Hou Yifan, a Chinese grandmaster, may soon be the former and future queen of chess.
Ms. Hou, 19, the women’s world champion in 2010 and 2011, is playing for the current title in Taizhou, China, against Anna Ushenina, 28, a Ukranian grandmaster who is the reigning champion. Each player earns one point for a victory and a half-point for a draw, and, after four games, Ms. Hou leads 3 to 1. The winner will be the first player to amass 5½ points.
The champion will earn 120,000 euros (about $160,000) and the runner-up 80,000 euros (about $106,000).
Ms. Hou lost in the second round of a 64-player elimination championship tournament last year when Ms. Ushenina, who was the 30th seed, won it to become the champion.
Ms. Hou earned the right to challenge Ms. Ushenina this year by winning the 2011-12 Women’s Grand Prix, a series of six tournaments featuring most of the world’s best female players.
Before the current match started, Ms. Ushenina was already considered the underdog; she is ranked No. 17 in the world, while Ms. Hou is No. 2. But the relatively short length of the match — it is scheduled for 10 regulation games, if necessary — has made defending her title even more difficult now that she has fallen behind.
Championship matches that are 10 or 12 games long are a recent phenomenon. In the ‘70s, ‘80s and early ‘90s, the most common length was 24 games — with the notable exception of the 1984-85 match between Garry Kasparov and Anatoly Karpov. It went 48 games because the winner was going to be the first player who won six games. When neither seemed able to do that, the match was stopped.
A longer match creates more opportunities for a player who falls behind to catch up. The most famous example was in 1972, when the American Bobby Fischer lost the first game against the champion, Boris Spassky of Russia, and then forfeited the second because he had complaints about the playing site. After those complaints were resolved, he resumed the match and came back to win the title, 12½ to 8½.
Since the 1995 match between Mr. Kasparov and Viswanathan Anand of India, who is the current men’s champion, the number of games has been steadily reduced — perhaps by a desire by the players to avoid grueling matches that can stretch for weeks, but also by the organizers, whose costs rise as the competitions continue.
In the current women’s title match, Ms. Ushenina has struggled the most when she has had White, losing both her games, including Game 3 on Saturday.
The game started the same way as Game 1, but Ms. Ushenina chose a different and quite aggressive fifth move.
Playing aggressively made sense, as Ms. Ushenina was trying to win the game and level the score in the match. But the particular system she chose to play may not have been a wise choice, as Chinese players are known to be very familiar with it. Indeed, Ms. Hou played a new idea on the 16th move, and Ms. Ushenina immediately blundered. Within a few moves, she had lost material and resigned after only 24 moves.
Game 4 on Sunday was a lively one, but it ended in a draw after 31 moves. Game 5 is scheduled for Tuesday.
source: NY Times