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    « Women's World Championship: Hou Yifan Wins Game 7, Reclaims Title | Main | Chess as Constructive Loitering: More Constructive than Loitering, or Vice-Versa? »
    Thursday
    Sep192013

    Poor Conditions at the Women's World Chess Championship?

    Via Thomas: An article in Europe Echecs (Google Translate does a reasonable job) details some of the complaints from Anna Ushenina's camp about the conditions at the women's world championship match. According to Ushenina's second, Alexander Khalifman*, the food is too spicy, the hotel staff woke him (Khalifman) up in the middle of the night [not sure if they woke Ushenina as well], Ushenina couldn't get breakfast when she wanted and the playing hall is poorly lit, hot, humid and smelly.

    The problems with the playing hall would affect both players, but the problems with the food would affect Ushenina more. Now, is this a bunch of sour grapesing on the part of the champion's team? I don't know for sure one way or another, but my impression of Khalifman, limited though it is, doesn't suggest to me that he's the sort of person who would go around protesting to make excuses or to cause trouble and play with the opponent's psychology.

    Not being in any position to arbitrate, I'll simply state that potential problems of this sort are among the reasons why championship matches should not be held in either participant's home country (unless of course they're from the same country, or unless there are no other bids to choose from). It is so well-known from physical sports that the home team has a significant advantage, and it's not just a matter of cheering fans, which wouldn't apply to players in the middle of a game. This is true even when U.S. teams from the same, more or less culturally homogenous region are playing each other. How much more so in this case. Hou is enough better than Ushenina that she probably would have won in any case**, but it would have been better had she done on a more clearly level playing field.

    * No wonder Ushenina's openings are generally excellent! She's also seconded by Anton Korobov, whom you may recall made it to the quarterfinals of the last World Cup before getting knocked out by Vladimir Kramnik.

    ** To be fair, the match isn't quite over yet, but it might be by the time some of you read this.

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    Reader Comments (13)

    Why didn't Russia or Ukraine organize the match?

    September 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTrill

    of course, this is also why Magnus insisted on a two day sickness clause before playing in India - not only is he going to be exposing his system to an entire different environment, but there's always the possibility of a local bug or something catching up to him and knocking him out for a couple days -

    September 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRussell Brown

    Some additions:

    - The relevant (for this subtopic) part of the Europe Echecs article comes after "Partie Numero Cinq" (Game Five), but Khailfman complained from the very start of the match. This seems inconsistent with 'sore loser' unless he/they anticipated that the match will turn into a disaster for Ushenina. Khalifman apparently did so on some sort of personal blog about the WCh match (also discussing the games) and/or on a Russian chess forum [while my French is fluent, I cannot read Russian]. So "cause trouble and play with the opponent's psychology" seems unlikely - he cannot expect, and it seems hardly his intention that team Hou Yifan actually notices his writing.

    - To be fair to the organizers, "hot, humid and smelty" playing hall may be force majeure. Currently it's hot (25-30 degrees C, 80-something Fahrenheit) and humid in Taizhou. Typical September temperatures are a fairly pleasant 15-20 degrees C - the current situation may be a record high and even summer on average doesn't get quite as hot. I have a world-wide weather application on my computer so I can check: it was also unusually hot in St. Louis for the first half of the Sinquefield Cup, let's hope it won't happen again in Chennai. Playing conditions could still affect one player more than the other one if Hou Yifan is more used to playing under such circumstances (and for a WCh match, even the Women's match, one would expect air conditioning).

    - The reaction of ACP president Emil Sutovsky who might be in a position to arbitrate (though he probably cannot verify Khailfman's claims) is at http://www.chess-news.ru/node/13364 (Google Translate works OK): He sees "no reason not to believe Alexander [Khalifman]" whom he probably knows 'a bit better than Dennis does', but says that noone - neither FIDE nor ACP - can help team Ushenina if they do not file a formal protest. It may now be too late for such a protest as it would look like sore loser behavior, even if Sutovsky concludes "I hope this post will be read by Anna aides, and take the right decision, according to the objective situation around."

    September 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterThomas

    Quite frankly, it shouldn't matter insofar as the World Championship should be held in a good enough hotel to accommodate any reasonable dietary requirements the players may have. If Carlsen doesn't like Indian, I'm sure his team can tell the hotel beforehand (or even on the spot, it's probably a five-star hotel so there shouldn't be any problem) and they will cook Western for him.

    Now, I don't know the standard of the hotel Hou and Ushenina are playing/staying in, I'm just saying that for an event of this rank it should be high enough for the geographical location not to matter.

    What you can't influence is the climate, and I agree with those who say that there shouldn't be a situation when one of the players is forced to adapt to weather very different from what they are used to.

    By the way, I just tuned in and it's Ushenina's turn to make her 35th move. She is so utterly lost that even I can see it. And she's down 4 minutes to Hou's 20.

    September 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKajetan Wandowicz

    It's not sour grapesing - more like "notes from the road" by Khalifman on a chess forum popular among GMs. Comments about lack of European food were made on Sep 9 (before game 1), comments about water and electricity shutoffs were made after game 2. Another interesting comment was about playing hall change after game 6 because of a wedding being held in the original playing hall.

    September 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAndrey

    This issue has arisen before, when Zsuzsa Polgar absolutely refused
    to play a match with Xie Jun in China (which had offered the only bid).

    So how unfair would it be for Carlsen to play with Anand in India?
    If Anand wins, will any of Carlsen's supporters blame the site's conditions?

    September 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterYak

    Ushenina brought along Khalifman to help her serve some "home cooking" over the board, but she should have brought along a food chef to give her home cooking on the plate, as well. No wonder Carlsen brought his personal chef to the recce in Chennai!

    [DM: Along those lines, I recall that Kramnik brought along a hired chef too, for his match with Kasparov in London! Granted, it was the father of one of his seconds (Miguel Illescas), but he was there to cook, and cook he did, to the gratitude of the whole team. So it's probably worth it - assuming the player can afford it - even when the conditions are as desirable as can be.]

    September 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterChris Falter

    A match in Shanghai would have been one thing. This is being held in a city that, I'd venture to guess, none of your readers had heard of before this event.

    Having said that, I used to agree with your point of view about matches being held on neutral ground, but now I think that if chess wants to be taken as seriously as other sports (soccer, cricket, football), and with corporate sponsorships, then chessplayers need to get used to playing in sub-optimal or even hostile conditions.

    [DM: I think most of them have already had the opportunity to enjoy that "privilege" for most of their careers. Khanty-Mansiysk in the winters, anyone?]

    September 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAshish

    Well, the match is over. 5.5-1.5 in favor of Hou Yifan.

    FIDE, please stop the nonsense of Knock Out championships that fail to determine the strongest player on the planet.

    The match system has shown that it is the best way to determine the best player on the planet for well over a century.

    September 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTrill

    I'm not at all surprised by the conditions Ushenina's team claimed to have met. In one recent trip to one of the most popular tourist destinations in China I stayed in allegedly the best hotel, and in a deluxe suite to boot. Part of the reason for this extravagance on my part was needing to sleep well for what I was doing there. All seemed fine until I woke up at 2am wondering which rock concert I was in the middle of. That lasted until 4am. Then bleary eyed, down to breakfast. Not an unreasonable expectation in a fancy hotel ... but there wasn't any. I'm not at all surprised by the change in the playing room. If someone with better connections ("guanxi") wants your room, they're going to get it. End of story. I don't mean this as a criticism of China or of the local organizers, it's just the way things are. Holding a world championship match in such a location seems about as bad an idea as deciding the next championship by lottery knockout. Oh, wait ...

    September 21, 2013 | Unregistered Commenteranonymous

    @Ashish: Taizhou is a city with about 1.5 million inhabitants - readers haven't heard of it (even if they have heard of smaller cities such as Amsterdam) because there are many such cities in China. There would be no problem IMO about holding the match in Taizhou if they can provide decent conditions for both players.

    St. Louis is also a random location - in the sense that, while people have heard of it, probably few (European or from other parts of the USA) would put it on their list of 10 major US cities. Linares was as random as it gets: chess fans have heard the name, but how many could locate it on a map of Spain?

    Elista and Khanty-Mansiysk are something else - Elista for many reasons, Khanty for its geographic isolation and climate. Yet they have one thing in common with St. Louis: they host major chess events because someone is willing and able to spend money on chess (how the money was earned is yet another story ...).

    September 21, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterThomas

    At the ChessBase website, Hou Yifan and Alexander Khalifman
    have been interviewed separately. With her usual modesty,
    Hou Yifan said that winning the match was harder than it appeared.
    She also said that she had prepared for the match, with the help of
    only one (unnamed) second whom she hired, for less than one month.
    (Which Chinese GM was her second? The top Chinese GMs seem
    too busy playing.) She implied that Anna Ushenina's support team
    of Alexander Khalifman and Anton Korobov was stronger than hers.

    On the other hand, while acknowledging that Hou Yifan deserved to win,
    Alexander Khalifman seemed preoccupied with giving explanations
    (or excuses) for Anna Ushenina's disappointing performance.
    While conceding that he never observed her interact with her second(s),
    Khalifman claimed that Hou Yifan was being helped by more and stronger
    Chinese players than Anna Ushenina's seconds. How could he know this?
    Wasn't it just his assumption? Why would Hou Yifan lie--if Khalifman's belief
    is correct--about how much help she received from other Chinese GMs?
    Alexander Khalifman also seemed to blame, in part, playing in China
    (the site's conditions) for Anna Ushenina's subpar performance.

    I believe that Hou Yifan won the match primarily because she's a much
    stronger player than Anna Ushenina. I doubt that Hou Yifan lied about
    how much help she received in preparing for the match. Anna Ushenina
    did not lose the match because of her inferior opening preparation.
    Many of Alexander Khalifman's comments seem reasonable; some of
    them (about Hou Yifan) seem like ignorant speculations; and some of
    them seem like rationalizations with a touch of 'sour grapes'.

    September 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterYak

    I would like to amend something in my earlier comment.
    I wrote that Alexander Khalifman claimed that Hou Yifan was being
    helped by 'more and stronger' players than Anna Ushenina's seconds.
    He did not say 'stronger'', though he seems to imply that Hou Yifan
    received more help than Anna Ushenina in preparing for the match.

    ChessBase quotes Alexander Khalifman as saying:
    "We didn't have the slightest doubt that Hou Yifan was getting help
    from a very skilled team as well, even though we could not see those
    people here. ... I think Yifan got help from more people than Anna,
    and they were quite strong."

    Hou Yifan has said that, after the Tromso event, she hired one second,
    not a 'team' (as claimed by Khalifman). I know of no reason to find
    Alexander Khalifman's speculation more credible than Hou Yifan's word.

    September 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterYak

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