The Legend

The main legend of Georgian chess (before Maia Chiburdanidze became the Women’s World Chess Champion), of course, was Nona Gaprindashvili and that is why our parents (and in general, the older generation) referred to her by first name. After poets and writers (in Georgia) such honor was achieved only by women chess players and the first among them was, of course, Nona.

The five-times Women’s World Chess Champion Nona Gaprindashvili was referred to just like that, only by her first name and when her name was said without the last name, needless to say, everyone meant only Nona – just like when Vazha1 was mentioned, Shota2 or Akaki3

Though, from 1978 the World already had a new champion and a new legend, because Maia Chiburdandize was only 17 years old and a younger champion simply didn’t exist in the chess world at the time. I was young, but I still remember very well the sound of the quarrel between my mother and father – my mother wanted Nona to become the champion again and my father was supporting Maia and saying that Chiburdandize’s win would be better for glorification of Georgia.

Of course, this was unlike that loud quarrel, which resulted from the Swedish pop group first appearing in Georgia – at that time, ABBA had divided Georgia in two parts. One half of Georgian males was saying that the brunette woman vocalist of ABBA was far more beautiful and the other half of Georgian males preferred the blonde from the same pop group. Unlike quarrels about chess, this disagreement was far more dramatic, intense and nerve-wracking for men and the fact - that in Georgia, the most talked about and worrisome subject for men was the shape of the buttocks of ABBA’s singers - once again underlines the cruelty of the Soviet regime.

The Soviet Union government was ruthless in chess as well, and this fact is proved by the astonishing story that happened in 1978, before Maia Chiburdanidze became a champion, and the success of the Danish team and them, completely by chance, playing at the 1992 European Championship cannot come close to this chance event.

Incidentally, the biggest supporter and fan of football among Georgian chess player women was and still is Mrs. Nona, but before I tell you the story of Maia Chiburdanidze becoming a champion for the first time, it is impossible not to remember a football analogue of the story.

In 1992, the Danish football team wasn’t able to successfully pass the qualifier level and simply was not allowed to play at the European Championship, but Yugoslavia, which had passed the final level couldn’t get to the destination, because before the Championship, Yugoslav state broke-up and started a war in the Balkans.

That is how instead of Yugoslavia (according to the best results) the Danish team played at the European Championship and (as a surprise to everyone) became the Champions that year.

In Maia Chiburdanidze’s case, a far more unbelievable and improbable event occurred (we can’t even call it luck) and the chess player woman who was supposed to play at the World Championship on behalf of Soviet Union had a surgery and changed her gender. The woman who had become a man, naturally, couldn’t participate in any women’s tournaments, although, Maia Chiburdanidze’s mother probably didn’t have this surgery in mind, when she was blessing and calming down her daughter, who wasn’t accepted in the Soviet trio – that everything is God’s will and if God decides so, she would definitely play at the World Championship…   

And she did play, since Maia’s position at the time was fourth, she automatically took the seat (which was empty for this strange reason) among the best trio and then, no one was able to hold Maia Chiburdanidze back and she became the Women’s World Chess Champion five times in a row.

After that, Maia became very religious, though, how this strange event has affected her life – I really don’t know – because I have never met her and, accordingly, have never asked and still don’t know the exact details of the story and especially its results.

 Something else I remember very well from that time’s chess commotion, how dubious rumors against Maia were spread (probably by the supporters of Nona Gaprindashvili) and for example (and specifically) about her (abovementioned) mother – Maia Chiburdanidze’s mother accompanies her wherever she goes and takes cold satsivi4 by thermos and khachapuriby handbag, so that Maia is never and nowhere deprived of the taste and grace of her homeland Kutaisi.

It was a rumor, of course, but the 17-year-old Maia did look chubby (even back then) and the evil rumors even said that - one time, they barely (with difficulty and much effort) fit a chess crown made of laurel on her.

Though, in reality, the rest of the world had never seen anyone (from the Soviet Union), after Yuri Gagarin, who was so kind and always smiled, and another fact was that the five-times champion’s place was taken by another Georgian woman (as a result of Georgian talent) and the reign of Georgians in the world chess has lasted 30 years.

What else can this small Georgia do…

Vazha– Vazha-Pshavela, Georgian writer and poet

Shota– Shota rustaveli, XII century Georgian poet, author of “The Knight in the Panther's Skin”

Akaki– Akaki Tsereteli, Georgian writer and poet

Satsivi4 – Georgian national dish

Khachapuri– Georgian national dish