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    Entries in 2012 Women's World Chess Championship (14)

    Saturday
    Dec012012

    Anna Ushenina, 14th Women's World Chess Champion

    It was an unlikely run for Anna Ushenina of Ukraine, who came in to the title tournament in frigid Khanty-Mansiysk as the 30th seed, but after defeating Antoaneta Stefanova 3.5-2.5 (1.5-.5 in the rapid playoff) she is now the 14th women's world chess champion. Congratulations!

    In the first rapid game, Stefanova obtained a slight edge with White, but couldn't find anything special to do with it. She played for a long time in a bishop ending, hoping Ushenina would crack, but nothing of the sort happened. In game 2, Stefanova played a line with which she had enjoyed great success. Nevertheless, Ushenina's faith in the computer evaluation seemed to have been well-founded: she obtained an edge in a risk-free ending, and her opponent wasn't comfortable in defense. Black was already in serious difficulties after 35.Kg3, but after 35...g5? her problems were insuperable. It took until move 94 before Stefanova resigned, but she had been lost for a very long time. (You can replay the games, with my notes, here.)

    Congratulations again to Ushenina, who won the match, title, a nice chunk of change, the grandmaster title and a match with Women's Grand Prix winner (and newly crowned ex-champion) Hou Yifan next year to try to retain her title. Not a bad reward for winning the last game!

    Friday
    Nov302012

    Women's World Championship Finals: Stefanova Wins Game 4; On To Tiebreaks

    Game 4 of the final match at the 2012 Women's World Chess Championship was a must-win for Antoaneta Stefanova, and win she did. Trailing Anna Ushenina 2-1 after a loss in game 3, she at least had the advantage of the white pieces, and she used them successfully. She had a better sense than her opponent of how to play the Anti-Meran system in the Semi-Slav, and soon after leaving theory she had earned a completely winning position. Very near the finish line, she squandered most of her advantage with a series of second-best moves, but Ushenina missed her one chance to get back in the game and walked into a mating combination. (You can replay the game here.)

    On to tiebreaks on Saturday!

    Friday
    Nov302012

    Women's World Championship Finals: Ushenina Wins The Penultimate Game, Leads 2-1

    Game 3 of the final match of the 2012 Women's World Championship was a perfect combination of excellent play by Anna Ushenina and disastrous preparation by Antoaneta Stefanova. Although Stefanova chose the theoretical direction, playing the Chebanenko Slav with Black and even picking the sideline, it was Ushenina who better understood what to do in the late opening/early middlegame. Stefanova followed a path that is very bad for Black, and by the time she finally varied from her unfortunate predecessors with 20...Qxf8 she was already nearly lost. Soon she was lost, and Ushenina's fine play brought home the full point.

    So with one game to go, Stefanova is in a must-win situation. If she wins with the white pieces, they'll go on to tiebreaks; if not, Anna Ushenina of Ukraine will be the new Women's World Champion, and will defend her title in a match next year against outgoing champ Hou Yifan.

    Meanwhile, you can replay game 3, with my notes, here.

    Wednesday
    Nov282012

    Women's World Championship Finals: Game 2 Also Drawn

    Game 2 of the final of the 2012 Women's World Championship was a battle of opening surprises. First, here's the game score:

    Stefanova, Antoaneta (2491) - Ushenina, Anna (2452) FIDE WCh Women World Cup Khanty-Mansiysk RUS (6.2), 2012.11.28

    1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 c6 4.e4 Bb4 5.Bd2 dxc4 6.Nf3 b5 7.a4 a5 8.axb5 Bxc3 9.Bxc3 cxb5 10.Qd2 Nf6 11.Qg5 O-O 12.Qxb5 Nxe4 13.Bxc4 Qc7 14.Qb3 a4 15.Rxa4 Rxa4 16.Qxa4 Nxc3 17.bxc3 Bb7 ½-½

    Black's usual response to 4.e4 against the Triangle System is to accept the Marshall Gambit: 4...dxe4 5.Nxe4 Bb4+ 6.Bd2 Qxd4 7.Bxb4 Qxe4+ and so on, with very sharp, complicated play that has been analyzed very deeply. Ushenina's 4...Bb4 is hardly unknown, but it's comparatively rare; likewise for Stefanova's 5.Bd2 - 5.e5 and 5.cxd5 are more popular. (The latter especially, at higher levels.) After 5...dxc4 Stefanova's 6.Nf3 was also a bit of a secondary choice - White has usually gambited the d-pawn instead (6.Bxc4 Qxd4).

    After 6.Nf3 b5 it looked like a Noteboom but with White's pawn on e4 rather than e3. This difference is in Black's favor, at least if White plays 10.b3 as in the Noteboom. In the version with e3, play generally continues 10...Bb7 11.bxc4 b4 12.Bb2 Nf6, etc., with a battle between White's central preponderance and Black's queenside passers and hopes of a light-squared blockade. However, in the e4 version, had White chosen 10.b3 then 10...Nf6 would be an effective counter, taking advantage of the loose e-pawn.

    So White chose 10.Qd2, but was already having to fight for equality. There was an email game in 2008 where Black played 13...Nd6 and then took on c4, and that looks like a natural and obvious improvement, as Black's light-squared bishop will be very strong on either of the a8-h1 and a6-f1 diagonals. Even so, 13...Qc7 wasn't bad, and White was still the only side with problems, and Black could have continued the game without any serious risk.

    Tuesday
    Nov272012

    Women's World Championship Finals: Stefanova Winning But Ushenina Draws

    The first of four scheduled games in the final match of the 2012 Women's World Chess Championship is history, and Anna Ushenina is fortunate to have escaped with a draw. Through the opening and into the early middlegame she was doing fine, enjoying a very slight edge in a Bogo-Indian that turned into a sort of Carlsbad Queen's Gambit Declined without the dark-squared bishops. Ushenina went for the standard minority attack, but messed up the timing and her opponent, former women's champ Antoaneta Stefanova, had a winning attack.

    That said, a winning attack doesn't need to issue in mate directly; it might result in material gains, after which the right plan may be to forget about the attack and think instead about converting the extra material. That was the case here: at a certain point Stefanova should have forgotten about trying to mate Ushenina--both because the simple plan of winning White's h-pawn and then subsequently pushing her passed h-pawn home would have been an easy winner, and also because her more bloodthirsty approach let Ushenina escape with a draw.

    Game 2 is tomorrow; game 1 can be replayed here, with my comments.

    Sunday
    Nov252012

    Women's World Championship Semi-Finals: Ushenina to Face Stefanova in the Finals

    Ju Wenjun had survived tiebreaks the first four rounds, but in round 5 of the 2012 Women's World Chess Championship Anna Ushenina bested her in a pair of tiebreaking rapid games (25' + 10") to reach the finals. Ushenina won the first game with White in a sharp Saemisch King's Indian with the players castling on opposite wings. It looks like Ju Wenjun's play of playing ...exd4 followed by ...Ne5 was a good one, but should have been played without the preliminary 13...b4. In many circumstances shoving the enemy knight to the edge is beneficial, but in this case it helped White: 16.c5 was wonderfully synergetic: the pawn could advance because of the knight on a4, and after 16...d5 the pawn on c5 supported the knight's trip to b6. Black's center and kingside were soon in danger of disintegration, and Ju sacrificed a piece to try to scare up some counterplay. It looked dangerous, especially in the context of a rapid game, but Ushenina handled it very well and won with impressive ease.

    In the rematch, Ju ground away on the white side of a slow (4.e3) Slav, and reached an ending with two pawns for the exchange (and later three) and very good winning chances. Indeed, the ending was eventually winning, but perhaps from exhaustion, time pressure, or some combination of the two, Ju was unable to find it. I think too as a psychological matter she was afraid to jettison any of her pawns, but had she done so at an appropriate moment the win would have been relatively simple. Finally, Ushenina was off the hook after 66.e7??, after which Black achieved an impermeable fortress. (One winning line: 66.Be5+ Kf8 67.Kg6 Rg1+ 68.Kf6 Rh1 and here, for instance, shedding the h-pawn for the sake of the connected passers will do the trick: 69.f4 Rxh5 70.f5 Rh1 71.Bf4 Re1 72.Kg6 Ke7 [or 72...Ke8 73.f6! Rxe6 74.f7+-] 73.Bg5+ Ke7 74.f6 Rxe6 75.Kg7 and wins.) By move 78 Ju had pushed her pawns as far as they could go, and now White played on for 66 moves before giving in to the inevitable.

    So this time around the Occident triumphed over the Orient, and we'll have a 4-game final between 2004 Women's Champ Antoaneta Stefanova and Ushenina starting Tuesday, after the rest day on Monday.

    Saturday
    Nov242012

    Women's World Championship Semi-Finals: Stefanova Advances, Ju Wenjun - Ushenina To Tiebreaks

    Antoaneta Stefanova has been very successful in the 2012 Women's World Championship, going 8/10 in the classical games (and 2-0 in the tiebreaks), and with two days off before the final looks to be in great shape to regain the crown she won back in 2004. She beat Harika Dronavalli in their first game, yesterday, and played an excellent counter-attacking game today to draw from a position of strength. She seemed to be in some trouble early on in a Chebanenko Slav, but Dronavalli may have dithered a little with 13.Ra3 and 17.h3. Stefanova's counterplay with the f-pawn came just in time, and her piece "sac" for three pawns even gave her the advantage. Dronavalli's knight was cut off on b7 and her pieces were badly coordinated, and even Stefanova's time shortage wasn't enough. Finally, she offered a repetition, and Stefanova rightly accepted it, qualifying for the 4-game final match starting on Tuesday.

    The other match saw a short draw between Ju Wenjun and Anna Ushenina, forcing them to play tiebreaks tomorrow. For Ju, this was her fifth straight match (out of five!) to go to tiebreaks, so it's nothing new for her. Watching the streaming video, she seems to have developed a bit of a cough (considering the frigid weather in Khanty Mansiysk - always below 32 degrees F/0 C, and regularly below 0 F - this isn't terribly surprising). So if she makes it to the final against Stefanova, it will be difficult: Stefanova doesn't seem to be sick, will have had two days off and many days off during the event, while Ju will have had a grand total of zero days off prior to the one and only official rest day on Monday. Stefanova has played 12 games, Ju will have played at least 26.

    Anyway, she isn't there yet, and Ushenina, who has been almost as efficient as Stefanova (only one prior tiebreak), will have something to say about this. Today she spent a lot of time in the late opening, with Black in a Moscow Semi-Slav, and succeeded in achieving equality. Indeed, Ju's iffy 16.f4 may have even given Black some slight chances for an edge, but after seeing 18.Ne5 Ushenina was happy to accept her opponent's draw offer.

    Friday
    Nov232012

    Various Events: Women's World Championship Semis, Tashkent, Mexico City and Maribor

    Since one of the events (Mexico City, featuring Magnus Carlsen) is about to start, I'll make this overview of what's happening in the chess world a brief one.

    In the first game of the 2012 Women's World Championship semi-finals, one game was decisive while the other should have been as well. Antoaneta Stefanova chose to meet Harika Dronavalli's Queen's Gambit Declined with 4.Bf4, and the game soon took on the character of an unusual Stonewall Dutch. Dronavalli's 16...Qf6 offered a pawn, which Stefanova accepted via a forced line that came to an end with 23.Kf2. Black enjoyed good compensation here, and with building moves like ...c5 and ...Bd7 could have prepared an assault against White's inelegantly arrayed kingside. Instead, Dronavalli commenced a second round of tactical play with 23...d4. This implicitly committed her to a piece sacrifice in exchange for some pretty obvious compensation. On move 27 the surprising 27...Be6! was correct, though White would remain better after 28.Qxe6! Rae8 29.Qxe8 Rxe8 30.Be4. Instead, she chose the obvious and natural 27...Bd7, but Stefanova's 28.Rad1! made White's advantage decisive. After 28...Qc7 Stefanova gave her opponent a last chance to stay in the game with 29.Qc2 (29.Kd2 was correct, escaping immediately), but her opponent missed or eschewed the opportunity for 29...Qb6+ 30.Kd2 Be6, when she would be worse but not losing. After the one slip, Stefanova finished strongly and slammed the door shut, winning the first game.

    Anna Ushenina had a certain advantage against Ju Wenjun, with White in an h3 King's Indian, and had the opportunity to win the exchange with 19.Bg5. It isn't a question of overlooking the idea - Ushenina would find it at least 99 times out of 100 in 3-minute chess. The likely story is that she felt Black would obtain a sufficiently strong grip on the dark squares to hold the position, and preferred to keep her dark-squared bishop in the battle. That's a very reasonable concern, especially when Black's bishop and queen would aim at b2, near White's king on c1. A closer look reveals that there is no way for Black to take advantage of the long diagonal, while White's pressure against c7 and along the g-file continue unabated. She should have gone for it! After refusing to cash in, her advantage began dwindling, and the game was soon drawn.

    In the FIDE Grand Prix in Tashkent, five of the six games were drawn. The one winner was Alexander Morozevich, who defeated Fabiano Caruana, making it a clean sweep against players with a U.S. passport.

    There were various junior world chess championships in Maribor, Slovenia, and U.S. representatives did very well, taking two of the gold medals. There's a report on the U.S. achievements here (HT: Jordan Henderson).

    Finally, there's a four-player knockout event starting now in Mexico City. Magnus Carlsen, Lazaro Bruzon, Judit Polgar and Manuel Leon Hoyos are battling it out in a rapid and blindfold tournament; tonight's pairing is Carlsen-Bruzon. First up is the rapid game (20' + 3"), which started less than five minutes ago, and then comes the blindfold game. Polgar - Leon Hoyos will be tomorrow, and then the winners face off on Saturday.

    Thursday
    Nov222012

    Women's World Championship: The A-B-Cs of the Quarterfinals

    The "A": Anna Ushenina, who was the only player to win her quarterfinal match after the two classical games, and Antoaneta Stefanova, who came back from a loss and multiple lost positions to win her match.

    The "B": Blunders, and goodness there were a lot of them.

    The "C": Chokes - plenty of them, too.

    This was a very ugly round. Chess is hard even when one is in good form and full of energy; when one is exhausted and under a lot of stress, away from home and "enjoying" sub-zero temperatures day after day, horrors are possible. If you like that sort of thing as a fan, then the quarterfinal round of the 2012 Women's World Chess Championship delivered!

    Let's review the action a day at a time, starting with the first classical game on Tuesday. Nadezhda Kosintseva had just overcome her sister in a tough match, and had White against Anna Ushenina. Both sides had a tough time figuring out what to do in a slightly nonstandard Najdorf with 6.Bg5 Nbd7 7.Qe2, but in general Ushenina had a better feel for things and had some advantage in the middlegame. As the time control neared, however, the game randomized a bit, and then on move 35 it was time for a blunder. Black was doing fine despite a pawn deficit, but after she played 35...f6?? it would have been time to resign, had White found the very simple and mundane 36.exf6+ Bxf6 37.Rxf6. (As trainers never tire of telling their charges: always look at checks and captures!) Instead, Kosintseva played 36.Ka2?, which was good for some advantage but not winning on the spot. She maintained and even grew that advantage at the end of the time control, and had she played on rather than repeating her winning chances would have been excellent. So give Kosintseva a ?? for repeating as well. Maybe this was a bit of a choke, from the stresses of this game and her match with her sister.

    A game that did finish with a decisive result was Marie Sebag - Antoaneta Stefanova. Sebag played 6.d3 against the Archangelsk, and a slow, maneuvering game ensued. Sebag handled the "Spanish Torture" better than her opponent, and was already winning when Stefanova blundered with 36...Rxa5, overlooking 37.Nxf7.

    Next up: Ju Wenjun vs. Huang Qian. Black had better prep in a 5.h3 King's Indian, and enjoyed a very strong initiative in the opening. White correctly decided to break the pressure with an exchange sac, making the position a bit messy. Still, White's compensation was inadequate for the exchange, or later for the pawn, when Huang correctly returned the exchange for a little interest. Ju defended well, and then a series of Black inaccuracies starting with 24...Rd8 (24...a5 followed by ...a4 and pushing the pawn as fast as possible probably would have led to a win) culminating in 29...Bxc3 let White off the hook. The idea of eliminating worries about opposite-colored bishops made sense, as far as it went, but it turned out that Black's extra pawn, the passed a-pawn, was too easily and conveniently blockaded. Black tried until move 62, but neither she nor the a-pawn came close to achieving their aims.

    Finally, Zhao Xue - Harika Dronavalli was a well-played, correct draw.

    On to day two. If you tried to read the tea leaves based on the results from the first day, you'd go broke. So...

    Ushenina - Kosintseva was a Rubinstein Nimzo-Indian that had a Saemisch-like quality to it, and Ushenina won by following the recipe of "Grandfather" Misha. Botvinnik - Capablanca from the A.V.R.O. tournament in 1938 was a classical model for what happened in this game: White owned the bishop pair, Black played ...c5-c4 and won the a-pawn, while White built up with f3 and e4. Ushenina won a very clear, thematic game, and bounced the second-highest rated player remaining in the tournament.

    How about Sebag? Did she finish off her opponent? She came close, but didn't. With Black she was equal or a bit better through most of the middlegame, and Stefanova had to fight very hard just to avoid a forced draw. Only near the time control did things start to work out for White. 35...Bxc3 36.bxc3 Rf8 would have maintained equality; instead, 35...Bf4 was a first big step in the wrong direction, and Stefanova soon reached a winning ending with an extra pawn. As it was an outside passer, converting her advantage was pretty easy, and they were headed for tiebreaks.

    So were Huang Qian and Ju Wenjun, who drew speedily in just 17 moves, but the game between Dronavalli and Zhao Xue was a completely different story. Dronavalli prepared a very dangerous attacking idea in the Neo-Saemisch Nimzo-Indian, and belted out her first 16 moves instantly and with a rather contented, even smug expression. As often happens when one is busy preening and engaging in self-congratulations, a powerful and unpleasant dose of reality often isn't far behind. Zhao's 16...Qa5 wasn't what one of Houdini's top choices, and so while it may not have been so good it forced Dronavalli to think for herself, and at that moment she didn't rise to the challenge. The two obvious attacking tries, 17.Rg3 and 17.Bb2, were both very strong, but at least with respect to the former Dronavalli couldn't figure out what to do about 17...Nxe4 in reply and therefore eschewed it. (17...Nxe4 is indeed principled, but it's losing to 18.Rxf8+ Kxf8 19.Rg4! For instance: 19...Qe5 20.Bf3 Nc3 [20...Nf6 21.Bxc6 and if 21...Nxg4 22.Qd8+ Kf7 23.Be8+ Kf8 24.Bg6#] 21.Qf1 Kg8 22.Bh6+-.) After 18.Rd3? Ne5 19.Bd2? (19.Rg3!+=) 19...Qc5 Black was fine, and soon she was up a pawn for nothing. After 46 moves, it was two pawns for nothing, and after 60 moves it could have been three pawns for nothing: 60...Ncxe4 was fine, meeting 61.Bf8 with 61...g5, when White's swindling chances look awfully slim. The final critical moment came on move 66, when Zhao must have suspected that 66...exf3 was a mistake and spent what would normally be more than enough time for her to spot the perpetual. And yet, three pawns up, with enough time and the chance to finish the match, she played 66...exf3??, allowing perpetual with 67.Qc7+ Kh8 68.Qe5+ and so on.

    On to the tiebreaks. In the first 25' + 10" game, Stefanova played well at first against Sebag and enjoyed a nice advantage, but it took her a lot of time to achieve that good position. 19.dxc5!! Bxb1 20.Bxe5 would have been winning - e.g. 20...Nfd7 21.Bd6 Bd3 22.Rfd1 Ba6 23.cxb6 Re8 24.Ba3 and the b7 pawn will cost Black further, serious material. Instead, Stefanova lacked the time to properly calculate such variations and played 19.Ne4? Rc4 20.Rd1?(?), when she was down a piece for practically nothing. Sebag couldn't figure out how to consolidate though, joined Stefanova in time trouble, and eventually blundered and lost. One big error was 30...Bd6 (30...Nd6, 30...Nd2 and 30...Rxc5 31.dxc5 Nd2 all maintained a winning advantage), and the consistent follow-up 31...Bxc5 was just as bad. There were further errors, but rather than detail them all the point is that nerves seem to have gotten the better of the French player, and she lost again.

    In the all-Chinese battle between Ju Wenjun and Huang Qian, they more than made up for the short draw on the previous day. Both players missed wins (31.Nxf5, 37.Rd8, 38...Qg6/38...Rxh3+) and after 41 moves the game was looking very drawish, while after 50 moves it was a dead draw. Perhaps in a bit of revenge for day 1, Ju played on for another 50 moves, without any objective reason and without coming within a mile of a winning chance, never mind a win.

    Finally, the last game of the first tiebreak round saw Zhao Xue get punished for her failure the previous day. She was better with White in a Classical King's Indian, but it was a very complicated position and her error on move 27 completely turned the tables. She should have played 27.Nc4, aiming to plug up the d-file with Nd6. Instead, 27.a4 was too slow, and she would have been lost after 27...Qc3 or 27...Qb2. Dronavalli played something else, which gave her a smaller advantage, but Zhao was holding on by a thread. With 32.Qe3 White could have fought on, albeit in a position where she would have many ways to go wrong. Instead, 32.Be3?? lost the game immediately to 32...Qb3! 33.Rxd2 Rxd2 and White resigned, as 34.Bxd2 Qxf3 is mating.

    Tiebreak round 2: Sebag-Stefanova was a third straight win for Stefanova, and a comfortable one for a change. The Bulgarian grandmaster and former women's world champion thus remains in the running to reclaim her title.

    Huang Qian - Ju Wenjun was another draw, so they would need to move on to a pair of 10' + 10" games. White had a big advantage early on against the Leningrad Dutch, but couldn't figure out how to convert it, and her opponent escaped.

    Finally, Harika Dronavalli only needed a draw with White against Zhao Xue, the top seed remaining in the event, to advance to the semi-finals, and she got it with ease. Zhao badly misplayed the opening and was lost almost from the start. With a lot of work, she managed to achieve a lost middlegame and then a lost ending, but in the interest of keeping things simple Dronavalli let her escape to a drawn - but, importantly, dead drawn ending that sealed the match.

    On to another pair of tiebreak games for the Ju Wenjun - Huang Qian match. In the first, Ju obtained an absolutely overwhelming endgame advantage, handling the bishop pair beautifully. Unfortunately for her, rather than play 43.c6 bxc6 44.Rxd7+ Kxd7 45.bxc6+ Ke7 46.Bb4+ and game over, she went for another forced line: 43.Bxe6(?) Kxe6 44.c6(!) bxc6 45.Rxd7(?? - 45.b6! won) 45...Kxd7 46.bxc6+ Kxc6 47.Bxe5, clearly thinking the bishop ending would be won. It's true that she would win the g-pawn, but that would be the extent of her achievement - or at least, it should have been. If Black had played 55...Bxf6 it would have been a draw (Capablanca's ending, as Jonathan Hawkins calls it in his new book From Amateur to IM, but without the crucial spare tempi), and even after that there wouldn't have been any problems had Black not chosen 56...h6?? Fortunately for her, White played 58.Kf5??, and after 58...Kf7 59.Bf4 Bxf4! 60.Kxf4 Kg6! Black held easily. Instead of 58.Kf5 White could play 58.Bc5 (or 58.Bb4 or 58.Ba3 all putting Black into zugzwang. The king can't afford to move, a bishop move along the d8-h4 diagonal allows 59.Be3, and a bishop move along the c1-h6 diagonal allows 59.Kf6.

    Finally, the second 10' + 10" game had a winner, and the quarterfinal round was put out of its misery. Huang Qian played wonderful, forceful chess in the opening and middlegame, and therefore, of course, she went on to lose the game. The banal 21.Be7 would have given White a big, probably winning advantage, but Huang thought she found a nice finesse: 21.Nb5 Qc8 and only now 22.Be7. Unfortunately, after 22...Qe8! 23.Bxf8 Bxf8 24.Nc3 c5! the situation had changed drastically. White enjoyed a small material advantage, but now Black was safe, better developed and in the process of taking over the initative. Huang Qian failed to adapt, and this time Ju Wenjun did not let her escape, but finished strongly.

    And then there were four. The pairings for the semi-finals, which start Friday (today for most of you; tomorrow for my fellow Americans as of this writing), are as follows:

    • Antoaneta Stefanova - Harika Dronavalli
    • Anna Ushenina - Ju Wenjun

    Monday
    Nov192012

    Women's World Championship, Round 3 Tiebreaks: Two Chinese and One Kosintseva Advance

    At the 2012 Women's World Chess Championship, three matches from the round of 16 required tiebreaks, and those were settled earlier today.

    Ju Wenjun started with a pretty easy win with White after Natalia Zhukova's mistaken but understandable 18...Be4. (That was the idea behind 16...Bf5, so it's perhaps the plan that's to blame.) It looks simpler for Black to do this, transforming the pawn from an isolani to one that has rejoined the herd, but it turns out that the pawn remains weak on e4 and White's heavy pieces enjoy even greater central control. 22...g6 was another error (the clumsy looking 22...Ree7 was better - better a little clumsiness than to allow Rd7) - perhaps Zhukova overlooked 26.Rcc7, winning a pawn. White was probably winning at this point, and she went on to collect the point. Maybe Black could have put up more resistance with 40...g5, trying to keep White's king boxed in, but I doubt that should hold. For example: 41.Rb5 Ra6 42.Rf5 Rxb6 43.a4 (just to save a tempo later, getting the pawn off the same line as the f-pawn) 43...Kc7 44.h4 and Black's kingside collapses - 44...Ra1 45.Rxf6 gxh4+ 46.Kxh4 Rh1+ 47.Kg5 Ra1 48.Rf4 Rxa4 49.Kf5 and White wins easily.

    In the rematch Zhukova got a big advantage with White in a 5.h3 King's Indian, but couldn't figure out how to exploit Black's porous kingside. Various improvements were possible, but by the time Black played 25...f5 the proverbial train had left the station, and Ju had no further problems. (22.g4 was a good last improvement, to impede ...f5.) Whatever remaining chances Zhu had left with 33.Qa5??, blundering a piece to 33...f4. Black generously gave her a mercy draw a few moves later; Zhukova could just as easily have resigned.

    Huang Qian - Irina Krush was determined by a blunder. Krush was doing fine in game 1, with Black, but the careless 43...h5?? transformed a drawn position into an immediate loss after 44.Bc4. In game 2 Krush, like Zhukova, came out of the opening with a very pleasant advantage. Huang attempted to get some play with a ...b5 sacrifice on move 15 - or maybe she thought it was an exchanging combination. Had Krush played 21.Qd3!, however, Black would have remained a pawn down with the worse position, as 21...Rxb2 22.Nc4 helps White's cause further. (Note that if 22...Rb4 White can interpolate 23.c3 before worrying about the pawn; ironically, in light of game two, it turns out this time that it's Huang's rook that proves short of squares - 23...Ra4?? 24.Nb6!) Krush's 21.Qc6 kept some advantage, and after 25...Nd7? (25...Rc7 was better) Krush could have obtained a winning position a second time, now with 26.Be7 followed by Nc4. Her way won a pawn, but gave Black better chances to coordinate and hold. Still, Krush had a third chance with 36.Nb1! (36...Rxc4?? 37.Kd3), keeping both extra c-pawns and great winning chances. Finally, a fourth improvement was 40.c4 (passed pawns must be pushed!), but maybe she thought she would win both the g- and h-pawns for her c-pawn. If so, then she missed the idea of 43...h6 followed by 44...Rc6, after which the game was drawn, especially once Black's king reached g7.

    Finally, the battle of the Kosintsevas ended in favor of elder sister Nadezhda. In game 1, she won pretty convincingly with Black in a grind 'em down Bogo-Indian, but after that the match turned into a theme match on the Winawer French. In game 2 Nadezhda played the lame 4.Ne2 line against Tatiana's Winawer, got absolutely nothing from the opening, and while she may not have been worse the position was easier for Black to play. White wasn't in any real trouble, however, until - once again in this world championship - the blunder bug struck: 37.Bd6?? walked into 37...b4. After that Black was winning, though not trivially, and White only gave up after 90 moves.

    So it was on to the 10' + 10" games. Another Winawer, with the sisters on opposite sides this time. This time White (Tatiana) chose the more classical line with 4.e5 and 7.Nf3, and obtained a pleasant middlegame advantage. To break the squeeze Nadezhda sacrificed a pawn with 40...f4, and the key moment seems to have come on White's 44th move. Had she played 44.Qf8 a queen trade would have been forced (44...Qh7? 45.Bc5! wins, thanks to various nasty combinations involving captures on b6). Then White could have played for a win without risk. Instead, 44.Rf1? could have lost on the spot to 44...Bh3. Nadezhda's approach wasn't as good, but even so she obtained an enduring attack that bore fruit after 52.Rf8? - White had to keep the first rank covered with 52.Re1.

    Not all was lost though, as Tatiana had the advantage of seeing 4.Ne2 once again in the next 10' + 10" game. As usual, Black was better in the opening, but gradually Nadezhda outplayed her younger sister and achieved a dead won game. Had White played 38.h4, Black could have resigned on the spot, and 38.Rd7 would have been deadly as well (e.g. 38...Bf7/a8 39.Rd8 and thanks for playing; don't forget to sign the scoresheet). Instead, White went into hyper-safe mode (though I think making moves that force immediate resignation is even safer!) and lost all of her advantage, but did so without putting herself in any danger either. So: a draw.

    That takes the matches to the quarter-finals, with the following pairings (given in bracket order):

    • Antoaneta Stefanova - Marie Sebag
    • Zhao Xue - Harika Dronavalli
    • Anna Ushenina - Nadezhda Kosintseva
    • Huang Qian - Ju Wenjun