Reports Mar 19, 2015 | 2:13 PMby IM David Martínez

Women's WCh 1: Comebacks, nerves & playoffs!

The 2015 Women’s World Championship has begun, with the two classical games of Round 1 already behind us. 21 players have made it through to the next round, though that means 21 are already packing their bags. 22 more face rapid and blitz playoffs today. We take a look back at the classical action, including a high dose of tension, comebacks, nerves and, of course, good chess!

Let the World Championship begin! | photo: Vladimir Barsky

The alternating system of matches and knockouts to determine the Women’s World Championship title is at best controversial, and the absence of reigning champion Hou Yifan (who plays in Hawaii, not Russia) has made it an obvious topic of discussion. Two of the World Championship commentators have very different views:

Sergey Shipov: 

Most experts and fans want to see the emergence of new stars, but I want something else. I want a champion capable of competing with Hou Yifan in a match. I think the current state of women's chess is not exactly harmonious – sometimes the title is at stake in a knockout event while on other occasions there’s a match, which isn’t normal. There needs to be one common system.

Maybe this is the right time to fix the system? Let’s be honest with ourselves – this championship has effectively turned into a qualification event to discover the name of the challenger for World Champion Hou Yifan, even if she won’t officially hold the title. That's why I very much want the winner of the Sochi event to show great strength and be capable of giving Hou Yifan a real fight. Frankly speaking, the Ushenina – Hou Yifan match was very one-sided and rather dull. They’re simply players of a different calibre.

Evgeny Miroshnichenko: 

Recently I was thinking about the formula of the Women's World Championship. Some people complain about different formats and don't like the idea of mixing them. However, in my opinion if you simply accept it as a fact such a formula is very exciting indeed! Something like boxing with its multiple champions... Everybody knows there’s Hou Yifan, who will play the match and probably win it. However, if she'd come to Sochi her winning chances would be below 50%. Remember, she was knocked out in Khanty-Mansiysk as early as the second round.

But enough debate – let’s get to the action!

9 players managed to win their matches 2-0: Humpy Koneru, Lei Tingjie, Viktorija Cmilyte, Alexandra Kosteniuk, Harika Dronavalli, Ju Wenjun, Valentina Gunina, Olga Girya and Pia Cramling.

It was a highly-merited victory for China’s Lei Tingjie, who recently turned 18 and eliminated former Girls World Junior Champion Deysi Cori. That was match-up that was the most balanced on paper, since both players had exactly the same Elo!

In the first game Lei played a fine combination:

1. d4 ♘f6 2. c4 g6 3. ♘c3 d5 4. ♗g5 ♗g7 It used to be more common to play 4... Ne4, until Svidler recommended this move in his videos and it grew in popularity! I'd also recommend heeding Svidler's advice on everything... except perhaps cricket 

5. e3

5. ♗xf6 ♗xf6 6. cxd5 is a very complex pawn sacrifice that I recommend watching in Peter's videos... even if you don't play the line! It's a great example of dynamic modern play.

5... ♘e4 At this point Lei Tingjie deviates from Svidler's recommendations to follow Nepomniachtchi, who also knows a thing or two here.

6. ♗h4 c5 7. cxd5 ♘xc3 8. bxc3 cxd4 9. cxd4 ♕xd5 We've got a classic Grünfeld position where White controls the centre and Black will aim to break it open. Deysi is about to depart from known theory.

10. ♘e2 The idea is to bring the knight to c3 and, no doubt, to try and exchange queens with Qa4+.

10. ♘f3 is the normal move.

10... ♘c6 Putting the pieces in the centre straightaway. Also interesting was

10... O-O sacrificing the e7-pawn. 11. ♗xe7 (11. ♘c3 , as in the game, would allow Black after 11... ♕a5 12. ♖c1 to break in the centre immediately with 12... e5 ) 11... ♖e8 The pressure on the central files is going to prevent the e2-knight from moving, since d4 would be lost. In my opinion Black has sufficient compensation, and the position is both easier and more enjoyable to play!

11. ♘c3 ♕a5 12. ♖c1 O-O! Black is basing her play on dynamics - a central break and good piece play. In such a situation what could be better for White than to exchange queens and release the pressure? It doesn't quite work out...

13. ♗e2 Developing before looking to exchange queens.

13. ♕a4 would indeed be inadvisable due to 13... ♕xa4 14. ♘xa4 ♗e6 hitting a2, and if 15. a3 then 15... ♖ac8 and White will very soon have problems on the c-file, since the h1-rook is two moves short of being able to collaborate with its collegue on c1.

13. ♗c4 with the idea of simply meeting 13... ♖d8 with 14. O-O and then later combining the queen and bishop with Qb3, is the option players who reach this position with White in future may opt for. It's important to note that 14... ♘xd4 would be countered with 15. ♗xe7 ♖d7 16. ♘d5 and extremely complex play, which nevertheless seems to favour White. Here you can see the difference to what happens in the game.

13... ♖d8 14. ♕a4? The natural move, but one which is harshly punished by Lei.

14. O-O is impossible due to 14... ♘xd4!

a) 15. ♗xe7 doesn't work here due to 15... ♘f3+ (15... ♘xe2+ 16. ♕xe2 ♖d7 , attacking two pieces, also wins.) 16. ♗xf3 ♖xd1

b) 15. exd4 ♖xd4 Hitting both the queen and bishop.

14. ♕b3 , with the idea of Qb5, was the only way to go, with approximate equality.

14... ♕xa4 15. ♘xa4 ♘xd4! Lei Tingjie has calculated this accurately. No doubt Deysi had seen this move, but was counting on being able to defend both pieces on the fourth rank...

16. exd4 ♖xd4 17. ♖c4 Many players would have gone for this position, as Cori did, since it seems as though White has defended against all the black threats! However, it's amazing to see that the black initiative is so strong that Lei wins back material by force.

17... ♖xc4 The most human move. The engine recommends another forced line:

17... b5 18. ♖xd4 ♗xd4 19. ♗xb5 ♖b8 20. ♗d3 ♗d7 21. ♗c2 ♗xa4 22. ♗xa4 ♖b4 23. ♗b3 ♗c3+ and the h4-bishop falls. I don't know if Lei had seen this far (that would be truly impressive), but in any case I don't like it for Black since the opposite-coloured bishops increase the chances that White can draw.

18. ♗xc4 ♗d7 19. ♘c5

19. ♗b3 would be met calmly with 19... ♖c8 with the double threat of Rc1+and Bxa4 followed by Rc4, recovering the piece.

19... ♖c8 20. ♘xd7 ♖xc4 21. ♗g5 White has solved one problem - there are no bishops left! But now it turns out the knight has become trapped in enemy territory.

21... ♖c7 22. ♘b8 ♖c8 23. ♘d7 ♗d4 Bolting the door!

24. ♗f4 The last try.

24... f6 And now the e5-square is no longer available.

25. ♔e2 ♖d8 26. ♘xf6+ ♗xf6 The tactical part of the game is over - Lei has an extra pawn which she went on to convert into a win. Impressive calculation by the young Chinese player!

27. ♖c1 ♖d4 28. ♗e3 ♖a4 29. ♖c2 ♔f7 30. ♔d3 ♗e5 31. g3 ♔e6 32. h3 b6 33. ♗g5 ♗d6 34. ♖e2+ ♔d5 35. ♔c3 ♖e4 36. ♖d2+ ♔c6 37. ♔d3 ♖e5 38. h4 ♖d5+ 39. ♔e4 ♖xd2 40. ♗xd2 ♔b5 41. g4 ♔a4 42. f4 e6 43. ♗c1 b5 44. ♗b2 a5 45. f5 exf5+ 46. gxf5 gxf5+ 47. ♔xf5 ♗a3 48. ♗f6 ♗c1 49. ♗e7 b4 50. ♗d8 ♔b5 51. ♔e4 a4 52. ♔d3 h5 53. ♗f6 ♗f4 54. ♗d4 ♗g3 55. ♗f6 ♔c5 56. ♗e7+ ♔d5 57. ♗xb4 ♗xh4 58. ♔e3 ♔c4 59. ♗d6 ♔c3 60. ♔f4 ♔b2 61. a3 ♔b3 62. ♔f5 ♗d8 63. ♔f4 ♗f6 64. ♔e3 ♗b2 65. ♔d2 ♗xa3 66. ♗e5 ♗b2 67. ♗d6 h4 68. ♔e2 ♗c3


Deysi didn’t get too downhearted after the defeat and managed to show her best in the complex second game, where she came very close to victory. The position where Deysi could have landed the heaviest blow was here:

The Peruvian player could have decided the game with the brilliant 35...Nxg2!! The knight can’t be taken with the rook due to mate on the back rank and if 35.Kxg2 there’s Qc6+ followed by Bxg1.

Fate was cruel in this case for Deysi, who even ended up losing after trying a thousand ways to win.

The 2-0 scoreline of Lei Tingjie – Deysi Cori doesn’t convey the enormous tension of the second game of the match | photo: Vladimir Barsky

12 players managed to progress 1.5-0.5:  Antoaneta Stefanova, Inna Gaponenko, Ekaterina Kovalevskaya, Yaniet Marrero Lopez, Irina Krush, Natalia Pogonina, Anna Ushenina, Marie Sebag, Bela Khotenashvili, Tan Zhongyi and Ketevan Arakhamia-Grant.

One of the upsets was the victory of Ukraine’s Inna Gaponenko against her better known and higher-rated compatriot Natalia Zhukova. In the first game Zhukova, playing with Black, forced perpetual check in only 12 moves. In the second, with White, she seemed on course to victory, but in serious mutual time trouble she missed a subtle tactical detail:

Natalia could have decided the game in her favour with 27.Bf4!, exploiting the pin, since 27...gxf4 allows 28.g5 and the opening of the kingside will be fatal for Black. If Black doesn’t take but plays 27...Kg6, defending the g5-pawn, then White can follow up with 28.Rfh2, invading on the h-file. A tactical moment that could have changed the whole course of the match!

Gaponenko explained in the post-game press conference that Zhukova is a great friend and almost a godmother to her children | photo: Boris Dolmatovsky

Cuba’s Yaniet Marrero also scored a notable victory over Armenian no. 1 Elina Danielian. Yaniet played at a high level in both games, and especially the ending of the second - a great success for the Cuban player, who could spring more surprises if she maintains this standard in subsequent rounds.

Yaniet beat a player rated 166 points above her | photo: Boris Dolmatovsky

Natalia Pogonina was also in fine form in the second game of her match against Guo Qi. Natalia managed to win with Black after showing some excellent positional knowledge:

White is conducting a classic minority attack on the queenside. Natalia, however, isn’t inclined to sit back and wait for it to arrive, and instead finds the correct way to launch a counterstrike. She started with 23…g5!, put the pawn on g4 and then followed up with g6 and Kg7 in order to threaten a mating attack along the h-file. When her opponent weakened her position by advancing the f-pawn in order to defend the second rank Natalia switched plans and exploited the white weaknesses. An instructive plan from the Russian player.

Natalia Pogonina managed to win the match despite drawing the first game with White | photo: Vladimir Barsky

11 matches will be decided in playoffs today. In four of those encounters one of the players managed to mount a comeback after losing the first game.

Alisa Galliamova managed to win a nice positional game against Carolina Lujan after a brutal loss in the first. You get a nice clash of styles in such knockout tournaments!

Mariya Muzychuk levelled the scores in resounding fashion after falling victim to serious time trouble in the first game and throwing away a promising position against Yuanling Yuan. Mariya is clearly playing better than her opponent and should be able to demonstrate her class in the rapid games.

Mariya Muzychuk managed to recover from the shock of defeat in time | photo: Vladimir Barsky

Argentina’s Marisa Zuriel had the character not only to come back in the match as a whole but also in the second game itself, where she was in great difficulty against GM Zhao Xue, rated over 300 points above her. It won’t be easy, but Marisa has the experience to keep on offering resistance in the playoffs.

Our chess24 colleague Sopiko Guramishvili also gave us great joy (yes, in this case we’re not entirely objective) by fighting back to win against her Georgian compatriot Lela Javakhashvili. Sopiko won an impressive positional game after losing in the first, where her rival handled a complex middlegame better. It’s curious that in both games Sopiko had a queen against her opponent's pieces. It’s hard to predict what will happen in the playoffs, as in the end such ties can come down to the smallest of details.

A fierce fight in the all-Georgian showdown | photo: Boris Dolmatovsky

The format for the 11 playoff matches is as follows: two games of 25 minutes + 10 seconds per move then, if a match hasn’t been decided, two games of 10+10, then two games of 5+3, and finally a single Armageddon game, where White has one minute more but a draw is treated as a win for Black! Watch the action live here on chess24.

One of the most closely balanced encounters is between Lilit Mkrtchian and Russian prodigy Aleksandra Goryachkina | photo: Vladimir Barsky

IM David Martínez

David is the current trainer of the Spanish women's team and 2014 European Championship runner-up GM David Antón. He edits the chess24 Spanish pages and has also collaborated on videos and live commentary.

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