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    Entries in Mariya Muzychuk (6)

    Sunday
    Apr052015

    Women's World Championship Finals, Day 4: Mariya Muzychuk The New Women's World Champion

    Another year goes by, and there is yet another women's world chess champion. There have been nine champions during this millennium - or eight, if one counts Hou Yifan's different reigns, of which there is likely to be a third starting late this fall. But let's give credit to the women who were in the arena in Sochi, and in particular to the one who came out the winner: Ukraine's Mariya Muzychuk. Her opponent, Natalia Pogonina, needed to win today to force tiebreaks, and while she took every chance and every reasonable risk she could, Muzychuk managed to keep control pretty much from start to finish. If anything, Muzychuk missed various chances to gain more, but as a draw was sufficient she preferred control to the pursuit of the full point.

    So congratulations to the winner, who is the second straight Ukranian to win the knockout title. For her sake, hopefully she will fare better than her predecessor (Anna Ushenina) when she faces Hou Yifan in a title match later this year.

    Friday
    Apr032015

    Women's World Championship Finals, Day 2

    There's bad news and good news for Natalia Pogonina's fans. The bad news: she lost today against Mariya Muzychuk and trails their (best of) four game match 1.5-.5. The good news: she trailed in her last three matches as well before winning them, so she can shrug it off as business as usual and come back raring to go. It's not too late for her to win the women's world championship.

    Today's game was somewhat strange, in my estimation, as both players - especially Pogonina - seemed to persistently underestimate the importance of controlling the e5 square. In fact, she needn't have allowed White's f4 break in the first place. She stood better in the early middlegame, and one slightly ugly but strong way of keeping control was 27...g5, to be followed by ...Ng6 (and ...Bxg3 the moment White breaks the pin on the knight). Such a position would be almost unloseable for Pogonina.

    Instead, she allowed White to achieve 28.f4, after which the pressure would always be on Black to hold. A computer might thrive on this task, but not a human, and very soon Muzychuk had a winning advantage. She missed a chance to deliver an earlier knockout with 45.Ndf5!, when after 45...gxf5 46.R1xf5 Qe7 47.Rh6 Black will get picked apart one piece and pawn at a time. Black's slight material advantage is useless, as the bishop on b7, the knight on c5 and the rooks are playable no-to-almost no role in the defense whatsoever.

    Muzychuk missed this opportunity and one or two more chances later on to put a quicker end to the game, but the trend was always on her side and her position was just too much easier to play. Pogonina lasted until move 58 before throwing in the towel.

    Thursday
    Apr022015

    Women's World Championship Finals, Day 1

    The final round, and thus the final match, of the women's world championship started today. Natalia Pogonina and Mariya Muzychuk played the first game of a best-of-four classical match (there will be rapid tiebreaks in case of a 2-2 tie), and although Pogonina had good chances at one moment the game finished in a draw. The critical point in the game lasted for only two half-moves: Pogonina stood somewhat better after 26.Bg2, aiming among other things to expand on the kingside with f4 while trying to prevent Black from safely achieving ...c5, liberating her queen's bishop. Muzychuk probably should have played 26...Bd6, fighting for the c5 square and allowing the bishop to retreat to f8, where it would help cover the kingside.

    Instead, she played 26...Bc7, and now if Pogonina had played 27.Nd4! Black would have been in some trouble, e.g. 27...c5 28.Nf5 with pressure all over the board. Fortunately for Muzychuk, White played 27.Nf4, to put the knight on d3 in order to keep control over c5. She succeeded in that aim, but after 27...Nd7 28.Nd3 Bb6 29.Nc5 Bc8! 30.Nxd7 Bxd7 31.Bc5 Bxc5 32.Qxc5 Qa5! White's advantage was completely gone and the game was drawn soon thereafter.

    Game 2 is tomorrow, and while Pogonina might be slightly disappointed, she can at least take comfort in the fact that she is not starting a fourth straight match with a 1-0 deficit.

    Tuesday
    Mar312015

    Women's World Championship Semi-Finals Tiebreaks: Pogonina, M. Muzychuk Qualify for the Final

    The playoff matches were both pretty ugly, but between the pressure and the exhaustion the players are surely under that's to be expected. Natalia Pogonina completed her third straight comeback, defeating Pia Cramling 1.5-.5 in the rapid games, while Mariya Muzychuk needed a pair of 10-minute games to overcome Harika Dronavalli in the other semi-final. Pogonina and Muzychuk will contest a best-of-four game match for the women's world championship starting Thursday, after the only pure rest day scheduled for the entire event.

    In the first 25-minute game between Cramling and Pogonina, Cramling was better much of the way and could have kept the pressure on with 30.Rc6. It's not just an invasion; it's prophylaxis, too. In the game Pogonina met 30.Ne2 with 30...Nf5, putting annoying pressure on White's d-pawn. After 30.Rc6, however, 30...Nf5 would be met by 31.Nxd5 now that 31...Qxd5 is impossible. In the game Black was momentarily better, but it soon ended in a draw by repetition.

    In the rematch, Cramling was under serious pressure right from the jump, and from around moves 40-50 she was totally busted. There were plenty of wins along the way, and the last and simplest came on move 52. If she had played 52.Re7+ first, and only then followed up with 53.Re8 after the king retreated, it would have been game over. There was nothing Cramling could do to even pretend to fight after that. Instead, Pogonina played 52.Re8??, allowing Cramling to escape to a lost but playable ending with rooks and opposite-colored bishops, but down two pawns. Somehow she even won one of the pawns back and simplified the ending considerably, although she subsequently blundered her last pawn. Still, in the resulting ending with rook, bishop and two split pawns (one a wrong-colored rook pawn) vs. rook and opposite-colored bishop she had excellent drawing chances. She defended very well, but eventually errors crept in and cost her the game. The most obvious error was her failing to take the h-pawn on move 89. Black's king isn't getting mated and the absolute worst thing that can happen to Black is that she could end up defending with rook against rook and bishop - but I don't see how White can even get that far.

    In the other match, none of the games finished with a logical result. In the first 25-minute game Harika had a big advantage and probably would have won a nice attacking game had she played the strong move 33.Bc1(!). Instead, she played 33.Qf3(?), and after 33...Qb7 uncorked the horrid 34.Rc2??, walking into a lethal fork by 34...Ne1.

    In game two Harika had to play risky chess, so it wasn't surprising that she was in trouble, even lost, early in the middlegame. Muzychuk got a little sloppy with 23.Qd6 followed by 24.Bf4, most likely missing 24...Qe8(!). From there on Harika played very well, outplayed her opponent and came away with a well-deserved win. On to the ten-minute games!

    Harika again started with White, and in a strategically complicated position made a huge error when she played 20.Bf1. Had Muzychuk played 20...f4, she would have had a winning position. She missed it, and the game went on uneventfully for a long time. It seemed that the game was going to end in a draw, but at a certain point in the queen ending Muzychuk got into hot water. The big error was 44...Kh6; 44...Qf7 was necessary, not fearing the transition to a pawn ending. After 44...Qf7 45.Qxf7+ Kxf7 46.f3 exf3+ 47.Kxf3 Kf6 48.Kf4 it looks at first as if White is winning, as Black's king can't keep its counterpart off of the fifth rank. As it turns out, however, 48...Kg6 49.Ke5 Kg5 is fine for Black. White's only try is to make a run for the queenside: 50.Kd6 f4 51.gxf4+ Kxf4 52.Kc6 Kg3 53.Kxb6 Kxh4 54.Kxa5 h4 it's going to be a tablebase draw in spite of White's extra pawn on the queenside.

    Back to the game: after 44...Kh6 45.h4 Black was in zugzwang, and Harika won a pawn. On move 52 she won a second pawn, and the rest would normally be a matter of technique. For a long time Harika's technique was very good, and while Muzychuk put up good resistance the game was close to a conclusion after 77 moves. Here the shortest path to victory was 78.h6, not fearing Black's counterplay. After 78.h6 Qd1+ 79.Kh2 Qe2 White can boldly push her passer again - 80.h7 - as the checks come to a speedy end and then the pawn will queen. The way Harika chose wasn't so bad either, but on move 83 the right way to defend the f-pawn - if she was going to defend it at all (83.Qg7+ followed by 84.h7 was again good enough) - was with 83.Qf4. Instead, she played 83.Qe3??, and Muzychuk astutely recognized that the pawn ending was a draw.

    Harika had shown great resilience throughout the match, but this was too much. In the last game she was already lost after ten moves, and while the game lasted 56 moves in total it was a rout from start to finish.

    So Muzychuk moves on, and the two luckiest players in the tournament (they weren't only lucky, and of course they helped make their own luck, but they both received a number of pure gifts at crucial moments in the tournament) will face off in the final. Whose luck will come to an end, and who will run into the juggernaut that is Hou Yifan in October? Stay tuned.

    Saturday
    Nov022013

    The Karpov-Muzychuk Endings From Cap d'Agde

    In my summary post on Cap d'Agde, I mentioned a long and fascinating ending between Anatoly Karpov and Mariya Muzychuk from their semi-final match. Here it is, with my annotations.

    Tuesday
    Mar202012

    An Attacking Gem from the European Women's Rapid Championship

    The European Women's Rapid Championship was won by Tatiana Kosintseva (Valentina Gunina won both the Classical and Blitz events), but the game that most caught my attention was a King's Indian between Mariya Muzychuk and Anastasia Bodnaruk. Have a look!