China China China

Hou Yifan dispatched Anna Ushenina to regain the Women’s World Champion.
Can the 19-year old star invigorate women’s chess?

China is back on top of women’s chess! Hou Yifan clinched the 2013 Women’s World Championship with a crushing 5½-1½ win over a beleaguered Anna Ushenina. The margin of victory was a total embarrassment not only for Ushenina, but also for the meaning of the title, the women’s format and women’s chess in general. Hou lost the crown last year in the championship knockout tournament (won by Ushenina) and will have to defend it next October in a knockout.

What can be learned from this lopsided match? That the women’s cycle is broken and there is no place for the knockout system in determining anything other than a qualifier. Ushenina was seeded 30th in last year’s knockout and won. She is currently 17th and may fall out of the top 20 back into obscurity. The entire scene was very sad for Ushenina and women’s chess will take a blow here.

Commentary after the clinching game…
Ushenina seemed despondent throughout.

Unfortunately, the “Ushenina brand” never had a chance. Apart from her effort against Peter Svidler in the World Cup, her reign will fade into obscurity. Photos by Anastasia Karlovich.

Susan Polgar was interviewed and made some salient points about the lack of attention to this match. She cited time zone, lack of English commentary, poor public relations, rating gap, the obscurity of Ushenina, and other reasons. Here is what she had to say about the comparisons to the upcoming men’s match.

This is a very sensitive question. In general, I would like the prize funds for women to increase to men’s level. However, the players must also do their part to help create interest and marketability for their sport. No sponsor would come with millions of dollars for something that does not yield positive returns. In fact, FIDE had a hard time finding sponsors for women’s world championship.

It is unrealistic to believe that they can find sponsors for the women’s world championship at the same level as Anand vs Carlsen. In addition, there is too much politics in the world of chess that directly hinders the general growth of the sport, especially for women. I have faced a lot of hurdles in my efforts to promote women’s chess in the US.

I want to bring chess to the highest level to attract major sponsors and supporters. Chess politicians, on the other hand, only want to have power for life. So the battle is not with the media or sponsors. The battle for chess players from around the world is with chess politicians at all levels.

Women players make too little money. They are afraid to lose what little they have if they get on the wrong side of chess politicians. (Full Story here!)

Now the conversation will swirl around the chess world about how to reinvigorate women’s chess. As #17 in the world and with more than 100 ELO difference, few took Ushenina as a serious opponent. Hou Yifan certainly did and was focused. Apart from Ushenina’s successful run in the 2013 World, Cup, her reign was unremarkable. Her publicity nightmare of not executing a bishop and knight mate in 50 moves did not help her cause. Now that we have a young, strong, and charismatic champion, the debate will continue. Talks of a match with Judit Polgar will surface once again and perhaps women’s chess can flourish.

Hou Yifan facing Judit Polgar in a historic battle. Hou won and exciting battle. Photo by Zeljka Malobabic © Tradewise Insurance Ltd.

Hou Yifan facing Judit Polgar in a historic battle at the 2012 Tradewise Gibraltar Masters. Photo by Zeljka Malobabic © Tradewise Insurance Ltd.

There is the idea that more women will necessarily produce stronger players. One can find many faults in this logic and has to look no further than the fact that no woman has been able to replicate Judit Polgar’s success (becoming #10) despite there being a lot more women playing than when Polgar was rising as a young teen. Let’s hope that the women’s cycle can be made consistent with the overall cycle and that standards for women’s play can increase with an emphasis on quality and not quantity of players.

2013 Women’s World Chess Championship
September 10th-28th, 2012 (Taizhou, China – Taizhou Hotel)
Official Site: https://taizhou2013.fide.com/


  1. This seemed to be the expression Ushenina carried throughout. Not one that will endear fans, but if the conditions were as bad as described, then there must not be a repeat of this hotel debacle. Would a different hotel have made much of a difference? Maybe, but it is doubtful that Ushenina would have prevailed even in the Ukraine. Photo by Anastasia Karlovich.

  2. The absolute best female players in the world are the ones who should be on top stage for dignified tournaments. I am learning a bit more about Sabrina Chevannes of England and I like what I see. Maybe we can see her on the big stage one day if she keeps pushing and continues to make progress. She was fabulous at the US Masters.

    1. I have been covering Sabrina since she was 12-13. She is now 26 with a 2200 ELO… gaining a lot of points only recently. Not sure if she will be able to invest the time to join the 2500+ level given her commitment with teaching chess and her situation in England. She had her best career performance at the U.S. Masters, but she mentioned in our interview that the English chess scene is not the most vibrant. I have heard this from a number of people. This was the first article I did on her in 2001.


    1. She has competed in a few. Most recently the World Cup, but Gibraltar was her breakthrough tournament. She has not had such a result in quite some time since her appearances are limited mostly to women’s events. I hope she participates mostly with the best competition and only the women’s for cameo appearances. She needs to test her limits.

      1. Amen to that. Her results at Gibraltar 2012 (tying for first with Short, with a 2872 TPR) and at the Tata Steel 2013 supertournament (+3 =5 -5) have shown that she can compete at the highest levels. And she is only 19! Beating up on 2500s like Ushenina, and even lower-rated players, in women’s events isn’t going to do much for her chess development. It would be a shame if her growth as a player were held back because she concentrated on women’s events.

  3. I think Judit’s article needs some discussion especially her statement, ” The difference in rating and ability between men and women can perhaps be explained by science.” Does anyone have scientific facts or references to support this? I was thinking it was a matter of experience and expectations since we are not talking about physical endurance requirements. Question to ponder. Do woman really play any different than men? (NO) Would chess spectators rather watch than play? (no unless there is something to learn) Is sex appeal helpful in chess ability or sponsorship? (maybe) I am for having woman compete in their selective events when desired but at the top level it is a given that you are not watching the best chess ability. Yes, from being beaten by several female I have observed one thing. They all had a very strong desire to win!

    1. I believe the difference may be explained by desire. Certainly men put more effort in the study of gaming. Women may think it is not something you would spend so much time on… certainly not more important than having children.

      However, there has to be a reason women do not excel at chess to the level of men. The notion that there are not enough women is dubious since there is no mental handicap and there is nothing stopping women from excelling to 2750.

      Amongst those that currently play, why have they not achieved this? There have been scientific comparisons about men and women and they have found a difference in handling certain types of tasks.

  4. This discussion begs the fundamental questions of whether there should be a separate tournament structure for women, and whether the existence of that structure helps or hurts the development of women players. Note that Susan Polgar, a former Women’s World Champion, speaks of the difficulties she has had in promoting women’s chess, while her sister Judit, the strongest female player in history, refused to play in women’s tournaments. The 1988 and 1990 Women’s Olympiads were the only women’s events Judit ever played in. Apart from those two events, she played only in open events, doing extraordinarily well, as we all know. Judit and Susan (both GMs) and their sister Sofia (an IM) are the strongest set of three siblings, of whatever gender, in history. I would have thought that their excellence would have put to rest forever the hoary notion that biology dictates that women are inferior players.

  5. Incidentally, I have done some research and determined that Hou Yifan’s 78.6% score is the second most decisive title match result in Women’s World Championship history, exceeded only by Gaprindashvili’s 9-2 (+7 =4, 81.8%) rout of Bykova in 1961. Even Vera Menchik’s two match victories, against Sonja Graf in 1934 (+3 -1, 75%) and 1937 (+9 =5 -2, 71.9%), were less lopsided. Note that Hou is still only 19 years old, and rated 2620. She should go very far in chess, and not just among women.

    1. It was a total rout, but if you look at Ushenina’s demeanor, she acted as if she did not want to be there. From a world champion… you have to have more enthusiasm than that.

  6. Isn’t Susan Polgar a little funny? As the chairwoman of the FIDE commission for women’s chess she would be in a position to give impulses for changes. But what does she do in reality? She is interested in her own promotion as ridiculous it seems sometimes with her appearance.

    As Dr. Daaim Shabazz stated like many other people who observe the scene, the main problem is the knockout format. As long as the number 17 (she was the number 37 in December 2012 during the WWCC in Siberia) is playing for the title the general public will never be interested in women’s chess. And moreover the top players will lose their interest in the game when they see that their efforts are riduiculed by a FIDE president who seems to be more interested in his dubious political activities than in his duties as the head of the World Chess Federation.

    Yifan has expressed it in the interview with Anastasia Karlovich on Saturday in Taizhou with her own words: “I would be glad if FIDE makes the same system for women chess.” You can read the whole interview on the homepage of the tournament:
    or on our site

    An important battle will be won when the World Chess Federation has harmonized the regulations for the world championships of men and women. In practical terms, that means world championships in the classic format with a seeded champion and a challenger that emerges from a qualifier. We want to see the top players receiving the best reward for their hardships with fair competitions to determine the strongest player. With one word: Gender Equality.

    I believe in women’s chess. There is a lot of potential with players like Humpy Koneru, Anna Muzychuk or Tatiana Kosintseva to attract sponsors. But it must be done by professionals who know something about economics and especially marketing. What Kirsan Ilyumzhinov does is not very helpful, he ridicules the efforts of the players and he ridicules the ideals of chess.

  7. The little bit that I know about Sabrina is from your most recent articles about her new children book. Prior to that I saw her name, but I never really took time to learn more about her.

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