Hou Yifan leads Monaco Womens' Grand Prix

by Sagar Shah
10/13/2015 – After eight rounds of the Monaco Grand Prix it is Hou Yifan who is in the lead with a score of 6.5/8. Half a point behind her is the current Women’s World Champion Mariya Muzychuk. With three rounds to go it promises to be an exciting finish. In this report we have game analysis, a lot of very nice pictures, and interesting videos of the post game conferences.

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Hou Yifan leads Monaco Womens' Grand Prix

When Magnus Carlsen was in Iceland for the Reykjavik Open 2015 he came to the press room while the sixth round was going on. After settling down he was asked by the interviewer, WIM Fiona Steil-Antoni, who he thought had the best chances of winning the World Women’s Championship 2015. Puzzled by the question, Carlsen said, “Hou Yifan.” But she isn’t playing, came the reply. “Then I don’t really know who will win it!”

This is the general consensus amongst the experts on women chess – Hou Yifan is leaps and bounds ahead of her competitors. And she is proving it at the Monaco Grand Prix. As mentioned in our first report, she started off slowly with 2.5/4, losing her game against Humpy Koneru. But after the first rest day the Chinese player has been absolutely flawless and won all her four games to lead the tournament with a score of 6.5/8.

Four points in the last four rounds – Hou Yifan looks simply unstoppable

Hou Yifan defeated Almira Skripchenko in the fifth round in a topsy-turvy encounter, and then got the better of Antanoeta Stefanova in a fine display of thematic play in a reversed Closed Sicilian. Facing Nana Dzagnidze’s French Defence in the seventh round she decided to try out quite an exotic and forgotten line in the Winawer.

Hou Yifan-Nana Dzagnidze, round seven

The 4.Qd3 move is a favourite of the Swedish grandmaster Jonny Hector,
and is much more than a use-and-throw variation

Nana Dzagnidze had no idea of how to continue in this unusual line, and after fifteen moves she was in a nearly lost position. Hou Yifan’s general idea of employing this 4.Qd3 variation was to avoid a theoretical debate and get her opponent in unknown territory, where the Chinese player could showcase her superior skills. This is exactly what happened.

In the eighth round Yifan faced the last seed of the tournament Sarasadat Khademalsharieh. After the initial moves 1.d4 g6 2.c4 Bg7 3.Nf3 c5 4.d5 d6 5.Nc3, we reach the following position:

Sarasadat Khademalsharieh-Hou Yifan, round eight

Hou Yifan took the brave decision of capturing the knight on c3
with her bishop and then placing the pawn on f5

This idea of ….Bxc3 followed by …f5 was seen in the recent game at the World Cup, when Pavel Eljanov, who was playing black, was in a must win scenario against Sergey Karjakin in the semi-finals. This opening is dubious if the knight is on g1 (as then white can go for a quick e4 followed by f3), but with the knight already on f3 Black has excellent chances, and Yifan had little trouble in overcoming her Iranian opponent.

What’s in this thermos? Hou Yifan’s secret ingredients for a successful performance!

Sarasadat Khademalsharieh started the tournament well with three draws, but since then has
suffered five defeats in a row. Nevertheless this is a great learning experience for the youngster.

The reigning Women’s World Champion, Mariya Muzychuk, is half a point behind the leader

After a 3.5/4 start, Mariya Muzychuk slowed down with three draws, but was back with a bang winning her eighth round game against the Indian superstar Humpy Koneru.

[Event "Monte Carlo WGP 2015"] [Site "Monaco MNC"] [Date "2015.10.11"] [Round "8.6"] [White "Muzychuk, Mariya"] [Black "Koneru, Humpy"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "C81"] [WhiteElo "2528"] [BlackElo "2578"] [Annotator "Sagar Shah"] [PlyCount "109"] [EventDate "2015.10.03"] 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. O-O Nxe4 6. d4 b5 7. Bb3 d5 8. dxe5 Be6 9. Qe2 Be7 10. Rd1 O-O 11. c4 bxc4 12. Bxc4 Bc5 13. Be3 Bxe3 14. Qxe3 Qb8 15. Bb3 Qb6 16. Qxb6 cxb6 17. Na3 Rfd8 18. Nc2 Nc5 19. Ncd4 Nb4 20. a3 Nbd3 21. Rd2 Nxb3 22. Nxb3 Nc5 23. Nxc5 bxc5 24. Rc1 Rdc8 25. Rdc2 Rab8 26. Rxc5 Rxc5 27. Rxc5 Rxb2 28. h3 Rb3 29. Ra5 Bxh3 $2 (29... Rb6 $14 {White is slightly better but nothing drastic is happening yet. She can defend tenaciously.}) 30. Rxd5 {Threatening a mate.} h6 31. Nd2 $1 {The knight has been removed with a tempo and the bishop on h3 is lost. Humpy missing this simple idea is quite unusual.} Rxa3 32. gxh3 Rxh3 33. Nc4 $18 {White is better and Mariya showed good technique to bring home the full point.} Rh4 34. Rd8+ Kh7 35. Nd6 Rd4 36. Rf8 Rd1+ 37. Kg2 Re1 38. Nxf7 g5 39. Re8 a5 40. Re6 a4 41. Ra6 a3 42. Rxa3 Kg6 43. Ra7 g4 44. Nh8+ Kf5 45. Rf7+ Kg5 46. Rg7+ Kf4 47. Nf7 h5 48. Rh7 Kf5 49. Rxh5+ Kg6 50. Rh1 Rxh1 51. Kxh1 Kxf7 52. Kg2 Ke6 53. Kg3 Kxe5 54. Kxg4 Kf6 55. Kf4 1-0

With three consecutive wins in rounds five, six and seven, Humpy was
neck and neck with Hou Yifan, before losing the crucial eighth round

After the two Polgar sisters, Pia Cramling (above) is the third female player in the history of the game to have achieved the full-fledged GM title through conventional tournament play – by making three GM norms and reaching 2500 Elo. The Swedish legend, currently in fourth place, was doing pretty well until the fifth round. But in the next game she was on the receiving end of a brilliant attack by Natalia Zhukova.

[Event "Monte Carlo WGP 2015"] [Site "Monaco MNC"] [Date "2015.10.09"] [Round "6.4"] [White "Zhukova, Natalia"] [Black "Cramling, Pia"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "D37"] [WhiteElo "2482"] [BlackElo "2513"] [Annotator "Sagar Shah"] [PlyCount "65"] [EventDate "2015.10.03"] 1. Nf3 d5 2. c4 e6 3. d4 Nf6 4. Nc3 dxc4 5. e4 Bb4 6. Bxc4 Nxe4 7. O-O Nxc3 8. bxc3 Be7 9. Re1 Nc6 10. h4 h6 11. Rb1 a6 12. Bd3 Rb8 13. Bc2 Bf6 14. Qd3 Ne7 15. h5 Nc6 16. Bf4 Bd7 17. c4 Be7 18. Bd2 b5 19. d5 bxc4 20. Qxc4 exd5 21. Qxd5 Rxb1 22. Bxb1 O-O 23. Bc3 Bd6 24. Qd3 f5 25. Qxa6 Kh7 26. Qc4 Ne7 27. Nd4 Qe8 { The material is even but the activity of White's pieces gives her a clear edge. Yet the h5-pawn is attacked and White must be careful. Zhukova played the next few moves with great energy.} 28. Ne6 (28. g4 $1 {was also pretty strong, but it is not so easy to weaken your kingside so drastically.}) 28... Bxe6 29. Qg4 $1 {Zhukova had prepared this nice zwischenzug.} (29. Rxe6 {was the natural recapture but Black is doing fine after} Qxh5 $13) 29... Qf7 (29... Rf7 30. Rxe6 {also puts Black under tremendous pressure.}) 30. Rxe6 {The rook is taboo due to the g7 weakness.} Kg8 {This is a logical move getting the king out of the b1-h7 diagonal.} 31. Qc4 Rd8 32. Bc2 $1 {[#]The bishop threatens to come to b3 increasing the pressure in the position.} Kh7 $2 {As Nigel Short once mentioned, "Blunders do not occur in vaccuum. They are often the result of sustained pressure on the opponent."} 33. Rxh6+ $1 {The queen is undefended and Kg8 is met with Rh8+. A very powerful performance by Zhukova.} 1-0

Natalia Zhukova has only won one game in the event, but it was filled with some power play chess

Speaking of power play, something which must not be missed is Daniel King’s interview with Mrs. Alexander Grischuk at the Tromso Olympiad 2014.

Alexandra Kosteniuk has drawn her last four games and is currently on 4.5/8

Kosteniuk is not really having the best of events here in Monaco. She had a completely winning position against Mariya Muzychuk, and also an advantage against Anna. But against both the Muzychuk sisters she had to settle for a draw. Maybe after the rest day we could well a see a completely rejuvenated Alexandra who would make a strong finish.

It helps when your husband is a 2600+ GM – Alexandra Kosteniuk with Pavel Tregubov

Somebody in Monaco love Photoshop! The ex-World Women Champion, Antanoeta Stefanova (above), has a 50% score in the event winning against Humpy, Kosteniuk and Pogonina and losing to Hou Yifan, Mariay Muzychuk and Cramling.

Natalija Pogonina has had a peak rating of 2508 in July 2014 but is still only a WGM

With 4.5/8, Natalija has been doing quite well in the tournament. Winning three games is an excellent achievement. But she wouldn’t be very happy with her endgame play against Antanoeta Stefanova in their fifth round encounter.

[Event "Monte Carlo WGP 2015"] [Site "Monaco MNC"] [Date "2015.10.08"] [Round "5.3"] [White "Pogonina, Natalija"] [Black "Stefanova, Antoaneta"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "D45"] [WhiteElo "2445"] [BlackElo "2500"] [Annotator "Sagar Shah"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "8/R5r1/6pk/5p1p/5K1P/6P1/8/8 w - - 0 88"] [PlyCount "52"] [EventDate "2015.10.03"] {Black's last move was Rg8-g7 offering the exchange of rooks. Of course the first instinct is not to exchange, but if you delve deeper you will realize that there is no way for Black to break through!} 88. Ra4 (88. Rxg7 $1 Kxg7 89. Ke5 (89. Kg5 Kf7 90. Kf4 {is also fine.}) 89... Kf7 90. Kf4 $1 {The only move to draw the game. It is important that when Black goes Ke6, you are ready to meet it with Kg5 attacking the g6 pawn.} (90. Kd5 Kf6 91. Kd6 f4 92. gxf4 Kf5 $19) 90... Kf6 (90... Ke6 91. Kg5 $11) 91. Kf3 $1 {This is the key move of the defence. When the black king comes to e5, you should be ready to meet it with Ke3.} Ke5 92. Ke3 Kd5 93. Kf4 Ke6 (93... Kd4 94. Kg5 Ke4 95. Kxg6 f4 96. gxf4 Kxf4 97. Kxh5 Kf5 $11) 94. Kg5 Kf7 95. Kf4 $11 {There is absolutely no way to make progress.}) 88... Re7 {The position should be still completely drawn, but as the game shows there is nothing like a dead draw in the game of chess!} 89. Rb4 Re1 90. Rb7 $1 {Cutting the king off.} Rf1+ 91. Ke3 f4+ {The last ditch attempt by Stefanova to get some play based on the weak h4 pawn.} 92. gxf4 Rh1 93. f5 $5 (93. Rb6 Rh3+ 94. Kf2 Rxh4 {And currently f5 is not possible due to Rf4 but this position is a draw after} (94... Kg7 95. f5 gxf5 96. Rb5 Kf6 97. Rb6+ Ke5 98. Rb5+ Ke4 99. Rb4+ $11) 95. Kf3 $1 {threatening f5.} (95. f5 $2 Rf4+ $19) 95... Kg7 96. Rb7+ Kf6 97. Rb6+ Kf7 98. Rb7+ {There is no way to get out of the perpetual checks.} Ke8 (98... Ke6 99. Rb6+ Kf5 100. Rb5+) 99. Ke4 g5 100. Kf5 gxf4 101. Kg5 Rh3 102. Kxf4 $11) 93... Rh3+ 94. Kf4 Rxh4+ 95. Ke5 Ra4 96. f6 {The position is still drawn but it is way sharper now.} (96. fxg6 {was the easier way to get the half point.} Kxg6 97. Rc7 h4 98. Rc8 h3 (98... Kh5 99. Kf5 Ra5+ 100. Kf4 $11) (98... Kg5 99. Rg8+ Kh5 100. Kf5 $11) 99. Rh8 Ra3 100. Kf4 $11) 96... g5 97. f7 $2 {The losing mistake of the game, but not so apparent, especially when you have less time on the clock.} (97. Rg7 $1 {was one way to draw.}) ({But the clearest way to achieve the half point would have been} 97. Ke6 $1 Re4+ 98. Kf5 Rf4+ 99. Ke6 h4 100. Rb8 g4 101. f7 g3 102. f8=Q+ Rxf8 103. Rxf8 g2 104. Kf6 $1 {As the black king is cramped for space, he has to agree to a draw after} Kh7 105. Rf7+ Kh8 106. Rf8+ Kh7 107. Rf7+ Kh6 108. Rf8 Kh5 109. Kf5 $11 {But as you can see it was no longer as simple as before and it required concrete calculations.}) 97... Rf4 $1 $19 {The f-pawn has been controlled and the king can now join to attack it with Kg6.} 98. Ke6 Kg7 $2 ( 98... Kg6 $1 {was, of course, the simplest.}) 99. f8=Q+ $1 Kxf8 100. Rh7 $2 ( 100. Rb5 $1 $11 {and it would have not been too difficult to draw this endgame. }) 100... h4 101. Rh5 Rg4 102. Kf5 Rg3 $19 {Now everything is in order and the win is easily achieved.} 103. Rh7 h3 104. Kf6 Ke8 105. Ke6 Kd8 106. Kd6 Kc8 107. Kc6 Kb8 108. Kb6 Rb3+ 109. Kc6 g4 110. Rh4 Rb1 111. Rh7 Rb2 112. Rh4 h2 113. Rh7 g3 {An endgame that Pogonina will not be proud of.} 0-1

Natalija’s demeanour in this press conference tells you how upset she was with her play

Anna Muzychuk is having a forgettable event, and at 3.0/8 she is yet to score her first win

The two sisters did fight it out against each other for 33 moves in a theoretical line
of the Grunfeld, but in the end the game ended in a draw

As Mariya points out in the press conference, it is always difficult for her
to play against Anna because she knows all her openings – and vice versa

This is the first time that the younger Muzychuk has overtaken her sister on the classical rating list. Mariya has gained 19 points in the tournament and is now 2547, while Anna lost 15 Elo and is down to 2533. It was possible to calculate this thanks to the information available on the 2700 chess website.

Almira Skripchenko is in the tenth position with the score of 2.5/8. It must be mentioned
that this chess IM is an excellent Poker player with career earnings exceeding $250,000

In second last position: Nana Dzagnidze is currently losing 26 Elo points!

Different players have different tastes! (Antoaneta, Mariya Almira)

Hou Yifan with her biggest support – mother Wang Qian

The model of the official placard of Grand Prix in Monaco, Juliette Rapaire,
making the first move in the game between Natalia Zhukova and Humpy Koneru

The playing hall of the 2015 FIDE Womens' Grand Prix

Casino Monaco where the tournament is being held

The picturesque Mediterranean city of Monaco

Pictures from the official website


The games are being broadcast live on the official web site and on the chess server Playchess.com. If you are not a member you can download a free Playchess client there and get immediate access. You can also use ChessBase or any of our Fritz compatible chess programs.

Sagar is an International Master from India with two GM norms. He loves to cover chess tournaments, as that helps him understand and improve at the game he loves so much. He is the co-founder and CEO of ChessBase India, the biggest chess news portal in the country. His YouTube channel has over a million subscribers, and to date close to a billion views. ChessBase India is the sole distributor of ChessBase products in India and seven adjoining countries, where the software is available at a 60% discount. compared to International prices.


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