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    Entries in Hou Yifan (25)

    Sunday
    Aug312014

    Sharjah Update: Hou Yifan Closing in on the Grand Prix Crown, Polgar's Rating

    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!

    Thursday
    Aug282014

    Sharjah Update: Hou Yifan Defeats Humpy Koneru, Leads By 1.5 Points

    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.)

    Monday
    Aug252014

    Women's Grand Prix Finale Underway

    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.

    Monday
    Jul212014

    Hou Yifan Video Series

    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.

    Monday
    Apr142014

    Events Present: The Women's Grand Prix in Khanty-Mansiysk

    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.)

    Friday
    Sep202013

    Women's World Championship: Hou Yifan Wins Game 7, Reclaims Title

    In writing about the Women's World Championship, I was always careful not to write "a ten-game match" but a "best-of-ten-game match". With her win in game 7 - the first win for either player in the match with the white pieces(!) - Hou Yifan defeated incumbent champion Anna Ushenina to reclaim the crown she held from 2010 to 2012. Her 5.5-1.5 victory took only one game longer than the minimum, and showed that she is the one to beat when it comes to the women's title.

    Unfortunately, that isn't the same as saying that she's the strongest female player in the world. It isn't her fault that Judit Polgar has embargoed women's events since 1988 (I think), but it's still an unfortunate state of affairs. It would be nice if a sponsor arranged for a match between Hou and Polgar, even if it isn't officially for the title. In the meantime, the 19-year-old Hou is a deserving champion who will hold the title until at least October of 2014, when (sigh) the next championship event is...another knockout tournament.

    Wednesday
    Sep182013

    Women's World Championship, Game 6: More Crippling Kryptowhite

    In every game so far in this year's women's world championship, the player with the white pieces has underperformed relative to her rating. Fortunately for Hou Yifan, she has limited the damage to three draws in her white games; for Anna Ushenina, the champion for probably no more than another game or two, it has been catastrophic: three losses in three games, including today's. That brings the score to 4.5-1.5, and as the match is best-of-ten Hou needs but one more win or a pair of draws to regain the title she held from 2010-2012.

    Wednesday
    Sep182013

    Women's World Championship, Game 5: Another Draw

    You might say that Hou Yifan is drawing closer to regaining her title after splitting another point with current champion Anna Ushenina. Hou leads their best-of-ten game women's world championship match 3.5-1.5, but it isn't over yet and Ushenina will have another crack to use the white pieces in their next game. If she loses, the match is as good as over, but with a win there could be some real drama ahead. It must be said that neither player is impressing with the white pieces, but Ushenina is known for her deep, sharp prep, so that may change...

    Monday
    Sep162013

    Women's World Championship, Game 4: Another Easy Draw for Ushenina with Black

    A very strange pattern is emerging in the Women's World Championship match between ex-champ and favorite Hou Yifan and current champion Anna Ushenina. When Hou has Black, a complicated and not easily resolved position arises, and she wins. When Hou is White, Ushenina's prep is very concrete, equalizes, and leads to easy draws. This happened again in round 4 (this time in a Najdorf), and the score in the best-of-ten game match is 3-1 in Hou's favor.

    This pattern may seem odd, but while it is unusual it's also understandable. Black has a lot more control over both the opening and the nature of the opening than White does, and it's also a lot easier for Black to prepare in terms of the quantity of material. If you're White and play 1.e4, you need to have something against 1...c5, 1...e5, the French and the Caro-Kann, not to mention the other less common but nevertheless playable openings like the Pirc. Black, of course, can just choose one move, like 1...c5. Then White has a brand new set of problems. Unless White plays the 2.c3 Sicilian or Bb5 lines, the first player must worry about the Najdorf, Scheveningen, Classical, Dragon, Sveshnikov, Kalashnikov, Kan and Taimanov variations, just to name the biggies, while Black can get by with just one of them.

    Given that relative ease, and the presence of so many forcing variations in Sicilian lines in particular, it is in some ways easier for Ushenina to play with the black pieces against Hou. Hou's strength is likelier to arise when they get positions where they must "just play chess", and oddly enough that's likelier to happen when Ushenina has White. Maybe, then, Hou should play something slow and vague like the Reti.

    We'll see if she goes for a non-sharp line in a couple of days. Monday is a rest day, and on Tuesday Hou will again have White for game 5.

    Saturday
    Sep142013

    Women's World Championship, Game 3: Hou Yifan Crushes Ushenina With Black, Leads 2.5-.5

    The rout is on. Anna Ushenina was lost with White after just 18 moves and resigned after 24 moves with just about all of her pieces en prise. Ushenina may have a good tactical eye, but she was outcalculated and outclassed by Hou Yifan in the complications today. Hou leads their best-of-ten world championship match 2.5-.5, and is looking like a big favorite to regain her title.

    I'm hoping for a massacre, in part because I'm rooting for Hou, in part because I'm rooting against Ushenina (due to her unfortunate habit of staring at her opponents*) but also in the hope that FIDE will eliminate forever these big knockout events as a way to determine the world champion. As a way of determining some candidates in a two-year cycle it's not bad, as it gives more players a chance to compete without knocking out the really elite players who have proved day in and day out that they are at the top. Put in "philosophical" form, lesser candidates merit lesser, more random opportunities while stronger candidates merit some insulation from chance. To the extent that this is a blowout, that will lessen the value of Ushenina's knockout title and the credibility of that format.

    That said, Ushenina's achievement in winning that event was a great one, and it isn't her fault that FIDE chose that format. It's just a bad format, and it would have been a poor format even if Hou had managed to win there. (Incidentally, Hou was in a truly bizarre position. She was the defending world champion, and had won the Grand Prix cycle, which meant that she had already qualified for the current title match no matter what. Had she won the knockout too the absurd situation would have arisen that she as champion would have again won the title and the qualifier, but would still have to defend against someone she had bested in the qualifier. What a painfully stupid way of doing things!)

    * I acknowledge that psychology plays a role in chess, and wouldn't try to legislate against it even if I could. But doing things to distract one's opponent - other than making good moves, of course - crosses a line into bad sportsmanship, and staring serves no other function than to distract.