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

    Sunday
    Nov182012

    Women's World Championship, Round 3: Five Through, Two Comebacks

    After the classic games of round 3, we're down to eleven players at the 2012 Women's World Chess Championship. There were five decisive games on Saturday and six today, with two of yesterday's losers turning the tables to force tiebreaks tomorrow.

    Let's start with the matches that were decided 2-0. Former women's champ Antoaneta Stefanova finished off Monica Socko with White in a Nimzo-Indian. She was better early on, and when Socko eschewed the trade of queens on move 23 Black's position went from unpleasant but only slightly worse to lost. Stefanova could have won quickly with 25.Nd4, with the idea of Nf5, and there were other places where her technique wasn't perfect. But it didn't matter. She was always better and never in any danger of losing, so she was always going to advance one way or another.

    Alisa Galliamova played an awful game with White on Saturday against Marie Sebag, and while she lost again in game two she definitely showed up to play. Near the end of the first time control she was a pawn up with a probably winning position, but had to neutralize Sebag's attacking chances against her king. Accordingly, 39...h4 was right, keeping lines as closed as possible, and in case of 40.g5 either 40...Rd4 or 40...Nd3 followed by 41...Rd4. The game certainly isn't over, but White is in trouble. Instead, 39...hxg4? 40.Nxg4 sped up White's attack to the point where Sebag's counterplay sufficed for a draw. That was as good as a loss for Galliamova, of course, so she had to press. 53...Qc7 54.f4 Kb6 55.Qe8 looks like a draw, e.g. 55...Qc6 56.Qd8+ Qc7 57.Qe8 and so on. Instead, Galliamova played 53...Qd4?, losing straight away to 54.Qc8+ Kb6 55.Nd7+ Ka5 56.Qa8+ and 1-0 - 56...Kb4 57.Qa3 is mate.

    Now to the other match winners. Anna Ushenina defeated Natalia Pogonina with the white pieces on Saturday, and had no trouble making a draw with Black today. She was better throughout in a 6.Be2 Najdorf, but with no need for more than a draw she coasted in for a draw, a pawn up in a rook ending.

    Zhao Xue pushed Mariya Muzychuk with Black a little on day one before they drew; today, she didn't just push a bit; she shoved Muzychuk off the cliff. With White in an Anti-Gruenfeld/English, she built up a big center, broke with f4-f5, and crushed her opponent as though she were a club player in a weekend Swiss.

    Harika Dronavailli followed the same pattern of drawing with Black on Saturday and winning with White on Sunday. Her victim was Lela Javakhishvili, who turned an uncomfortable but still nearly equal position on move 19 into a lost one after 23 moves. 19...f5 is a little "unnatural" with the bishop on g4, but all the tactics seem to be okay for Black. Instead, Javakhishvili sacrificed a pawn with 19...Be6, and that wasn't yet fatal; she had compensation thanks to her bishop pair. That left when she played 23...Bxd5? - again, though an understandable error. White's knights were suffocating and she may have hoped for drawing chances with the opposite-colored bishops, but the effect was to give White a dominating position. Black was still a pawn down, but without any counterplay at all and awkward minor pieces. (23...Ne7 and 23...Bf8 were better choices, maintaining the tension.)

    There were two comebacks. Natalia Zhukova was winning early on against Ju Wenjun with White in a King's Indian, but the position was very crazy and lines like 32.Rab1 Qd4 33.Qh8 Bxg3 34.Rxb7 Be4+ 35.Rf3 Kd7 36.Rb8 Bxf3+ 37.Bxf3 Qh4+ 38.Qxh4 Bxh4 39.Rg8+- aren't easy to find with the clock ticking away. Still, the position was very hard for both players and Zhukova eventually reached a winning after 42 moves, as her rook and a-pawn (and other pawns) were more effective than Black's bishop and knight (and pawns). The final phase began after 55.Qxg6, when White had a queen and two pawns vs. a bishop, knight, pawn and - Ju hoped - a fortress. There was no way to make progress against Black's pawn, but with great effort Zhukova finally managed to corner the enemy king. To avoid an immediate mate Black played 92...Ne6+, but after 93.dxe6 Ju resigned, as 93...d5+ 94.Kc6 Bxb8 95.e7 leads to a new queen and a trivial win.

    The other comeback came at Irina Krush's expense. Krush had a comfortable position with White in an English against Huang Qian, but her 20.Qb1 was a big, though subtle, mistake. 20.c5 would have been very safe, and looks like an effective way to pursue a draw that would win the match. 20.Qb3 would have been okay as well, with the same aim as 20.Qb1 but avoiding a tactical problem. After 20.Qb1? dxc4 21.dxc4 Bxc4! 22.Rxc4 b5 23.Rh4 bxa4 24.Qa2 the position looks dead drawn. All White has to do is regain the a-pawn, and the match will be as good as over; Krush in the quarters. Unfortunately for her, after 24...Nd5! White cannot play 25.Rxa4 on account of 25...Nc3, and if she doesn't play 25.Qxa4 Black will keep the a-pawn. So 25.Qxa4 was forced, but after 25...Bf6 it turns out that White's rook has no safe square on the 4th rank: 26.Rg4 h5; 26.Re4 Nc3; and 26.Rc4 Nb6. Krush was thus forced into the disgusting 26.Rh3, leaving her effectively a rook down. To bring the rook back into play as soon as possible, she pushed her pawns, but they proved to be weaknesses. Black won a pawn, and in a cruel irony, the game finished when Krush's rook was finally caught.

    Lastly, the battle of the Kosintseva sisters was again drawn, and it was similar to yesterday's game. Again it was older sister Nadezhda - this time with White - varying first from their usual repertoire. She didn't get much, if anything, with the English, but the rook ending Tatiana drifted into was difficult. As yesterday, though, she defended resourcefully and held the game. So they too, like the previous two pairs, are headed for tomorrow's tiebreaks.

    Saturday
    Nov172012

    Women's World Championship: Round 3, Day 1: Blood on Board

    It's often the case in the "men's" world championship that the players will draw the regular games, and fairly quickly, postponing the crisis to the rapid and blitz tiebreaks. That certainly wasn't the case today, on the first day of the third round of the 2012 Women's World Chess Championship. Five of the eight games had a winner, and only one of the draws looked fairly bloodless (though I don't think it really was).

    One player who looked as if she might have wanted an easy life today was yesterday's big winner, Monica Socko. With White against Antoaneta Stefanova she played the Exchange Slav, not so much in hopes of a draw but to enjoy a small, risk-free plus. For a while she enjoyed such an edge, but the turn towards kingside play starting with 16.Qh5 led her astray. 19.e4 was committal, though still alright, but 20.Qe3?? was simply a disaster: 20...e5 won a piece and the game.

    Natalia Zhukova was the other primary hero of round 2, and she too went down to defeat. She was generally a little worse most of the way in a slightly oddball Tarrasch Defense against Ju Wenjun, but when they reached a single rook ending the position was drawn. The easiest way to draw was on move 35, when she could have swapped to a king and pawn ending with 35...Rxd4. That might seem insane at first: due to Black's doubled b-pawns it looks as though Black is trying to transpose to a pawn-down ending, which is generally suicide when only kings and pawns remain. Well, it's true, it would be just like going into a pawn-down ending, and in fact removing one or the other of Black's b-pawns would make no difference. What does matter is that after the rook exchange Black plays ...b5 (either immediately or after first playing ...Kd5), and then there's nowhere for White's king to penetrate. So Black just plays ...Kd6-d5-d6-d5 when there's nothing to react to, and if White's king gives ground somewhere Black moves her king to ~4. Black probably could have held after missing this chance, but once White activated her rook starting with 37.g4 things went downhill fast.

    The third big upset winner from round 2, Anna Ushenina, managed to keep on the positive track with a win over Natalia Pogonina. In a Saemisch/Huebner-like Nimzo-Indian Pogonina went for queenside play, in part to distract White from the traditional kingside buildup. The result was that Black wound up with some queenside weaknesses, and while that needn't have been decisive it eventually was. 49.c5 was a particularly nice move, after which the technical job was pretty straightforward.

    Alisa Galliamova - Marie Sebag demonstrated that although White can take some liberties in the opening, passive play can be punished whether one has the first move or not. Galliamova was outplayed pretty badly in this game, and will need to bounce back with Black tomorrow to keep the match going.

    The last decisive game saw Irina Krush win with Black in a turgid line of the Nimzo-Indian. White - Huang Qian - quickly pitched the doubled c4 pawn, hoping to have enough compensation due to her bishops, central and kingside space, and the open d-file. It wasn't. She may have done well to reach an ending with rooks and opposite-colored bishops - still a pawn down - but the pawn structure was such that the drawing tendencies of the opposite-colored bishops played hardly any role at all. Perhaps the key mistake was 36.Ke2, as after 36...Bf3+ 37.Ke1 Rd8 White was forced to play 38.g5, when her 2-1 kingside majority was useless and Black's king could penetrate with ease. Instead, 36.Ke1 seems right, forcing Black to either abandon her d-pawn or to allow White to keep her kingside structure intact (with the useful h4-h5 coming soon).

    Mariya Muzychuk - Zhao Xue was a short draw, but one in which White had to do some problem-solving first to reach safety. In the game Lela Javakhishvili - Harika Dronavalli, it was Black who had the onus of holding on, and it seemed to me she was in trouble for quite a while. Fortunately for her, White couldn't find any way to use her evident advantage, and when Black finally started to get kingside play White bailed out and took the draw. A move like 24.Bg4 would have been very strong. Clearly Black cannot allow the bishop into e6, so 24...Nf6 25.Qa4 Nxg4 looks forced, and after 25.Qxg4 (or 25.hxg4, saving time at the expense of creating a target) Black has no play on the kingside while White can continue with moves like b6 or Qa4. Black can take care of that with ...b6 (though not right away on account of 26.Bxb6! h5 27.Qe6 Qxe6 28.dxe6 cxb6 29.e7 Rfe8 30.Rxc8 Rxc8 31.Rxd6, winning), but then White will triple up on the c-file. In short, Black seems strategically lost after 24.Bg4, or nearly so.

    Finally, the battle of the Kosintseva sisters was one in truth and not in name only. Older sister Nadezhda uncorked the first surprise, opting for the Caro-Kann, and it was a very good choice. By the late middlegame it was Tatiana with White who was forced on the defense, but she managed to hold the draw in a pawn-down rook ending.

    Friday
    Nov162012

    Women's World Championship: Huge Upsets in the Round 2 Tiebreaks

    Humpy Koneru has come up just short when it comes to facing off against Hou Yifan in world championship events, and in a way that's just what has happened in the 2012 Women's World Championship. In a big upset, Humpy lost to Natalia Zhukova yesterday, 2-0, after the classical games, and Hou nipped her by a nose, lasting only one day more. Shockingly, the world champion went from winning with Black in game 1 of her match with Monica Socko to losing yesterday to force tiebreaks today, and then she lost 2-0 in rapid games to get eliminated. So while Hou will have a chance to regain her title next year - as the winner of the Women's Grand Prix she will get a match against the winner of this event - there will be a new titleholder in a few weeks.

    Who will it be? As we've seen, it won't be either of the top two seeds, and it won't be the third seed either, as Anna Muzychuk lost in tiebreaks to Anna Ushenina in yet another big upset. Her sister Mariya Muzychuk is sitll in the tournament, and speaking of sister acts Nadezhda Kosintseva very nearly failed to join her younger sibling Tatiana in round 3. N. Kosintseva lost the first rapid game to Lilit Mkrtchian, but then pulled things together with some excellent white preparation. First she equalized the scores convincingly, and then in the first 10' + 10" game, again with White, pulled ahead. Mkrtchian failed to get anything in her white game, and so N. Kosintseva made it through to the next round, where she'll unfortunately meet her sister. That should be interesting.

    The Americans went 1-1 in their tiebreaks today. Irina Krush won her white game convincingly, and then held on with Black to achieve a drawn position. Pia Cramling pushed and pushed, but to no avail, and after a long time Cramling herself blundered into mate to lose the tiebreaker 2-0. Anna Zatonskih, on the other hand, was eliminated by Ju Wenjun. They drew their rapid games, but in the 10' + 10" games the Chinese player won 2-0.

    So now we're down to the Sweet 16, to put things in NCAA "March Madness" lingo (that's the U.S. college basketball national championship knockout tournament), with the following pairings, given in bracket order:

    Monica Socko - Antoaneta Stefanova
    Marie Sebag - Alisa Galliamova

    Zhao Xue - Mariya Muzychuk
    Lela Javakhishvili - Dronavalli Harika

     

    Anna Ushenina - Natalia Pogonina
    Nadezhda Kosintseva - Tatiana Kosintseva

    Huang Qian - Irina Krush
    Ju Wenjun - Natalia Zhukova

    Thursday
    Nov152012

    Women's World Championship Update: Round 2, Pre-Tiebreaks

    When we left off after the first two days of round 1's play in the Women's World Chess Championship, the top 12 seeds had already advanced without any need for tiebreaks. American Irina Krush needed tiebreaks to get past Li Ruofan, and she made it, albeit with a lot of difficulty. The first pair of tiebreak games proved inconclusive, as Krush won the first but lost the second. The same thing happened in the second pair of games, but in the third pair Krush won the second after drawing the first. (That was only the second-longest tiebreak of the round, as Mariya Muzychuk needed an additional game - an Armageddon game, which she drew as Black - against Cristina-Adela Foisor, to advance.)

    On to round 2, which already featured a number of GM-GM battles. More than that, there have been some very big upsets. Hou Yifan won game one with Black against Monica Socko, so the match is as good as over, right? Nope - she played an awful game with White today and lost, so they'll continue in tiebreaks tomorrow. That's good news compared to Humpy Koneru's situation. She has been Hou's big rival the past several years in world championship events, but not this time: she's gone. Natalia Zhukova blanked her 2-0 to advance to round 3. Indeed, where round 1 was a cakewalk for the top seeds, this time around none of the top seven players has yet advanced to round 3, and three of them have been eliminated. (Kateryna Lahno and Viktorija Cmilyte are the other two.)

    The U.S. contingent is still alive, but both Anna Zatonskih and Irina Krush are headed for tiebreaks. Zatonskih drew both games with Ju Wenjun of China, while Krush lost with Black and then won with White against Pia Cramling. (Krush also lost two of her four black games with Li Ruofan, but whether this indicates bad prep, or that she is weaker than these players but has fantastic preparation with White, or is just a simple coincidence is something I'm sure she and her coaches are trying to solve.)

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