50th Biel: Historic win for Hou Yifan

by André Schulz
8/2/2017 – One could hardly imagine more exciting final round pairings! Hou Yifan and Pentala Harikrisha both had White against their closest pursuers, Nico Georgiadis and Etienne Bacrot respectively. Bacrot benefitted from a one-move blunder, to reach 6 points, which meant Hou was in a must-win situation. But win she did! | Photos: Pascal Simon

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50th Biel International Festival

Round 9

We saw great excitement to close out the GM tournament in Biel! Before the final round Pentala Hariskrishna and Hou Yifan led the field by a half point ahead. Etienne Bacrot, Alexander Morozevich and the young Swiss Nico Georgiadis were close on their heels and also had chances of the tournament. The pairings created additional tension: with the matches Hou Yifan against Nico Georgiadis and Pentala Harikrishna against Etienne Bacrot, we had multiple direct duels between those vying for first. Meanwhile Alexander Morozevich met with Black on Peter Leko, so a win for him would be a tall order — though with Moro you never know!

Morozevich surveys the final round openings

Morozevich surveys the final round openings | Photo: Pascal Simon

Harikrishna 0-1 Bacrot

The first decision came on the board of Harikrishna and Bacrot. From a Giuoco Piano (a.k.a. Italian Game), the Indian went for a kingside attack, but in his zeal for attack, he overlooked a tactic based on the power of Bacrot's bishops. The latent power of the queen and bishop batter on the b8-h2 diagonal was made manifest when 22.Bc5 was met by a crushing reply:

 

Harikrishna before his position exploded against Bacrot | Photo: Pascal Simon

The target: h2 — and the queen dropped there like a bombshell, after 22...Bxf5 23.Nxf5 (or else if Qxf5 then 23...Rd5 forks the queen and bishop) ...Qh2+ 24.Kf1 Rd2!

With Harikrishna's defeat, Bacrot moved to 6 points and was temporarily in the lead again. The task for Hou Yifan was now to win over Georgiadis — a draw was not enough since the Frenchmen's mathematical tiebreak score was higher.

By the time Bacrot and Harikrishna shook hands, however, Hou had a slight edge. She chose a variation of the Sicilian with 4.Qxd4, that doesn't promise White much advantage, but offered chances for a long positional game. The ex-world champion first crippled her opponents pawns at the cost of the bishop pair, but found strong outposts for her knights. The game broken in her favor surprisingly fast. Georgiadis fell into a dismal ending with a "good knight against bad bishop", and gave up on move 29.

 

The Sicilian with 3.Bb5

The Rossolimo Variation of the Sicilian Defence (1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5) is always an excellent choice with White if you want to avoid the deeply analysed main lines of the Open Sicilian. Alexei Shirov provides you with the requisite understanding of the opening's subtleties, by annotating extensively his most important games in this variation. During his career, he has played the 3.Bb5 system with both colours and he shares with you on this DVD his valuable experience.

For consolation, the Swiss IM will soon be a GM! Having already completed his three required GM-norms, he needed only to elevate his rating above 2500, and his strong 5/9 showing in Biel netted him some two dozen points in spite of the last round loss. Congratulations!

Georgiadis

GM-elect Georgiadis will enjoy seeing 'GM' in front of his name! | Photo: Pascal Simon

Best performance ever?

An so Hou Yifan was the clear winner of the GM tournament with a tournament performance of 2810 Elo. This is among the best performances by a woman in decades and the best personal achievements of Hou Yifan besides her accolades in women-only events, including of course the World Championship.

Happy Hou

A happy and radiant winner | Photo: Pascal Simon

Three more decisive

Studer 0-1 Ponomariov

Noel Studer's bad luck continued against Ruslan Ponomariov. The Swiss kept the game in balance for a long time, but in the late middlegame, the former FIDE World Champion (and young father) forced a passed b-pawn, which was enough to bring home the bacon. His pair of knights proved better than White's bishops once the rooks were traded.

 

Navara 1-0 Vaganian

David Navara made it look easy against Rafael Vaganian to end a tough tournament for the Czech number one on a high note. In another Tarrasch variation against Vaganian's trusty French Defense, Navara first traded a rook and pawn for two pieces with a theoretical novelty, then won a pawn after a pretty petite combinaison.

 

White played 23.Nxe6 Rxe6 24.Qxd5 Ne7 and after liquidation on e6, White has Bb3+ picking up the rook on g8, with a pawn-up ending. Navara turned the material advantage cleanly into a full point.

Leko 1-0 Morozevich

Peter Leko and Alexander Morozevich were fighting for the Spanish Zaitsev variation. Morozevich is, as is known, a friend of the fast flank pawns, and today a-pawn was the one trying to be a hero as he broke down Leko's queenside. The Hungarian, however, was not particularly impressed.

Stoic and steady | Photo: Pascal Simon

After the a-pawns and a few other pieces were traded, the fight continued on the kingside. Leko showed all his skills and won the endgame after more than six hours, one of the longest games of the tournament.

 

 

Final standings

 

All games rounds 1-9

 

Commentary of all rounds

Select the round from the playlist for commentary by GMs Danny King and Joe Gallagher

Translation from German and additional reporting by Macauley Peterson

Update, Aug. 3 — As "FramiS" mentions in the comments below, Hou's 2012 result in Gibraltar is arguably more impressive. Although she did not win that tournament, and it was an Open, her performance rating there was 2872.

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André Schulz started working for ChessBase in 1991 and is an editor of ChessBase News.

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