When the tournament began early this month in southern Turkey, 24 of the 64 players in the field were from Eastern Europe, which has long dominated women’s chess. By the quarterfinals, only one of the Eastern Europeans, Kateryna Lahno of Ukraine, was left in the competition.
Four of the quarterfinalists were from China, and two were from India. The last quarterfinalist, Almira Skripchenko, is French, although she was born in Moldova.
Lahno and Skripchenko were eliminated in the quarterfinals, and the semifinalists were three Chinese players and Humpy Koneru of India.
Koneru was the highest-ranked player in the field, but she was defeated by the eventual champion, Hou Yifan, 16, who is ranked No. 3 among the world’s women. Hou also eliminated Koneru in the semifinals of the 2008 championship.
In the final, Hou faced Ruan Lufei. Ruan’s strong tournament run was a surprise; she is ranked No. 4 among Chinese women and is in the doctoral program at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, which gives her less time to study chess. Ruan’s success is a measure of how deep, and talented, the Chinese chess program is.
In the final, Hou won the second game of the match after Ruan made a series of bad decisions.
The Scheveningen setup adopted by Hou was a solid and conservative choice, and Ruan, who was playing White, was unable to gain any advantage.
Ruan’s 20 Na4 was a bad move, as it decentralized her knight; 20 a3 would have been better because it would have been dangerous for Black to respond by playing 20 … Qa3. Then, 21 Be2 Nd5 22 Ne4 would have given White a dangerous attack.
Ruan’s 21 Bd5 was also questionable; she should have played 21 Bd4. Chances were still roughly even until Ruan made a mistake with 32 Rd1; 32 Rb1 would have allowed her to continue to defend her weaknesses.
Ruan’s 34 g4 was a second blunder that cost her another pawn and put the game out of reach. She should have played 34 Rd4. After 34 … Ba4 35 ba4 Ra2 36 Rb4 Rg2 37 h4, a Hou victory would have been far from certain.
Ruan resigned because she would have had to give up her rook for Hou’s last pawn.