Greatest chess tournament ever by a woman?

by admin on February 2, 2012

As many readers probably know already, the Tradewise Gibraltar Chess Festival just ended, with one very familiar name on top — GM Nigel Short — and one very surprising one.

The co-winner with Short was the 17-year-old Women’s World Champion, Hou Yifan of China. Now I have to be honest here. If you had asked me before this tournament who the women’s world champion was, I wouldn’t have known. But after this tournament, no one will ever make the mistake of ignoring Hou Yifan again!

Hou didn’t just sneak into first place by accident. She demolished a murderer’s row of four (!!) players rated over 2700: Zoltan Almasi (2717), Judit Polgar (2710), Le Quang Liem (2714) and Alexei Shirov (2710). The win against Shirov came in round nine and moved her into clear first place. If only the tournament had ended then, she would have been the well-deserved champion.

Alas, all that Yifan received for her heroic performance was a round ten matchup against Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (2747), who held her to a draw. That allowed Short to catch up with her at 8 points out of 10, and he ultimately beat her in a two-game rapid-chess playoff. So he is officially the “winner” of the tournament. To which I can only say,


This has to be the greatest result ever by a woman in a chess tournament, and one of the greatest results by anyone. Has anyone ever beaten four 2700 players before in a tournament that was not a round robin?

On the Internet the result that seems to be cited as the best result ever by a woman was Sofia Polgar’s tournament in Rome 1989, where she scored 8½ out of 9 and beat four grandmasters. She was also only 15 years old at the time! But even her result, I think, does not match Hou Yifan’s. The four GMs that Polgar defeated (Chernin, Razuvaev, Suba, and Palatnik) are currently rated 2610, 2540, 2443, and 2448, although their ratings in 1989 might have been a little bit higher.

Hou was not the only woman with an impressive result at Gibraltar. Judit Polgar scored 7 points out of 10, and her only loss was to Hou. Also, the top American finisher was Anna Zatonskih, with 6½ points, putting her ahead of such luminaries as Varuzhan Akobian, Mark Arnold, and my namesake, Mackenzie Molner, who all had 6 points.

Somewhere Bobby Fischer must be turning over in his grave…

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