Typical chess games can involve dozens of moves on each side of the board.
This week, the world's female chess champion needed only five of them to send a powerful shock wave through the international chess community.
The reason: Hou Yifan's moves didn't lead to another victory for the 22-year-old Chinese woman, but instead to a loss — one that was obviously intentional.
After her loss, Hou — who had been competing in the final round of the Tradewise Gibraltar Chess tournament — explained that she threw her match to protest whom she was matched up against. Out of 10 rounds, Hou had been paired with female chess players a total of seven times, according to the Telegraph.
In an interview after her controversial match, Hou — a five-time world champion and former chess prodigy who began playing at 5 years old — called the pairings “unbelievable” and “weird.”
“It makes me really, really upset,” she said. “Not just for me but for the other women players.”
Asked whether she'd discussed the pairings with organizers at any point, the grandmaster said she'd complained to tournament officials when the matches were announced days earlier.
“I pointed it out to the organizers, yes, but unfortunately this is going on this way,” she said.
“I should apologize to all the chess fans for what I did to this game,” she added.
— Tradewise Chess (@GibraltarChess) February 1, 2017
— chess24.com (@chess24com) February 2, 2017
— Tradewise Chess (@GibraltarChess) February 2, 2017
At age 16, Hou became the youngest player ever to become the women's world champion, and each one of her matches is closely watched by chess fans. She spent early portions of the tournament offering those fans a master class that was later posted on YouTube. The Telegraph reported that Hou's quick loss to Indian grandmaster Babu Lalith — a male player she outranks — took observers and chess fans around the world by surprise.
Even British grandmaster Nigel Short, who was playing at Gibraltar, decided to weigh in.
Hou Yifan's last round game will go down in the anals of chess history @GibraltarChess
— Nigel Short (@nigelshortchess) February 2, 2017
I'm totally puzzled by what's going on at #Gibchess. Hou Yifan is one of the kindest and most polite chess players on earth...
— Anna Rudolf (@Anna_Chess) February 2, 2017
— Mike Klein (@ChessMike) February 2, 2017
Speaking with the same interviewer after Hou's remarks, Brian Callaghan, the tournament's founder, tried to play down the incident by describing it as “a bad day at the office.” He said being the women's world champion “brings certain responsibilities with it.”
“Perhaps when she reflects, she will think, 'Well, maybe I could've handled this in a slightly different way,'" Callaghan said. “She happily hasn't really damaged the tournament in any way. If anything, I think this damages hers rather than the other way.”
Callaghan said tournament organizers are “sympathetic” about Hou's pairings, but then added that he doesn't think the pairings “are wrong,” noting that they are created by a machine, not people.
“I understand, if I was in her shoes and I was playing and suddenly I pulled a draw of six girls — one after the other — I would say also, 'What's going on here?'" he continued. “But clearly nothing was going on. It comes out of a machine and sometimes the odds fall that way.”
“I think she recognizes that, and I think that we need to move on,” he added.
In her interview after throwing her match, Hou didn't sound regretful or anxious to move on and said she wanted to bring attention to the situation.
“For the future events it should be a 100 percent fair situation,” she said.