GM Hou Yifan defeated GM Valentina Gunina in the semifinals of the FIDE Chess.com 2022 Women’s Speed Chess Championship on Monday. Gunina kicked off the match with a shocking six-game winning streak, but Hou made an equally astounding comeback in the 3+1 segment. With a now neck-and-neck score, it all came down to a tense bullet face-off to decide the match.
Blitz 5|1: Hou 1.5-6.5 Valentina
After a draw in the first game, Gunina played a fascinating knight sacrifice to open up Hou’s king.
This began a shocking six-game winning streak. In game four, despite losing a piece out of the opening, Gunina managed a comeback creating two vicious central passers that unsettled Hou’s entire position as they rolled down the board.
As commentator Kosteniuk stated: “[Gunina] is capable of getting back. You can never say the game is over with her until you see the point on the scoresheet.”
You can never say the game is over with [Gunina] until you see the point on the scoresheet.
Hou scored her first win in the last game of the segment, using insightful tactical play to win a pawn and gain the initiative.
Blitz 3|1: Hou 6.5-2.5 Valentina
While the commentators worried that the match would be very one-sided after Valentina’s huge lead, players at Hou’s caliber don’t get there without being incredibly resilient. A comeback was brewing inside of her. Hou continued to find her form in the 3+1 portion, winning the first two games. In game two, she created three unstoppable connected passed pawns on the queenside.
After a loss on time in a winning position, Hou’s comeback continued with two more wins, bringing the match within two points. In one stunning game, Hou ripped open Gunina’s kingside and chased her king to the queenside into checkmate.
Gunina finished the segment with a victory, finding a tactic in the opening to win material due to Hou’s misplaced queen.
At this point, however, Hou had brought Gunina’s lead down to a single point.
Bullet 1|1: Hou 6-3 Valentina
The first decisive game of the 1+1 was in game three when Hou’s pieces seemed to fly up the board on all sides to push Gunina’s back and win material.
Gunina struck back the next game, utilizing her king, rook, and knight to create a mating net in the ending and rendering Hou’s queenside connected passed pawns useless.
Compared to the alternating landslides in the 5+1 and 3+1 portions, the bullet portion was very close, with the score hovering between a tie and a one-point difference for much of it.
Hou took the lead for the first time with seven minutes left on the match clock, trapping Gunina’s king with the complementary duo of queen and knight.
Trailing by a point with less than three minutes left on the match clock, Gunina found herself in a must-win position with the white pieces. Under such pressure, Gunina blundered a knight fork.
Hou’s comeback after six straight losses shows the mark of an amazing competitor. In her post-match interview, Hou shared her thoughts about her performance: “To be honest, I really had no idea what was going on in the match because I had a very poor start. I missed a couple of very good positions, so I thought: it’s not a match. It’s Valentina’s day. I tried to fight back in the segment of 3+1 while I just decided to play something random, and somehow it worked… I felt like I was very lucky to win a match that way. It shouldn’t be like this.”
Hou earned $6,153.85 in prize money for her victory, while Gunina took home $1,846.15 for her efforts.
All Games – Semifinals
Women’s Speed Chess Championship Bracket
The FIDE Chess.com 2022 Women’s Speed Chess Championship is an online event where titled women players play a series of blitz and bullet matches for a share of the $70,000 prize fund. The qualifiers for the event took place on May 24-27, and the main event started on June 13.