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On Chess: Women's champion plays top ranked superstar in Ukraine

Hou Yifan played at the Showdown in St. Louis.
Austin Fuller | Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis

What a month for the chess world! There are many events around the globe that are fighting for the attention of the chess audience, but two definitely top the bunch. The Candidates Tournament, Tuesday, March 8 - Tuesday March 29, features eight of the best players, and the winner qualifies to challenge World Champion Magnus Carlsen to the supreme chess title.

Two American grandmasters will be participating, Hikaru Nakamura and Fabiano Caruana.

In the meantime, the Women’s World Chess Championship is already underway.

The match is being held in Lviv, Ukraine, the hometown of the reigning Women’s World Champion Mariya Muzychuk, 23. She is being challenged by the highest rated female player in the world, GM Hou Yifan, 22, from China.

The Chinese superstar is considered by any standard to be the strongest female chess player, but she was unable to defend her title last year due to scheduling difficulties and that allowed Muzychuk to claim the title for herself.

Interestingly, the last time that Yifan saw herself in this position was against another Ukrainian player, Anna Ushenina. Yifan easily won that match and took the crown in 2014. Muzychuk is younger and stronger than Ushenina, and she is playing on her home turf. The crowd certainly expects this to be a closer match, even though Yifan, who played in St. Louis last year in the St. Louis Showdown against Grandmaster Parimarjan Negi, is considered the favorite.

The games have begun in Lviv and, despite a rough start, it seems that Muzychuk is not making things easy. In chess matches featuring a duel between two opponents, strategy is very important. Yifan easily held Mariya Muzychuk to a draw in game one, and she was able to positionally crush her opponent in game two. Things started to look bleak for the Ukrainian, but she did the most important thing a chess player can do in that situation: She pulled herself together.

Five games have elapsed in Ukraine, and the score is currently 4.0-2.0 in favor of Yifan. She has been unable to win a game since round two, but has also not been vanquished by her opponent in this match. Mariya is patiently waiting for her opportunity to strike a blow against Yifan and equalize the score.

In these matches, two rounds are played followed by a rest day. Hou Yifan is being helped by one of the top coaches in the world, as well as the trainer of the Chinese Olympic Team. Meanwhile, Muzychuk has been less public about her team, though it seems that she is being helped by GM Pavel Eljanov, who is ranked number 12 in the World!

Things are very tense in Ukraine, and it is certainly going to be a thrilling match. You can follow the event at lviv2016.fide.com or go to the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis to watch the broadcast from the first floor viewing area. The Women’s World Championship concludes with round 10 on March 18. The games start daily at 8 a.m. CT and last approximately 6 hours.

Grandmaster Alejandro Ramirez will coach the Saint Louis University chess team and frequently is an employee at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis. On Chess is provided by the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis.