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.
Entries in Hou Yifan (55)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Not surprisingly, she finds the current Women's World Championship system unfair:
I am satisfied with my play in the match but I cannot say that I have only positive feelings – after all, to me the current Women's World Championship system seems to be unfair. And I believe I'm not the only one who thinks like this. It would be good if the current system changed to a more reasonable format. I am sure, a "real" World Championship Match would attract much more attention.
It turns out, however, that there is an actual reason why the current system is in place. It's a sensible reason too, though I'm not inclined to think it's a sufficiently good one:
Actually, last month I officially made a proposal to FIDE to change the format of the Women’s World Championship. I suggested three reasonable alternatives but the answer I received seems to indicate that my proposal was not accepted. The main reason why they want to stick to the current system is the fact that it is easier to find sponsors if you call the knock-out tournament “World Championship”. If you called it "World Cup" it would be extremely difficult to find sponsors.
So there you have it. Anyway, now that Hou has finished her degree look for her to make a big push for 2700 in the next year or two, after which she may well follow in Judit Polgar's footsteps and ignore women's events. (At least if the Chinese sports officials let her.) There's a bit more to the interview than this (but not much), so have a look.
In a dog-bites-man story, Hou Yifan won game 9 to finish off a relatively easy Women's World Championship match against Mariya Muzychuk. Muzychuk had won the title by winning a knockout event last year; Hou had skipped the event due to another commitment. Hou earned the match by winning the previous Grand Prix cycle, and regained the title she held from 2010-2012 and from 2013-2015 by defeating Muzychuk 6-3, winning three games, drawing six and losing none.
Going into the last game Muzychuk needed a win, as the match was a best-of-ten contest and Hou needed only a draw to regain her title. Hou tried to keep things safe on the white side of an old-fashioned Classical Sicilian with 6.Be2, but Muzychuk managed to inject some life into the game. Unfortunately for her, Hou played very well, neutralized Black's initiative on the kingside, and her typical queenside break through won the day. Muzychuk made no egregious errors; her opponent simply won a masterpiece on the way to reclaiming the crown. (The last three games can be replayed here, with my light annotations to the finale.)
Congratulations to the new/old champion!
The favorite is a favorite for a reason. Women's #1 Hou Yifan took advantage of FIDE k.o. champion Mariya Muzychuk's poor play in game 6 of the Women's World Championship to take a 4-2 lead in this best-of-10 game match. With (at least) 1.5 points in the next two games, Hou can end the match two games ahead of schedule and claim the women's championship title for a fourth time.
Neither woman has achieved much with the white pieces in this match, and that pattern held in game six as well. What Muzychuk did achieve was almost as important, however: a position with play. The position after 15.d4 was complex and non-traditional, and both players made some errors in the resulting middlegame. What decided the game, and probably the match, was White's knight on h4. Muzychuk failed to maintain an initiative on the kingside, and in the end her knight was stranded on that awful square. Her position was "officially" lost after her blunder on move 33, but even before and aside from that White's position was a disaster.
The game, with my notes, is here; game 7 is scheduled for Friday.
With the exception of Hou Yifan's impressive win with White in game 2, the match has consisted of short draws where Black has had no problems at all. Game 5 continued that trend, and Muzychuk held her second straight game with the black pieces without any difficulty at all.
After getting nothing with White in an Open Ruy, Hou switched to 1.c4 and went for the relatively rare 5.Qa4, probably hoping to surprise Muzychuk. It seems that Muzychuk was the better prepared player, and her 8th move was a novelty. Hou failed to put Black under any pressure, and soon Black enjoyed a very slight edge, though the position soon reverted to equality. After 23...Nd5 mass exchanges ensued, and the players called it a day after 33 moves in a dead drawn rook ending. (The game, with my notes, is here.)
Hou leads 3-2 with five games remaining.