Ju Wenjun will not become Women’s World Champion in the next two weeks after 9th seed and her Chinese compatriot Tan Zhongyi knocked her out 1.5:0.5 in the quarterfinals. She will get a chance to play a match against the new champion early next year, though, after winning the Women’s FIDE Grand Prix series. Tan Zhongyi now plays Harika Dronavalli, who beat Nana Dzagnidze in tiebreaks. The other semi-final is between Anna Muzychuk, who beat Antoaneta Stefanova, and Alexandra Kosteniuk, who ended the dream of Ni Shiqun.
The quarterfinals were the quickest round of the event so far, with three matches requiring only a win and a draw in the classical games, while the one match that went to tiebreaks ended after the first two rapid games.
Let’s take them in turn, starting with the sensation!
All good things come to an end! Ju Wenjun had been on a roll: she won the Women’s Grand Prix series then the £15,000 women’s top prize in Gibraltar (in fact she won a £3,000 rating band prize as well to reach £18,000 in winnings!). Her 2731 rating performance included beating Women’s World Champion Hou Yifan and crossing 2600 for the first time. She was the clear world no. 2 and could dream of catching her compatriot on the rating list.
She still can, of course, but her quarterfinal defeat saw her drop below 2600, while her opponent Tan Zhongyi has crossed the 2500 mark (and Anna Muzychuk is climbing fast!):
At 25, Tan Zhongyi is a year younger than Ju Wenjun and can boast of notable career successes, including winning the World Youth U10 and U12 Championships, the Chinese Championship and the Asian Rapid and Blitz Championships. Another success that may have had an impact in Tehran is that she defeated Ju Wenjun in the final of the knockout China Chess Queen tournament in 2015 that went all the way to Armageddon. It was meant to prepare Chinese players for World Championship knockout events, and at least in Tan Zhongyi’s case it seems to have succeeded!
If Tan Zhongyi was meant to be the underdog she didn’t show it, pushing hard for a win in the first game with the white pieces. She won a pawn but was unable to convert it into victory. Ju Wenjun then had the white pieces in the next game, but she was already in deep trouble after a misstep on move 15:
It’s very complicated, but it seems White had to go for 15.d6, allowing a knight fork on c2 but winning the e7-bishop in return. Instead after 15.Ne5? Bf5! White was in all kinds of tactical difficulties. It wasn’t just about forks, with the theme of pins soon becoming an issue!
It tells you all you need to know about White’s position that 21.Nxf7 is apparently the best move here, even though it allows 21…Bxh2+! in reply.
After 21.f4 the computer points out even better replies than 21…f6, but Tan Zhongyi’s nerves held as she went on to score a win in 37 moves. The rest day that earned her was overdue, since as we noted she’s played the highest number of games of anyone in the event.
That win by 9th seed Tan Zhongyi was the one upset of the quarterfinals, with the higher rated players coming through in the remaining three matches.
Harika hadn’t yet won a classical game in Tehran, but that all changed after Nana Dzagnidze took the wrong minor piece on move 39:
After 39…Bxb2! the game is drawish, with e.g. 40.Bd3 met by 40…Rc1!. Instead after 39…gxf5? 40.Qe8! Black was busted. 40…Be5 loses in style to 41.Rxe5! while 40…Bxb2 41.Re7+! forced Nana to give up the queen. It was then a simple matter to mop up the game by targeting Black’s undefended king and uncoordinated pieces.
Harika admitted after finally winning the match that she’d dared to imagine she might get into the next round easily, for a change, but it wasn’t to be. Dzagnidze had come from behind twice in the first round, and she did it again. Harika said she’d seen her tactical chance:
After 20…Bxe3! it seems Black’s queen, bishop and rook can apply enough pressure to the white king to force a draw. After 17 minutes, though, Harika erred on the side of caution with 20…Rd8, but after 21.Qe4 queens were swapped off and Nana impressively converted her extra pawn.
The story was repeated in the tiebreaks, with Harika getting off to a win with the white pieces, and also getting some revenge by superbly converting a superior rook ending herself. She felt she’d been punished for playing too passively in the return game at classical chess and this time adopted the easier-said-than-done plan of “playing the best moves” with Black. It couldn’t have worked out better, since she was on top after a dozen moves and absolutely winning by around move 40. Harika only then decided to play it safe by exchanging off pawns into a position she couldn’t lose, with Dzagnidze conceding a draw - and therefore defeat - on move 49.
Since 2015 Anna Muzychuk has found herself somewhat in her sister's shadow after Mariya won the Women’s World Championship. That must have been something of a shock, since Anna had until then been considered the more talented sister and is one of only five female players ever to cross the 2600-barrier. We could be witnessing things changing again, though. Mariya skipped the World Rapid and Blitz Championships in Doha and saw Anna take both titles. Now Mariya has also skipped the classical World Championship in Tehran. As we wrote in our preview, she considered Iran an inappropriate venue, but added:
My sister, Anna, signed the contract. We talked about it, but for her becoming World Champion is a lifelong dream.
The dream is only two matches away from reality now after Anna’s wonderful run of five wins and one draw continued in the quarterfinals against former Women’s World Champion Antoaneta Stefanova.
Everything turned on a tactical skirmish just before the time control, when two inaccuracies in a complex position left Stefanova flailing until 37…Nxb6? was game over:
It’s not too late to spoil things with 38.Qxb6?, but 38.Rxb6! left the queen unable to both defend the e8-rook and stop the c-pawn queening. 38…Qg4 was played on the healthy principle that it never hurts to threaten mate-in-1, but after 39.f3 the Bulgarian player resigned.
Anna didn't give her opponent a chance in the second game and World no. 3 Muzychuk will now play World no. 5 Kosteniuk for a place in the final. Both have yet to lose a game.
19-year-old Ni Shiqun’s first Women’s World Championship has ended without her experiencing any tiebreaks – that’s not unusual in itself, of course, but it is unusual that she made it all the way to the quarterfinals like that! The 39th seed was again a heavy underdog against former World Champion Alexandra Kosteniuk, but she didn’t show it, applying some pressure before signing a 41-move draw with White in the first game.
In the second Ni Shiqun seemed to have equalised with Black, but Alexandra brought all her experience to bear and gradually ratchetted up the pressure in an ending where she had the bishop pair and an outside passed pawn. Ni Shiqun resisted for a long time, but had to throw in the towel when mate was about to appear on the board:
For instance, 77….d4 78.Bd6+ Nxd6 79.g7#
So Kosteniuk is in with a chance of winning the Women’s World Championship almost a decade after she last did that in 2008, though it’s unlikely she’ll be looking much further than her match with Anna Muzychuk.
After 11 days we have the top three seeds in the semifinals, with only 9th seed Tan Zhongyi something of an outsider. It’s going to be a fierce fight!
We're now down to only four players, but it's still not time for a rest day - the only one of those is before the final. The semifinals begin on Thursday, and you can again watch all the action here on chess24 from 12:30 CET. You can also follow the games in our mobile apps: