Last week, in round 2 of the Gibraltar Chess Congress, 17 year old Hou Yifan, rated over 2600 FIDE after her crushing Woman's World Championship match victory over Humpy Koneru, played the following game against super-GM Zoltan Almasi:
Beating a 2700+ opponent in the Berlin Wall endgame is something that very very few teenagers have managed. This prompted us to add a topic to our Pardon our Blunders show that very day: "Will Hou Yifan become the second woman to reach 2700 FIDE?" We both answered yes, Danny for some nonsense reason I've already forgotten; and me because she achieved so many milestones in her career (chinese women's champion, IM, GM, etc.) at a very young age. And also that Berlin win from that very day. Seriously, what other teenager has ever beaten a 2700 in the Berlin?? And did that teenager in question themselves go over 2700? Of course they did! And so will Hou.
But Hou was not done by any measure. Her run at Gibraltar continued-- first she faced British champion, Michael Adams:
After a loss to another 2700+ opponent, Sasikiran, she won with black against IM Mariya Muzychuk, and then faced yet another super-strong 2700 opponent:
I don't *know* this, but I would be surprised if Judit has lost to any other female player in the last 18 years. She has been so far ahead that we are used to thinking of her as #1 by a mile, and "the rest" of the top woman players as competing amongst each other for #2. In fact, I think it was somewhat of a sensation when Humpy Koneru briefly closed the rating gap between herself and Judit to under 100 points. But I think this victory heralds an important change in the landscape of "woman's chess." There will soon (it may take a year or two) be two woman "Super-Grandmasters," and two women in the top-100 list.
Before Judit, a lot of chess players thought that men were inherently better at chess than women. There was plenty of hope that Judit's example would shatter this notion forever-- it has not. A large percentage of chess players still consider her an exception, and think the lack of other women at the top of the FIDE rating list indicates that in general they lack some ingredient for chess competition. It is my renewed hope that Hou Yifan will disabuse another large segment of the chess-playing population of this false "exception" concept.
Here is the game she played today:
Wow! What a topsy-turvy battle! I have no idea what was going on in this one, from the moment the tactics started with black taking on e5, up until Hou captured on h6, and I knew the black king was going to get wrecked. When I first played through it, my instinct was that white did not have enough compensation for the pawn, hunted for counter-chances, creating crazy tactics, and then swindled black. But upon looking back over it, I don't know exactly where black had an advantage, and it all looks very messy, but potentially brilliant sustained sacrifical tactical play by white.
By the way, with this win, Hou rejoined Adams in the lead, ahead of 10 other 2700+ players. Of course she has a tough task ahead of her in the next two rounds, probably playing black twice against super-strong opposition. But whether she piles onto this success or suffers a couple setbacks, I think this tournament will be a huge milestone for her, and the experience and confidence she gains from competing with these 2700s will help her to reach that mark herself in the next year or two.
I'm rooting for her!