Hou Yifan Extends Lead In Instructive 6th Game

Hou Yifan Extends Lead In Instructive 6th Game

GM Hou Yifan achieved a major breakthrough with a win against GM Mariya Muzychuk in game six of the 2016 Women's World Championship Match.

After confident draws in games three through five, Muzychuk looked to be stabilizing the match after her loss in game two. With the white pieces, Muzychuk had every reason to hope to equalize in game six.

Hou's striking victory stripped away such hopes and presents Muzychuk with the very likely insurmountable task of closing a two-game deficit with only four remaining games.

After game five, Muzychuk appeared quite optimistic. | All photos by Vitalyi Hrabar.

Game 5

Without hindsight, game five appeared, in theory, a major test for Muzychuk. Hou had White, and one expected her to press in the hopes of that key second victory.

In fact, the opposite was true. Hou essayed the relatively surprising 1.c4, but she got nothing with White. Although it's not clear Hou was ever worse, practically the position appeared favorable for Muzychuk. 

Ever the professional, Hou found a calm way to liquidate to an equal endgame, and the game was soon drawn. 

Annotations by GM Dejan Bojkov

In the post-game press conference, each player seemed at peace with the outcome.

The fact that game five was played on International Women's Day naturally led to queries from the press about the discrepancy between male and female strength in chess.

The players each noted issues leading to the sizable rating gap between the top male and female players. Muzychuk cited differences between concentration and emotional stability but noted, in particular, the difference in conditions (presumably organizational, sponsorship, and funding conditions) for male and female players.

Hou was more pointed and stated that there is simply a much larger male population playing chess.

On International Women's Day, the players received flowers from a sponsor and a local football (soccer) celebrity.

Game 6

Hou's victory in game six, likely the decisive one in the match, could not have been anticipated in the opening.

Once again, Muzychuk achieved a strong position, and once again Hou characterized the position as unclear in the post-game press conference.

Despite Hou's ambiguous evaluation, the analysts heavily favored White when the worm turned.

Muzychuck's knight ventured to h4 early in the game, but as the game progressed, it became less and less clear how the knight might be extracted. GM Teymur Rajabov proposed radical measures...

Radjabov was unsurprisingly right, and the best way to procure the f5 square for the knight was 19.f6!

After this missed opportunity, Muzychuk seemed unsure of how to play. Her intended 24.f3 proved flawed as she noted in the post-game press conference.

Drifting further, she traded queens on move 27, and Hou was firmly in the driver's seat from then on.

Hou soon cashed in with the pleasing 35...f2! which this author selfishly wishes had been played two hours earlier so that he could have included it in his class on intermediate moves earlier today

Annotations by GM Dejan Bojkov

The game six press conference is available below. Muzychuk appeared understandably deflated, but she was kind enough to share the lines that lead her into trouble.

During Monday's rest day, the players were shown the following chess set whose intricacy and cultural uniqueness may interest collectors.

The World Championship between Mariya Muzychuk and Hou Yifan takes place March 1-18 in Lviv, Ukraine. It is a 10-game match with, if needed, a rapid/blitz tiebreak.

2016 World Championship | Score After 6 Games

Name Rtg Perf 01 02 03 04 05 06 07 08 09 10 Score
Hou Yifan 2673 2679 ½ 1 ½ ½ ½ 1 4
Muzychuk,Mariya 2554 2548 ½ 0 ½ ½ ½ 0 2

Thursday is a rest day. Games seven and eight will be played on Friday and Saturday.

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