Hou Yifan put on an amazing display at Gilbraltar, with a performance rating of 2872, and finishing 8.0/10.0. While she's still only 17, and it is probably too soon to unseat Judit Polgar as the best woman chess player in history, it seems pretty clear that Judit's days for holding that distinction are short.
So what are the opinions out there, is Yifan going to go down as the best female to play the game? Will she be able to compete regularly at the highest levels as Judit has?
Judging by her play in Gibraltar, and notably AGAINST Judit, I'd say she should go on to be the best thus far. She's been outstanding and she is still only 17. I for one am looking forward to plenty more great games from the Chinese woman!
My question is how does her performance at this tournament compare to other male player's historic major tournament play at 17? Do Carlsen and Aronian need to be looking over their shoulder?
This is certainly an outstanding performance, but now, the question is : is she going to repeat 2750+ performance on the regular basis ? If yes, then everybody should look over their shoulder
She's certainly not scared of anyone. I've just watched Kingscrusher's latest video - www.youtube.com/watch?v=aqCwjmaUKB8 - where she beat Shirov with the black pieces in... the Poisoned Pawn variation of the Najdorf! If she can continue this form, then in time she may soon be accepted as a genuine contender for a World Champion spot. It'll certainly be interesting to keep an eye on her progress.
Lets not get ahead of ourselves, it's one tournament, a little too early to be talking about Hou as World Champion material. For comparison, Giri is also 17 and already trading blows with the elite of the elite (winning Reggio Emilia with 2800+ pr, doing well in Wijk before tiring and capitualting)
This was just one tournament.. did you see her last couple tournaments? Nothing to brag about.
If she keeps this up though.. She would definately be a threat to everyone in the future!
Its one tournament. Lets not rush anything and start calling her the greatest female player ever. Shes not better than Judit just yet.
Judit made it to #8 in the world on the ratings list. Hou Yifan has a long way to go.
Indeed, Hou's results in open events haven't been impressive before Gibraltar, at least not compared to Polgar's. Eight months ago she was clear last in this tournament:
Polgar was 17 when she won Madrid 1994, scoring +5 in a round robin with top players like Shirov (+1), Kamsky (+1), Salov (=), Bareev (-4). She played Linares many times, for example in 1997 when she finished ahead of Anand and Gelfand.
Hou turns 18 this month and her rating progress has been rather slow the last years:
January 2009: 2571
January 2010: 2590
January 2011: 2602
January 2012: 2605
Gibraltar was of course a very impressive result, but it remains to be seen how many similar performances she will have in the future.
This the most sensible response here so far. One good result in basically the last 3 years, with very little overall progress, points to this being more of an aberration than the norm.
There were no top 10 players at the tournament (Svidler is 13th in the last official list) so who knows how she would do against the world's absolute best, especially against someone like Carslen or Aronian who out rate her by 200 points.
Nigel made her look stupid in the playoff, but a great tournament performance by Hou Yifan, she will get stronger.
Carlsen is better ;)
The question for a player coming out of China and a woman is if she's competing against a similar rating pool compared to the average FIDE player.
I agree with fabelhaft, goldendog, and iFrancisco and other like-minded posters ... Hou had a great tournament, but it is just one event. If we want to look at a single event, I think Polgar's 1994 tournament win at Madrid is more impressive. She finished 1.5 points ahead of a field that included four then-current Top 10 players (Shirov, 3rd-4th; Kamsky, 7th, Salov & Bareev, 8th-10th). As iFrancisco pointed out, Gibraltar, strong as it was, did not include a single current Top 10 player.
Or, we could compare the 2010 Karpov-Hou match to the 1993 Spassky-Polgar match. Young women of similar ages playing ex-world champions of similar ranking. In 2010, Karpov (ranked somewhere above #100, unsure of the specific ranking, however) defeated Hou. By contrast, Polgar defeated 101st ranked Spassky in 1993.
Or, we can look a little further along at Polgar's career. Her result of 8.0/13 at Corus 2003, finishing a clear second, just 0.5 point behind Anand, is certainly more impressive - to my mind - than Hou's Gibraltar performance. Corus 2003 included 8 participants (including Polgar herself) who were ranked in FIDE's Top 10 that year.
As fabelhaft observed, Hou's overall tournament record hasn't been exactly overpowering as of late. At the World Cup last year, she was knocked out in the first round by Movsesian without taking a single game, or even drawing one, losing 0-2. Polgar, in contrast, met Movsesian in the second round, defeated him, and went on to defeat Karjakin (then #5 in the world) and Dominguez (2700+) before finally losing to Svidler, the eventual tournament winner.
Someday, if Hou can peak at #8 or better, I'll re-examine this issue. Until then, however, it's really hard to take the idea seriously that Hou is superior to Polgar. Especially when you break it down into the following:
1. Hou's most impressive achievement to-date isn't as impressive (in my opinion, at least) as Polgar's at the same age
2. Hou has one major achievement compared to Polgar's 20+ years of success
3. Hou's peak ranking is #125, compared to Polgar's peak ranking of #8 (or her current ranking of "only" #29)
So, to give my thoughts regarding the original questions posed in this thread:
1. Is Yifan going to go down as the best female to play the game? No. Not unless she has a career that defies her current results/progress.
2. Will she be able to compete regularly at the highest levels as Judit has? Too soon to tell. As mentioned, while Gibraltar was strong, it was not what I would term "the highest levels."
I think paulgottlieb nailed it when he described Polgar's career as "lonely." Although she has accomplished so much in both life and chess, there are times when it must have been frustrating watching other women players ignore her results.
What I mean by "ignore her results" is this:
So many women players look at Polgar as some kind of an untouchable idol, instead of a simple model of hard work and dedication that is capable of being replicated. Polgar has said for years, if girls work hard and are dedicated, they can succeed as she did. But it seems for over 15 years now (since 1996, when Polgar first entered the FIDE Top 10, till today), most women have been content to applaud Polgar with their words, but ignore her in their actions. They point to Polgar as proof they can compete with the men, then turn around and play for a "women's world champion" title - leaving Polgar to shoulder all the actual work by herself.
Even though her success in shouldering that responsibility has brought her great admiration, and no doubt much personal satisfaction and pride, it has to be annoying at times. It would explain her attitude following Hou's performance in Gibraltar.
From Judit Polgar's website:
"I always hoped that sooner or later some other women would come along with me and compete at the top men’s level. Although Hou, at the moment, is only a 2600 player, on this tournament she did an excellent job. Raised the bar for herself. She is also very young so it will be really interesting to see her progress in the next 2 years. And even more interesting to see if she can keep up this excellent form on a regular basis, and if she can exceed 2700 or not."
If I were Polgar, I'd be proud of my accomplishments ... but I'd also be ready for some other girls to start carrying their share of the load! Although Polgar may be too polite to phrase it that way (and may, in fact, be too classy to view it that way; perhaps she's not as personally irritated as I would be in her situation!).