The first game of the final was dominated by the Russian. She confidently equalized in the opening and skillfully capitalized on the inaccuracies of the opponent. The Chinese acted too straightforwardly, without considering the nuances of the position. I am sure that the best male grandmasters would be pleased to sign the scoresheet from the Black side, as Kosteniuk played strongly and consistently. This was champion's chess!
HOU YIFAN - Aleksandra KOSTENIUK
Ruy Lopez C90
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 0-0 8.a3. This is a good way to avoid the Marshall Attack. Grandmaster Alexey Suetin brought this line into the practice in the 70s. Nowadays many elite players use his idea, for example, Magnus Carlsen, who plays it more often than most of his colleagues. It is obvious that Kosteniuk considered this line during the preparation.
8...d6. 8...d5 is less effective in this situation, as the c3-square is under the control of White's queen's knight. White can accept the sacrifice on e5, and Black lack proper compensation.
9.c3. After the d7-pawn moved, White chooses the main Ruy Lopez plan of advancing pawns in the center.
9...Bg4. Now 9...d5 leads to the Marshall with the pawn standing on a3, which gives White a small edge. 9...Be6 is considered the main move. Grischuk-Avrukh, Saint-Vincent 2005 continued 10.d4 Bxb3 11.Qxb3 Nd7 12.Qc2 Na5 13.Nbd2 exd4 14.cxd4 c5 15.b4 Nc6 16.bxc5 dxc5 17.d5 Nce5 18.Nxe5 Nxe5 19.Bb2 Bf6, and Black has excellent counterplay.
10.d3. A modest move. The most principled is 10.d4, for instance, 10...Bxf3 (10...exd4 11.cxd4 Bxf3 12.gxf3!) 11.gxf3 Nh5 12.f4! Nxf4 13.Bxf4 exf4 14.Bd5 Qd7 15.Qf3. In the encounter between Nijboer and Karpov, Hoogoven 1998, White regained a pawn and got an advantage in the center.
11.Bc2. An ambitious move, aiming for a complicated game. After 11.Ba2 c5 12.h3 Black simplifies the position by 12...Be6!
11...c5 12.h3. A new move order. In Zednik-Soutner, Klatovy Vary 1998, White managed to get a big advantage, but then started to err: 12.Nbd2 Nc6 13.Nf1 Qc7 14.h3 Bd7 15.Ne3 b4 16.axb4 cxb4 17.c4 (17.Nd5!) 17...Rfb8 18.Nd5 Nxd5 19.exd5 Nd8 20.b3? (20.d4!) 20...f5 21.Nh2 Bf6 22.Ra2 a5 23.f4 Qb7 24.Bb2? a4!, and Black won after all.
12...Bd7. An accurate move. The bishop is very vulnerable on h5. In case of 12...Be6 13.d4 White brings a pawn on d5 with a tempo.
13.d4. The unhurried 13.Nbd2 had to be considered, not giving Black the opportunities for counterplay.
13...Qc7. The pressure on c-file increases.
14.d5?! The move is played obviously by the analogy with the games against Koneru. However, the first tie-break game showed that d4-d5 is often not well-grounded. Here it is incorrect positionally, to say the least. The center should be closed only if the knight on a5 stays out of play.
Simple development is advisable: 14.Nbd2 cxd4 15.cxd4 Rac8 16.Bd3, maintaining the central tension.
14...c4! This simple reply fixes Black's advantage on the queenside. The drawbacks of a2-a3 are now obvious.
15.Nbd2 Nb7! Usually this knight suffers a lot in the Ruy Lopez, but in this game it becomes the strongest minor piece on the board.
16.Nf1 Nc5 (Black won the game on the queenside, but the board is wider than that) 17.g4?!
The move looks so natural that it is difficult to believe it is not good. The thing is that the classical attacking scheme with Nf1-g3, Kg1-h2, Rf1-g1 followed by Nf3-f5 seems realistic and even unavoidable. The first desire which comes to Black is to fortify the position. The second thought is to start the counterplay on the queenside by a6-a5 and b5-b4 as soon as possible. However, Sasha demonstrates the strongest reaction.
White should have started the attack from 17.N3h2!
17...h5! An excellent stab! White lacks tempi to consolidate on the kingside.
18.N3h2. A forced concession. 18.g5 suggested itself, though after Nh7 19.h4 (19.Kh2 Qc8!) 19...g6 there is no way to neutralize f7-f6! For example, 20.N3h2 f6! 21.f4 exf4 22.e5 leads to the position with obvious advantage for Black: 22...fxe5 23.Bxg6 Bf5 24.Qxh5 Bxg6 25.Qxg6+ Kh8 - Black places the knight on d3, the rook on g8, attacks the d5-pawn with the queen and can sacrifice a piece on g5 at the proper time.
A calm game doesn't bring White any happiness too: 20.Be3 f6 21.N1h2 fxg5 22.hxg5 Rf7, and White is committed to protecting the g5-pawn and its defenders: 23.Kh1 Raf8 24.Rg1 Kg7 25.Rg3 (25.Nh4 Rxf2!; 25.Qe2 Nd3!) 25...Qc8 26.Qe2 Rf4!?, etc.
18...hxg4 19.hxg4 Qc8! (tough pressing!) 20.f3. It hurts to weaken the dark squares, but probably it was the best solution. I have a strong feeling that White has to seek her chances in the counterplay, but the analysis shows that Black takes the upper hand every time: 20.g5 Nh7 21.Qh5 g6 22.Qh4! (in the variation 22.Qh6 Qd8 23.Nf3 Bg4 24.N1h2 Bh5! the active queen gets trapped as there is no defense from Rf8-e8 and Be7-f8) 22...f6! 23.Qh6 (23.gxf6 is nothing better: 23...Nxf6 24.Bg5 Rf7!) 23...Qe8 24.gxf6 Nxf6 25.Ng3 Kf7! - Black pushes the White's queen away with the rook on h8 and develops a dangerous attack.
20...Nh7 (Black has seized the initiative on the kingside) 21.Ng3.
21...Bg5! The best move order. Trading the dark-squared bishops is strategically good for Black. 21...g6 is not that good: 22.Bh6 Re8 23.Qd2! Qd8 24.f4 with complications that Black doesn't need.
22.Nf5. This a bit weird-looking move was played after lengthy consideration. It is difficult to say for what the time was spent, as Black easily parries ghost threats to the d6-pawn.
22...Qd8! 23.Kg2 (23.Nxd6? is very bad: 23...Qb6! 24.Nf5 Bxf5 25.exf5 Nd3+, and White loses material) 23...g6! (please find your way out!) 24.Ng3. Two tempi are wasted. Black has a big advantage already. The cheese in the trap doesn't taste good: 24.Nxd6 Qf6 25.f4 (how to save the knight?) 25...Bxf4 26.Bxf4 Qxf4! 27.Qf3 Qg5! - Black does not need to hurry attacking the greedy piece. There are many ways to improve the position.
24...Kg7 (Black has simple play on the dark squares) 25.Rh1 Rh8 26.Nhf1 (White's knights have no good squares but they are doing well in defense) 26...Qf6 27.Be3.
27...Bxe3. Simple and logical. 27...Bf4 looks very strong too. Probably White cannot hold without trading on c5. For example, 28.Qe2 Ng5 29.Nd2 Nh3! 30.Rxh3 Rxh3 31.Kxh3 Qh4+!! 32.Kxh4 Rh8+ 33.Nh5+ Rxh5+ 34.gxh5 g5#! How beautiful!
The most tenacious 30.Bxc5 also leads to a much better position for Black: 30...dxc5 31.Ndf1 Qh4 32.Qe1 Bxg3 33.Nxg3 Nf4+ 34.Kf2 Qg5 35.Qe3 Nh3+ 36.Ke2 Qh4! 37.Nf1 Nf4+ 38.Qxf4 exf4 39.Rxh4 Rxh4, and an extra exchange must play its role.
28.Nxe3 Ng5. The g5-square is very important for Black. The pressure on the f3-pawn combined with the struggle for the h-file makes the White's king's location very awkward.
29.Qe2. How should Black develop the attack? Kosteniuk smartly decided against forcing the game. As they say, it is very important to give the opponent a chance to make a mistake. And this is what happened...
29...Rag8. At the board it was difficult to go for 29...Nd3 30.Bxd3 cxd3 31.Qf2, as the d3-pawn looked too weak. However, the analysis proves that after 31...Qf4! 32.Rad1 a5 White cannot capture the annoying pawn without losses. For example, 33.Rxh8 Rxh8 34.Nef1 (34.Rxd3 Nxe4! 35.fxe4 Rh2+; 34.Ngf1? Rh3) 34...Qf6 35.Rxd3 Nh3 36.Qe3 Nf4+ 37.Kg1 Nxd3 38.Qxd3 Qf4 - White cannot hold on both sides.
30.Raf1 Qf4. A key moment of the game. The time-trouble and tiredness finally tell. Hou Yifan decides to simplify the position and misses the danger.
31.Rxh8? White should have kept the position intact by 31.Qf2!
Frankly speaking, during the game I could not understand how Black is going to break the Great Wall. It was clear that there is no way to win on the kingside alone, so it will be necessary to extend the front of the attack. I found an interesting plan in the analysis, the point of which is transferring the rook to a2! Have a look: 31...Kf8 32.Ne2 Qf6 33.Ng3 Ke7 (the best square for the king) 34.Qe2 Qf4 35.Qf2 a5 36.Qe2 Ra8! 37.Qf2 Nd3 38.Bxd3 cxd3 39.Rd1 Rxh1 40.Rxh1 b4 41.axb4 axb4 42.c4 Ra2! 43.Rb1 Kf8! (43...Ba4 44.c5!) 44.Ngf1 (44.c5 dxc5 45.Nc4 Kg7!) 44...Ba4!, and when the bishop enters c2, the game is over.
All this is great of course, but who said that White is committed to waiting strategy? In fact, after 31...Kf8 32.Ne2 Qf6 33.Ng3 Ke7 White rearranges her pieces by 34.Nd1! a5 35.Qe3!, preventing the Black's queen from moving to f4, and then trading the rooks on the h-file. Let's look further: 35...Rb8 36.Rxh8 Rxh8 37.Rh1 Rb8 38.Nf1 b4 39.Nd2!, and the queenside attack comes nowhere.
The conclusion is simple: with 31.Qf2 Hou Yifan could create big problems to the opponent on the way to the victory. I am not even sure that Black can break this fortress.
31...Rxh8 32.Rh1 (a forced reaction, as Black threatened to invade to h3 with her rook) 32...Rxh1 33.Nxh1. A good moment for a storm. While the knight is on h1, White clearly lacks coordination.
33...Nd3! 34.Bxd3. On 34.Ng3 the most accurate is 34...Nxf3! 35.Bxd3 (35.Qxf3 Ne1+!) 35...Nh4+ 36.Kh3 cxd3 37.Qxd3 Nf3 with an unstoppable attack.
34...cxd3 35.Qf2 (the queen is tied up to f3) 35...d2! (and Black's passed pawn uses it) 36.Ng3.
36...Nxf3! (of course not 36...Qxe3? 37.Qxe3 d1Q 38.Qxg5!, and White is alive) 37.Qxf3 Bxg4! A good move that distracts the knight. 37...Qxe3 is less convincing: 38.Qxe3 d1Q 39.g5, and White is still in the game.
38.Qf2 d1Q 39.Nxd1 Bxd1. Black is a pawn up and has a superior position.
40.Qe1 Bf3+ 41.Kg1 f5! 42.exf5 gxf5 43.Qf2 Kg6 44.b3 e4 45.c4 bxc4 46.bxc4 Qg5 47.c5 f4 48.cxd6. Hou Yifan creates the last trap: if Black takes on g3 with a queen, White can even win, but...
48...fxg3! White resigns.