, she believed that it was about to take off without her and ran towards the front just as the pilot started the propeller. Her widower Rufus charmed Menchik on boat trips round the university lake at Nottingham in 1936 and married her next year. After Stevenson, by then British Chess Federation secretary, died in 1943, Menchik returned from Kent to her family home at 47 Gauden Road, Clapham, where she and her mother and sister were sheltering in the cellar in June 1944 when a V1 bomb scored a direct hit. Menchik was world champion for 17 years until her death, defeated several male grandmasters, and was the lone pioneer who proved that women could play chess at top men's level. Many with lesser accomplishments have been honoured by an English Heritage plaque at their address, but she has not. Back to the game, how did Black (to play) gain a serious material advantage?



A campaign for an English Heritage plaque at 47 Gauden Road (now a trendy address where flats sell for £200,000 up) would be relatively low-cost, media friendly, and valuable for English women's chess. We already have a plaque for Staunton, why not for Menchik?

These things take time to organise and bring to fruition, but a campaign targeting a plaque to be unveiled in 2012, coincident with the London world championship match, with the unveiling performed by Vera's friend Elaine Pritchard and including, say, a blitz game at the site between Anand and Polgar, could be a significant media success.

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Re: How strong was Vera Menchik

Post by John Moore » Sun May 16, 2010 4:18 pm

Mr Barden is quite right to chide me for many things and I am pleased to hear his views. I certainly do not doubt Vera Menchik's significance historically or her occasional good results - I just struggled with her style when I played through her games.

With Sir George Thomas, you mention a large number of people he beat but his record against most of those was rather poor. I was amazed though to see that he made 5.5/9 against an admittedly aging Maroczy. Incidentally, if he was 2400 how do you explain 4.5/13 against R P Michell.

Oh and please call me John (even if you think I am an idiot who knows nothing).

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