Reports Feb 15, 2017 | 10:51 PMby Colin McGourty

Tehran WWCh, R2: A bad day for Russia

Five Russian players bade farewell to the 2017 Women’s World Championship today, including twice European Champion Valentina Gunina and twice World Junior Girls Champion Aleksandra Goryachkina. From the 11-player Russian delegation only Olga Girya is through to Round 3, though Alexandra Kosteniuk and Natalija Pogonina are among the 18 players set to compete in tiebreaks on Thursday. It was advantage China, as none of their six remaining players were knocked out, while Ju Wenjun, Ni Shiqun and Shen Yang are already through.

Ju Wenjun has had little trouble so far on her way to Round 3 | photo: David Llada, official website

Round 2 got off to a bizarre start on Wednesday, as Zhu Chen gave the world no. 2 and top seed Ju Wenjun a gift she didn’t require with 9.g4?

After Hou Yifan’s final round exploits in Gibraltar this combination of g4 and f3 is suddenly all the rage...

This was no protest, though, and instead it seems Zhu Chen simply mixed up her moves. 9.Ne2 immediately is a speciality of Sergey Volkov’s, who beat Bartosz Socko after 9…Re8 10.g4! (only now). The problem in the game was that after 9…Qh4+ 10.Kd2 Ju Wenjun had 10…Ng3! and the position was essentially resignable. For anyone wondering why the engine was giving such a big advantage in her favour so soon the rest of the game was an ample demonstration.

The second game in that match had Jan Gustafsson in the chat rushing to deny the rumours that he was Zhu Chen’s opening coach, since after 12…dxe4 she was essentially busted... again:

The key move to find is 13.a4!, which combines the threats of Ba3, Nb5-c7 (or Nd6), and if necessary White can also put a rook on c1 fast after Ba3. In the game, though, Ju Wenjun played 13.Qc2? and after 13…Nc6! everything held together. There was even a minor scare for the top seed, who ended up on the defending side of a pawn ending where her opponent had a passed pawn. She safely steered it to a draw, though, and will play Olga Girya in the next round. 

Two games, two wins and a place in Round 3 for Olga Girya | photo: David Llada, official website

Girya’s freshness after skipping Round 1 seemed to tell, as she scored a win as comprehensive as the 2:0 scoreline against her compatriot Anastasia Bodnaruk, who had played 9 games in the previous round.

Only two other players scored 2:0 wins – Nana Dzagnidze, who turned around a tricky position against Olga Zimina in the second game, and 19-year-old Ni Shiqun from China, who blew Valentina Gunina off the board… twice! 

Ni Shiqun - a new star of Chinese chess? | photo: David Llada, official website

The second was a case of Valentina, needing a win, doing all she could to keep as many pieces on the board as possible with the black pieces. That part of the plan worked pretty well, since after 20 moves only two pawns a side had left the board… Alas, that was where the good news ended for her:

21.cxd5 was already +12.28 according to the computer, and this wasn’t a game the Chinese player was going to let slip! Only some alchemy could save Valentina, such as the arbiters recording the wrong result…

Soon, however, the correct result was given.

If that wasn’t quite the miniature it deserved to be, Anna Muzychuk scored a sparkling 24-move win over Alina Kashlinskaya, with the final position telling the story:

Rh4 is threatened, while 24…Bxe4 is actually mate-in-6 after 25.Bxe4+. The most elegant conclusion would be 25…Kg8 26.Qg5+ Qxg5 27.Nxg5 and there’s no defence against Bh7# - don’t underestimate minor pieces!

Alina was unable to mount a comeback, but others did. Tan Zhongyi hit back against Anna Ushenina, as did Nataliya Buksa against Sopiko Guramishvili. Once again it seemed as if Sopiko was cruising into the next round, since her Sicilian gave her a significant advantage when a draw would do. Then, however, she needlessly gave away her bishop pair and eventually lost a tricky ending. 

That was perhaps poetic justice, though, since Sopiko’s win with the white pieces wasn’t one of the smooth attacking masterpieces she’d been demonstrating in Tehran before that. Instead the computer was giving +5 in Buksa’s favour, before the Ukrainian player started to lose the plot in time trouble. That culminated in the unfortunate offer to swap queens with 35…Qd2?

Sopiko accepted, since there was a simple sting in the tail! 36.Qxd2 Rxd2 37.Nf3! and though Nataliya was able to limit the damage to losing an exchange after 37…Rxg2 she couldn’t save the game.

Finally – in the last game of the day to finish – 18-year-old Aleksandra Goryachkina saw her hopes of winning an early World Championship dashed by Pham Le Thao Nguyen from Vietnam, who had survived a lost position to shock Lela Javakhishvili in Round 1. Once again, Pham absorbed all the pressure and hit back when her opponent went astray:

38.f6!? was an unnecessary pawn sacrifice, and though after 38…Bxf6 39.Rf1 White is threatening both mate and the f6-bishop, it turned out 39…Ng8 held everything together. White still had a clamp on the position that was compensation enough for the pawn, but when Goryachkina released the pressure for an instant that was all it took for Pham to convert her extra material. She plays Anna Muzychuk in the next round for a place in the quarterfinals.

Before that, though, we have tiebreaks, and almost as many matches went to tiebreaks as in Round 1 (9 instead of 11). Let’s hope the transmission of the moves will run smoothly this time and we can enjoy another day of brilliance, blunders and general mayhem. Watch all the action here on chess24 from 12:30 CET.

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