After struggling to get through her first three matches, in each case needing to win a game just to stay alive, Hou Yifan won the final match, against Sergey Fedorchuk, 2-0 to win the Corsican Circuit. In a second, distinct irony, the move that won game two was an outright blunder. Granted, it only brought the game from trivially won to winning with a little work, and even a draw would have been enough to win the match. Still, it was a blunder, and the interesting thing about it is that it displays a typical kind of chess illusion - have a look here for the details.
Entries in Hou Yifan (30)
Well, sports fans, Monday was a bad day for those of us who are hoping that Viswanathan Anand will win or at least be competitive against Magnus Carlsen in their coming world championship match. It would be wrong to draw too sweeping a conclusion from his ouster in the Corsica semi-finals at the hands of Sergey Fedorchuk, but it certainly doesn't lend itself to any optimistic scenarios either. Fedorchuk won the first rapid game with Black, and then drew from a position of strength with the white pieces - and he could easily have played for a win in that game too.
In the previous round Anand had blanked Pavel Tregubov 2-0 while Fedorchuk had struggled to overcome Csaba Balogh. They drew their rapid games, and the first blitz game was also drawn. Fedorchuk had White in the second blitz game but no advantage, but when Balogh went crazy with 17...Qh5? and 19...e5 he was quickly crushed.
In the other half of the draw, Hou Yifan made things as difficult for herself as possible before qualifying for the finals. As she did yesterday, she began her quarterfinal match with Martyn Kravtsiv by losing with the white pieces. As yesterday, she won the rematch and then won the blitz playoff 2-0. In the semi-final round she unexpectedly played Robert Ruck, who had defeated second seed Ivan Saric 1.5-.5, winning the second game with the pieces.
In the Hou-Ruck match Hou broke the pattern by winning the first game with White, but the overall pattern of needing to suffer continued intact. She lost the second game, and then lost the first blitz game to boot - both losses were with Black. She won the second blitz game, and then it was time for an Armageddon game. She had White and five minutes against Ruck's four minutes and draw odds, and she came through with a good win.
Tuesday will see the battle of the 2673s, and the silver lining for Anand is that he gets an additional day of preparation for the Carlsen match.
In Corsica a rapid (15' + 3") knockout event is underway. Viswanathan Anand and Hou Yifan were invited, while the other 14 players earned their spots by their performance in a qualifying tournament immediately preceding the k.o. Anand is the top seed by a considerable margin, Ivan Saric (2678) is second, and then Hou Yifan and Sergey Fedorchuk are the third and fourth seeds, respectively, both sporting ratings of 2673. (Of course, they should use their rapid ratings rather than their classical ones, but if the players don't mind there's no reason why I should.)
In these events the pairings always begin with the top seed playing the bottom one, #2 playing the second from the bottom seed, and so on. At the start the top players are generally huge favorites, but although Anand easily dispatched his 2376-rated IM opponent 2-0 and Saric also won 2-0, both Hou and Fedorchuk opened their matches by losing with White against mid-2400 rated opposition! Not to fear: both won the rematch and then blanked their opponents 2-0 in the added blitz games.
The top four won't play each other tomorrow, but if they all win in the quarter-finals Anand will play Fedorchuk and Saric will play Hou on Tuesday.
Hou Yifan and Ju Wenjun finished with identical scores of 8.5/11 in the Sharjah Women's Grand Prix, allowing the former to win the overall series ahead of Humpy Koneru. Humpy needed to finish this event tied or better with Hou, but had a disappointing tournament and finished three full points behind.
This means that Hou Yifan will be in a world championship match in 2015, either as the champion (if she wins the women's knockout world championship this October, in which case Humpy Koneru will be the challenger thanks to her second place in the Grand Prix series) or as the challenger (in which case Humpy is out of luck, unless she happened to win the KO).
As for the rating hunt, Hou finished at 2667.2, leaving her eight points behind Judit Polgar (once it's official and gets rounded down). Sharjah co-winner Ju Wenjun even managed to pass Humpy Koneru for third on the women's list, thanks to the enormous combined swing of 41 points.
Hou Yifan Clinches First in the Grand Prix Series, Guarantees Herself a Slot in the 2015 Women's World Championship Match
Hou Yifan hasn't yet won the final event of the Grand Prix series (in Sharjah), but she doesn't need to. All she needs is to finish ahead of Humpy Koneru, and that is now guaranteed, as she has a three point lead over her rival with two rounds remaining. This means that if Hou loses her title in the women's world championship knockout tournament in October, she'll have qualified for a match with the knockout winner next year. If on the other hand she wins the KO, then since FIDE apparently doesn't want to watch Hou play a match against herself Humpy will get to face her by virtue of her second-place finish in the current Grand Prix series.
Two other bits of interest from the tournament. First, while Hou has had an excellent tournament, she's currently in second behind her countrywoman Ju Wenjun, half a point behind. Second, while Hou was at one point very close to overtaking Judit Polgar for #1 on the women's rating list, draws in the last two games have pushed her back a little, and she trails Polgar by 6.5 points. Not a lot, but probably enough for Polgar's lead to survive for at least another month.
Hou Yifan has been hitting her stride in the final Women's Grand Prix event of the 2013-2014 series, in Sharjah, while Humpy Koneru has played way below her rating. The former has won three in a row and has 5/6, tied for first with her countrywoman Ju Wenjun. Humpy Koneru, by contrast, has just two points. If they finish in a tie, Humpy will win the Grand Prix series, but unless she can make up the three points in the final five rounds Hou wins the series and is guaranteed a world championship match even if she fails to win the knockout world championship event later this year. (If she wins the Grand Prix and the knockout tournament, then Humpy's second place in the Grand Prix series will get her a title match with Hou next year.)
The other fun part of the story is that (rounding up) Hou is within five points of the freshly retired Judit Polgar. Impressive!
That is, Hou Yifan leads Humpy Koneru by a point and a half, not the rest of the field at the final Women's Grand Prix event of the 2013-2014 cycle. Hou's countrywoman Ju Wenjun is the current leader of the tournament in Sharjah with 3.5/4, half a point ahead of Hou and three other players. But none of that matters for the world championship cycle, as only Hou Yifan and Humpy Koneru can win the overall Grand Prix. As long as Hou finishes ahead of her rival she wins the Grand Prix, and with a point and a half lead with seven rounds to go she's in good shape.
(For a more detailed background, see this post and the links therein.)
Whatever problems exist for the "men's" world championship, their cycle is at least reasonably clear and logical compared to the convolutions FIDE has generated for the women's world title. Sometimes the champion is determined by a knockout event, other times in a match between the defending titleholder and the winner of the Grand Prix cycle - or in case the champion is also the Grand Prix winner, the champ plays the Grand Prix runner-up.
Right now Hou Yifan is the women's world champion and, with the retirement of Judit Polgar the top-rated woman in the world by a pretty hefty margin. But for how long? There's a knockout event allegedly going to take place in October, and while Hou has done well in most of the KO events she had a bad day in the last one and was eliminated early. (That event was eventually won by someone who couldn't mate with a bishop and a knight.)
She (Hou) won the Grand Prix, however, and demolished the KO winner (Anna Ushenina) in a match, which brings us where we are today. The current Grand Prix cycle has one tournament left, in Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates. Humpy Koneru has a slight lead over Hou Yifan in the overall standings, but as long as Hou finishes a single place ahead of her rival in Sharjah she will leapfrog her into first place. (As Hou won her first game while Humpy lost hers, she's off to a good start.)
So here's what all of this means. If the KO takes place and neither Hou Yifan nor Humpy Koneru wins, then the winner of the KO will play whichever of the two women wins the Grand Prix. If one of them does win the KO, then the other woman will face her in a match, regardless of which one wins the Grand Prix.
Hou Yifan fans may wish to check out her video series on her career over on Chess24. (It's available a la carte for non-members for five euros.) While presenting in English is clearly a struggle for her, her meaning is usually pretty clear and her understated style is pleasant. Not a "must see", perhaps, but I find it interesting to watch a world champion talk about his or her successes.
So far, this Women's Grand Prix tournament is the Hou Yifan show. She leads with 4.5/5 and a big 2816 TPR. The world's second-strongest chess player with a Hou... name is proving yet again that she is the deserved women's world champion, at least as long as Judit Polgar continues to avoid such events. (Should she continue to do so anymore? I'm not so sure. I hope Hou can make up the 57 points or so separating them so that Polgar cannot just stand as the presumed winner of such a contest.)