Many people associate intelligence with people who play chess well. And there is no denying that a certain level of intelligence is indeed required for success in the game. Another group of people who we associate intelligence with are people with PhDs – professors, doctors, researchers, academics, etc. But there is not a lot of crossover between the two groups when it comes to the higher echelons of chess in the elite world.
Some notable world-class players are listed as having received “honorary” doctorates – Alekhine (there’s some ambiguity over his degree being a real one or not), Karpov, Kortchnoi, Anand, and recently Judit Polgar – and then there are the few who did receive real PhDs through diligent hard work and study in the field of academia: Famously, world champions Dr Emanuel Lasker (Mathematics), Dr Max Euwe (Mathematics) and Mikhail Botvinnik (Electrical Engineering); also not to be forgotten is Top-10 stars Dr Milan Vidmar (Electrical Engineering), Dr Reuben Fine (Psychology), Dr Robert Hübner (Papyrology), and Dr John Nunn (Mathematics).
Now the latest to join this exclusive club of “double achievers” is China’s Hou Yifan, the four-time Women’s World Champion and the current Women’s World #1 player. On Friday, at a ceremony at the Shenzhen International Conference Hall, Hou was was awarded the title of Professor at the School of Physical Education of Shenzen University’s Faculty of Education.
And at 26, Hou now becomes the youngest person in the university’s history to be bestowed with the celebrated title. Academically gifted, Hou has studied as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University. Interviewed for Chess.com, she says she hopes that with her new faculty posting and title, chess will not be just a subject, but a tool to promote the combination of sports and education, explore the role of chess in education and explore its hidden values.
While such academic achievements are nice to see, for many chess fans they like to see Hou Yifan playing in serious competition. There’s not been much of that going on over the past few months due to the pandemic lockdown, but Hou was the big favourite to win the overall FIDE chess.com Women’s Speed Chess Championship Grand Prix title.
After cruising her way through the latest leg, Hou faced Russia’s Kateryna Lagno in what proved to be a gripping and very dramatic final hosted on Chess.com on Sunday, where she lost the second bullet game of the tiebreaker due to a mouse-slip, with the blunder gifting the Russian the match, 6.5-5.5, to take the title and – more crucially – a maximum 12-points in the now hotely-contested GP race.
With just one leg left to play, Hou now needs to win at all costs to stand a chance of making it into Women’s Speed Chess Championship Super Final (the top-two in the GP standings) that will be held on International Chess Day, July 20.
Latest GP standings:
1. GM Anna Ushenina (Ukraine) 22 points; 2-3. GM Kateryna Lagno (Russia), GM Valentina Gunina (Russia) 20 points; 4. GM Alexandra Kosteniuk (Russia) 12 points; 5-6. GM Hou Yifan (China), IM Sarasadat Khademalsharieh (Iran) 10 points. Full standings, click here.
Photo: Hou Yifan receives her academic title of ‘Professor at Shenzen University’
GM Hou Yifan – GM Kateryna Lagno
Women’s Speed Chess GP3 Final, (2)
Ruy Lopez, Modern Steinitz Defence
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 d6 The Modern Steinitz Variation is a very reliable set-up for Black – and it can totally bamboozle some opponents when they inadvertently have walked into a King’s Indian Defence by transposition. 5.c3 Bd7 6.0-0 g6 7.d4 Bg7 8.h3 Nf6 9.Re1 0-0 10.Bc2 There are many at club-level who have innocently played here 10.d5 Ne7 11.Bc2 only to see Black play aggressive moves …Nh5 and …f5 and a Mar del Plata ‘Death Variation’-type set-up. 10…Nh5 11.Be3 Kh8 12.Nbd2 Qe8 Preparing the ground for …f5 with the queen on e8 strategically defending the …Nh5. 13.dxe5 Nxe5 14.Nxe5 dxe5 15.Bc5 Rg8 It is really no inconvenience for Lagno to have to play this move, as she intends to play for the kingside attack anyway, either with …f5 followed by …f4 and ..g5 or, as in the game, the direct …g5 and …Nf4. 16.Bb3 Temporarily stopping …f5 – but the Black attack relentlessly rolls on. 16…Nf4! The knight is well placed on f4 as the lynchpin to co-ordinate the attack. 17.Qc2 g5 18.Nf1 g4 19.h4 It was either this or 19.hxg4 Bxg4 20.Be3 Bh6! and Black is the one with the momentum for the big attack. 19…b6 20.Be3 Qe7 21.Rad1 White is in a fix, as 21.g3 Nh3+ 22.Kg2 Rgf8! (with …h5 and …f5 coming) and if 21.Qd2 Bh6! with the easy attack. Marginally better, though, was 21.Ng3!? Rad8 22.Rad1 ignoring the threat to the h-pawn, as 22…Qxh4 23.Bxf7 Rgf8 24.Bc4 a5 25.Nf5! Bxf5 26.exf5 g3! 27.fxg3 Qxg3 leads to a balanced position with chances for both sides. 21…Rad8 22.g3 Nh3+ The knight may well be on the rim, but it is far from grim! 23.Kh2 Bf6!? I kind of liked the plan of 23…Rgf8 looking for the …f5 follow-up – but Lagno decides to cut to the chase and looks to go for the jugular with the major threat of the …Bxh4 sacrifice giving her ‘professor’ opponent something to think about. 24.Kg2 Bc6 25.Bd5 It looks menacing with the bishop eyeing a possible x-ray tactic on e4, but White just doesn’t have the time to play 25.Bc1 (with the idea of Nf2-e3-d5) as 25…Bxh4! 26.gxh4 Qxh4 and the attack will soon be crashing through. 25…Bxd5 26.exd5 Hou really needed to seek more trades to mitigate the risks – and for that reason, 26.Rxd5! Rxd5 27.exd5 Qd7 28.c4 was a safer way ahead for White. 26…e4 27.Bd4? Right idea, wrong bishop move! Instead, after 27.Bh6! and White has the better of it now, as 27…Rg6? 28.Qxe4! Qxe4+ 29.Rxe4 Rxh6 30.Rxg4 Nxf2 31.Kxf2 comes with a winning endgame advantage. 27…Bxd4 28.Rxe4 Be5 A good move for Black – but Lagno missed she had the even stronger option of 28…Qf6! that more or less wins on the spot, as 29.Rdxd4 Qf3+ 30.Kh2 Nxf2 is either mating or a heavy win of material. 29.Ne3 f6 The solid option, but you can’ fathom out all the complications with both players now in deep time trouble, where the very computer-like 29…f5! 30.Nxf5 Qf6! 31.Qe2 Bxg3!! is all crashing through to victory, a likely scenario running 32.Nxg3 Rdf8! 33.Rd2 Qxh4 and White is dead in the water. 30.Nxg4 Qd7 31.f3 h5 32.Nxe5? This should lose quick, but then again, it is not so obvious that the best was walking into a pin with 32.Kxh3! hxg4+ 33.fxg4 c6 34.c4 Qc7 35.Qd2! Rg7 36.Qh6+ Kg8 37.b3 and Black still has a lot of work left to do to convert the win. 32…fxe5 33.Rxe5 Nf4+ 34.Kf2 Qh3 35.Qf5 Qxg3+ 36.Ke3 Rde8?? White’s king is teetering on the edge of falling – and metaphorically so are both flags on the digital clocks for both players, so therefore huge mistakes with the pendulum dramatically swinging to one side and then the other is what now transpires. Instead, the simple win was 36…Rdf8! 37.Qe4 Qh2! 38.Kd4 Qxb2 39.Re7 Ng6 and Black defends – and wins! 37.Qf6+ Kh7 38.Qf5+?? Ticktock! The table-turning win was the no-brainer 38.Qf7+! Qg7 39.Qxg7+ Kxg7 40.Kxf4 and White is now winning the ending. 38…Ng6 39.Qxh5+ Kg7 40.Re4?? The last gasp try was 40.Re6! Rxe6+ 41.dxe6 looking for an Rd7+ ‘Hail Mary’ try, but Black can take the voluntary king escape with 41…Kf6! and a losing ending is looming large now for White. 40…Rxe4+ 41.Kxe4 [see diagram] The king now has to take the walk of shame. 41…Re8+ 42.Kd4 Qf2+ 43.Kc4 Qc5+ 44.Kb3 Qb5+ 45.Ka3 Re2 0-1 There’s no defence now and Hou resigns, as 46.Rb1 c5! With there being no stopping …c4 and …Qa5 mate.