20 Jan

Hou’s That Girl?

In the early 1960s, Bobby Fischer arguably became the first to be charged with sexism in chess after famously declaring all women to be weak players, and he could give any woman in the world knight—odds and still win. More recently, English Grandmaster Nigel Short caused a one-man media maelstrom after writing in New In Chess that female players don’t have the right brain for the game. The opposite sex are, he said, “hard-wired very differently.”


Unfortunately Short’s personal bad score against Judit Polgar - hailed as the world’s greatest female player, who once was a regular in the world’s top 10, and the only woman to qualify for the Candidates tournament - was held up as living proof he was wrong. But then a more authoritative source came forward with new research that blows away the misconception that "men are from Mars, women are from Venus” hokum.

There are no such thing as a female or male brain, according to the most comprehensive neurological study of its kind concluded. After analysis of 1,400 brain scans, Prof. Daphna Joel and her research team at Tel Aviv University, declared: “human brains cannot be categorised into two distinct classes - male and female brain.”

Since Polgar’s retirement in 2014, the torch of the world’s top female player has passed to Hou Yifan of China, who despite being only 21, is already a former two time Women's World Chess Champion. But the difference in playing strength between Hou and Polgar is enormous - and Polgar herself believes the problem is that female players are actually held back by the success they find at women’s tournaments.


Although ranked in the top 100, Hou herself admitted in a major interview late last year for China Daily that she has a huge gap to fill in order to emulate Polgar’s success, as she strives to perhaps get into the top 20. And many scoffed that her invite to play among the world’s elite at the 78th Tata Steel Masters would see her being systematically picked off by all her male rivals - but she’s defied her critics and more than justified her invitation from the forward-thinking Tata Steel organisers, with a singularly stunning standout performance.

Photo © | http://www.tatasteelchess.com/


Unbeaten so far, Hou’s had the upper-hand against Wesley So and Sergey Karjakin that ended in draws, and also a comfortable draw with her compatriot, Ding Liren, China’s No.1 player. But now she’s turned in arguably the best game so far of the tournament, as she crushed David Navara - the world No. 25, to now move into the top 60 - with a Polgar-like display of pyrotechnics on the board to join the chasing pack, a half point behind tournament leader Fabiano Caruana.

Round 4
So draw Ding
Hou 1-0 Navara
Karjakin 1-0 Tomashevsky
Eljanov 1-0 van Wely
Carlsen draw Mamedyarov
Giri draw Caruana
Adams draw Wei

Round 4 Standings: 1. Fabiano Caruana (USA) 3; 2-6. Wesley So (USA), Hou Yifan (China), Sergey Karjakin (Russia), Ding Liren (China), Pavel Eljanov (Ukraine) 2.5; 7-8. Magnus Carlsen (Norway), Wei, Yi (China) 2; 9-13. Anish Giri (Netherlands), Loek van Wely (Netherlands), Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan), Evgeny Tomashevsky (Russia), David Navara (Czech Rep) 1.5; 14. Michael Adams (England) 1.

Rest day Wednesday 20th Jan.

Round 5: Thur 21st Jan 12pm local time (1pm GMT, 7am ET, 4am PT): Ding-Karjakin, Navara-So, Caruana-Hou, Wei-Giri, Mamedyarov-Adams, Van Wely-Carlsen, Tomashevsky-Eljanov,

GM Hou Yifan - GM David Navara
78th Tata Steel Masters, (4)
Caro-Kan Defence, Advance Variation
1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 The Advance Variation has been a go-to favourite against the Caro-Kan for Peter Svidler, Michael Adams and Nigel Short. 3...Bf5 4.Nf3 e6 5.Be2 Nd7 6.0-0 Bg6 7.Nbd2 Nh6 8.Nb3 Nf5 9.Bd2 Be7 10.g4 Nh4 11.Nxh4 Bxh4 12.f4 f5 13.c4!? As Hou noted in her post-game summary with GM Yasser Seirawan, she discovered this sharp move being played by some lowly-rated players in her database, and decided "it seemed interesting". 13...a5 Both Hou and Seirawan believed this could well be bad with the knight on d7. 14.a4 0-0?! Another dubious move Hou and Seirawan didn't agree with, instead preferring the immediate 14...Be7. 15.g5! And this is the reason why ...Be7 was thought better, as now to secure an escape path for the bishop, Navara will have to compromise his kingside. 15...h6 This has to be played sooner rather than later, as White has the simple plan of Rc1-c3-h3 and trouble for the bishop stranded on h4, as well as mating attacks down the h-file. 16.gxh6 gxh6 17.Kh1 Calmly tucking the king out of the way, while also opening up the g-file for the rook. 17...Kh7 18.cxd5 cxd5 19.Rc1 Hou exploits her opponent's weaknesses to the max - here, if Black does nothing, she has the simple plan of Rc3-h3 with carnage down the h- and g-files. And also note that Navara can't contest the c-file with 19...Rc8, as the weak a5-pawn will fall. 19...b6 20.Rc6! Now Hou finds a more active option for her rook - and one that she knew would involve her sacrificing the exchange. 20...Rc8 Hou and Seirawan both concurred that this was the only move, as after 20...Bf7 21.Qc2 and the domination of the c-file going into an endgame scenario will give White a near winning advantage. 21.Rxe6! (See Diagram) Now all the fun starts, as the temporary rook sacrifice opens up the game for Hou's bishops and queen to wreck havoc on Navara's king. 21...Bf7 22.Rd6 Be7 23.Bd3 Bxd6 24.Bxf5+ Kh8 25.Qg4! Cutting to the chase of attacking the Black king with tempo, as d7 is under attack. 25...Rc7? Hou expected the more resilient defence with 25...Rg8! 26.Qh3 Bf8 27.Bxd7 Bg6! where she was just going to play 28.Bf5 with an advantage, as she has the pawn-roller storming up the board and the weakness on h6 to play on. 26.Qh3! There's no rush to capture the bishop, as Black has to first worry about the precarious state of king. 26...h5 Because Navara missed 25...Rg8, he's now forced to further weaken the h-pawn and the defence of his king. 27.exd6 Ra7 28.Be6 Nf6 29.f5! Now Hou's bishops come into their own. 29...Qxd6 30.Bf4 Qd8 31.Be5 Bg8 32.Qxh5+ Rh7 33.Qg5 Qe7 34.Nc1! Hou's winning plan is simple: Nc1-d3-f4 - and note how Navara can't play ...Bxe6, as Black will lose the knight on f6. 34...Qg7 35.Qxg7+ Rxg7 36.Nd3 Rg4 37.Nf4 Kh7 38.h3 Rg3 39.Ng6 Rxh3+ 40.Kg2 1-0 Yasser Seirawan best summed it up for everyone with the ultimate compliment at the end of Hou's post-game analysis, with “That looked like 2700 all the way through!”

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