It looks as if we are in “World Championship Season.” Earlier this week, we had the welcomed news that Magnus Carlsen’s second world championship defence will be held 11th to 30th November in New York, USA. Also, we’re now less than a week away from the start of the eight-player Candidates Tournament in Moscow, Russia that will determine Magnus’s challenger. And also, just underway in Lviv, Ukraine, is the battle for the women’s world championship title.
The women’s title is being fought out between defending champion Maria Muzychuk of Ukraine and her challenger Hou Yifan of China, who is a former World Champion from 2010 to 2012 and from 2013 to 2015. It was originally scheduled for last October but was postponed because no host could be found. World governing body Fide continue to meddle and experiment with the women’s world championship. The postponement means that also on the calendar for October 2016 is another scheduled Women’s World Championship, which is scheduled to be a 64-player knockout tournament.
And herein lies a problem. The 2015 Championship was a 64-player knockout tournament. Hou Yifan, who is the undisputed women’s No.1 player since the retirement of Judit Polgar, dislikes the knockout format, so silently made her anger known by declining to play. In her absence, Muzychuk won. Hou then won the right to challenge Muzychuk in a match after winning the Grand Prix series of tournaments 2013-2014. But quite how Fide resolves the calendar clash this year is anyone’s guess - and it is likely Hou could well boycott this event also.
Either way, Hou is easily the best woman player in the world, and she’s heavily tipped to regain her title for a third time - and she’s still only 22! The match started with a harmless draw in game one - but game two saw Hou exerting her domination of the women’s game, as she ruthlessly exploited Muzychuk’s awkwardly placed pieces to launch a devastating attack to win and take an early 1.5-0.5 lead in the ten-game match.
And this could well be pattern for the rest of the match in Lviv - heavy-favourite Hou playing safely with Black and going for wins with White. The prize fund for the match is 200,000 Euros. with 60 percent going to the winner if the match ends within the 10 regular games. If it goes to a tie-break, the winner will get 55 percent.
Official Photo Opposite: Vitaliy Hrabar
GM Hou Yifan - GM Mariya Muzychuk
Women’s World Championship, (2)
Ruy Lopez, Open Variation
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Nxe4 The Open Lopez; a more dynamic approach to the more normal Closed Lopez variations. 6.d4 b5 7.Bb3 d5 8.dxe5 Be6 9.Be3 The standard reply here is 9.c3 but after 9...Bc5 10.Nbd2 0-0 11.Bc2 White risks 11...Nxf2!? and the "Dangerous Dilworth", a very aggressive line that was the creation of British amateur Vernon Dilworth (1916-2005) - and this still packs quite a punch at club level. The only trouble with the Dilworth is that White can easily circumvent it if by playing 9.Be3 Be7 10.c3, a bit of subterfuge often seen nowadays - and indeed, happens in this game. 9...Be7 10.c3 0-0 11.Nbd2 Qd7 12.Bc2 Nxd2 Also an option is 12...f5 but after 13.exf6 Nxf6 White has the better bishop-pair and attacking option either against the Black king or even central pressure by placing his rooks on e1 and d1. 13.Qxd2 Bg4 14.Bf4 Bxf3 15.gxf3 The doubled pawns and losing of Hou's defences around her king amounts to nothing, as she has a powerful bishop-pair and could well use the g-file to help her attack. 15...Rad8 16.Rfd1 You may think 16.Rad1 looked more natural, but here, Hou want's to keep open her options of playing a future a4 and opening the a-file for her rook. 16...Qe6 17.Qe3 Rd7 18.Bg3 Threatening f4-f5. 18...g6 19.a4! Now comes a4 - and with it, Muzychuk's game seems to collapse with a series of bad decisions that gifts her opponent a winning attack. 19...Nd8? And it all starts to go wrong here. Perhaps Muzychuk would have faired better with 19...b4 20.a5 bxc3 21.bxc3 f6 but after 22.Ba4 White's bishops still hold the upper-hand, and Black's weak pawn on a6 could well be a big liability. 20.axb5 axb5 21.f4 With the idea of Qf3 and f5 to push home the attack. 21...f6 Forced now, due to Qf3 and f5 coming. 22.exf6 Qxf6 Exchanging queens doesn't help to ease Black's position: 22...Qxe3 23.fxe3 Bc5 24.Kf2 Rxf6 25.b4 Bb6 26.Ke2! and suddenly White is threatening e4! And with her active bishop-pair, better rooks and active king, Hou would have a promising endgame ahead of her. 23.Qe2 c6 24.Qg4! Taking full advantage of the badly-placed Rd7 and Nd8 to force f5 and a withering attack. 24...Rb7 25.f5 Bd6 26.Ra6 Hou's earlier option of Rfd1 is now fully justified - her queenside rook swings into the attack now down the open a-file - and just look how ugly that knight is still stuck on d8. 26...Rg7 27.fxg6 Bc5 28.Kg2 Just casually moving out of a potential check on f2. 28...hxg6 29.Rxd5! (See Diagram) Now Hou moves in swiftly for the kill - this is a finely executed attack that took full advantage of those ugly moves of ...Rd7 and ...Nd8. 29...Bxf2 30.Bb3! Now we see the reason for the 28.Kg2 stepping out of the possible check. Now all of Hou's pieces are participating in an all-out, winning attack. 30...Ne6 31.Rd6 Bc5 32.Qxe6+ 1-0