SPRAGGETT ON CHESS
While Hou Yifan did not win the Reykjavik Open this year–she let tournament winner Caruana off with a lucky draw in the last round–the chinese star once more impressed her fans with the best chess in the tournament. Had she won the Caruana game, then she would have been the tournament winner instead!
Below is a nice, simple game by Hou over the strong and experienced Icelandic gm Stefansson. It demonstrates her universal style of play as well as the patience and cunning that goes along with being the top female player in the world.
POSITION AFTER WHITE’S 19th MOVE (19.Nb3):
gm Hou Yifan
White has a somewhat freer game. The potential passed pawn in the centre and the possibility of one day using the b-file offer White chances of getting the initiative. For the present, however, these factors are not very important, and Stefansson takes concrete measures against them becoming so…
Notice that neither side has any well posted pieces, and the next phase of the game is about activating pieces.
19…b6!? 20. Re5! c5 21. Rae1 cxd4 22. Nxd4 Bd7
White has achieved some gains; his Knight is very active and he has doubled on the e-file. Notice also that White’s Bishop is better than Black’s…
HOWEVER, Black is about to play a Rook to the e-file and start chopping wood, and this will drastically reduce White’s chances to make further progress. White needs to open another front to keep Black busy…but where?
A strong move that will soon force Black to worry about his a-pawn, and put any immediate plans of chopping Rooks on hold, for atleast the present moment. This last move of Hou’s is typical of this kind of position play.
23…bxc5 24. Qxc5 g6 25. h4 h5 26. Ne2!
Another strong move to keep up the pressure! White correctly identifies the d5 square as Black’s most sensitive hotspot. Curiously, much of what happens in the rest of the game revolves around controlling this square, as much for the defence (Stefansson) as for the offense (Hou).
26… Rfe8 27. Nf4 Rxe5 28. Rxe5 Qd6
Up to now, I can not find fault with the play of either player, INFACT, both sides have played really well and the game serves as an excellent example for instructional purposes!
Here, however, Hou fails to find the most precise retreat for the Queen. 29.Qe3! followed by a quick Nd5 would have given Black more headaches, and it is not so clear how Black will deal with the fight over d5…
29. Qc3 ?! Logical enough as it stays on the long diagonal 29… Ne7! Now Black can breath a bit easier .
30. Nd5 Be6 31. Nf6 Kf8 32. Nh7 Kg8 White repeats to gain time and give her opponent an opportunity to go wrong. The attractive position of the White Knight is only apparent and not very dangerous, atleast for the moment. 33. Nf6 Kf8 34. Rc5
So far the defence has been holding strong and Stefansson refuses to give an inch to the Chinese superstar, who has patiently been prodding her experienced opponent. NOW Black should play 34… Qd1 35. Kh2 Qd2! when it is not clear how White can make progress. The Black pieces are all on their optimal squares.
UNFORTUNATELY, probably running short of time, Black makes a mistake and removes his Knight from its important square, and this gives Hou the chance she was waiting for …
34…Nf5?! 35. Nh7 Kg8 36. Nf6 Kf8 37. Nd5
Now it was absolutely necessary to play 37… Ne7 when Black still had drawing chances. But, the clock does not help…and Hou takes advantage of each inaccuracy.
37…Kg8?! 38. Rc6 Qb8? 39. Nf6 Kf8
WHITE TO PLAY AND WIN!