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22 May 2009

Young Chinese GM stamps class in Subic chessfest

THIS 15-year-old girl is competing, as she puts it, “for the experience” in the open division of the 8th Asian Continental Championship at the Subic Bay Free Port.

But grandmaster Hou Yifan of China is in a group of 12 players—which includes Filipino GM Joey Antonio and international master Richard Bitoon—just half-a-point behind the four leaders after Sunday’s fifth round.

That could mean trouble for the men’s against Hou, who was second in the 2008 world’s women’s chess championship, as Bitoon found out Sunday.

Bitoon, playing black in a Sicilian Defense, was on the ropes against Hou, but in time trouble the advantage shifted to Bitoon’s side. Hou dug in despite having a bishop against a rook in a queen endgame and the game ended in a draw in 80 moves.

“She is friendly, with a smile on her face,” said Bitoon of his 5’5” rival in a phone interview with Standard Today. “But she is malupit [accurate] and has an all-around style.”

Her first Filipino victim was national master Edgardo Garma who did not survive the opening. “He [Garma] made a mistake and it was exploited quickly,” said Bitoon.

In answers to e-mailed questions given to her by Standard Today through FIDE deputy president for Asia Toti Abundo, Hou said the tournament has made a good impression on her. “Fresh air, good environment. This has been an excellent tournament. Hopefully chess will have a bright future in the Philippines.”

The tournament selects the Top 10 regional qualifiers to the next stage of the championship. Hou, having finished second in the 2008 women’s championship, has earned her ticket and is playing in the open division for experience.

Chinese chess officials are pinning her hopes that Hou will be a superstar. The daughter of a magistrate and a former nurse, Hou became the youngest woman to become a grandmaster at 14 years and six months in 2008.

Hou said she goes to a regular school, but stays with the national team in Beijing.

One of her coaches said Hou has all the qualities to become the world’s top woman chessplayer, a distinction held by Judit Polgar of Hungary for nearly a decade (c/o Manila Standard Today)

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