Pia Cramling was among the world top ten chess players for three decades. David Llada
Pia Cramling, 50 years at the chessboard: 'I like to be able to encourage women to keep playing'

Pia Cramling, 50 years at the chessboard: 'I like to be able to encourage women to keep playing'

The Swede, one of the first women to gain the title of Grandmaster, has been in Malaga to speak of her life as a professional chess player

Regina Sotorrío


Friday, 24 March 2023


When she started to compete she had short hair, wore trousers and signed her name P. Cramling. She wanted nothing to reveal, until it was inevitable, that that young chess player was a girl. Pia Cramling, born in Stockholm in 1963, hid the fact that she was a woman to avoid being undervalued, so that she did not get sent to the board in the corner at the back, assuming that she wouldn't be as good as the rest.

It was tough: "A girl needs to do much better than a boy to earn respect." But she succeeded. The Swedish player earned the title of Grandmaster in 1992; for ten years she was among the top three players in the world; for three decades she stayed in the top ten; and today, 45 years after her first chess Olympiad (1978 in Buenos Aires), she still enjoys sitting in front of a chessboard.

She spoke about this and more in Malaga on Thursday as part of a series of talks hosted by chess expert and author Manuel Azuaga. The evening was completed with a demonstration, with Cramling playing several games simultaneously.

"I like being an example for women who are 35 or 40, have had children and don't know whether to go back to playing or give it up. You can go back, you can keep fighting. There are more and more women in this world. I like to encourage other women to keep playing all their lives," Pia Cramling said firmly. And she is proof: at 59 years old, in 2022, she won the gold medal again at the last Olympiad in Chennai. She is a living chess legend.

Cramling picks up the phone speaking perfect Spanish. Alongside her partner, another chess player Juan Manuel Bellón, Fuengirola has been her home for years.

Her daughter Anna was born here and she comes back to the "warmth" of the Costa as often as she can. Now, for example. You can hear laughing at the other end of the line at the mention of the new title Cramling has picked up in her career: 'the Swedish Queen's Gambit'. But it's not so crazy to think that she might have inspired Walter Tevis for his book that later became world famous in the form of the Netflix series.

Two years before Tevis penned the story, in 1982, Pia Cramling was up against Korchnoi, then the second best player in the world, in the Lloyds Bank Masters Open.

The game ended in a draw: a 19-year-old girl had held her own against one of the most powerful players of the time. A true feat. Now women represent 10 per cent of professional chess players, but in the 1980s Pia Cramling was practically the only woman in the mixed open tournaments. She was never interested in the title of world women's chess champion, she wanted to be a Grandmaster. "I just wanted to be on equal terms with the boys," she said.

Her brother and partner, key

"I've felt lonely, very lonely, but I was respected." Especially when her place in the world ranking was indisputable.

When she was young, Cramling leaned on her brother Dan, who also played, for support; and as an adult she has her partner, Juan Manuel Bellón.

"Without him I would have never have devoted my life to chess as I have done." They had Anna together, who was a familiar face at the tournaments from the age of three months. Today she is a chess influencer from her YouTube channel.

"It could have been too much, but she has also found pleasure in chess in her own way, and it's going well," said her mother proudly.

Meanwhile, Cramling will continue to fight her battles in front of the chessboard for as long as she still enjoys it. Because, she said, it is "passion" that gives meaning to this sport.

Just a few weeks before she turns 60, Pia Cramling, said that her memory is not what it used to be, that she doesn't have so much energy and that she has to select where and when to play, but she has no intention of stopping.

"Now I am number 25 in the world, but I keep fighting as this is what I enjoy."





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