Few Surprises in Opening of Women's World Championship
BySamuel ShanklandFeb 12 — 11:00 AM
Image by FIDE
There were one or two upsets as the 64-player championship got underway on Saturday.
The Women’s World Championship got underway in Tehran on Saturday and produced only a couple of unexpected results. The championship is a 64-player knockout event, modelled after a tennis tournament, with many of the world’s highest ranked players. A few of the top players are absent, but there are still nine players rated over 2500, so some good chess can be expected in critical matchups.
As in tennis, the tournament is bracketed, with the No. 1 seed playing against No. 64 in the first round, followed by No. 2 against No. 63, and so on. This produces lopsided pairings at the top, but interesting ones in the middle of the field. Indeed, most of the top seeds won convincingly. One notable exception was Nana Dzagnidze of Georgia, No. 5, who was upset by Khaled Mona of Egypt, No. 60, who is rated just 2150.
Dzagnidze, Nana vs. Mona, Khaled
Womens World Ch. |Tehran |Round 1 |11 Feb 2017 |0-1
29. Kf1Ne7!Black eyes the weakened e3 square. It is an ideal outpost for his knight. 30. Nf3Nf531. Kf2
( 31. Kg1This would avoid losing material, but after: 31... Ne332. Qe2f5!33. Ned2Qd5Black would clearly be in charge. )
31... Ne332. Qc1Qh3!The threat of Qg2 allow Black to win material. 33. Rxe3
( 33. Rg1f5Followed by Ng4, after which White would be deep trouble. )
33... dxe3+34. Qxe3Qd7!The queen has served her purpose on the kingside and returns to the center. White's passed central pawns are going nowhere. Black has a decisive edge. 35. f5Rd8!Now both f5 and d3 are attacked; White must lose material.
( 35... Qxf5?36. Nf6+ )
( 36. g4Qxd3 )
( 36. f6Qxd3 )
36... Qxf537. Nd2Kf8Black is up an exchange and went on to win easily. 38. Qc3Re839. Qb3g5!40. Qxb5g441. Qc6Bb8This is not the fastest win but it definitely does not spoil anything.
( 41... gxf3This is rather convincing; Black would be up a rook. 42. Qxc7Re2+ )
42. Qxh6+Ke743. Qg5+Qxg544. Nxg5f5!45. Nc4Kf646. h4Rd8!The last finesse. White cannot protect both g3 and d4 47. Nxa5
( 47. Ke3Bxg3 )
47... Rxd448. Nc6Rd2+49. Ke3Rxb250. Nxb8Rxb8Black will win this ending rather easily. 51. Kd4Rd8+52. Kc4Ke753. c6Rd154. c7Rc1+55. Kd5Rxc756. Ke5Rc5+57. Kf4Kf658. Nh7+Kg759. Ng5Kg660. Ne6Rc4+61. Ke5Re4+62. Kd5Kf663. Nf8Re764. h5f4
Zhu Chen during his first-round victory over IRene Sukandar.
The most competitive matches were the ones in the middle of the bracket, where players with roughly equal ratings squared off. I found two games particularly enjoyable: the victory of Zhu Chen of Qatar, No. 33, over Irene Sukandar of Indonesia, No. 32, and the win by Salome Melia of Georgia, No. 39, over Ekaterina Atalik of Turkey, No. 26.
Melia, Salome vs. Atalik, Ekaterina
Womens World Ch. |Tehran |Round 1 |11 Feb 2017 |1-0
25. Nf3This is not an extraordinary position. Black is down two pawns, but she can immediately win one back. The White pawn structure is unimpressive, and the Black bishops on an open board should give Black enough compensation for his slight material deficit. But watch what happens. 25... Rxa226. Rxa2Rd1+?!A step in the wrong direction
( 26... Qxa2After this move, chances would be about equal. 27. Qxb7Rd1+28. Re1Rxe1+29. Nxe1Qa130. Qe4Bxc331. f3Black definitely should not lose this game. She can always trade down to an opposite-colored bishop endgame. 31... Bxe132. Bxe1Qd133. Kh2Qd5 )
27. Kh2Bxa2?This looks tempting but actually gives White a decisive edge.
( 27... Qxa2This would transpose to the variation mentioned in the previous note. )
28. c6!And Black cannot take with the queen because she would lose her light-squared bishop, so she is forced to allow a decisive last-rank invasion. 28... bxc6
( 28... Qxc629. Qxa2 )
29. Re8+Kh730. Qb8The Black king, which seemed so safe just a couple of moves before, is now absolutely fried. There is nothing to be done about Rh8 followed by Qg8. 30... Bd531. Rh8+Kg632. Qg8Kf533. Rxh5+Ke434. Qh7+g635. Rh4+
Womens World Ch. |Tehran |Round 1 |11 Feb 2017 |1-0
c4Black has a pleasant position. White's only plan is the e3-e4 break, but that square is heavily overprotected. But if you want to do something and your opponent is preventing you from achieving it, the first question you should always ask yourself is: "What happens if I just do it anyway?" 20. e4!This does not lead to a White advantage but it changes the course of the game. Now White's pieces become active. 20... dxe421. Ne3exf322. Qxf3Be4?!Oddly enough, the bishop is misplaced on e4. This square is much better for the rook.
( 22... Bd3This was more accurate. Black would then still be a bit better. )
23. Qf4h324. Nxc4!Making the position even more unclear. 24... Re6
( 24... Bxg225. Rxe8+Nxe826. Re1Also leads to a position with a lot of counterplay for White. )
25. Ne3!White does not bother with defending the kingside; Black does not have enough pieces over there to launch a dangerous attack. The center pawns must be pushed at all costs! 25... hxg226. c4!How the tables have turned! White is threatening d5, and the bishop on b2 has become a monster. 26... Nh527. Qh4Bg628. Nd5
( 28. d5There was nothing wrong with this move. It would probably also lead to a win for White. )
28... Rc829. Rxe6Qxe6
( 29... fxe630. Bxc6Also wins material as White will follow with Ne7. )
30. Re1Qd631. Bxc6!Rxc632. Ne7+Kh733. Nxc6Qxc634. d5White is up an exchange and Black has no compensation. A few precise moves allowed White to convert her edge into victory. 34... Qa435. d6Qc636. Qd4Nf637. Qh4+Nh538. Qd4Nf639. Re3Bh540. Rh3Kg841. d7
The matches continue today against the same opponents and the women who lost on Saturday will have to win to try to force tiebreakers on Monday.
Samuel Shankland is a United States grandmaster ranked No. 4 in the country. He is a professional player and recipient of the Samford Fellowship in 2013, the most prestigious award in the United States for young chess players. He was also a member of the team that won the gold medal at the 2016 Chess Olympiad. He is at @GMShanky on Twitter, has his own site, and is also on Facebook.