In the last round of one of the worlds strongest open tournaments in Gibraltar, chess community has witnessed an incident that has never been seen before. It sparked a highly controversial debate about whether the player’s behavior was appropriate.

Let me give you a brief overview.

What happened?

In her last round’s game in the prestigious open tournament of Gibraltar on 2nd of February 2017, 22 year old Women World Champion Hou Yifan (Elo 2651) was facing Indian Babu Lalith (Elo 2587) with the White pieces. She arrived 25 minutes after the games began and started to play quickly. To everyone’s astonishment, the game went 1.g4 d5 2.f3 e5 3.d3 Qh4 4.Kd2 h5 5.h3 hxg4 before White resigned.
Obviously, the poor moves played by Yifan can not be justified by careless play. Instead, it was her way to protest against the tournaments pairings that made her play seven (!) women in 10 rounds. Watch the action of the game covered in the official livestream below.

Below, you can see Hou’s opponents with only three men in rounds 5, 7, 10.

Rd. Name Rtg FED Res.
1 Pourkashiyan Atousa 2303 IRI s 1
2 Zhukova Natalia 2447 UKR w 1
3 Muzychuk Anna 2558 UKR s ½
4 Muzychuk Mariya 2546 UKR w 1
5 Adams Michael 2751 ENG s 0
6 Cramling Pia 2454 SWE w ½
7 Ider Borya 2463 FRA s 1
8 Ju Wenjun 2583 CHN w 0
9 Batsiashvili Nino 2492 GEO s 1
10 Lalith Babu M R 2587 IND w 0

Hou Yifan stands up the board after resigning last round's game in Gibraltar

Women’s World Champion Hou Yifan just resigned her last round game in Gibraltar Open after only five moves against Babu Lalith (India) as a form of protest.

What exactly did she protest against?

As Yifan stated after the game she does not generally refuse to play women by any means. Instead, she accused the organizers to manually manipulate the pairings. As a consequence, she felt being discriminated by playing so many women as in her opinion her female competitors would be underrated compared to equally strong men who tend to have higher ratings. After an unsuccessful attempt to clarify things in an approach to the organizer after round 8 she decided to take this drastic measure to draw attention to the subject. See Yifan’s first reaction in an interview here.

How did the organizer react to the allegation and the way Yifan protested?

In an interview right after the game the tournament founder opposed the accusation of a manual manipulation of the pairings stating:

“Clearly nothing was going on, it comes out of a machine and sometimes the odds fall that way. But I’m sorry for Yifan, because I think she has let herself down a little bit today.”

Brian Callaghan, tournament founder

Callaghan referred to the responsibility a World Champion title comes with and stated that after some reflection she might come to the conclusion she could have handled it in a slightly different way.

What is the status quo on the allegations?

After some retro analysis of the pairings has been carried out it is confirmed that all pairings are in proper accordance. As a consequence, allegations made by Yifan can no longer be maintained.

Three international Fide arbiters have independently confirmed that the pairings conducted by Swiss Manager were ok.

Will there be any consequences after the incident?

There is no indication that Hou Yifan will be punished by Fide for what happened. However, her image has suffered as public opinion clearly opposed her behaviour. The allegation of manipulated pairings is quite massive and still would have justified to lose a game on purpose in a way contrary to the values of competitive chess. Taking into account that her allegations even proved to be false it becomes obvious that her behaviour was particularly inappropriate and that she damaged herself doing it.

As for what it means in abstract terms Nigel Short puts it in a wider context:

Hou Yifan as a flagship for chess

However, let’s not forget Hou Yifan is not only one of the strongest woman player in chess history but also a very kind, modest and respectful person. Therefore, it came as no surprise that in her first words in the interview she gave an honest apologize to all chess fans that were looking forward to an exciting game. This single incident cannot alter the fact that she is a great representative for chess!

What’s your opinion on this? Feel free to share it in the comment section!