Reports Sep 22, 2021 | 10:34 AMby Colin McGourty

Vincent Keymer wins the Hou Yifan Challenge

16-year-old Vincent Keymer won the Hou Yifan Challenge with a round to spare before finishing two points clear of Christopher Yoo and Praggnanandhaa. That was the second Julius Baer Challengers Chess Tour triumph in a row for the German chess prodigy, who tops the overall standings going into the 8-player final, where Vincent, Christopher and Pragg will be joined by Awonder Liang, Volodar Murzin, Nodirbek Abdusattorov, Lei Tingjie and Leon Mendonca. Team Polgar won the team competition and a trip to Dubai during Carlsen-Nepomniachtchi.

Vincent Keymer did it again!

You can replay all the games from the Hou Yifan Challenge, the 4th event on the $100,000 Julius Baer Challengers Chess Tour, using the selector below.

And here’s the final day’s live commentary featuring Hou Yifan, Boris Gelfand and Arturs Neiksans. 

Going into the final day of the Hou Yifan Challenge there were five players with a chance of finishing in first place, but the slimmest of mathematical hopes for Awonder Liang and Leon Mendonca were gone when they lost to Volodar Murzin and Leya Garifullina in the first round of the day. 16-year-old Russian star Leya lost 9 games on her debut, but scored some hugely impressive wins, over Keymer, Mendonca, Murzin, Sokolovsky and Daggupati. 

Vincent Keymer’s lead over Christopher Yoo grew to a full point when he squeezed out a win against Vaishali, while Christopher was held in 114 moves by Zhu Jiner. Meanwhile Praggnanandhaa got back on track after a disastrous Day 3 by sacrificing a piece for three pawns against Aditya Mittal and then following up in brilliant style. 

That win put Praggnanandhaa just half a point behind the leader, but in fact the Indian star’s chances of winning the event were small, since he would lose any tiebreak on account of losing the head-to-head battles against his rivals, while he also had one less game to play on the final day.

Only a win would do, therefore, in Round 15, but instead Polish debutant Pawel Teclaf put him to the sword with one of the most satisfying moves of the day. 

21.Rc6! is a killer (21.Ne7+! also works, but is a little less aesthetically pleasing!), with 21…Qxc6 of course running into 22.Ne7+. What makes the move so appealing, however, is that there are multiple tactical themes on display. 21…Qxd5 instead loses to 22.Rxe8+ Rxe8 23.Qxd5, while 21…Qf8 can be met by 22.Ne7+ Kh8 and a new theme in the position, 23.Ba3!, leaving the black queen a sitting duck. 

Instead in the game we saw 21…Qd7 22.Ne7+ Kh8 23.Qxf7! Nd6 24.Qf4!, which was much more prosaic, but just as effective. Pawel went on to win, and when Vincent drew against Zhu Jiner that meant it was no longer possible for Praggnanandhaa to win the tournament, despite his 9/9 start on the first two days.

That draw for Vincent was hard-fought, since he’d found himself in a tough position after not going for what seemed like an inviting exchange sacrifice. 

Vincent explained afterwards:

I would have loved to take on e6, because this is positionally really pleasing to take this. Practically it would be great. I just somehow saw some ghosts that those two bishops on the b-file will get into some trouble. 

What worried him was 16.Rxe6! fxe6 17.Bxb7 Rxc4?! 18.bxc4 Qb6…

…but as he pointed out afterwards, he in fact had the winning 19.Qb3! in that position. 

The draw nevertheless turned out to be a great result for Vincent, since it wasn’t only Praggnanandhaa who lost but Christopher Yoo as well. The 14-year-old American made a statement of intent by playing the Evans Gambit, and though over the course of a tense game he was briefly better at one point, Yahli Sokolovsky went on to score a deserved win.

That meant Christopher trailed Vincent by 1.5 points going into the penultimate round and needed to outscore the leader to keep the tournament alive, which is something he very nearly did in an absolutely crazy round. 

At first Yoo seemed simply doomed, since he found himself in a hopeless position where he was not just much worse against Lei Tingjie, but seemed to have no hopes of creating counterplay. Suddenly, however, there was an amazing transformation.

This was in fact a great moment for Tingjie to move in for the kill, as the best move in the position was to exploit the knight leaving the protection of f5 and play 33.Bxf5!, when since 33…Bxf5 loses immediately to 34.e6+! Black has to play 33…gxf5, but then 34.Rg3+! would be the start of an assault on the kingside. 

Of course it was perfectly understandable that Lei didn’t go for something as risky as that in a rapid game, but her 33.Bf2? lost complete control of the position, allowing 33…d4!, when it turned out the rook on c5 was in grave danger. 34.c3! was already an only move, while soon the knight was able to jump from c8 to the newly-opened d5-square, then to f4, and the white setup collapsed. 

The transformation by the final position is remarkable.

So Christopher had won, and for most of the round it looked as though Vincent would lose, meaning he’d go into the final round with just a half point lead, knowing that a tiebreak would be in Yoo’s favour. 

Vincent was totally lost and later admitted:

When the luck was on my side was certainly in Round 16, the game against Sokolovsky. I think this game was dead lost for quite some time. Of course winning this one made my task to win the tournament quite easier. I already had some advantage, but then I think I would really have needed to win this last game in order to be first place and safe. So this was of course quite lucky.

The darkest moment was just before the dawn, with the computer announcing mate-in-10 after Yahli’s 39.Kf1, though given what happened in the game 39.Kh1 would have been a safer choice. 39…Ne6! was a desperate move by Vincent, which in fact set up a fiendish trap.

In the cold light of day it’s easy to see that White can win by force, doing everything with check e.g. 40.Qe7+ and if 40…Kg8 then 41.Bxe6+, if 40…Kh8 then 41.Bxf6+ and if 40…Kg6 then 41.h5+! Kxh5 42.Qf7# is already checkmate. 

Instead Yahli played the most natural move in the world, 40.Bxe6?, but after 40…Bb6+! he was suddenly losing his queen. He might still have held a draw, but it’s tough to handle such an enormous swing and Vincent went on to win the game and take the title with a round to spare. He also won in the final round to leave the standings as follows.

It was a thoroughly deserved victory, and meant that Vincent, who didn’t take up his place in the Aimchess US Rapid as he wanted to play in the European Championship — where he finished tied for 1st place! — now has the right to play in not one but two events on next year’s Meltwater Champions Chess Tour. Vincent also, unsurprisingly, topped the individual standings for the tour.

As you can see, despite Team Kramnik winning the Hou Yifan Challenge, it's Team Polgar who have won the prize of a trip to Dubai in December during the Carlsen-Nepomniachtchi World Championship match, clinching overall victory by 324.5 points to 302.5. 

The season isn't over, however, since the Top 8 players have qualified for the $40,000 knockout final to be held from October 14-17, when the top prize will be not just $10,000 but a more regular spot on the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour as a Tour Ambassador. 

The one change from before the Hou Yifan Challenge is that Leon Mendonca has ousted his Indian colleague Gukesh, who chose to skip the Challenge. Gukesh has been active winning the Norway Chess Open and is currently playing in the European Club Cup. Zhu Jiner was unable to force her way into the Top 8, but her Chinese compatriot Lei Tingjie’s 10th place in the Hou Yifan Challenge saw her keep her spot. Lei got off to good start on the final day with this memorable win over Oliwia Kiolbasa.

It looks as though White is busted, since 33.Rxh6+? doesn’t work, but Lei had spotted the winning 33.Rb6! The point is to deflect the queen from it’s “X-Ray” defence of the f8-rook. After 33…Qe5 (other moves also fail) 34.Rxh6+! Black resigned, since after 34…gxh6 35.Qxh6+ Rh7, without the queen on d6, White now has 36.Qxf8#

So this is the line-up for the Julius Baer Challengers Chess Tour Finals.

Talking about his success afterwards, Vincent Keymer commented:

I already know the last day is always really tough, I was already first before the last day also in Challenge no. 2, and then I played horribly the whole day and also I think lost two games or something, this went really bad, and I’m pretty happy that now it worked out!

He felt his first day had been key, when he beat close rivals Awonder Liang and Volodar Murzin, calling his first game against Awonder his best of the tournament (we featured it in our first report). The win over Praggnanandhaa on Day 3 had been key, with Vincent describing how that went:

I was really happy that he gave me this two bishops position, because this is more or less the dream you can have in this 10+5. It’s just clear that you’re better, and you can just play, play, play, and he will have to be really precise to make a draw, and I will always have some kind of advantage. He defended pretty well for quite a long time, I think, but just at some point you will make mistakes with so little time.

There’s no rest for Vincent, who is flying to Malmo and already on Thursday starts the 7-round TePe Sigeman tournament, where he’ll face Jorden van Foreest, Gawain Jones, Nils Grandelius, Etienne Bacrot, Nihal Sarin, Nigel Short and Jonas Bjerre.  

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