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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chessdrummer chessdrummer 3/20/2016 02:21
There is no "men's" cycle only a women's cycle.
ff2017 ff2017 3/16/2016 09:41
@buddenbrook $300k isn't going to cut it. Judit said she would need something comparable to the Men's World Championship. And I don't blame her, Judit v Hou would be much more interesting than say, Carlsen v Anand III
Denix Denix 3/16/2016 06:57
Mariya Muzychuk has actually become more beautiful since winning the World Championship. This is the first thing I noticed.
buddenbrook buddenbrook 3/16/2016 05:02

Look at Polgar's rating history she was 2656 in 2000, when she was 24 and 2675 when she retired at 38, possible rating inflation acknowledging. In between she passed 2700 couple of times. But at the 2700 ratings she played relatively fewer games. Dipped below 2700 then passed it again, and was still 2705 in December 2012, 3 years and 3 months ago. In between she became a mother and had other things than full time chess training on her mind. She's in the same age group as Kramnik, younger than Gelfand, Anand or Ivanchuk.

I don't see any definite reason to think why she couldn't get at least very very close to her best with dedicated chess training, assuming she could be persuaded to come out of retirement for one final match.

Whatever the case, I think we can all agree that chess history loses a lot if the match doesn't materialize. What is needed is a chess enthusiast with a spare $300,000 or so in his pocket and who understands the significance. And the commercial interest the match might genuinely generate could cover much of it. I feel the chess world is 'broken' if the match doesn't happen. If Polgar says no, then that is another thing, but first there should be an attractive offer on the table.
ex0 ex0 3/16/2016 11:14
@buddenbrook: There is no way Polgar can train herself in the next 2-3 years to be back to her 'best'. At her best, she was like top 10-15 in the world, at worst top 20. When she was still active and before she retired, i'm sure she was still training and trying her best to win(else why even still play and be a professional instead of just retiring?), but the best she could manage was like 2680-2720, which is not even top 20 anymore, and far from her peak. I don't think she can ever get back to her peak rating or break 2750, maybe not even 2720 anymore.
donwaffel donwaffel 3/16/2016 03:58
It was very interesting question - which opening would the World Champion choose to play for a win

what a statement.
sicilian_D sicilian_D 3/15/2016 10:54
where is the full report?
Osmar Osmar 3/15/2016 03:05
Congrats to both players, Mariya put up a good fight, excellent preparation! She´ll be back to fight again another day!
scoobeedo scoobeedo 3/15/2016 02:08

Why you do not write a comment anymore?

Hou did exact what is to expect. She was strolling to ther title.

- - -

Congrat to Hou! You did what I expected.

- - -

The only bitter taste is the way how the FIDE is acting. This FIDE is not acting in the interest of chess, but in the interest of money. The FIDE stole the world championship title from Hou and gave it to a inferior player (Sorry, Mariya, you are good, but to be a REAL world champion is a long way) just because greed.

This shadow world championship tournaments are just a joke. It is time to replace this useless FIDE management.

First the total unfair armageddon rule and then the knockout world championships. What is next, you FIDE clowns? A wodka chess tournament?

- - -

This chess friend found the correct worlds for this unacceptable behaviour of the enemies of chess, the FIDE.

richard khyam vui voon 3/14/2016 10:04
Please, no more knock- out tournament to take the TITLE off HOU. Instead ,please use the same Format and Formu la ,as in the man cycle to find a worthy challenger for HOU. For goodnss sake stop deceiving chess-loving people and the general public for making hollow paper World Champion without any substance.
chandrahasan chandrahasan 3/15/2016 01:16
Congrats to Hou YiFan
buddenbrook buddenbrook 3/15/2016 10:20
It's a tragedy for chess history and a failure of the world chess community, if a J. Polgar - Hou Yifan match fails to materialize inside the next 2-3 years or so, when Polgar is still able to train herself back to her best.
thlai80 thlai80 3/15/2016 06:50
If only they now reveal their team of seconds. Mariya preparation was super excellent, apart from Game 2, there's not a game in which she was worst out of the opening. Her team must have analyzed very deeply of Hou Yifan's game. From the last photo, there's not much secret to Hou Yifan's team anymore.

Hou Yifan mentioned during the press conference that she will complete her university studies in the summer. Expect her to start climbing up the ELO after that. Previously, she had mentioned she had little time to prepare for each tournament due to studies. Comparatively, Mariya said she had been preparing for the last ... 10 months!
Emil Cabagay Emil Cabagay 3/15/2016 03:57
Hail to the Champion!! Hou Yifan definite edge is her experienced playing in Man's tournament! World is waiting for Polgar - Hou Yifan match!!
Hawkman Hawkman 3/14/2016 11:40
I realize Hou is higher rated and that an unsymmetrical opening may have been the best idea, but Hou is a strong Sicilian player on the black side so I'm sure she brings a good understanding of it to the white side also.
gmwdim gmwdim 3/14/2016 11:33
The women's world champion already gets a direct entry in the world cup (as well as the FIDE world championship knockout tournaments of the past).
Peter B Peter B 3/14/2016 11:24
I would love to see Hou seriously challenge the top men, but giving the women's WC a direct pass to the Candidates' is a terrible idea, because no woman is even close to the top 9 in the world. A direct entry to the World Cup would be good though.
Mr TambourineMan Mr TambourineMan 3/14/2016 11:13
Looking forward for a private WWCC match Hou-Polgar. Pls come back Judit only one who can put up a fight. some rich person Reading this Contact FIDE now to make it happen. Its a know fact beeing away from a game for a 2-3 years after retirement a healthy relax for body and mind can boost a second comming.
fixpont fixpont 3/14/2016 11:09
"congrats Hou! what about the world women champion gaining a slot in the men's candidates in future!?"

no way!
richard khyam vui voon richard khyam vui voon 3/14/2016 10:04
Please, no more knock- out tournament to take the TITLE off HOU. Instead ,please use the same Format and Formu la ,as in the man cycle to find a worthy challenger for HOU. For goodnss sake stop deceiving chess-loving people and the general public for making hollow paper World Champion without any substance.
zenpawn zenpawn 3/14/2016 09:47
@ulyssesganesh I was thinking the same thing the other day. Maybe we could all petition FIDE to have the Women's Championship be a qualifier to the Candidates.
ff2017 ff2017 3/14/2016 09:31
The Queen is dead, long live the Queen... at least until October when the 2016 Knock Out Championship is set to run.

Only possible doubt left is Anna Muzychuk, who once reached 2600 and was higher rated than Yifan and Humpy at the time.
gmwdim gmwdim 3/14/2016 09:16
@KevinC He did say "World Championship match" which would exclude the tournament. That loss was also an anomaly, as Hou Yifan won the first game but then became sick, and hence lost the second game and the tiebreak.
KevinC KevinC 3/14/2016 08:54
@ChiliBean, She has lost a game in a WC. In the 2012 knockout World Championship tournament (the one that Anna Ushenina won), Hou was knocked out in the second round by Monica Socko 3-1. Granted that it was a knockout tournament, and she went down in the rapids, but technically, she did lose a WC game...two of them.

She has crushed each of her opponents in true match play.
ulyssesganesh ulyssesganesh 3/14/2016 08:16
congrats Hou! what about the world women champion gaining a slot in the men's candidates in future!?
JohnTVian JohnTVian 3/14/2016 07:50
Congratulations to Hou Yifan! She was never in trouble through out the match and showed good quality strengths. Job well done!!!
Denix Denix 3/14/2016 07:46
I was actually waiting for a visit by Alexander Beliavsky, who is synonymous to Lviv as Kasparov is to Baku, classically speaking.
ChiliBean ChiliBean 3/14/2016 07:34
We have yet to see a woman even win one game against Hou in a World Championship match. Hou may just keep collecting those big checks for many years to come.
Aard Aard 3/14/2016 07:34
Did she now earn the right to play against men?
gmwdim gmwdim 3/14/2016 07:28
Congratulations to Hou Yifan. Hopefully she will be able to defend her title.

By the way, her name is pronounced like "Ho" (not "Who" or "How").
KrushonIrina KrushonIrina 3/14/2016 07:18
Costello: Who is World Champion?
Abbott: Precisely.
Costello: No, I'm asking Who is World Champion?
Abbott: Correct. Hou IS World Champion.
Costello: [Exasperated look].
Roggenossi Roggenossi 3/14/2016 07:13
What a bright person. She should, just like Judith Polgar, ignore "womans only" events in the future and go for 2700+ among mens.
KevinC KevinC 3/14/2016 06:59
Excellent performance, and congratulations to the World Champion.

For those, who yesterday, were saying that you thought Hou was not doing great because she was not winning by 4 points, she was only 1.2 rating points down going into this last game so she was close to right on target performance-wise. Ultimately she picked up 2.4 rating points, but even if she had lost points, this is not just any ordinary tournament, so they play it differently, and specifically, more conservatively...especially when ahead. Once you have a two point lead, the only thing you need to do is not lose. She could have won by one point, and I am sure she would have still been happy with the result. She certainly would still have earned the same title and money. That is just how professionals play sometimes.
bolter41 bolter41 3/14/2016 06:54
Congrats to Hou YiFan. Mariya will have another chance in the future!