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!


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.


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


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fons fons 8/5/2017 03:54
In the livestream from one of her previous tournaments there was an interview with somebody who works as a second who said that she does not even come close to working on chess as much as the top guys and that therefor she still has a massive margin for improvement. Most of the top guys have regular seconds as well.

Only the future will tell of course. Also I feel like she might drop out of chess at any moment to pursue some academic degree or something else. Or she might get married and want to get a child. Judit Polgár dropped out at the very top of her career.
Boon-Swee Yen Boon-Swee Yen 8/3/2017 04:49
@Thomas Richter Hou Yifan was a full-time student for the last 3 years, she only played chess part-time during this period.
Thomas Richter Thomas Richter 8/3/2017 12:58
@badibadibadi: "If it wasn't for theses all female events she would be top ten already." I checked Hou Yifan's rating progress (or lack thereof) since she first crossed 2650 in August 2014 when all that talk about "crossing 2700 soon" started: Elo +32 from 7 women-only events. Elo -1 from 9 supertournaments (before Biel which isn't quite a supertournament). Elo -20 from 5 Swiss opens (only Gibraltar 2015 was successful). Elo -26 from 4 other events (Norway Chess qualifier and matches against IM Henriquez, Short and Ivanchuk). If it wasn't for all female events she would have struggled even more to stay in the top100 ... .
Thomas Richter Thomas Richter 8/3/2017 12:53
@genem: "The field of players that Yifan bested is exceptionally impressive." Which superlatives would you use for an event with top20 players, and without players rated below 2600?
Peter B Peter B 8/3/2017 11:44
@fons I have a feeling the article has been edited. But I think we can all agree that (a) it was a great performance by Hou Yifan, and (b) she hasn't eclipsed Judit's lifetime record yet. But maybe one day she will.
fons fons 8/3/2017 11:37
@ Peter B:

Judit Polgár certainly has a much more impressive track record. But the article did say "among the best performances", it didn't say it topped the list.
Peter B Peter B 8/3/2017 06:16
A wonderful win by Hou Yifan! But still, not a single competitor was in the World top 20. If you take account of ratings inflation, surely Judit Polgar's performance at Wiik aan Zee 2003 was better: 8/13, 2nd behind Anand, ahead of Kramnik (2809, #2), Ponomariov (2734, #7), Bareev (2729, #8) etc. I hope Hou Yifan goes on to greater things, but Judit is still queen!
badibadibadi badibadibadi 8/3/2017 05:10
If it wasn't for theses all female events she would be top ten already.
turok turok 8/3/2017 04:05
please stop saying best ever performance for a women no offense she is a chess player plain and simple move ongreat performance from a very good chess player man or women
Cocolisso Cocolisso 8/3/2017 03:50
Hou Yifan is an excellent player and a lovely girl ! Go ahead Hou and God bless u !
macauley macauley 8/3/2017 02:29
That's a good point FramiS. I wrote of her performance in Gibraltar that year in New in Chess 2012-02, "she played seven of the eleven players rated 2700 or above, defeating four of them" and also had "a four-game winning streak, including back-to-back points against Polgár, Le Quang Liem, and Alexei Shirov." It's at least comparable, though there's something a bit special about a round-robin.
FramiS FramiS 8/3/2017 01:27
It's strange that the author of the article claims that the 2810 by Hou Yfan is the best perfermance by a woman in decades. Hou Yfan herself performed better in 2012 at the Tradewise Festival in Gibraltar where she shared first with Nigel Short (before the tie break match) with a performance of 2872. She drew Mamedyarov,Adams and defeated Shirov, Polgar, Le Quan Liem, Almasi to name some results.
At that time she had a rating of 2605 and was 17 years old.
Aighearach Aighearach 8/3/2017 12:03
It is hard to argue with a 2810 performance rating from the tournament winner.
Congratulations Hou Yifan!
That last round game I kept thinking, this is why I play the French. Total torture for black.
DrAlexanderSchmidt DrAlexanderSchmidt 8/2/2017 09:00
Agree with plotinoab: Moro turned on the spotlights of the tournament, but boy... this endgame shouldn't be lost by a GM, yet great technique by good old Peter Drawko. Congrats to Hou Yifan for the overall win!
ricardoalves ricardoalves 8/2/2017 07:24
Congratulations Hou Yifan!
genem genem 8/2/2017 07:04
The field of players that Yifan bested is exceptionally impressive.

Does Yifan yet know whether her shift toward competing in more mens (or "open") tournaments is pushing her skills up faster than before when she was playing in only womens tournaments?
basler88 basler88 8/2/2017 06:03
BRAVO Yifan! I alway knew you would do it, you'll be soon the highest rading women ever and the guys don't take you lightly anymore.
VVI VVI 8/2/2017 05:45
Harikrishna is a choke artist; he has botched up crucial opportunities more frequently in recent times.
plotinoab plotinoab 8/2/2017 05:25
It's a shame Moro lost a draw endgame, probably not much motivated in the end, not as much of Peter, that also had an unlucky tournament. Moro made all the show at this tournament,
Petrarlsen Petrarlsen 8/2/2017 04:43
@ ashperov : Yes, I quite remember ; "someone" said (on the page about the last round of the Geneva Grand Prix) that Hou Yifan was a "mental midget" and shouldn't be invited to important tournaments...

He really didn't chose the right moment to say this !!! It is quite a good thing for him that ridicule don't kill !...
avemaria avemaria 8/2/2017 04:42
Bravo Hou!
You have a wonderful talent.
Steven E DuCharm Steven E DuCharm 8/2/2017 03:39
ye go girl!
ashperov ashperov 8/2/2017 03:35
Lol where is that idiot that complained a few articles ago that Miss Fantastic doesn't Warrent to be invited to these events.
BRAVO Yifan!
ff2017 ff2017 8/2/2017 02:45
8:44am est, wow! she did it!