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With our extensive coverage of the 5th Sinquefield Cup and the Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz tournament over the past few weeks, it’s now time to play ‘catch up’ with all the other chess news from around the world – and none more so than the standout performance from Chinese star Hou Yifan, who in early August claimed an historic outright victory at the 50th Biel International Chess Festival in Switzerland.

Seeded only seventh, Hou turned in a true Judit Polgar-like performance to take outright first place in a field that included nine top male players – and among the field of prominent grandmasters was also Ruslan Ponomariov, a former Fide knockout world champion, and Peter Leko, who came within one game of being crowned world champion against Vladimir Kramnik in 2004.

Two years ago, Hou – quite disillusioned by Fide’s running of the Women’s World Championship cycle – opted not to defend her world title, turning her back on the women’s game, and focusing all her energies instead on playing the strongest available opposition. The 23-year-old Chinese GM has had up-and-down results but she’s stuck to it, despite opposition from the Chinese Federation.

Hou’s victory at Biel must now come as a terrific validation. She top-scored on 6.5/9, and in the process turned in a performance rating of 2810. Her only loss was to India’s #2, Pentala Harikrishna, and her ‘victims’ included David Navara and two former candidates in Alexander Morozevich and Rafael Vaganian.

And on the back of her glass ceiling cracking performance in Biel, Hou now ranks 72nd in the world. And with it, she now joins a very select club, with only two other women in the annals having previously ranked higher: the redoubtable Judit Polgar and Maia Chiburdanidze, the 1980s Soviet-era Women’s World champion.

Final standings
1. Hou Yifan (China) 6.5/9; 2. Etienne Bacrot (France) 6; 3. Pentala Harikrishna (India) 5.5; 4-7. Ruslan Ponomariov (Ukraine), Peter Leko (Hungary), Nico Georgiadis (Switzerland), Alexander Morozevich (Russia) 5; 8. David Navara (Czech Rep.) 4; 9. Rafael Vaganian (Armenia); 10. Noël Studer (Switzerland) 1.

(Photo opposite) Biel winner, Hou Yifan! | © Pascal Simon

GM Rafael Vaganian – GM Hou Yifan
50th Biel International Festival GM, (8)
Yusupov-Rubinstein System
1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 e6 3.e3 b6 4.Bd3 Bb7 5.0-0 d5 6.b3 Bd6 7.Bb2 0-0 8.Ne5 c5 9.Qe2 Nc6 10.a3 Rc8 11.Nd2 Ne7 12.Rad1 Qc7 13.c4 Ne4 14.cxd5 Nxd2 15.Rxd2 Bxd5 Rather than recapturing with the pawn, Hou wants to open lines for her pieces. 16.Qh5 f5! Much stronger than …g6, as it locks Vaganian’s white-squared bishop out of the attack and stops e4 from being played. 17.Nc4 cxd4 18.Bxd4 Ng6 19.Nxd6 Qxd6 20.b4 Vaganian thinks his bishop-pair offers him a slight edge – but he’s overlooked a big tactic that turns the position firmly in Hou’s direction. 20…Bxg2!! (see diagram) This is the sort of bolt out of the blue that can physically rock you back in your chair! Truth told, Vaganian simply must have missed this shot – but the ever-alert Hou was quick off the mark to spot it. 21.Kxg2 Qxd4! The second tactical blow is the decider, as Vaganian discovers that he’s doomed to defend a bad ending. 22.Qxg6?! The alternatives, though marginally better, fared no better. If 22.Qxf5 Rxf5 23.exd4 Nf4+ 24.Kh1 Rff8! 25.Be4 Rc3 26.Ra1 Rfc8 and although the material is equal, Black’s active pieces (not to mention the wonderful knight on f4, with threats of a back-rank mate) will pick off a pawn and then the game. And, of course, if 22.exd4 Nf4+ 23.Kf3 Nxh5 the fork has simply won a pawn, with the Black knight heading to f6 to blockade the d5 square before targeting the isolated d4 pawn. 22…Qd5+ 23.e4 fxe4 24.Qxe4 Wishful thinking perhaps, but Vaganian hopes his queen and bishop hitting h7 might hold some slim hopes of saving the game – but Hou Yifan has it all worked out, as she clinically forces the exchange of queens for an easy win. 24…Qg5+ 25.Kh1 Qxd2 26.Qxh7+ Kf7 27.Qg6+ Unfortunately for Vaganian, if 27.Rg1 Qh6! 28.Qe4 Rc1 easily liquidates the position and eliminates any slim hopes of possibly saving the game. 27…Ke7 28.Qxg7+ Rf7 29.Qd4 Qf4 30.Qxf4 Rxf4 31.f3 Rd4! The final classy touch from Hou – the rook activates itself before Vaganian can attempt to cut it off with Be4. Now he’s at the mercy of Hou’s marauding rooks that will either pick off the queenside pawns or mate the White king. 32.Be4 Rd2 33.Rg1 Rc3 0-1

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