- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 8, 2016

March will be a productive month on the world chess calendar, with a champion and a challenger to be crowned in the next few weeks.

In Lviv, Ukraine, women’s world champion GM Mariya Muzychuk is trying to hold off former champion GM Hou Yifan of China in their 10-game match that kicked off March 1. Across the border, American GMs Hikaru Nakamura and Fabiano Caruana are in the eight-GM field in Moscow to select the next challenger to Norwegian world champion Magnus Carlsen. Play runs from March 10 to March 30.

As we reported on The Times website the day the news broke, the world title match will be coming back to these shores for the first time since the 1995 Kasparov-Anand match atop the World Trade Center. Carlsen and his challenger will face off in New York City in November at a venue still to be determined. We’ll have more details as they come to light.

Title matches can often revolve around battles over openings. Kasparov’s failure to crack challenger Vladimir Kramnik’s Ruy Lopez Berlin Defense likely cost him his crown in 2002.

The always-dynamic Ruy Lopez Open Defense has already featured in two of the first four games between Hou and Muzychuk. In Game 2, Hou as White proved ready for the champion’s opening choice, conducting a masterful positional attack on both flanks that gave her the first win of the match.

White’s 13. Qxd2 Bg4 14. Bf4!? Bxf3 15. gxf3 looks surprising at first, allowing Black to bust up her kingside. But after 18. Bg3 g6?! (better was 18Na5) 19. a4 Nb8 20. axb5 axb5 21. f4, Hou can play on both the open a-file and play for a break on the kingside. Black defends resourcefully, but finally cracks as her clock ticks down.

Thus: 24. Qg4! (winning a tempo to get in f4-f5) Rb7 25. f5 Bd6! (generating some dangerous counterthreats on the kingside, but Hou has things well in hand) 26. Ra6! (fxg6 hxg6 27. Bxg6? Rg7) Rg7 27. fxg6 Bc5? (Qe6 was tougher) 28. Kg2 hxg6 29. Rxd5 Bxf2 30. Bb3! (ouch — now 30Nf7 hangs the Black bishop on f2) Ne6 31. Rd6 Bc5 32. Qxe6+ (and of course not 32. Rxe6?? Qf1 mate), and Muzychuk resigned.

The Ukrainian champ made a quick course correction just two games later, in another Ruy Lopez Open that produced a short but scintillating draw. Hou has favored 9. c3 in the past, but Black was clearly ready for it here, with her 14. cxd4 h5! 15. f3 Ng3 16. Rf2 hxg4!? (Bxc2!? 17. Qxc2 c5 128. Bf4 h4 19. dxc5 d4 also leads to complex play) inaugurating a powerful attack.

The finale: 17. Bxg6 Rxh3! (all part of Black’s pre-game preparation) 18. Qc2 (see diagram) Bc5!! (a powerful way to clear the Black queen’s path to h4) 19. Qxc5! (steering the game to a draw; 19. fxg4? Rh1+ 20. Kg2 Qh4, with mate to come) Rh1+ 20. Kg2 Rh2+! (Qh4? 21. Qc6+ Kf8 22. Qxa8+ Ke7 23. Bg5+ Qxg5 24. fxg4) 21. Kg1 (Kxh2?? Qh4+ 22. Kg2 Qh3+ 23. Kg1 Qh1 mate) Rh1+, with a draw by perpetual check.

Heading into Tuesday’s Game 5, Hou enjoys a 2½-1½ lead.

Hou-Muzychuk, Women’s World Championship, Game 2, Lviv, Ukraine, March 2016

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. O-O Nxe4 6. d4 b5 7. Bb3 d5 8. dxe5 Be6 9. Be3 Be7 10. c3 O-O 11. Nbd2 Qd7 12. Bc2 Nxd2 13. Qxd2 Bg4 14. Bf4 Bxf3 15. gxf3 Rad8 16. Rfd1 Qe6 17. Qe3 Rd7 18. Bg3 g6 19. a4 Nd8 20. axb5 axb5 21. f4 f6 22. exf6 Qxf6 23. Qe2 c6 24. Qg4 Rb7 25. f5 Bd6 26. Ra6 Rg7 27. fxg6 Bc5 28. Kg2 hxg6 29. Rxd5 Bxf2 30. Bb3 Ne6 31. Rd6 Bc5 32. Qxe6+ Black resigns.

Hou-Muzychuk, Women’s World Championship, Game 4, Lviv, Ukraine, March 2016

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. O-O Nxe4 6. d4 b5 7. Bb3 d5 8. dxe5 Be6 9. c3 Be7 10. Bc2 Bg4 11. h3 Bh5 12. g4 Bg6 13. Nd4 Nxd4 14. cxd4 h5 15. f3 Ng3 16. Rf2 hxg4 17. Bxg6 Rxh3 18. Qc2 Bc5 19. Qxc5 Rh1+ 20. Kg2 Rh2+ 21. Kg1 Rh1+ Draw agreed.

• David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by email at [email protected]

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