07 Mar

Her Turn

We’re on the eve of International Women's Day, which annually each March 8th marks a global event celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future. In chess-strong nations such as China, Russia, Ukraine and Georgia, International Women's Day (IWD) is a national holiday - but not if your name happens to be Hou Yifan or Mariya Muzychuk, and you are currently playing for the Women’s World Championship title in Lviv, Ukraine! 


Today is the official rest-day, and the players return tomorrow on IWD for game five and the halfway stage of the match. We left the match with former champion Hou Yifan striking first blood, with a beautifully played game two to take the early lead 1.5-0.5. In game three, Muzychuk, with White, played a Catalan Opening but Hou easily equalised to make the score 2-1 in her favour.

However game four proved to be of interest despite that also ending in draw, as it probably saw what defending champion Muzychuk had in store for game two, had Hou played into the main-line: her turn to reveal a big opening novelty worked out to perfection by Team Muzychuk (and no doubt the silicone-certainty of major playing engines crunching all the variations), with a tricky tactical line that could easily have seen her opponent going astray.

But Hou was more than a match for the challenge over-the-board, as she calmly saw her way through all the complications to find the draw. Hou now leads Muzychuk by a score of 2.5—1.5 in their best-of-ten-game match for the title. Monday will be a rest-day, and game five and the halfway stage will be on IWD on Tuesday, March 8th.


Another women’s chess-themed activity of interest in America that runs through IWD is  ‘Her Turn: Revolutionary Women of Chess’, the intriguing new exhibit currently running at the World Chess Hall of Fame (February 4, 2016 - September 4, 2016) in St. Louis, that highlights the stories of a diverse number of women chess players from the late nineteenth through the early twenty-first centuries.

GM Hou Yifan - GM Mariya Muzychuk
Women’s World Championship, (4)
Ruy Lopez, Open Variation
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Nxe4 The Open Lopez again from Muzychuk - this is the first world title match that has seen  an Open Lopez battleground since Karpov-Korchnoi, Merano 1981. 6.d4 b5 7.Bb3 d5 8.dxe5 Be6 9.c3 In game two, Hou played the popular sideline of 9.Be3 that avoids the "Dangerous Dilworth" variation after 9.c3 Bc5 10.Nbd2 0-0 11. Bc2 Bxf2!? that was the invention of the British amateur Vernon Dilworth (1916-2005). But now, probably after cramming the so-called "Dilworth Endgame", she allows all the main-lines. 9...Be7 10.Bc2 Bg4 11.h3 Bh5 12.g4 Bg6 13.Nd4 And here where we come to a crossroads, and an American one at that! The alternative 13.Bb3 directly attacking the d5 pawn was the choice of Bobby Fischer when he played Iceland's Fridrik Olafsson at the 1966 Havana Olympiad. And after 13...Na5 14.Bd5 c6 15.Bxe4 Bxe4 16. Qxd8+ Rxd8 17. Nbd2 Bd5 18. Re1 h5 Black has compensation for the pawn - although Olafsson seriously misplayed his hand and Fischer went on to score a smooth win (Fischer-Olafsson, Havana 1966). Hou's choice is the more modern approach, and was seen as recently as the Tata Masters in January, with new US No.1 Fabiano Caruana using 13.Nd4 to beat Wei Yi, China's young hope for the future. 13...Nxd4 In Caruana-Wei, the Chinese teenager played 13...Qd7 and soon found himself in a tough battle was a seasoned pro. But it seems Team Muzychuk had done a lot of homework on this line and found a very tricky solution that solves Black's problems, as we'll soon see. 14.cxd4 h5! A sort of crossover to the Fischer-Olafsson game - with the big difference being that the queens are still on the board. 15.f3 Ng3 16.Rf2! The only move, as 16.Re1? leaves Black with an almost winning game after 16...hxg4! 17.Bxg6 gxh3!! 18.Kh2 fxg6 19.Kxg3 Bh4+ 20.Kh2 Bg3+! 21.Kh1 (The alternatives loses outright: 21.Kxg3 Qh4+ 22.Kh2 Qf2+ 23.Kh1 Qg2#; 21.Kg1 Qh4! 22.Re2 Bf2+! 23.Rxf2 Qg3+ 24.Kh1 Qxf2 and White can resign.) 21...Bxe1 22.Qxe1 Qd7 leaving White with a dodgy position to defend with a defenceless king and that Black pawn on h3. 16...hxg4 17.Bxg6 Again Hou finds the only move - but it wasn't all that difficult to spot, as after 17.fxg4 Ne4! 18.Rf3 c5! the game is going to burst open to Black's big advantage. 17...Rxh3! (See Diagram) And now comes the point (or perhaps the half point!) to Team Muzhychuk's homework, as after 17...fxg6 18.Qc2 and White is better. The piece sacrifice ends in a perpetual, so long as Hou follows-up correctly. 18.Qc2! And after 30 minutes of deep-thought, Hou finds her way through her opponent's silicon-induced tactical sacrifices. In reality, after a few minutes she probably dismissed the obvious capture with a check with 18.Bxf7+ Kxf7 19.fxg4+ Kg8! as Black will have a promising attach on the White king. But as the tension built with her 30min 'big think', the online crowds were wondering whether she would find what all their playing engines had quickly found - 18.Qc2 - but the reality is that she most likely saw this saving move after about 10min or so. So why the extra time thinking? Well, once she had found the draw, she began to look and double-check if there was a way to win for her. This is a key lesson to learn - in tricky, tactical positions, always find an escape route first before looking further for the win. Once you find the escape route, then you look to see if there is anything better.  18...Bc5! Again, a key sacrifice that would have been seen in Muzychuk's pre-game preparation. Here, the bishop moves out of the way to allow the Black queen access to h4. 19.Qxc5 Rh1+! 20.Kg2 Rh2+ 21.Kg1 Of course, 21.Kxg3?? and 21.Kxh2?? loses to both 21...Qh4+.  21...Rh1+ ½-½ After 22.Kg2 Rh2+ 23.Kg1 Rh1+ etc is a perpetual. And there’s no sensational win with 22…Qh4, as White has a timely resource that turns the table after 23.Qc6+ Kf8 24.Qxa8+ Ke7 with 25.Bg5+!! Qxg5 26.fxg4 and Black loses in all lines.

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