- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 20, 2012

For one brief, shining moment last week, the impending world championship fight between Indian titleholder Viswanathan Anand and Israeli challenger Boris Gelfand was shaping up to be the second most interesting match of the year.

Anand-Gelfand, which starts May 10 in Moscow, promises to be an absorbing fight for hard-core chess junkies, but it’s also a pairing with practically zero sporting interest for the broader viewing public, at least for those outside of the contestants’ respective hometowns.

By contrast, the official-sounding announcement that Hungary’s Judit Polgar — the greatest female player in the history of the game — had agreed to take on China’s Hou Yifan — the 17-year-old reigning women’s world champion and a rising superstar — in an eight-game, mixed classical and rapid match in Beijing starting Sept. 26 had an electrifying effect.

Polgar was for a decade one of the top 10 players in the world - man or woman - and even now ranks in the top 30. Hou, who defended her title last year against Indian Humpy Koneru and started 2012 with fantastic results at open events in Gibraltar and Reykjavik, has shot up the ratings charts (she was just outside the top 100 in FIDE’s March list) and is ready to emerge as the first female player able to give Polgar a tough fight. The fact that Hou defeated Polgar in their game at Gibraltar only added to the anticipation.

Alas, reports of the match, which first appeared on Chinese chess blogs, appear to have outpaced reality. Polgar put out a statement last week that the Beijing match was news to her and denied even discussing a contract to play.

Tisdall-Polgar after 33. Qe2.
Tisdall-Polgar after 33. Qe2. more >

“If there is a real determination for such a historic clash, then I wait to hear about it in an appropriate way. Until then, I just enjoy time with my family!” she wrote.

Still, in the interest of ginning up pressure to make the match a reality, we present here a sample of what might have been and still may be, with games from both players early in their careers that gave a promise of greatness.

Like Hou, the 35-year-old Polgar was a prodigy back in the day, rising with and eventually outstripping her elder sisters, Sofia and Susan. One of the first games to demonstrate her magnificent tactical abilities came at a tournament in Iceland when she was just 11, facing established English GM Jonathan Tisdall.

In the Keres Attack line of the Sicilian Scheveningen, Polgar as Black takes the unusual tack of castling queenside, putting both kings on the same flank. A nice finesse is 15. Kb1 Nh5! 16. f5 (Bg4!? f6 17. f5 fxg5 18. hxg5 exf5 19. Bxh5 Ne5 is probably equal) Ng3, getting White’s useful light-squared bishop off the board.

With 22. Rd4 Be7 23. Rb4?!, White clearly is dreaming of a direct assault on the Black king, but Polgar proves that the faraway h-file is actually a more useful positional asset: 23. … Bxg5 24. hxg5 Ka8 25. a4?! (still pursuing the attacking mirage, this move creates an unexpected target) Rh3 26. Re4 Rch8! 27. a5 Rh2 28. Rg2 Rh1+ 29. Ka2 Qd7 30. Nd2 R8h4, and the unusual pressure from the edge of the board leads the grandmaster into an error.

Thus: 31. Nf3? (losing brilliantly, but Black was also better on 31. Rf2 Qd8!, hitting a5 and g5 and winning a pawn) Nxf3 32. Qxf3 R1h3 33. Qe2 (see diagram) Qa4+!!, a Fischeresque “bolt from the blue” that forces instant resignation, since 34. Kb1 (Rxa4 Rxa4+ 35. Kb1 Rh1+ 36. Rg1 Rxg1+ 37. Qe1 Rxe1 mate) Rh1+ 35. Qe1 Qxe4 is crushing.

Hou, then 14, schooled savvy Russian GM Alexander Beliavsky in a 2009 tournament in Amsterdam featuring a team of “rising stars” taking on some well-traveled vets. Beliavsky’s rare Philidor’s Defense does not throw the young Chinese GM, who pounces when Black appears to underestimate the power of her attacking forces.

Thus: 23. Rxf4 Ng5 24. h4! Ne6 25. Nf5+! gxf5 26. exf5, when Black faces severe peril in lines such as 26. … Kg8 27. f6 Qd8 28. Bxe6 fxe6 (Bxe6 29. Rg4+! hxg4 30. Qg5+ and mate to come) 29. Rg4+! hxg4 30. Qg5+ Kf7 31. Qg7+ Ke8 32. Qg6+ and wins. Beliavsky gives up his queen for a rook and a knight, but his hopes to set up a defensive shell are quickly dashed.

Hou strips away the defenders shielding Black’s king, and finishes things off with a pleasing tactical flourish — 37. Rf1 Rg7 38. Rxf7+! Rxf7 (Kb6 [Kc8 39. Qd7+ Kb8 40. Qxb7 mate] 39. Qxd6+ Kxb5 40. Rf5+ Kc4 41. Qd5+ Kb4 42. Qb5 mate) 39. b6+! — the real point and far superior to grabbing the knight. Black resigned, as 39. … Kxb6 [Kb8 40. Qxe6 Rf8 41. Qd6+ Kc8 42. Qc7 mate] 40. Qxe6+ Kb5 41. Qxf7 is hopeless.

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