The World’s Women Championship had a strange look this year. Sixty-four entrants were permitted including the world champion, Hou Yifan, in a setup that provided for two-game knockout matches, with Blitz games to settle ties. The odd thing about the tournament was that the championship passed to the winner without a head-to-head match between a challenger and Hou, who was not even top seed. Bewilderment continued when Hou was eliminated by the Polish player Monica Socko in the second round. Socko is a veteran who comes from a chess-playing family. Her husband, Bartosz Socko, is a grandmaster.
Here is one of the tie-breaking games, won by Socko. Hou, who was suffering from a cold, played White in a sideline against the Sicilian defense. She seemed to have the better game with rooks doubled on the c-file. Suddenly, however, Socko’s two bishops came alive to persecute the two rooks and push a pawn toward the queening square. Her last move was inspired. Unfortunately, she was eliminated in the third round by former world champion Antoaneta Stefanova. Hou becomes the challenger next year in a match against the eventual winner of this tournament.