As those who have watched my various video lecture series over the years are probably aware, I'm a fan not just of what's new in chess, but of the game's history as well. So in my column this week I make reference to Sergey Karjakin's gritty performance in last year's World Cup - without which he wouldn't have made it to the Candidates and a World Championship match with Magnus Carlsen - and use that as a springboard to remember Alexander Khalifman's amazing run to the FIDE (knockout) World Championship title in 1999.
Entries in Alexander Khalifman (2)
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.