Hou Leads Muzychuk in Women's World Champs

muzychukvhouyifan_013 GMs Mariya Muzychuk and Hou Yifan, Photo Cathy Rogers
At Lviv's most exclusive chess club, the assembled Grandmasters tried to work out what had gone wrong. Their compatriot Mariya Muzychuk had lost heavily to China's Hou Yifan in the second game of the Women's World Championship match and the analysts were convinced that Muzychuk's 19th move was to blame. The Lviv club was set up a few years ago by world title match commentator Adrian Mikhalchishin and Icelandic GM Margeir Petursson, now a Lviv resident, to provide a place for established GMs and rising stars to meet for a weekly blitz tournament (and enjoy some food and wine afterwards).  The club has been a boon for Lviv's best young players; the Muzychuk sisters have been regular attendees and on Thursday the reigning World Girls Champion, Natalia Buksa, was there to test the speed of the older GMs. But before the blitz tournament could start there was a post-mortem to attend to, and Muzychuk's defeat appeared to be taken personally by many of those present. This was not so surprising since GMs present such as Mikhalchishin and Ukraine Olympic coach Alexandre Sulypa had known Muzychuk, the daughter of two chess teachers, since she was very young. Eventually the conclusion was reached that Muzychuk had no clear path to equality and her opponent, the strongest female player in the world, had simply outplayed the local favourite. Muzychuk's solid draw in the first game had been widely praised as excellent match strategy; now it seemed like wasting a game with the white pieces. By the end of the night, after plenty of fine wine had been consumed, most agreed that Muzychuk had a make-or-break game on Saturday. Like Anand in his 2014 world title challenge against Carlsen, Muyzchuk, 22, needs to strike back immediately. (The need for a game three win is probably even more urgent for Muzychuk, compared to Anand, because the women's match is shorter and in games 4 and 5 Hou will control the white pieces and could potentially have run away with the match by the halfway point of the ten game contest) It was clear that Thursday, which had started so promisingly, had turned sour for the locals. Rewind half a day. A light blanket of snow covered Lviv in the morning, making the city centre – already World Heritage listed – seem even more picturesque than usual. Upon arrival at the match venue, the Potocki Palace, I was told that soon after the world title game was underway I should head down to City Hall where a chess flash mob was to be unleashed on the citizens of Lviv.
lviv_160 Photo Cathy Rogers
Down at the town hall a giant banner promoting the Muzychuk-Hou match had been erected at the front of the grand old building. Dozens of girls, teenagers and younger, were waiting impatiently in the cold for the signal to begin flash mobbing.  Inside the town hall, old men were unaware of what was about to unfold outside, concentrated around a television screen showing the position from the World Championship game.
lviv_114 Photo Cathy Rogers
Then the music and the dancing started; at first everyone together, then two groups of 16 colour-coordinated teenagers lined up against each other (including two slightly embarrassed boys as kings), then 16 elaborately dressed traditional Ukrainian dancers, then a march led by a girl in a queen costume.
lviv_150 Photo Cathy Rogers
The fun continued for 20 minutes, attracting a big crowd and causing the passing trams – all adorned with flags promoting the world title match - to slow to a halt in order to allow the passengers to enjoy the show. The flash mob was an idea devised by the city council who have worked with the match organisers to make sure that, even though the match is effectively closed to spectators, the Lviv people can enjoy the occasion. (Each day only a few dozen guests, plus journalists, can enter the Palace and watch a screen in a room adjacent to the playing hall and later see the press conference live.) Thus at various bars and cafes around the city the games are being rebroadcast on television screens – think the King's Diner in Saint Louis at Sinquefield Cup time. For game three a giant screen is planned for the city's pedestrian mall – though whether this will drag the social players who populate edges of the mall away from their games remains to be seen.
[pgn]

[Event "WCh Women 2016"]
[Site "Lviv UKR"]
[Date "2016.03.03"]
[White "Hou, Yifan"]
[Black "Muzychuk, Mariya"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "C80"]
[WhiteElo "2673"]
[BlackElo "2554"]
[PlyCount "63"]
[EventDate "2016.03.02"]

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. O-O Nxe4 {The Open Spanish, not a
great surprise for Hou since Muzychuk has had success with this opening in the
past, including a draw with Michael Adams in last year's Baku World Cup.} 6. d4
b5 7. Bb3 d5 8. dxe5 Be6 9. Be3 {Not one of the most popular main lines but
Hou admitted that preparation was not in depth because you can expect
anything in your first White game of a match.} Be7 10. c3 O-O 11. Nbd2 Qd7
12. Bc2 {Adams' choice 12.Re1 is more trendy.} Nxd2 13. Qxd2 Bg4 14. Bf4 Bxf3
15. gxf3 Rad8 16. Rfd1 $5 {A very strange choice of square for the rook,
played after 26 minutes thought, but it did its job in forcing Muzychuk out of
her preparation.} Qe6 17. Qe3 Rd7 {By now Muzychuk was thinking long and hard
over every move and this one took almost half an hour. The obvious choice,
rejected, was 17...Na5 because after 18.b3 c5, Black will soon have the
positional threat of ...b4.} 18. Bg3 g6 19. a4 $1 Nd8 $5 {Muzychuk had used
over an hour on the last four moves and was not prepared to enter the
complications of 19...b4!?, which was the move which Black would really like
to play in order to keep the a file closed. The problem which kept Muzychuk
from playing it was 20.a5, when she feared that 21.Ba4 would expose the poor
placement of the rook on d7. This was the line that the Lviv chess circle had
tried to make work for Black, looking at variations such as 20...bxc3 21.bxc3
Rb8 22.f4 f5 23.exf6 Qxe3 24.fxe3 Bxf6 25.Ba4 Rd6 26.e4 (26.f5 seems to be
perfectly adequately met by 26...Ne5, though it is here that computers claim a
large edge for White after the modest 27.fxg6 hxg6 28.Rab1.) 26...Bxc3! 27.
Rac1 d4 (One kibitzer proposed the tricky 27...Nd4, soon dismissed after 28.
Kf1, although computer programs quite like the concept and continue 28...Rb4!.)
28.f5 Nxa5! 29.Bxd6 cxd6 when Black should have enough compensation for the
exchange. Of course to play this way requires both precise calculation and
confidence that there will be no surprises along the way, and Muzychuk no
doubt decided that the practical course was to play more solidly and let Hou
have the a file.} 20. axb5 axb5 21. f4 f6 22. exf6 Qxf6 $1 {The correct call.
The commentator Mikhalchishin's explanation for this decision was that
"girls don't like endgames", but in fact 22...Qxe3 23.fxe3 Bc5 24.Kf2 Rxf6
25.Ke2 is seriously unpleasant for Black.} 23. Qe2 {Sophisticated play, since
23.f5 gxf5 24.Be5 Qg6+ is unclear.} c6 24. Qg4 Rb7 25. f5 Bd6 $1 {An excellent
defence, but it cost Muzychuk 8 of her last 13 minutes and the tough decisions
are far from over as Hou keeps the pressure coming from all directions.} 26.
Ra6 $5 Rg7 27. fxg6 Bc5 $2 {Muzychuk is renowned for her tricky play in
difficult positions but this is asking too much of a small Black attacking
force. 27...Bxg3 28.Qxg3 looks like a dead-end for Black but she can switch
from f file pressure to the e file via 28..Qe7 or 28...Re8 when White must be
careful that Black does not take over the initiative.} 28. Kg2 $1 {After 5
minutes thought on this move, Hou had caught up on the clock but it was worth
it. f2 is immune and 29.Rxd5 is in the air.} hxg6 $6 {The commentators
wanted Black to try 28...Ne6!?, with the idea 29.Rxc6 Nf4+!, but White has an
alternative tactical idea 29.Rxd5! which leads to advantage. With only
seconds left, Muzychuk keeps playing for tricks; a modest retreat such as 28...
Qe7 would at least prevent immediate disaster.} 29. Rxd5 Bxf2 {Now that the
White rook cannot come to f1, this capture is possible. In the limited time
she had available Muzychuk probably examined 30.Rd6 Qf7 and could not see a
knock-out blow, but Hou finds a far stronger tactic.} 30. Bb3 $3 Ne6 31. Rd6
Bc5 32. Qxe6+ 1-0[/pgn]
A hat tip to Russian journalist Evgeny Surov, who tracked down the painting deemed too racy by arbiter Carol Jarecki to stay in the playing hall (part of the gallery at the Potocki Palace) directly above the board. Here is 'Chronos disarms Cupid', a 16th century Italian work, author unknown, which, given a different arbiter, might have been in every photo of the match! Cupid (1) ** The controversy about the 30 minute broadcast delay for the match which has swamped chess web sites seems like a second order issue in Lviv. Fans watching in the local cafes don't care – and probably don't know - that the game is not live, which suggests that if the broadcasters had announced a 15.30 start, instead of the official 15.00, then the complaints would have been minimised. Pavel Eljanov, who was one of the lead pre-match negotiators for the Muzychuk team, tweeted that such a delay was inappropriate for a world title match, though his reaction is likely to be colored by discovering late that a FIDE representative had agreed to the condition long before the match without informing the Ukrainian side. Eljanov's reason - “It's not so effective (ask Borislav Ivanov why) and the most primitive measure” - is strange since the half hour delay is directed against far more sophisticated cheating methods than that used by Ivanov. (A time delay prevents an off-site accomplice from watching the game online and transmitting computer suggestions to a player rather than the cruder methods involving bringing your own computer chess program  - on a mobile phone of similar device - to the game.) Nonetheless, there seems to be a certain sensitivity about the issue. When a journalist asked a question about the delay at the second game press conference, Hou barely had time to say that the decision was not up to her before host Anastasia Karlovich shut down any further discussion by explaining that the delay did not affect the players at all (which was true).
rd1pc_008 Photo Cathy Rogers
**Games are broadcast with commentary via  http://lviv2016.fide.com/  , starting at 8.30am AEST.  (Just try to forget that the games actually started half an hour earlier!) Find GM Rogers' preview on the event here.

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