Hou Yifan Scores Historic Victory In Biel
Eight months in, Hou Yifan is celebrating her apex in a tumultuous 2017. She began the year with a controversial low; intentionally throwing a game in the Gibraltar Chess Festival to protest the statistically unlikely (but correct) number of women she was paired against. In Grenke, she received acclaim for opening the tournament with two wins, including a fine victory against world number-three Fabiano Caruana (Pssst - Don't miss their Speed Chess match on August 24!), but ultimately she only finished on 50%. Then only a few weeks ago, Hou Yifan showed extremely poorly in the Geneva Grand Prix, scoring only 2.5/9.
Headline photo courtesy of the Biel International Chess Festival.
Today in Biel, she defeated IM Nico Georgiadis, completing a three-game winning streak and claiming sole first place with 6.5/9 and a 2810 performance rating. This is both one of Hou Yifan's finest successes and a notable victory in the history of women's chess.
Hou Yifan wins the game and the tournament! Congratulations to the Chinese!— Biel Chess Festival ( @BielFestival) August 2, 2017
Congratulations Hou Yifan with a great victory!Well deserved first place in a very strong tournament🤗🤗🤗! Also nice to see Bacrot on a stage.— Sergey Karjakin ( @SergeyKaryakin) August 2, 2017
Hou Yifan has won Biel outright with 6,5/9, no tie-breaks needed! pic.twitter.com/dFf9XK6SCA— David Llada ♔ ( @davidllada) August 2, 2017
After today, Hou Yifan has an 89 (!) point advantage over the second highest-rated female player in the world, GM Anna Muzychuk. However, overall, Hou Yifan is ranked only 72nd in the world. The disparity in participation between men and women in chess is such that in the history of chess, 35 women in total have been recognized as grandmasters (all still living) while there are nearly 1500 active male grandmasters.
So where does Hou Yifan's victory today rank among other such tournament victories by female chess players? Well, here is the relatively short list of comparable achievements this author could locate:
- Sofia Polgar won the 1989 Rome Open with 8.5/9, scoring a performance rating of 2879.
- Judit Polgar, inarguably the strongest female player in the history of chess, has a long list of victories to her name. The most recent is shared first at the 2011 European Individual Championship. Her most recent sole first is her 2006 Essent victory, and the author's favorite is her 1991 victory in the Hungarian Championship, where at the age of 15 and five months, she became champion of her country and the youngest grandmaster in the history of chess, besting a 30+ year-old record set by Bobby Fischer.
- Less than a year ago, Valentina Gunina won the London Super Rapidplay tournament with 9/10.
Still only 23, and seemingly refocused on chess after attending college in France, Hou Yifan has plenty of opportunities to chase the records set by Judit Polgar, such as her peak rating of 2735 (Hou Yifan has yet to cross 2700.), and her remarkable 20+ years as the top-rated female player.
Judit Polgar, the only female player to have crossed 2700 and entered the top 10 in the world, and one of the great players of all time.
Having said much about this tournament victory and its significance without actually discussing the chess, let's dive into the games After round seven, there was a four-way tie for first place. In round eight, the lead pack was whittled to two players as Hou Yifan and Pentala Harikrishna scored victories. Hou Yifan secured her victory with a textbook combination against Rafael Vaganian. Can you find it?
Hou Yifan's combination is destined for the chapter "Mutliple Themes" in whichever
anthology next hits the market. | Photo courtesy of the Biel International Chess Festival.
Harikrishna was better for most of the game against Ruslan Ponomariov, but it took many moves to collect the point against the resourceful Ukrainian.
Ponomariov and Harikrishna embarking on a game of wandering kings. | Photo courtesy of the Biel International Chess Festival.
In the final round, Harikrishna surprisingly faltered against Etienne Bacrot. Bacrot caught Harikrishna with a surprisingly simple tactic, ending the game shortly after it began. This temporarily vaulted Bacrot past both Harikrishna and Hou into clear first place and 6/9 in the tournament.
That turned all attention to Hou Yifan who had gotten into trouble in the opening against Georgiadis but was around this point, turning things around. Georgiadis accepted doubled pawns rather than sacrifice a pawn, but the resulting miserable position soon saw him dropping a pawn and resigning shortly thereafter.
Hou Yifan played succesfuly in multiple types of positions in Biel, winning positionally and tactically, but by her own admission, her play was at times sloppy, and one can easily locate inaccuracies and errors in her play that are invariably exposed in a super-tournament.
Hou Yifan's next appearances are the aforementioned Speed Chess match vs Caruana and the World Cup next month where she is competing along with Magnus Carlsen and the entirety of the world's top 15 players in a massive 128-player knockout.
Final Standings | Biel International Chess Festival