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. Kf1 Ne7! Black eyes the weakened e3 square. It is an ideal outpost for his knight.
30. Nf3 Nf5 31. Kf2
31. Kg1 This would avoid losing material, but after:
31... Ne3 32. Qe2 f5! 33. Ned2 Qd5 Black would clearly be in charge.  )
31... Ne3 32. Qc1 Qh3! The threat of Qg2 allow Black to win material.
33. Rxe3
33. Rg1 f5 Followed by Ng4, after which White would be deep trouble.  )
33... dxe3+ 34. Qxe3 Qd7! 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. f5 Rd8! Now both f5 and d3 are attacked; White must lose material.
35... Qxf5? 36. Nf6+  )
36. d4
36. g4 Qxd3  )
36. f6 Qxd3  )
36... Qxf5 37. Nd2 Kf8 Black is up an exchange and went on to win easily.
38. Qc3 Re8 39. Qb3 g5! 40. Qxb5 g4 41. Qc6 Bb8 This is not the fastest win but it definitely does not spoil anything.
41... gxf3 This is rather convincing; Black would be up a rook.
42. Qxc7 Re2+  )
42. Qxh6+ Ke7 43. Qg5+ Qxg5 44. Nxg5 f5! 45. Nc4 Kf6 46. h4 Rd8! The last finesse. White cannot protect both g3 and d4
47. Nxa5
47. Ke3 Bxg3  )
47... Rxd4 48. Nc6 Rd2+ 49. Ke3 Rxb2 50. Nxb8 Rxb8 Black will win this ending rather easily.
51. Kd4 Rd8+ 52. Kc4 Ke7 53. c6 Rd1 54. c7 Rc1+ 55. Kd5 Rxc7 56. Ke5 Rc5+ 57. Kf4 Kf6 58. Nh7+ Kg7 59. Ng5 Kg6 60. Ne6 Rc4+ 61. Ke5 Re4+ 62. Kd5 Kf6 63. Nf8 Re7 64. h5 f4

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. Nf3 This 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... Rxa2 26. Rxa2 Rd1+?! A step in the wrong direction
26... Qxa2 After this move, chances would be about equal.
27. Qxb7 Rd1+ 28. Re1 Rxe1+ 29. Nxe1 Qa1 30. Qe4 Bxc3 31. f3 Black definitely should not lose this game. She can always trade down to an opposite-colored bishop endgame.
31... Bxe1 32. Bxe1 Qd1 33. Kh2 Qd5  )
27. Kh2 Bxa2? This looks tempting but actually gives White a decisive edge.
27... Qxa2 This 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... Qxc6 29. Qxa2  )
29. Re8+ Kh7 30. Qb8 The 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... Bd5 31. Rh8+ Kg6 32. Qg8 Kf5 33. Rxh5+ Ke4 34. Qh7+ g6 35. Rh4+
Zhu Chen vs. Sukandar, Irine Kharisma
Womens World Ch. | Tehran | Round 1 | 11 Feb 2017 | 1-0
c4 Black 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... dxe4 21. Ne3 exf3 22. Qxf3 Be4?! Oddly enough, the bishop is misplaced on e4. This square is much better for the rook.
22... Bd3 This was more accurate. Black would then still be a bit better.  )
23. Qf4 h3 24. Nxc4! Making the position even more unclear.
24... Re6
24... Bxg2 25. Rxe8+ Nxe8 26. Re1 Also 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... hxg2 26. c4! How the tables have turned! White is threatening d5, and the bishop on b2 has become a monster.
26... Nh5 27. Qh4 Bg6 28. Nd5
28. d5 There was nothing wrong with this move. It would probably also lead to a win for White.  )
28... Rc8 29. Rxe6 Qxe6
29... fxe6 30. Bxc6 Also wins material as White will follow with Ne7.  )
30. Re1 Qd6 31. Bxc6! Rxc6 32. Ne7+ Kh7 33. Nxc6 Qxc6 34. d5 White is up an exchange and Black has no compensation. A few precise moves allowed White to convert her edge into victory.
34... Qa4 35. d6 Qc6 36. Qd4 Nf6 37. Qh4+ Nh5 38. Qd4 Nf6 39. Re3 Bh5 40. Rh3 Kg8 41. 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.