Her Move Next: Yifan Hou Visits New York for Breathtaking Simul

The event encouraged more girls to play and it made girls realize, ‘I can achieve the level that (Grandmaster Yifan Hou) she’s at.’ And that can inspire more girls to start playing chess. I also felt like I could learn a lot by sitting there. Knowing what Yifan has done motivates me to study and work harder. I think we need more girl tournaments and events because it helps girls come together and hopefully more girls start playing chess.

- Emma Adams, age 12, simul participant in “Chess and Conversation with Yifan Hou” On August 12, 2019, players, parents, and spectators gathered on the 14th floor of the UBS office in Manhattan to watch four-time Women’s World Chess Champion, Grandmaster Yifan Hou play a sixteen board simul followed by a question and answer session. The evening event was celebrated as “Chess & Conversation with Yifan Hou,” sponsored by WorldQuant, hosted by UBS, and in affiliation with HerMoveNext. The players were excited to meet the world #1 women FIDE rated chess player, Yifan Hou, who made her way to each board to shake hands before the simul began. Within the first minute, each board had a different opening. Spectators were watching either the video screens showing the top four boards or the actual boards in front of them as Yifan quickly circled the simul tables. Yifan had agreed to play black on half the boards and white on the other half which was extremely challenging given the short time control. She did not have a second to waste with only 35 minutes on her clock and sixteen boards to play; the pressure was on. Most simuls do not use a clock especially with such a short time control. Yet, Yifan did not seem to be fazed; both the audience and the players were impressed by her speed. Every few seconds, Yifan evaluated another opponent’s position, played her next move, and sprinted to the following table. Despite her remarkable pace countering all sixteen opponents, within ten minutes into the simul Yifan was already down on time, by more than five minutes on many boards.

Hou Yifan in a crucial game against Sophia DeGregorio

Midway through the simul, both Yifan and her opponents slowed their game tempo. Most middlegames went tactical, and a single move by either side could completely alter the position. One game caught everybody’s eyes. Sophia DeGregorio, age 9, the youngest participant in the simul with a rating of 901, had forced Yifan into a very defensive posture. Sophia played the Grand Prix Attack, surrounding Yifan’s king with white pieces. Sophia’s aggressive attack made Yifan pause to think and it was only with great difficulty that Yifan defended against Sophia’s mating tactics.

[pgn] [Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "2019.09.17"] [Round "?"] [White "DeGregorio, Sophia "] [Black "Yifan, Hou"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B23"] [Annotator "IM Dan Edelman"] [PlyCount "86"] [SourceVersionDate "2019.09.17"] {I was honored to attend this event and also to play a role helping out the organizers. However, when I learned the format would be a 16-board clock simul with only 35 minutes for Hou Yifan, my head began to spin...how could any human, even the world's best, possibly run around the tables fast enough to keep up with her talented junior challengers?} 1. e4 c5 2. Nc3 Nc6 3. f4 { My attention was drawn to this incredible game between a young fighter, rated only 901, and the former women's world champ. Sophia knows her Grand Prix attack well. More importantly, this was a great opening idea against Yifan, who evidently has had little experience facing this variation.} g6 4. Nf3 Bg7 { It now occurred to me that the 16 players could have inflicted serious damage on their simul-giver, simply by colluding. That is, if each player "stalled" (a common bughouse ploy) when Hou came to his or her board, then moved immediately 10 seconds after she walked away, and in general dragged things out, no doubt the women's champ would have flagged on multiple boards.} 5. Bc4 {This move has fallen out of favor on the top level, replaced by 5. Bb5. With a few forcing moves, black can secure a superior endgame and possibly a material advantage.} e6 6. d3 {This is slightly offbeat. White's bishop is about to be shut out by the black queenside pawns. More popular is 6.f5 Nge7 7. fxe6 fxe6 8.d3 d5 9.Bb3 b5 10.exd5 exd5 11.0-0 c4 12.dxc4 dxc4 13.Qxd8+ Nxd8! 14.Nxb5 cxb3 15.Nc7+ Kd7 16.Nxa8 bxc2 (First seen in Wedberg - Kharlov, Haninge 1992) 17.Rf2 and now I propose 17...Nd5!? 18.Rxc2 Ne6 19.Ng5 Nxg5 20. Bxg5 Bb7 and white has no chance to win and must work hard just to secure a draw.} a6 {also 6...Nge7 right away is strong.} 7. O-O Nge7 8. Qe1 b5 9. Bb3 O-O 10. Qh4 d5 11. f5 {Bravo Sophia! This position has actually been seen in a dozen or so games, mostly involving lower-rated players. White threatens 12. f6 right away, and seems to have a complete freedom for her standard attack: Bh6, Ng5, Bxg7, Qxh7 mate. I award this move an exclamation mark for bravery, yet surprisingly white is already worse in this position as black possesses numerous saving tactics. Will black find her way?} exf5 {A mistake, but not the end of the world yet. Instead, 11...gxf5! clears g6 for the knight and keeping an eye on the d5 pawn while blocking the a2-g8 diagonal. There could follow 12.exd5 (12.Bh6 dxe4 13.Ng5 Qd4, winning, is defensive resource number 1) 12...exd5 13.a3 (13.Bh6 c4 14.Ng5 Ng6 (defensive resource number 2) 15.Qh5 cxb3 16.Bxg7 Kxg7 17.Qxh7+ Kf6 18.Qh6 Rh8 19.Nh7+ Rxh7 20.Qxh7 bxc2 and white's attack runs out of steam; 13.a4 c4 14.axb5 cxb3 15.bxc6 bxc2 planning 16...Qb6 and 17...Qc6 is better for black) 13...c4 14.dxc4 dxc4 15.Ba2 Ng6 and black was better in Senador - Antonio, Manila zonal 2001.} 12. Bh6 {This should lose against accurate play, but Sophia causes her opponent to misjudge the risk. "The threat is stronger than its execution" fits well here. Better is 12.Nxd5 c4 13.Bg5 fxe4 14.dxe4 Nf5!? 15.Bxd8 Nxh4 16.Bxh4 cxb3 17.cxb3 Bxb2 18.Rad1 with a plus.} fxe4 {The cool 12...dxe4! opens up the d4 square for the black queen, such as after 13.Ng5 (or 13.Bxg7 Kxg7 14.Ng5 Qd4+ 15.Kh1 h6 16. Nxf7 Rxf7 17.Bxf7 exd3! winning) 13...Qd4+ 14.Kh1 Bxh6 15.Qxh6 Qg7 wins.} 13. dxe4 {In hindsight, this move worked fabulously given the conditions of the event, a crazy clock simul where black simply had no chance to work out the complications. But objectively it is dubious, losing a crucial tempo. The key was 13.Ng5! Bd4+ (13...Nf5 14.Rxf5! Bxf5 15.Bxg7 Kxg7 16.Qxh7+ Kf6 17.Nxd5+ Ke5 18.Qh4 is crushing for white) 14.Kh1 and once again 14...Nf5 (14...f6 15. Nxh7 wins) 15.Rxf5 Bxf5 16.dxe4 dxe4 17.Bxf8 followed by 18. Bf7 with a strong attack.} Nf5 {Hou spent considerable precious time on this move, and as a spectator I even predicted she'd try it, as the queen exchange appears to lessen the pressure. But this should have been the losing move! Black prevails with the cold-blooded 13...c4! 14.Ng5 f6! 15.Bxg7 fxg5 16.Qh6 Rf5!! (defensive resource number 3), for example 17.g4 Rxf1+ 18.Rxf1 Bxg4 19.Bf6 Qf8 20.Qxg5 Bh3 21.Rf3 cxb3 22.Rxh3 bxa2 23.Nxa2 dxe4 wins.} 14. exf5 Qxh4 15. Nxh4 Bxh6 { Arguably 15...c4 16.Bxg7 Kxg7 17.Nxd5 cxb3 18.axb3 was a better choice for black, but the position is still hopeless against routine play.} 16. Bxd5 Bb7 17. fxg6 hxg6 18. Nxg6 b4 19. Ne4 Rfd8 20. Bxf7+ {While this isn't best, white's attack is still devastating. 20.Bxc6 Bxc6 21.Ne7+ Kg7 22.Nxc6 is a clean win of a piece. This would have been the upset of the year!} Kg7 21. Rae1 Rd7 22. Be6 Rc7 23. Rf3 {A blunder of a piece, yet white is so far ahead she is still winning. Simply 23.Nf4 should wrap things up.} Kxg6 24. Nxc5 {Now black squirms out with a few accurate moves, consolidating her piece plus. 24. Rg3+ Kh7 25.Nf6+ Kh8 26.Rh3 Kg7 27.Nd5, winning, is simple and straightforward. } Nd4 25. Rg3+ Kh7 26. Nxb7 Re8 27. Nd6 Rxe6 28. Rxe6 Nxe6 29. Rh3 Nf4 30. Rh4 Kg6 31. Ne4 {Unfortunately it's hopeless now. White still has three pawns for the piece after 31.Rg4+ Kh5 32.Rg8 Rg7 (32...Rxc2? 33.Nf5 (planning 34. g4 mate!) 33...Ng6 34.g4+ Kg5 35.h4+ Kf6 36.Nxh6 is equal) 33.Rxg7 Bxg7 34.Nc4 Bd4+ 35.Kf1 Kg5 with a microscopic edge, though excellent practical chances to win for black, particularly as Hou Yifan would have eliminated most of her opponents and could focus on this position and blitz her young opponent.} Rxc2 {Black is completely winning.} 32. Rg4+ Kf5 33. Rg8 Kxe4 34. Re8+ Kd4 35. Rd8+ Nd5 36. Rd6 Be3+ 37. Kf1 Rf2+ 38. Ke1 Rxg2 39. Rd7 Rxb2 40. Kd1 Kc4 41. Ke1 Nc3 42. Kf1 Rf2+ 43. Kg1 Rd2+ {White resigns. A miracle save for the world's number one woman, and an amazing result of +12 = 4 in what must go into the record books as the craziest simul ever. Yifan and I spoke about the event right after, and she promised never, never again to attempt this feat! Meanwhile, keep your eyes on chess career of Sophia DeGregorio of New York, as this game demonstrates she has fantastic potential!} 0-1 [/pgn]
After the game, Sophia said, “With the opening I play against the Sicilian there is a strong attack when black fianchettos their bishop which is what she played. It was really fun to play her and the fact that she was at my board the longest made me feel confident about the game.” Sophia fought until the end, but Yifan managed to defend her position and win the game with less than three minutes on the clock. There were other games that Yifan powered through to win in the final few seconds. Emma Adams put up a very strong fight, and almost made Yifan flag. With just 23 seconds left on the clock, Yifan checkmated Emma by promoting her passed pawn to a queen. Despite racing between boards, Yifan did not lose a single game to opponents ranging from 901 to 2129 US Chess, with the mean approaching 1600. She ended the simul recording 12 wins and four draws.

Simul participants and spectators amazed by Yifan Hou’s chess performance, then joined her for a Question and Answer session. Many of the girls from the HerMoveNext program were given an opportunity to question Yifan directly. Together 25 girls attended from the HerMoveNext program to the “Chess and Conversation with Yifan” event, with 11 of the girls playing in the simul and others selected to address Yifan during the fireside chat moderated by WorldQuant president Michael DeAddio. DeAddio revealed to the audience during the Q&A that Yifan is not only an exemplary chess player, but also an accomplished Rhodes Scholar at Oxford. Yifan offered both chess and life advice, responding directly to attendees like Sophie Morris-Suzuki, a HerMoveNext Coach who recently achieved the US Chess Master title status.  She answered Sophie’s question on her favorite grandmaster openings, middle-games, and endgames to learn from. Additionally, Yifan was asked questions about everything from her favorite chess player to time management skills. However, the most popular question was “I am __ years old, what advice do you have for me at this age in chess and life?” She guided the players and gave them insights she wished she had known as a child. Yifan voiced support for the HerMoveNext movement, which was originally inspired by the eponymous “Her"> Move Next” short documentary film. The non-profit foundation strives to motivate more girls to play chess. Likewise, Yifan encouraged the girls by telling them that they can increase the number of women in the top 100 chess players. She even gave advice on how more women can do better at chess. “We need more young girls like you who are here today. Since we have you girls, more strong and talented players will grow up to compete in the professional chess world. Once the number in the professional world increases, then I believe there will be more strong players in the top 100 or even going further. The most important thing is to start from scratch by having more potential girls who are interested in chess. Then they will make great efforts in chess. Therefore, I am very happy to be here with WorldQuant, [UBS] and also HerMoveNext who are doing girls chess promotion.” Yifan was an inspiration to many of the girls who reveled in the chance to speak to her about both her personal life and chess career.  When the interview had finished, spectators lined up waiting to receive her autograph on chess boards and notation books. The players left the event with admiration for Yifan and a desire to improve their chess skills. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------                            After the event, I interviewed representatives of the three entities who played crucial roles putting together the “Chess and Conversation with Yifan.” All three representatives spoke at the event describing the importance of chess worldwide and promoting its benefits to girls. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Interview with Representatives from HerMoveNext, WorldQuant, and UBS An interview with Neela Saldanha, HerMoveNext director, founder of the Centre for Social and Behavioral Change, and parent of Aliya, HerMoveNext Player: Why do you think it is important for girls to play chess; what are the benefits? “Just as I think it is important for girls to try out sports and other activities, I think it is particularly important for girls to play chess. There are a couple of reasons. One, as a game it is a really good example, especially for younger girls, of input-output. If you put in practice, and do it intelligently, you will start doing better in tournaments and your rating will go up. My ten-year old can see that link really clearly. It helps when I am teaching her about other things. Chess is really a microcosm of the world.” What can we do to spark interest levels in chess among girls? “In P.S. 33, Aliya got into afterschool chess in kindergarten. Then a couple of the girls joined in first grade and the interest levels went up. I think one way is to just get more girls into it, literally get them as groups of friends. Girls keep coming in because they see other girls playing. It is really important for them to see other girls playing. I would say doing a lot more to expose them to other girls. There is an immediate reward of seeing your good friends play. They can share their chess experiences. It’s a lot more fun when they see their friends playing. Especially, when they do chess playdates and chess parties. We need to do more to make chess fun for the girls because once they are in, they are actually very tough competitors. They take it very seriously when they are in the game, but to sustain the interest you have to do more fun things in between.” How do we get girls to continue to play chess as many girls drop out after lower school? “The community was extra special for my daughter as she saw other girls playing. They compete with each other, learn from each other, and encourage each other. The two years she was in India for third and fourth grade, she did not have that. It is really hard to keep something up when you see no one around you who is playing and interested. The other big thing is that her parents do not play. In the absence of that where she was getting a lot of excitement and joy was with her community. The minute we came back from India she wanted to register for a chess camp in New York. We were in New York for a week so she could do chess camp and meet with her friends. I immediately saw the interest come up again.  Having this chess community is so important for her.” ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- An Interview with Michael DeAddio, president of WorldQuant:  What hopes did you have for the Yifan event, and do you think the event was a success in terms of getting more girls excited about chess?  “Competitions like this one provide an exciting glimpse into the next generation of chess talent and bright young minds who have the opportunity to impact the world in many other ways. We hope that this event demonstrated to its young participants that the opportunity is endless in chess and anything else they pursue in the future. The lessons they learn from chess today will serve them well no matter where life takes them.”  I know that WorldQuant is a supporter of Magnus Carlsen and now Yifan Hou. Are there any other plans to support women’s chess in the US and worldwide in the near future? "We believe there is a strong correlation between the skills possessed by chess players and those in the quantitative fields. Many of our own employees are devoted chess fans and players, and we run our own internal WorldQuant chess championship. We will continue to find ways to utilize chess as a platform for inclusive talent engagement both internally and externally in the future." Why did WorldQuant choose to sponsor Yifan?             “Most people who follow chess have likely heard about Yifan Hou through her achievements as a chess grandmaster and four-time Women’s World Chess Champion. What is truly impressive about Yifan is that she has managed to do this while also being a top student and pursuing ambitions that go far beyond her interest in chess. She is an example for others to follow and is emblematic of the qualities we look for at WorldQuant. Collaborating with Yifan is a way to demonstrate our commitment to unique talent around the globe.” -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------An Interview with Betty Chen, Managing Director, Head of Investment Research, UBS Hedge Fund Solutions What do you think the impact of the event was? “One of the parents texted me that the girls were so excited, and they are looking forward to telling their friends about it. The girls feel special that the event is about them.” What made you choose to support women’s chess? “At UBS, I am working on a project to launch a product which consists of women hedge-fund managers, however there is not much inventory. The pipeline is not as robust as male hedge-fund managers. It got me to think that to develop a bigger pipeline of more diverse risk-taking women we need to start from the beginning. We need to let girls have opportunities to learn about risk taking. Chess provides that opportunity.” How can we get more girls to play chess? “Yifan is a good example of how to get more girls to play chess. She often competes in a more male-dominated competition space, and so seeing her persevere despite being a minority sets a good example. Events like these are important for the girls because they see role-models.” Many girls drop out of chess after lower school. How can we encourage more girls to continue playing chess? “In finance, a lot of women drop out when they move up and even college students who have a math and science background tend not to gravitate to finance because they don’t see women like themselves in the business. In finance, it is very important to have a women’s network to help and promote each other to succeed. Similarly, HerMoveNext is doing the same by formatting it as a social event where the girls can have a good time and see people like themselves in the games.” The next HerMoveNext all-girls tournament is Friday, September 27th at 5pm. We are thrilled to announce that the event is co-sponsored by Chess in the Schools and will be held in their corporate office, at 520 Eighth Ave., 22nd Floor, NY 10018. HerMoveNext is honored to be partnering in an event with Chess in the Schools, NYC's premiere not-for-profit chess education organization that has taught and inspired more than 500,000 children in underserved communities. Together with Chess in the Schools, HerMoveNext seeks to expand our chess outreach to girls while simultaneously encouraging experienced players not only to continue playing, but also to invite them to mentor beginners. Sarina Motwani is a high school chess player and a chess coach and tournament director. Find a full index of her CLO articles here.  Stay posted with US Chess Women on our twitter, award winning podcast, and web category. 

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