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    Entries in Hou Yifan (59)

    Wednesday
    May242017

    Three Interesting Recent Games

    I'm not going to analyze any of the three, mainly to avoid domesticating them. Each impressed and amazed me in its own way. The first, Najer-Mamedyarov, is a tactical tour de force by the hottest player in chess. (Don't peek, students!) The second, Ding Liren vs. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, featured a surprising sacrifice of a full exchange in the opening. The entire game was a mess, and the only thing that was clear is that Black was very fortunate to come away with half a point. The third game, between Hou Yifan and Jon Ludwig Hammer, was another matter. I watched a few moves early on in the rook vs. knight ending that arose after Black's 49th move, and was sure that it was a draw. A few hours later, I saw that Hou had won it (on her way to an excellent +1 result in the Grand Prix) and could hardly believe my eyes. Brilliancy by Hou or insanity by Hammer? I'll let you figure it out by yourself; I'll offer my own guess in the comments if anyone else offers one first.

    Games here.

    Friday
    Apr212017

    Catching Up: Zurich, Grenke

    The Korchnoi memorial event in Zurich finished a few days ago, and Hikaru Nakamura won this combined rapid & rapid event. (The first stage was a slow rapid: 45' + 30", and the second was 10' + 5" - a rapid rapid.) The slower portion finished with Hikaru Nakamura and Ian Nepomniachtchi tied in first with 10/14 (5/7 in normal scoring, but as the slower games counted for twice as much as the blitz, the scoring was doubled), a point ahead of Viswanathan Anand and two points ahead of Vladimir Kramnik and Peter Svidler.

    At the shorter time control Nakamura again went 5/7, winning the second portion of the event outright and thereby taking overall first as well. It came down to the wire though, as Nepomniachtchi had White against Grigoriy Oparin. Oparin is young, strong, and talented, but for now he was badly outrated by everyone except for local player Yannick Pelletier. He and Pelletier were the tailenders, so things looked good for Nepo. Had he won he'd have tied for first, and presumably would have had a playoff against Nakamura. Instead, Oparin won, giving Nakamura his third consecutive victory in Zurich.

    Final Combined Standings:

    • 1. Nakamura 15/21
    • 2. Nepomniachtchi 14
    • 3. Anand 13.5
    • 4. Svidler 12
    • 5. Kramnik 11
    • 6. Gelfand 9
    • 7. Oparin 5.5
    • 8. Pelletier 4

    Grenke: This tournament got off to a bang when Hou Yifan won her first two games, over Fabiano Caruana and Georg Meier, to take a full point lead over a field that also included Magnus Carlsen, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, and Levon Aronian as well. Incredibly, she was close to winning in round three against Carlsen as well, but psyched herself out and let him escape his bad position rather easily with a draw.

    Her punishment was deserved and came in the very next round. Vachier-Lagrave had a much smaller advantage against her than she had against Carlsen, but he kept prodding and testing until she finally cracked. It took 68 moves, but he got the full point, pushing her out of first. The next day she gave up a draw to one of the two players in the event who are lower-rated than she is, so she has fallen out of contention for tournament victory.

    And yet...she is still tied for second, with Carlsen and Caruana, with 3/5, a point behind Levon Aronian. Aronian drew with Meier and Carlsen in the first two rounds, and then went on a tear, winning three in a row. He has defeated MVL, Mathias Bluebaum, and Arkadij Naiditsch. In the next round he plays Hou Yifan, with White. Will he make it four in a row, or will she bounce back and turn this into the tournament of her life?

    Carlsen also has an interesting pairing, with Black against Naiditsch. Carlsen is a favorite, of course, but in the last few years Naiditsch has given him trouble. Naiditsch upset the world champion in the 2014 Olympiad, with Black, and took a couple of games off of him in the same tournament two years ago. As for Caruana, he'll have Black in the next round against Bluebaum.

    Monday
    Apr102017

    Ivanchuk Defeats Hou Yifan, 3-1

    Vassily Ivanchuk and Hou Yifan played a four-game match in China from April 5-8, and the favorite - Ivanchuk - won in unusual style, drawing games 1 and 3 with White and winning games 2 and 4 with Black. Here are the last two games from the match, both of which were short and entertaining.

    Sunday
    Feb262017

    Catching Up: Gibraltar

    Yes, it's almost ancient history by now, but not quite. I'd mentioned the Gibraltar tournament when it started and never intended to provide daily coverage, but at least three things are worth addressing: the final results, the master classes, and Hou Yifan's protest.

    First then, results: Hikaru Nakamura came from behind to win the main tournament in a playoff over Yu Yangyi and then David Anton Guijarro. Anton led the field by half a point going into the last round, and after a draw with Mickey Adams he was caught by Nakamura and Yu. Anton had the highest TPR of the event, so the format for the playoff required Nakamura and Yu to play a pair of rapid games for the right to play another pair of rapid games with Anton for the title.

    The rapid games were both drawn, so they went on to blitz, and there Nakamura defeated Yu 2-0. The final went more smoothly for Nakamura, drawing with Black and defeating Anton with White to win the title.

    Second, master classes: Hou Yifan and Veselin Topalov gave special, prepared lectures during the tournament; this is a tournament tradition. They (and the 2016 master classes as well) can be accessed here.

    Third and finally, Hou Yifan's protest. Judit Polgar decided in her earliest teenage years to forsake the world of women's chess and to focus only on playing in the best events she could. Her decision paid off, as she became not simply the strongest female player in the world by a significant margin, but one of the best players in the world, period, peaking at #8.

    Hou Yifan took longer to come to the same point, but her dissatisfaction with how FIDE conducts the women's world championship and the realization that she has to play stronger opponents to improve has recently brought her around as well. So imagine her surprise and dismay when after nine of the 10 rounds at Gibraltar, seven of her games were against women. She had complained about it earlier in the event, but she made her displeasure even clearer in the final round, uncorking this immortal game:

    Hou Yifan - Lalith Babu M R:

    1.g4? d5 2.f3? e5 3.d3 Qh4+ 4.Kd2 h5 5.h3 hxg4 0-1

    What's wrong with this, you ask? Plenty.

    (1) Protesting in the last round comes too late to fix the problem.

    (2) Protesting when facing a male opponent, the "kind" of opponent she expected to play, doesn't make any sense.

    (3) The loss costs other players money. Given the reasonable likelihood of a draw in the course of a normal game, the players who tied for a prize with Lalith were potentially cheated out of some money.

    (4) Throwing a game, as opposed to forfeiting (a la Fischer in game 2 in 1972 or Kramnik in game 5 of the 2006 world championship match) is unethical.

    (5) No proof or even evidence was supplied to show that the pairings had been rigged by the organizers. As they pointed out, and no doubt pointed out to her if she raised the issue earlier in the tournament, they are done by computer. Pairing programs have been around for decades, and it would be easy to replicate their results.

    (6) The organizers have been fans of Hou Yifan's for years, and as noted above had invited her to give one of this year's Master Class lectures. Why would they suddenly act antagonistically towards her? It doesn't make much sense.

    I add that I'm a fan of hers, and approve wholeheartedly of her decision to eschew the women's world championship cycles to focus on becoming the best player she possibly can. Her frustration was understandable, but the protest doesn't seem to be defensible.

    Saturday
    Feb112017

    This Week's World Chess Column: Miniatures Lost by Elite GMs

    Hou Yifan's five-move loss in the last round of Gibraltar was a protest, not a real game, but it got me curious about very short games lost by elite GMs (I'm arbitrarily defining that as GMs rated at or over 2600) at a classical time control. Some of my surprising (and entertaining and instructive) findings can be found here.

    Wednesday
    Nov302016

    Kramnik-Hou Yifan, Day 3: Kramnik Wins the Blitz 6-4

    Vladimir Kramnik and Hou Yifan finished a rapid match yesterday (won by Kramnik 5.5-2.5), and today played a 10-game blitz match. Kramnik won 6-4, or at least that's what the website reports. If it's correct, and it probably is, it's hard to understand how he lost game three on time in what was not just a winning position, but one where the last move was very easy to find and play, given the two-second increments. Looking at the video, around the 44 minute mark, it's clear that he executes 52.a7 in less than two seconds, so maybe he had lost on time the move before and it was only noticed after his 52nd move.

    At any rate, that brings this event to a conclusion, and now it's time for the main event of the day and indeed, the chess year to also come to a conclusion, starting a couple of hours from now.

    Tuesday
    Nov292016

    Kramnik-Hou Yifan Rapid Match, Day 2: White Wins Every Game, Kramnik Wins 5.5-2.5

    A very creditable day 2 for Hou Yifan, who won games 6 and 8 with White to split the day to "only" lose the match by the score of 5.5-2.5. Tomorrow, they play eight blitz games in the now inaptly named Kings Tournament in Medias, Romania.

    Tuesday
    Nov292016

    Kramnik-Hou Yifan Rapid Match: Kramnik Leads 3.5-.5 After Day 1 of 2

    The World Championship isn't quite the only show in town, though it is by far the biggest one. Vladimir Kramnik and Hou Yifan are engaged in a rapid and blitz match (or maybe it's a rapid match followed by a blitz match) in Medias. Whatever it is, day 1 was Monday, and Kramnik won the first three games on the way to taking a 3.5-.5 lead. The next four games are on Tuesday, and on Wednesday they'll play eight blitz games.

    Sunday
    Oct162016

    Nigel Short - Hou Yifan Match Underway

    A six-game match between former world championship finalist Nigel Short and women's world champion Hou Yifan got underway today in the Netherlands. Short had White in game one and was pressing throughout, but only managed a draw. He had a chance to win a pawn with a small combination on move 41 (41.Na7 followed by 42.Nb5+ and 43.Nxc7) that would have given him excellent winning chances; other than this opportunity he didn't seem to miss anything big.

    Thursday
    May262016

    Why Hou Yifan Dropped Out of the Women's World Championship Cycle

    While Judit Polgar dropped out of women's chess before she was even a teenager (excepting one final women's olympiad at the age of 14), Hou Yifan has played in both women's and open events in her career. She has won four women's world championship events and has utterly dominated women's chess in the wake of Polgar's retirement from the game in 2014.

    While there are other strong women who can compete with her, albeit as heavy underdogs in a longer match, Hou's toughest opponent seems to be FIDE. While the open world championship eliminated the knockout system after Tripoli in 2004, returning to the older approach where the champion plays a match against the winner of a challengers' cycle, the women's world championship does not work in that way. Considering that Hou Yifan has been dominant and generally outrates her closest competitors by around 100 points, this is rather odd.

    Hou went along with this for a few years, going through all the machinations to keep qualifying for the next world championship match, but she has decided not to do so any longer, at least not until FIDE changes their procedures. On the bright side - for her, anyway - it means she can focus her energies on "men's" events, where she is the one trying to break through to the next level rather than trying to beat back the hungry hordes.