Hou vs. Kosteniuk for Women’s Crown!

China’s Hou Yifan and Russia’s Alexandra Kosteniuk
will face off in the Championship Finals. Photo by FIDE.com.

For the past two weeks, the Women’s World Chess Championship has seen inspired play amongst the 64 participants. Now that field has been whittled down to two after Hou Yifan’s dramatic tiebreak win over top-seed Koneru Humpy. Alexandra Kosteniuk will face Hou in the final after vanquishing veteran Pia Cramling.

This matchup is interesting for a number of reasons… (1) old power (Russia) vs. new power (China); (2) prodigy of past (Kosteniuk) vs. prodigy of present (Hou); glamour model vs. shy teen. The contrasts make it an anticipated match and there is certainly a lot at stake. Russia has long lost its dominance and China is trying to win their 4th title in recent times… Xie Jun, Zhu Chen, Xu Yuhua have won previously. Zhu beat Kosteniuk back in 2001 for the title.

Kosteniuk is now a 24-year old doting mother and would like to bring the title back to Russia. However, she will be facing a formidable opponent who is energetic and very mature for her age. If Kosteniuk fails to win this time, there is no telling when she will be able to make another credible run given motherhood and the rising tide of younger female players… especially from the east.

Drum’s WWC Coverage at World Chess Beat
Official Site: https://nalchik2008.fide.com/

Daaim Shabazz

Dr. Daaim Shabazz is the creator and webmaster of The Chess Drum. He serves as a tenured faculty member of Global Business & Marketing at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, Florida, USA. He holds an MBA in Marketing and a doctorate in International Affairs & Development. He has served the journalist community for more than 30 years and still competes in tournaments occasionally.

9 Comments

  1. Any predictions? I’ll give mine.

    I’m going with Hou Yifan, 3-1. Her youthful energy will take her to the crown… another Chinese champion! Apart from Zsuzsa Polgar and Antoaneta Stefanova respective reigns, the Chinese have dominated the past 15-20 years.

  2. Here is an entertaining video of the Kosteniuk-Cramling match and Hou Yifan-Koneru Humpy tiebreaks. It shows the slings and arrows of victory and defeat. Humpy did not appear to be herself this tournament. She seems to have something on her mind. There was a video of her father Koneru Ashok counseling her during the tiebreaks.

    I must say that Humpy is now moving into maturity and is no longer the young girl we once knew. I have also noticed that Humpy seems to be more slender and the result is flattering. Certainly thoughts of schooling and what future will hold must be at least a distant thought. Her dream of being World Champion will have to wait, but she have more opportunities.

  3. Kosteniuk breaks out on top with a powerful display of tactics. In the following position, she plants a knight in enemy camp with 33…Nd3! with threats on b2, f3 and a strong attack.

    Hou had to bail out with 34.Bxd3 cxd3 35.Qf2 and then comes the hammerblow with 35…d2 36.Ng3 and 36…Nxf3! Now on 37.Qxf3 Bxg4 38.Qf2 d1(Q) 39.Nxd1 Bxd1 winning a pawn with a dominating position. Hou played ten more moves before collapsing. Perhaps Hou’s 17.g4 was a bit ambitious so early in the match.

    Game 1: https://www.thechessdrum.net/palview4/wwc08-final-1.htm
    Analysis (GM Sergey Shipov): https://nalchik2008.fide.com/news/?lang=eng&id=78

  4. Kosteniuk is heading for another victory. She is currently two pawns up and benefited from another blunder from Hou. On 27…h5? black loses a pawn after 28.Qe3 and black’s overextended kingside pawns are vulnerable. Hou seems to have a problem with nerves and perhaps was not mentally prepared after such a grueling battle with Koneru Humpy. Very disappointing performance thus far for Hou and Kosteniuk (if she holds on) will only need a draw to with the Championship.

    (Update: Hou saved the game three pawns down!! With a passed e-pawn, the Chinese star was able to create enough counterplay to hold the draw. Amazing!! I do think it’s insulting for the interviewers to ask her why she kept playing on in a lost position. 😡 They eventually saw why!)

    Summary: Hou played a bit ambitiously in a Tarrasch French had an imposting pawn armada after 27…h5. However, the pawns were overextended and Kosteniuk soon won a pawn. White was now up two pawns and was bearing down on the others. It appears a third will be won after 43…Rd4.


    Kosteniuk-Hou, 2008 World's Women Championship, Game 2 (43...Rd4)

    Kosteniuk-Hou, Game 2 (after 43…Rd4)

    How does white proceed? It appears the win will be trivial, but the e-pawn demands respect! Could white have fared better with 44.Kc2? White took the g4-pawn at the expense of allowing the black king become an attacking piece. A few moves later, look what happens!

    Kosteniuk-Hou, 2008 World's Women Championship, Game 2 (50...e3)

    Kosteniuk-Hou, Game 2 (after 43…e3)

    This is a completely different position obviously. White is now three pawns to the good, but now the e-pawn marches dangerously to the queening square. Furthermore, the white king is cut off by the rook and the black king has access to either side of the passed pawn. White tried to front the pawn, but there is nothing to stop the pawn from advancing. The black king marches in to aid the pawn.

    Kosteniuk-Hou, 2008 World's Women Championship, Game 2 (53...Kd3)

    Kosteniuk-Hou, Game 2 (after 53…Kd3)

    Kosteniuk has to take the three-fold repetition with Rc3+, Rc4+, Rc3+, etc. If pawn get any closer, white will risk losing. Of course, the black rook would scoop up the white pawns quickly white tried sacrificing the rook. So draw agreed… amazing!

    Game 2: https://www.thechessdrum.net/palview4/wwc08-final-2.htm

  5. Hou is fighting for a draw again after getting a nice position out of the opening. Not sure what is going on, but she has been careless. If she holds this draw (a pawn down with a bad structure), she has to win tomorrow to keep the match going. If she loses this game, it’s over. Kosteniuk played well in the first game and has shown better nerves in games 2 and 3.

    null

    Alexandra Kosteniuk trots out a Marshall Gambit variant against Hou Yifan. Excellent battle follows! Too many people are ignoring this tournament… it is their loss.

    (Update: Hou drew two pawns down this time and dodged another bullet. She was able to get a fortress leading to a well-known drawn position. While holding two lost positions may be reassuring, Hou will need to play an all-around game to force tiebreaks. Kosteniuk has to make better decisions in the endings. It seems to be a primary weakness. Hou reminds me of a cute little cat who is good at escaping dangerous situations… definitely nine lives.)


    Black trades down to a favorable rook ending with an extra pawn (diagram #1). Kosteniuk marched the pawn up the board with the aid of the rook. The white king is fully exposed and unable to prevent black from checking and getting in front of the pawn (diagram #2).

    Now the black king must move over and muscle the rook out of the way so it can move up the board as an attacking piece. (diagram #3) However, the white rook will continue to harass the king while the black rook is pinned down. White has to sacrifice another pawn and then blockade with g4. (diagram #4) Very convenient!!

    With no way for the king to escape the nimble rook (and with the rook tied down), Kosteniuk decide to pitch the pawn and try to win on the kingside. (diagram #5) Again this doesn’t work because the white king has already fronted the extra pawn and can reach one of the famous drawing positions. (diagram #6)

    Game 3: https://www.thechessdrum.net/palview4/wwc08-final-3.htm

  6. Alexandra Kosteniuk wins Women’s World Championship! In an amazing fight Kosteniuk held off a flurry from Hou Yifan to hold a draw and win the match 2½-1½. This clearly was the most exciting game and one where either side had a chance to make plenty of mistakes. It seems like Hou had chances earlier but lost the initiative She was later forced to sacrifice her queen when Kosteniuk mounted a dangerous attack. After the queen sacrifice, Kosteniuk forced a three-fold repetition even though she could have pressed for a win. Excellent battle!

    Game 4: https://www.thechessdrum.net/palview4/wwc08-final-4.htm
    Official Site: https://nalchik2008.fide.com/

    Alexandra Kosteniuk and Hou Yifan in a thrilling finale. Media interest was keen and several website were covering the event. Photo by Evgeny Atarov for FIDE.

    Alexandra Kosteniuk and Hou Yifan in a thrilling finale. Media interest was keen and several website were covering the event. Photo by Evgeny Atarov for FIDE.

  7. Kosteniuk was definitely the better player in this match. Hou Yifan showed a lot of impatience and her play was not level. Kosteniuk was well-prepared, played energetically and took advantage of small mistakes. At only 14, Hou will be a champion for a long time, but Kosteniuk deserved to win this match. She will be a good champion and representative of chess.

    GM Alexandra Kosteniuk

    GM Alexandra Kosteniuk, Women’s World Champion
    Photo by Diego Garces.

  8. I think it’s insulting that the worldwide media bills Kosteniuk as “beauty queen,” “swimsuit model,” “beach beauty,” “sexy” who won the chess championship. It’s the other way around… chess player who also models. Playing up her looks immediately denudes the importance of her chess accomplishment and sexism rears its ugly head once again. Why is there this fixation on her looks as opposed to the fact that she played excellent chess to win the championship? Kosteniuk says on her website that her modeling is a “hobby” like reading. I think journalists are looking for a way to create interest, but it’s a very shallow way to do it. Articles being run are also filled with factual errors. One of them is her age… she is 24.

    Check out this piece…”Russian Swimsuit Model Wins Women’s World Chess Championship

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