Secret Championship in Ukraine

by André Schulz
12/4/2015 – In March 2016 Women's World Champion Mariya Muzychuk will defend her title against Hou Yifan from China. Currently Muzychuk plays in the Ukranian Championship in Lviv, but the organisers do not want to give Hou Yifan any information about Muzychuk's play and therefore do not publish or relay the games. Many people think this serious secrecy is a joke.

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The Ukrainian Chess Federation revitalized an old tradition that goes back to Mikhail Botvinnik. Before his World Championship matches the notoriously mistrustful "Patriarch of Soviet Chess" liked to play training matches against strong players but the games played in these matches were, of course, kept secret.

In March 2016 the current Women's World Champion Mariya Muzychuk will defend her title against Hou Yifan in Lviv in Ukraine. Because Muzychuk takes part in the Ukranian Championship (not in the Women's championship but in the open Championship) the Ukrainian Federation decided to keep the games of this championship hidden from the public.

Therefore the games are neither transmitted on the internet, nor published on the website of the tournament or other news pages. However, the organizer failed to explain in how far the other participants of the championship are affected by Muzychuk's preparation for the World Championship match, and whether their games also have to be kept secret. Apparently, the idea is to keep the whole of Ukranian top chess inscrutable.

Group Portrait with Lady

The starting position

What did she play? It remains a mystery...

This unique decision led to quite a number of jokes on Russian and Ukranian news- and facebook pages:

"Spectators with Chinese faces are not permitted to watch the games."

"Attention, a Chinese drone with a camera was seen close to the window."

"One should also refrain from publishing photos of Muzychuk because her expression might give clues about her position."

The participants

Yuriy Kryvoruchko, Alexander Areschenko, Andrey Volokitin, Zahar Efimernko, Sergey  Fedorchuk, Yuriy Kozubov,

Valery  Neverov, Vitaly Sivuk, Alexander  Zubarev, Alexander  Kovchan, Martin Kravtsiv, Mariya Muzychuk

Standings after the first round:

Tournament page...

The site of the Federation...

André Schulz started working for ChessBase in 1991 and is an editor of ChessBase News.
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tigerprowl2 tigerprowl2 3/3/2016 09:05
Group portrait with lady? Come on "guys", she has a name!!! 12/10/2015 09:57
I would agree with David Herz about Hou Yifan needing to concentrate her efforts in mixed tournaments or tournaments with men. She will only get better.
David Herz David Herz 12/9/2015 10:03
In fact, Hou Yifan, like Judit Polgar before her, would be better spending her time playing in mixed tournaments and forgetting the exclusively women's world of chess altogether. She is 100 points above the active competition and her skills would be better served playing people of her strength. The Ukraine's behavior is simply embarrassing, I would guess Hou Yifan thinks it is pretty funny too. It is nice though to have a little humor - albeit involuntary - coming out of that country these days. Especially since they have just lost the world heavyweight boxing championship.
brabo_hf brabo_hf 12/6/2015 07:31
If you check my links then you will notice many other fide rated tournaments are hiding their games. The difference here is that the Ukrainian national tournament is internationally more visible.
If there is doubt about games being played then fide can of course request the games.

Preparation plays an important role for masters. I do think it is an advantage to have played a few games with some new systems while future opponents don't know. The pressure of playing new openings in competition can't be copied at home.
ubernomics ubernomics 12/6/2015 05:12
Mariya may be genuinely over 2600 in strength. IMO, the outcome of the match is not a foregone conclusion.

My guess: 80 to 85% probability of a Hou Yifan match victory, 15-20% Mariya Muzychuk. It depends on what Mariya's true strength, which is not clear to me. She might be "only" 2550, but it's not out of the question (given her recent string of strong TPRs) that she is playing no worse than Hou Yifan's upper 2600s.

Ushenina, in contrast, was always 2450 baseline, and only momentarily blipped above 2500. She was a true accident of the FIDE joke qualification system.

Mariya, same format aside, is probably the best match candidate outside of an unretired Judit. Humpy is the proven active #2, but long-ago plateaued at 2590. I'd rather see a young and in-form Mariya than anyone else, at this point.
ff2017 ff2017 12/6/2015 03:12
Actually this sounds a like a pretty smart idea. At least gives the followers of the women's world championship hope for a competitve match.

Hou Yifan wins 5.5-1.5 instead of 6-1 now.
thlai80 thlai80 12/6/2015 02:33
brabo_hf, there's a big difference between secret matches and this Ukrainian championship. Usual training and secret matches are not FIDE rated, and normally just another personal and private games. This Ukrainian championship however is an official tournament, so to make it secretive is lacking transparency. Who's guaranteeing there's no foul play when tournament results are submitted to FIDE? We've seen previously about 20 years ago how a country from South East Asia hosted uninvited and closed GM tournaments one after another with just the results but no games and consequently bumped up a few players to fake GM level.
imdvb_8793 imdvb_8793 12/5/2015 10:09
Oh, come on, Nyanaviveka, Mariya has done enough since winning the World Cup to show that it wasn't a fluke. She's impressed in pretty much every tournament since, and has gained loads of rating. She might not necessarily be the World's number 2 female player, but she's definitely close (which the rating list confirms, by the way), so to say her having won the right to challenge Hou Yifan (which she did fair and square) was in any way accidental is just wrong, if you ask me. It may have been a bit of a surprise at the time but, looking back now, it makes perfect sense, and I would definitely say the right player is playing the match against Hou (should there be one). Ushenina was far from having this kind of results after her World Cup win, if I remember correctly...
Nyanaviveka Nyanaviveka 12/5/2015 07:01
"In March 2016 Women's World Champion Mariya Muzychuk will defend her title against Hou Yifan from China."
Are you sure that Yifan will play that match? Let us recall: FIDE has arbitrarily postponed the WWCC match from 2015 to 2016 without contacting Yifan in advance. It might be that the new dates overlap with the preparations for her exam for the Bachelor's Degree at Peking University. As much as we know, Yifan still hasn't signed the contracts for the match.
If she decides to play, the younger sister of Anna Muzychuk will, just like Anna Ushenina before her, have to realize that to become a personality in the chess world it's not enough to be temporarily pushed and promoted for political reasons by some FIDE thugs. We have nothing against this player, but we have to bear in mind that she owes her participation in a WWCC Match not so much to her playing strength but rather to the mental disorder of the head of FIDE and his knockout format. What they are doing currently in Ukraine is Montessori-Program. We are talking about players from two different leagues. It is most unlikely that Yifan is interested in the preparation of this Ukrainian player, she has other interests and commitments.
TheSame Wastrel TheSame Wastrel 12/5/2015 05:18
Absurd. Muzychuk is a fine player, but she doesn't have a chance again Hou Yifan whether her games are "secret" or not.
sco-ish sco-ish 12/5/2015 04:49
As if Hou Yifan is going to lose because of a few lines! She's probably supplied daily by her team on the latest opening knowledge, plus - her skill clearly outweighs Muzychuk's. Looks like a desperate attempt from Ukraine to avoid another debacle like with Ushenina! :)
brabo_hf brabo_hf 12/5/2015 10:38
Kasparov, Karpov, Timman, Anand,... have all played secret trainingmatches in their careers. In fact I notice more and more sites being blocked for the public so only a selected group of people can download the tournament games as I wrote on my blog: see
I also wrote about more and more tournaments not to publish any games at all anymore to protect participants:

This evolution definitely will harm chess as we need the scores to popularize chess.
Philip Feeley Philip Feeley 12/5/2015 07:45
It looks like the game started 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3. A Spanish, perhaps?
jidzior jidzior 12/5/2015 06:04
Give Ukraine a break. They are not in a cold war. They are in a real one! Have you forgotten? So be sensible with your comments, please...
digupagal digupagal 12/5/2015 05:26
i hate the chiense players, so i love this
Denix Denix 12/5/2015 04:35
Imagine Usain Bolt running at World Championships with only the organizers watching, I can only see defeat.
fons fons 12/5/2015 04:32
Message to Ukraine: the cold war is over!
thlai80 thlai80 12/5/2015 02:21
Clearly the whole men's team is training Muzychuk to become a totally different styled player, else Hou Yifan would not benefit much with additional 11 games. But anyway, Muzyhuk has just another 4 months max as world champion. Regardless of what is being done, Hou Yifan is just too far ahead for Muzychuk to catch up. This match is like pitting Carlsen with a player below 2750 elo.
treetown treetown 12/5/2015 12:44
I guess chessplayers can get better, learn and improve, but chess officials don't seem to evolve. This is something not even during the Cold War era was done. Especially for a major chess country - just sad.
imdvb_8793 imdvb_8793 12/4/2015 10:19
I love Mariya, but this IS pretty ridiculous... I don't like it.
Aighearach Aighearach 12/4/2015 09:55
This fearful attitude shows extreme mental weakness and psychological disadvantage for Muzychuk. It is an embarrassment to her whole team. She has so few lines, and is strong is so few positions, that she can't make it through this less important tournament without using her match preparation? Does her team see her as being so far below the skills of World Champion that she can't risk withholding lines, and has to use the same preparation for this event to try to win it?

The "joke" is the idea that this helps her, or her team.

I'm sure they can succeed in making their top chess play inscrutable, but is that truly an advantage compared to what others are doing in learning openly? If the Ukrainians start out equally skilled, it seems the natural result would be that they would then lag behind over time. It is surely an embarrassment for the whole nation to have chess officials this poor at training logic. If most of the top players in the world had secret games and were "inscrutable" then this choice would make sense, but when everybody else is making up an international environment of cooperative training, they just disadvantage their nation.
anonimous anonimous 12/4/2015 09:33
This is utterly ridiculous... Muzychuk plays dozens of games a year and they think 11 more would make a difference in the preparation? And how do they justify keeping these games secret?!
ubernomics ubernomics 12/4/2015 09:27
One has to wonder whether the Ukraine could fairly host the coming championship match. Higher officials in the country's chess federation (and possibly government) obviously have inappropriate mindset towards sporting event.

Historically, matches were held in a third country to avoid such hometown political intrigue, but that was thought to be a Cold War relic.