Hou Yifan, the leading female grandmaster, is beginning to place strain on Judit Polgar’s record as the best woman chess player ever. At the Biel Grandmaster tournament, Hou seized first prize ahead of a phalanx of elite male rivals. Her win against the veteran grandmaster Rafael Vaganian (see below) was outstanding.
There have been occasional controversies, including one in which our own Nigel Short once became embroiled, about the relative powers of the male and female brain. I incline to the view of Professor Tony Buzan, inventor of Mind Maps and originator of the world memory championships, that the differences hover somewhere between negligible and nonexistent, and that any reticence on the part of female chess practitioners to aspire to the supreme laurels is grounded in culture, not anatomy.
Vaganian-Hou Yifan: Biel 2017
(see diagram 1)
20 ... Bxg2 This is the start of a brilliant combination from Hou Yifan. 21 Kxg2 Qxd4 This is the immediate point. Now 22 exd4 Nf4+ and 23 ... Nxh5 leaves Black with a winning position. However, there is more to Hou’s combination than meets the eye. 22 Qxg6 Qd5+ 23 e4 fxe4 24 Qxe4 For the moment White is a piece up but Black’s next wins a rook. 24 ... Qg5+ 25 Kh1 Qxd2 26 Qxh7+ Kf7 Hou also needed to foresee that her king was not in trouble here. 27 Qg6+ Ke7 28 Qxg7+ Rf7 29 Qd4 Qf4 30 Qxf4 Rxf4 31 f3 Rd4 32 Be4 Rd2 33 Rg1 Rc3 White resigns
Hou Yifan-Bacrot: Biel 2017
(see diagram 2)
The black kingside is clearly weak although the strong central pawn provides some compensation. Hou now manoeuvres effectively against the kingside weaknesses. 31 Rae1 Rh6 Black would have done better to sit tight with 31 ... Bd5. 32 Qf4 Rxh3 Now White is clearly better. Black should have preferred 32 ... Rf6 when White can emerge a pawn ahead after 33 Qxe4 Bd5 34 Qe8+ Kh7 35 g4 Rxe3 36 Rxe3, but the exposed situation of her king will make progress very problematic. 33 Rxd3 Rxd3 34 Rxe4 Be6 35 Ne3 Rd8 This is a blunder in a difficult position. Black had to try 35 ... Rd7 as will become clear after White’s reply. 36 Re5 Black resigns If now 36 ... Qh7 to avoid the impending pin along the g-file with Rg5 then White replies 37 Qg5+ winning the rook on d8. This is why Black should have preferred 35 ... Rd7 in the previous note.
Much hype was whipped up in advance of Kasparov’s recent comeback in the St Louis quickplay events. Sadly, hype is all it was, since a rusty and ill-prepared Kasparov turned in a career-worst performance.