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.)
Entries in Hou Yifan (21)
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.
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.
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...
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.
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.
Taking a page out of Boris Gelfand's book, Anna Ushenina played the Sveshnikov Sicilian against Hou Yifan in the second game of their world championship match and made a very easy procedural draw with the Black pieces. Hou needs to find something much more testing if she hopes to get anything with the white pieces in the match, as Ushenina was under no pressure at all in this game.
Hou can be happy to lead 1.5-.5, as she has lost the theoretical battles in both games. I think she's the clearly superior player, but if she keeps ending up worse with Black and getting nothing with White she will find troubles soon enough.
They will be off tomorrow, while the Sinquefield Cup is off today.
Anna Ushenina may be the defending women's world chess champion, but she is by no means the favorite against former champion Hou Yifan in their title match, which began earlier today. Ushenina's big strength seems to be her preparation, especially with the white pieces, and she enjoyed some advantage early on in game 1. One of her weaknesses, correspondingly, is time trouble, and as the time control approached things went downhill in a big way. She managed to make her 40th move, but resigned after Hou's 41st move, one move before mate. (The game can be viewed or downloaded via this page.)
Anna Ushenina won a knockout event last year to gain the title that had been held since 2010 by Hou Yifan, and now the two will play a best-of-ten game match for the championship starting this Tuesday. Ushenina is in by virtue of being the champion, while Hou Yifan qualified for the match by winning the last completed Women's Grand Prix series. The match will be played in Taizhou, China, and you can find some pre-event info on the match website.
I expect Hou Yifan to win and win handily, but I hope it won't be because Ushenina plays like this:
He hasn't broken into the 2700 club yet, but Ding Liren is showing himself to be a force in Chinese chess. His impressive 8-3 score left him a point ahead of Yu Yangyi, a point and a half ahead of Ni Hua and two full points above Wang Yue in the 2012 Chinese Championship. Hou Yifan also participated, but finished with a disappointing 5-6 score. (TWIC coverage here.)