Women's WCh. G9: Hou Yifan wins and is champion

by Albert Silver
3/15/2016 – It was certainly a curious match in terms of openings choices, with neither player opting for their pet Sicilians... until today. In a do or die situation, Mariya Muzychuk knew that a symmetrical opening held little hope, and chose the Classical Sicilian. After a lengthy a fascinating battle on both wings, Hou Yifan emerged victorious and is the new World Champion. Full report with analysis.

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2016 Women's World Chess Championship

The Women’s World Chess Championship Match 2016 between the current World Champion Mariya Muzychuk of Ukraine and Challenger Hou Yifan of China (former World Champion 2010-2012, 2013-2015) takes place in Lviv, Ukraine, on March 1-18, 2016. The first game is scheduled to start at 3 pm local time on 2nd of March 2016. You can watch the games live in our broadcast window at the bottom of this page.

Game nine

Photos by Vitaliy Hrabar for the official site

It was the ultimate do-or-die situation for title-holder Mariya Muzychuk, since anything less than a win meant surrendering the title to the challenger and former champion Hou Yifan. The worst part is that even if she somehow did pull off a win, she would face the exact same scenario in the tenth game.

The Ukrainian came with her game face on, in every sense of the term. There would be no doldrums, looks of resignation or tension. She had fought her way to the title magnificently last year, knew full well she was the underdog in this fight, and had done everything in her power to fight for the title. In spite of the final score of a very decisive 6.0-3.0 in favor of Hou Yifan, it bears remembering where Muzychuk came from, and how far she has come.

A jocular Mariya goes through the security check

For many years she had been very much in the shadow of her holder sister Anna, whose results exceeded hers by a healthy margin. Such a shadow of an older sibling can weigh heavily sometimes, no matter how compassionate and generous that sibling might be. Her climb up the Elo ladder was slow in the past years, but the win of the championship seems to have galvanized her, not only in motivation, but self-belief, and she has not only accrued over 40 Elo since then, but produced some fantastic results that did credit to her title and newfound self-confidence.  Her amazing first board result in the European Team Championship was one example.

A focused Muzychuk faces the reality of her situation

She still arrived in this match outgunned by a player whose precociousness is rivaled by only one other female player in history, but held on and fought hard with dignity. She produced situations that put her opponent in danger, and should she work hard and continue to grow, may yet convert them to a full point in future encounters. Whatever the result, she did herself proud.

No less good-humored (with good reason) is Hou Yifan before game nine

As to the new champion, Hou Yifan, what can one say? She was the favorite and everyone knew it, but sometimes that is as much a curse as a blessing, since the weight of expectations can be a heavy burden to bear. She lived up to them though, fighting on the home turf of her opponent, yet keeping good cheer and grace throughout. She has regained her title in the match secured by the strange cycle that FIDE has erected for the Women’s World Championship. Her status as the no. 1 female in activity is not in doubt, and what is left now is for her to pursue her goal of 2700 Elo that we all know she is capable of.

She came with a mission and fulfiled it

Game nine annotated by GM Adrian Mikhalchishin

[Event "Women's World Championship"] [Site "?"] [Date "2016.03.14"] [Round "9"] [White "Hou , Yifan"] [Black "Muzychuk, Mariya"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B59"] [WhiteElo "2667"] [BlackElo "2563"] [Annotator "Adrian Mikhalchishin"] [PlyCount "91"] [EventDate "2016.03.14"] {It was very interesting question - which opening would the World Champion choose to play for a win with black? One thing was clear: there would be no Open Spanish today.} 1. e4 c5 {Finally a sicilian, as recommended by our legendary WGM Marta Litynska.} 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 d6 { The Rauzer variation (note he was from Kiev in Ukraine, a fitting choice!) has disappeared from modern practice.} 6. Be2 {Hou Yifan chooses a slow positional line, instead of a complicated theoretically one.} (6. Bg5) 6... e5 ({ Personally, I think that in such a decisive game the slightly more flexible} 6... e6 {was to be preferred.}) 7. Nb3 ({Efim Geller signed a few masterpieces in his pet line} 7. Nf3 Be7 8. O-O O-O) 7... Be7 8. O-O O-O 9. Be3 Be6 {[#]} 10. f3 {The safest choice.} ({The typical central strike} 10. f4 {promises good play for Black.} exf4 11. Bxf4 d5 12. exd5 (12. e5 Ne4 13. Bd3 $2 Qb6+) 12... Nxd5 13. Nxd5 Bxd5 14. Kh1 a5 $1 15. Nd2 (15. a4 Bf6 16. c3 Re8 $17) 15... Bd6 $1 $17 {Ostojic,P-Gufeld,E/Skopje 1969}) (10. Qd2) 10... Na5 (10... a5 {seems to be more logical here.} 11. Nd5 a4 12. Bb6 Qd7 13. Nc1 a3 14. bxa3 Bxd5 15. exd5 Bd8 16. Bxd8 Nxd8 17. Qd3 Ra5 18. c4 b6 19. Qe3 Qa7 {with a great position, Rjabzev,K (2332)-Vovk,Y (2561)/Moscow 2008}) 11. Nxa5 Qxa5 12. Qd2 Rfc8 13. Rfd1 (13. Nd5 {did not work} Qxd2 14. Nxe7+ Kf8 15. Bxd2 Rxc2) 13... Kf8 14. a4 a6 15. Nd5 Qxd2 16. Rxd2 Nxd5 17. exd5 {[#]} Bd7 ({Also not bad was the blockading strategy with} 17... Bf5 18. c4 a5 19. b3 h6) 18. a5 ({ Black would have no real problems after} 18. c4 a5 19. b4 axb4 20. Rb2 e4 21. Rxb4 exf3 22. Bxf3 Bf6 23. Ra3 Rc7 24. a5 Be5) 18... Bb5 19. Kf1 f5 ({The International master and famous trainer Viktor Zheliandinov proposed entering a rook endgame with good play after exchanging off the bishops.} 19... h6 20. c3 Bg5) 20. c3 (20. Ra3 {would have led to equality after} Bf6 21. Rb3 Bxe2+ 22. Kxe2 Rc7 23. Bb6 Rc4 24. Be3 Rc7) 20... g5 $6 {[#]} ({More logical was} 20... Kf7 21. Rc2 Bd7 22. c4 f4 23. Bf2 Bf5 24. Rc3 g5 25. b4 Bf6) 21. Rc2 $1 { Preparing the natural pawn expansion on the queen's flank.} h5 $2 {A serious mistake. The white-squared bishop needed to be exchanged first as this will lead to problem with the a6 pawn. As it turns out, this white bishop will decide the game at the end!} (21... Bxe2+ 22. Kxe2 Kf7 23. c4 Rg8 24. b4 Rac8 25. c5 g4) 22. c4 g4 $1 (22... Be8 $6 {would have led to better play for White. } 23. b4 f4 24. Bb6 Bg6 25. Rcc1 Bf6 26. Ra2 Kf7 27. c5 Bf5 28. c6 g4 29. Rac2 bxc6 30. Rxc6) 23. b4 f4 (23... Bf6 {would have made White's task harder.} 24. Rac1 Ba4 25. Ra2 Bd7 26. c5 f4 27. Bf2 Bf5) 24. Bf2 Bd7 ({Still better was} 24... Bf6 25. Rac1 Ba4 26. Ra2 Bd7 27. c5 Bf5) 25. c5 Bf5 (25... gxf3 { promised better chances for counterplay.} 26. gxf3 Kf7 27. Rac1 Bf5 28. Rc4 Bd7 29. R4c3 Bf5 30. c6 Rcb8) 26. Rc4 Kf7 27. Rd1 {Interesting choice.} (27. Rac1 { was possibly more logical.}) 27... Rg8 $6 {[#]} ({White would keep the advantage after} 27... Rc7 28. Rdc1 gxf3 29. gxf3 Rcc8 30. c6 Rcb8 31. cxb7 Rxb7 32. Bb6 Bd8 33. Rc6) 28. g3 $1 {A great defensive move, which destroys Black's pawns on the king side. From this moment on Hou Yifan started to play very fast.} fxg3 29. hxg3 Rac8 ({Or} 29... gxf3 30. Bxf3 Rh8 31. Kg2 Rag8 32. c6 bxc6 33. dxc6 Be6 34. Rc3) 30. fxg4 $1 ({The move played by the Chinese player was more logical than} 30. f4) 30... hxg4 {[#]} ({It was necessary at the end to exchange these Bishops} 30... Bxg4 31. Bxg4 Rxg4 32. Rxg4 hxg4 33. Ke2 Rd8 34. cxd6 Rxd6 35. Bc5 Rh6 36. Kd3 Rh3 37. Rf1+ Ke8 38. Ke4 Rxg3 39. Kxe5 Rh3 {and Black is still alive.}) 31. Kg2 Bd7 32. Rh1 Rg7 ({White would keep advantage anyhow after} 32... Bb5 33. Re4 Bxe2 34. Rxe2 Rcd8 35. Rd1) 33. cxd6 {Now Hou Yifan starts converting into a winning position} Bxd6 34. Rxc8 Bxc8 35. Bc5 Bxc5 36. bxc5 Bf5 37. Kf2 $1 {Improving the King} Rg8 38. Ke3 Rd8 39. Rf1 Kg6 40. Rd1 Kg5 {[#]} 41. d6 Rh8 42. d7 {Leading to the win.} Rd8 43. c6 $1 bxc6 44. Bxa6 c5 ({Or} 44... Rxd7 45. Rxd7 Bxd7 46. Bb7 c5 47. a6) 45. Bb7 c4 46. a6 1-0

Current standings

Player Fed Rtg G1 G2 G3 G4 G5 G6 G7 G8 G9 G10 Pts
Mariya Muzychuk
Hou Yifan


March 13 Sunday Day Off  
March 14 Monday 15:00 Game 9
March 15 Tuesday Day Off  
March 16 Wednesday 15:00 Game 10
March 17 Thursday Day Off  
March 18 Friday 15:00 Tie-break games
March 18 Friday 18:00 Closing Ceremony

All games start at 3 p.m. local time, which is an hour ahead of European time, two ahead of Britain, and seven ahead of New York. You can find the starting time at your location here.

Women's World Chess Championship 2016 live broadcast

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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.


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