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    Weekly chess column

    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.

    a) 5.e5 Nc6 6.Bb5 would seem to be a more critical test of Black’s setup.


    b) Black has clearly equalized. White’s pieces do not coordinate well, while Black has easy play.

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    c) The knight is poorly placed on the edge of the board here.

    d) One can see what White is aiming at here, trying to take advantage of the weak c5 square, but in carrying out this plan White has had to give up the light-squared bishop and lose time, while Black takes more space and develops naturally. It is not surprising that Black takes the initiative.

    e) Unfortunately for White, she cannot capture immediately on c6: 18.Rxc6 Qd7 19.Rac1 (19.Rc3 Bxe5) 19…Qg4 20.f3 Bxf3 etc. But now the weak e3 square causes problems.

    f) Or 21.Qd4 (21.Qc3 d4 etc.) 21…Bxc1 22.e6 Be3+! and Black wins; or 21.e6 Be3+! (21…Bxe6? 22.Qd4 f6 23.Nc5; 21…fxe6 22.Qd4) 22.Kh1 Bxe6 23.Rc7 (23.Qc3? d4; 23.R1c2 d4 etc.) 23…Qd6 and Black is clearly better.


    g) Black is now clearly better. The problem for White is that 25.Bxd4? loses to 25…Bxd4 26.Qxd4 Bxa4 27.Qxd8 (27.Qxa4 Qd1#) 27…Rfxd8 and the threat of 28…Rd1# stops White from recapturing on a4.

    h) Or 29.Qc3 Bxd4 (29…Bxb3 is also good for Black) 30.Qxd4 Bxb3! 31.Qxd8 (31.Rd7 Bxa4! wins) 31…Rfxd8 32.axb3 d2 wins for Black.

    i) Now the focus of the attack switches to the long diagonal and the weak f3 point.

    j) Or 32.gxf3 Qxf3 and the d-pawn will cost White at least his bishop.

    Hou Yifan – Socko

    FIDE WCh Women World Cup

    Sicilian Defense


    Hou Yifan Socko

    Hou Yifan Socko

    White Black

    White Black

    1. e4 c5

    18. f3 (e) Bf5

    2. Nf3 d6

    19. Rxc6 Qd7

    3. d4 cxd4

    20. Rac1 Bh6!

    4. Qxd4 Nf6

    21. Rc7 (f) Be3+

    5. Nc3 (a) Nc6

    22. Kh1 Qd8

    6. Bb5 Nd7!?

    23. R1c6 Bd7

    7. Qd2 g6

    24. Rc2 d4! (g)

    8. b3 Bg7

    25. R2c4 Be6

    9. Bb2 O-O (b)

    26. R4c6 Bd5

    10. Na4?! (c) Nf6

    27. Rc5 d3

    11. Bxc6 bxc6

    28. Bd4 Rb8

    12. e5 Ne4

    29. Qxb8 (h) Qxb8

    13. Qb4 d5

    30. Bxe3 Qa8! (i)

    14. Nd2 (d) Bf5

    31. Kg1 Bxf3!

    15. Nxe4 Bxe4

    32. Rc3 (j) Qe4!

    16. O-O Bxc2

    33. Bd2 Qd4+ 0-1

    17. Rfc1 Be4