Hou Yifan wins Corsican Circuit

by Albert Silver
10/24/2014 – In spite of wishing for a grand final between Vishy Anand and Hou Yifan, the fans had to agree that the structure of the tournament was supremely democratic. Naturally there were two guest stars, but there were also no fewer than fourteen spots up for grabs, so anyone had a shot. Hou Yifan faced Sergey Fedorchuk in an exciting final. Final report with GM analysis.

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President of the Corsican Chess Federation, Léo Battesti, introduces the players

Both Sergey Fedorchuk and Hou Yifan could hardly be considered underdogs, as both were among the highest rated, and both held exactly the same 2673 rating. If on the one hand Hou Yifan had the vigor of youth on her side, she had also scraped through a non-stop series of tiebreakers suggesting a certain vulnerability in the tournament, while Fedorchuk had just beaten Anand.

Sergey Fedorchuk and Hou Yifan shake hands before game one

The final was held in Ajaccio, after the first stages had played out in Bastia, and here too the emphasis was to promote the noble game with children as a large Youth Open sponsored by BNP Paribas took place on the last day. Last year this open had attracted 190 players, and it was a tribute to the year-long efforts that this time over 240 showed up, representing over 40 clubs. The children also got the chance to follow the final in the large theatre, adding a dose of enthusiasm that is not always customary in chess tournaments.

Once more a tournament for youths was organized, this time in Ajaccio

The start faced the sort of problem organizers can only smile from ear to ear at: far more
players than expected

The children were gien trophies and items as prizes, such as books and electronics

Still, the highlight had to be receiving the prize from the hands of the finalists

In game one, then Chinese player had white and probably surprised her opponent by choosing 1.e4 e5 2.Bc4 and entering a Vienna game. Fedorchuk responded well at first, but as his time began to dwindle, he found it hard to keep up with Yifan's tactics, and suddenly after 33.e5! the position swung irrevocably. Though White missed chances to end Black's resistance earlier, Fedorchuk was always the one in survival mode and a blunder on move 52 ended it.

This was great news for Hou Yifan's fans as they could now see an important win in her horizon, but in game two she would be black and there was ample opportunity for the Ukrainian to equalize.

GM Alejandro Ramirez annotates game two:

[Event "Corsican Circuit 2014 - Final"] [Site "Ajaccio"] [Date "2014.10.22"] [Round "1.2"] [White "Fedorchuk, Sergey A"] [Black "Hou, Yifan"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B72"] [WhiteElo "2673"] [BlackElo "2673"] [Annotator "Ramirez Alvarez,Alejandro"] [PlyCount "86"] [EventDate "2014.??.??"] [EventCountry "FRA"] 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 $5 {Hou Yifan is well versed in her Sicilians, but it is not so common for her to start the game like this.} 3. Nc3 {An anti-Sveshnikov move, but I doubt the World Champion was planning to play that with the Black pieces.} g6 {The accelerated Dragon becomes more feasible for top-GMs to play once the Maroczy has been avoided.} 4. d4 cxd4 5. Nxd4 Bg7 6. Be3 Nf6 7. Be2 { An old but relatively quiet line, Black is not supposed to have too many problems in this variation.} (7. Bc4 O-O 8. Bb3 {is still the most theoretically challenging line. Black has a few options at her disposal.}) 7... O-O 8. f4 (8. O-O d5 {is already known to be equal.}) 8... d6 9. Nb3 {This line has fallen out of popularity for a long time now. Black has more than one continuation that promises good play.} a6 (9... Be6 10. g4 d5 11. f5 Bc8 12. exd5 Nb4 13. Bf3 {is a famous and old game between Fischer-Reshevsky, 1961.}) ( 9... a5 $1 {is more assertive.}) (9... e5 $5) 10. g4 {White's attack on the kingside in these kinds of situations is usually somewhat slow. It is more visually impactful than dangerous.} b5 11. g5 Nd7 12. Qd2 Nb6 {Black quickly transfers the knight to the queenside, hoping to put pressure there quickly.} 13. O-O-O Na4 $1 {This is the point. Now c3 is under attack and Black already has concrete threats.} 14. Nd4 Bb7 $6 (14... Nxc3 $1 15. Qxc3 Nxd4 16. Bxd4 e5 $1 $17 {would have been a perfect way to continue the game. White's structure is falling apart.}) 15. Nd5 Nxd4 16. Bxd4 e5 17. fxe5 Bxd5 $1 {An important strategical decision. White's knight on d5 is far more useful for White than the bishop as Black is embarking on a dark-square attack.} 18. exd5 dxe5 19. Be3 Qd6 $6 {Letting Fedorchuk slightly off the hook.} (19... e4 $1 20. Bd4 (20. c3 b4 {is not a position that White can survive.}) 20... Qxd5 $17 {is a clean pawn.}) 20. Kb1 Rac8 {Black still keeps some initiative. Notice that White has not had time to develop anything on the other flank.} 21. h4 $2 e4 $6 {Missing a brilliant finish.} (21... Rc3 $3 {This unusual move wins on the spot. The point is that b4 is now clear for the queen, making the attack on the queenside far more dangerous. The rook is clearly taboo.} 22. Ka1 (22. bxc3 Qa3 {with unstoppable mate following up.}) 22... e4 23. Rb1 Ra3 $1) 22. Bd4 Qxd5 23. Qe3 Bxd4 24. Rxd4 Qc5 25. c3 Rfd8 26. Rhd1 Rxd4 27. Rxd4 Re8 {At the end of the day White has survived the attack. He is down a pawn but can regain it in the next move; though he would still be a little worse.} 28. h5 $2 (28. Bf3 $1 Qf5 29. Bxe4 Qf1+ 30. Qc1 Qf2 $15) 28... Qe5 29. h6 Nc5 $2 {Already with both players in time pressure both players miss an important resource here.} 30. Bg4 $2 (30. c4 $1 {White has the strong threat of Rd5, and its surprisingly difficult to stop!}) 30... Kf8 31. a3 Ne6 32. Bxe6 Qxe6 33. a4 Qf5 {Black is now up a pawn. It is difficult to convert, but it helps when all you need is a draw.} 34. a5 Qf3 $1 35. Qxf3 exf3 36. Rf4 Re1+ 37. Kc2 Re2+ 38. Kb3 f2 39. Ka3 (39. Rf6 $8 $11) 39... f5 $1 {A nice move! This clears the path for Black's king as the pawn cannot be taken.} 40. b3 (40. gxf6 g5 $19) 40... Ke7 41. Rf3 Ke6 42. Kb4 Kd5 43. Rf4 Re4+ (43... Re4+ 44. c4+ bxc4 45. Rxf2 cxb3+ 46. Kxb3 f4 {is very hopeless.}) 0-1

After Fedorchuk's capitulation, there followed long minutes of thunderous applause in a standing ovation. Hou Yifan's win in the Corsican Circuit cannot be understated. It was a competition with many very strong grandmasters, all hardened in the ruthless world of Swiss opens, and of course Anand himself who will soon be embarking on his campaign to regain his World Champion title. Hou Yifan had recently stormed into the world Top 100, but how deep a dent she would make was as yet unclear, but this victory will go far into silencing even her most ardent skeptics. If any exist still, that is.

Hou Yifan accepts the trophy in honor of her momentous win

A picture with the finalists Sergey Fedorchuk, Hou Yifan, and the organizers

About Hou Yifan
Hou Yifan is the second female in history to official break into the ranks of the absolute Top 100. One of the great prodigies, she became a full-fledged grandmaster at the ripe age of fourteen years six months and two days. While Judit Polgar has held the title of strongest female for 25 years, Hou Yifan has narrowed the gap to just two Elo as of the latest ratings list with 2673 Elo. It is a safe bet that she will eventually break the 2700 barrier, after which it would appear her only limits are her ambition.

Crosstable of the knockout phase

Photos from the official site


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Born in the US, he grew up in Paris, France, where he completed his Baccalaureat, and after college moved to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He had a peak rating of 2240 FIDE, and was a key designer of Chess Assistant 6. In 2010 he joined the ChessBase family as an editor and writer at ChessBase News. He is also a passionate photographer with work appearing in numerous publications, and the content creator of the YouTube channel, Chess & Tech.


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