22-year-old Ukrainian Mariya Muzychuk and 30-year-old Russian Natalia Pogonina will contest the Women's World Championship final that starts today. Although a match with Hou Yifan will follow for the winner, whoever triumphs in Sochi will already be able to call themselves World Champion. We preview the four-game match, looking at the tournaments each player has had so far.
Mariya made it to the final after destroying India's hopes, eliminating first their no. 1, Humpy Koneru, and then the no. 2, Harika Dronavalli. Prior to that she also knocked out ex-World Champion Antoaneta Stefanova.
Mariya found herself on the ropes in the long match against Harika, especially during the fifth game (the first played at the 10 minutes + 10 second increment time control) with her Indian opponent enjoying an overwhelming endgame advantage:
Harika here went for 83.Qe3??, to which Mariya's reaction was:
Is this really my lucky day?! I knew the resulting position - I knew it was a draw.
She exchanged queens, the h-pawn fell and Muzychuk had no problem holding a draw. Instead with the immediate 83.Qg7+ followed by h7 the Indian player could have taken the lead, when who knows what would have happened next!
It was also far from easy for Natalia Pogonina, who managed to pull off three comebacks in a row, demonstrating remarkable fighting spirit. In the semifinals she eliminated Sweden's Pia Cramling after drawing the first game of the playoffs and then managing to overcome truly heroic resistance from Pia in the second.
If we look back on all the games played in the Championship up until this point we can see that Mariya Muzychuk has scored 13 points out of 20 games for a performance rating of 2570. In the classical games she's scored 5.5/10 and actually lost rating points! Pogonina,meanwhile, is having a better tournament so far, with 11 points out of 16 games and a 2642 performance. In addition to her comebacks it speaks highly of her fighting spirit to note that she's only had 4 draws in 16 games.
So all that remains is to watch the highest stakes match that either of these players has ever experienced. The action will be live each day here on chess24 from 14:00 CEST!
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