Hou Yifan advances challenge to Judit Polgar’s No1 status with victory in Biel

Hou Yifan advances challenge to Judit Polgar’s No1 status with victory in Biel

The 23-year-old took first prize with 6.5/9 and a 2810 performance rating, which compares well with Polgar’s best all-play-all 1994 tournament victory at Madrid

3506: Daniel Abrahams v Keti Arakhamia-Grant, British championship 2017. How did the Scottish grandmaster (Black, to play)
3506: Daniel Abrahams v Keti Arakhamia-Grant, British championship 2017. How did the Scottish grandmaster (Black, to play)

The standout result of the week has been at the traditional annual tournament at Biel in Switzerland, where the 23-year-old Hou Yifan, the No1 woman, won a historic first prize with 6.5/9 and a 2810 performance rating. Hou was seeded only seventh but outpaced India’s No2, Pentala Harikrishna, as well as the former candidates Peter Leko and Alex Morozevich. She did it in style, too, with a widely acclaimed sacrificial sequence against the veteran Rafael Vaganian.

A year or two ago Hou was considering a Rhodes scholarship at Oxford to continue her academic studies on international relations. At the start of 2017 her strange final game at Tradewise Gibraltar, where she opened 1 g4 and resigned in five moves as a protest against the pairings, attracted headlines. Just a few weeks ago she did badly in the Fide Grand Prix at Geneva, so her Biel result is quite a turn-around.

Hou’s performances are inevitably matched against Judit Polgar, the all-time female No1, whose lifetime rating peak of 2735 was nearly 50 points higher than Hou’s best and who in 2005 played in a tournament against men for the world championship. Most comparisons favour Polgar but at Tradewise Gibraltar 2012 Hou shared first with Nigel Short, had a 2872 performance rating and defeated the Hungarian the only time they met. The quality of Hou’s Biel result is on a par with Polgar’s best all-play-all tournament win at Madrid 1994, a 2774 performance. At 23 years old Hou will be encouraged to continue her quest to achieve new peaks for women in chess.

Meanwhile this weekend Magnus Carlsen, the world champion, is in action in the Sinquefield Cup at St Louis while the British championship reaches its final rounds at Llandudno. Free and live internet viewing, with expert and computer commentaries, is available for both events, nicely scheduled for the armchair spectator with Llandudno starting at 2.30 pm and St Louis at 7pm UK time.

The British championship enters its final two rounds on Saturday and Sunday with the No3 seed, Luke McShane, a narrow favourite after his earlier win against David Howell knocked the top seed almost out of contention. The leaders are McShane and John Emms 6/7, Gawain Jones, Nick Pert, Danny Gormally and Craig Hanley 5.5, while Howell is in the chasing pack on 5.

McShane, 33, is an England Olympiad player but works as a financial trader so has not competed in the championship since he was a teenager in 2002. The new format, reducing the event from 11 rounds and two weeks to nine rounds and one week, has made the difference.

He will be paired with his co-leader, the veteran Kent grandmaster Emms, 50, in Saturday’s penultimate round and could meet the No2 seed Jones in Sunday’s final round. There is a £10,000 first prize at stake, so internet viewers can look forward to an interesting weekend’s entertainment, with a tie for first and a speed play-off a significant possibility.

GM Nick Pert’s first round 15-move miniature against the Chelmsford sixth-former Daniel Gallagher, who was fresh from scoring 4.5/5 on top board for England juniors in the Glorney Cup, was in a style reminiscent of how the legend Alexander Alekhine used to demolish opponents in the 1920s. Gallagher, Black, prepared the sharp Blumenfeld Gambit but Pert was ready and his rare 5 e4!? has better results than the usual 5 Bg5 or accepting the pawn by 5 dxe6 fxe6 6 cxb5 when Black acquires a strong pawn centre by d7-d5.

Gallagher had another option at move seven with 7…bxc4 8 Bxc4 Ba6 9 Bxa6 Nxa6 10 0-0 Nc7 11 d6 Nd5 12 Re1 Qa5 planning light square play with the tactical point 13 Qxd5? Qxa1+! However, it was Black’s next two turns which really did the damage. Instead of 8…exd5 he again had the chance for 7…bxc4 and could also try 8…Bb7 9 Nxb5 exd5 10 cxd5 Bxd5 11 Bf4 d6 12 Re1 0-0. One move later, Black could return his extra pawn by 9…d6 10 Bxb5+ Bd7 when White has an edge but much play remains.

Given his opportunity, Pert struck with 10 d6! and 11 Be4! when the black king is already in the firing line and Black’s best bet is to give up rook for knight by 11…bxc3. Later, Gallagher could have prolonged the game by 14…f6 but instead collapsed and resigned rather than wait for 16 Rae1! g6 17 Re8+ Kg7 18 Rxh8 Kxh8 19 Qxa8 and the massacre of his army.

Nick Pert v Daniel Gallagher

1 d4 Nf6 2 Nf3 c5 3 d5 e6 4 c4 b5 5 e4!? Nxe4 6 Bd3 Nf6 7 Nc3 Be7 8 O-O exd5? 9 cxd5 b4? 10 d6! Bxd6 11 Be4! Nxe4? 12 Nxe4 Be7 13 Nd6+ Kf8 14 Bg5! Bxg5? 15 Qd5! Qf6 1-0

3506 1…Qa4! wins a rook. The game ended 2 Qxa4 Nf3 mate.

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