Only seven of the 16 matches were decided on Wednesday; the others will be decided in tiebreakers on Thursday.

So far, the Women’s World Championship in Tehran has not been dull. Thursday, more than half of the matches in the second round of the knockout tournament will go to tiebreakers as only seven of the 16 matches were decided on Wednesday.

The top two seeds, Ju Wenjun of China and Anna Muzychuk of Ukraine, were among the ones to advance. They each made easy draws on Wednesday after winning the first games of their matches on Tuesday. 

Valentina Gunina of Russia, the No. 6 seed, will not be joining them; she is on her way home. After a tough loss on Tuesday with White, she had to swing for the fences with Black on Wednesday, but she took took too many risks and lost a quick game to Ni Shiqun of China. Shiqun, the No. 38 seed, has now defeated two higher-rated opponents in regulation and scored 3.5 out of 4 possible points.

Ni Shiqun vs. Gunina, Valentina
Womens World Ch. | Tehran | Round 2.2 | 15 Feb 2017 | 1-0
13. Rfd1 Black has already taken some risks and has a strange looking setup, but she is more or less okay.
13... Qa5? A blunder, after which White has a decisive edge.
13... Nxd4! 14. Bxd4 Qxb3 15. axb3 e5! Black would be fine in the endgame because
16. Bxa7 does not work because of:
16... Bxa7 17. Rxa7 Kb8! 18. Raa1 Bc2 And White loses material.  )
14. Nb5! White is threatening Nc4 and there is nothing that Black can do about it.
14... Rd5
14... a6 This move would not have helped.
15. Nc4 Qxb5 16. Nb6+  )
15. Nc4! Qd8
15... Qxb5 16. Nd6+  )
16. Bf3 In just a few moves, Black's position has become a total train wreck. White's pieces are incredibly active and the Black king is getting mauled. Black even can't save the rook on d5. Despite the level material, the engine already is evaluating White at +5 the equivalent of being up a rook.
16... b6
16... Rxd1+ 17. Rxd1 Qf8 18. Nbd6+  )
17. Qa3 Kd7 Not a happy move to play.
18. Ncd6 Bg6 19. c4! Simple and brutally efficient. White does not even let Black sacrifice an exchange to keep the d-file closed.
19... Ne5
19... Rxd1+ 20. Rxd1 And Black cannot avoid a devastating discovered check.  )
20. Be2 Bc2 21. cxd5 Nxd5 22. Rd2 In addition to all of Black's other problems, she is down a rook for a pawn. The game ended soon afterward.
22... Bg6 23. Nc4 Qf6 24. Nc3 Nxc4 25. Bxc4 Qe5 26. Nxd5 Qh2+ 27. Kf1 exd5 28. Rxd5+ Ke6 29. Re5+ Kxe5 30. Qe7+

Another player who won on Wednesday to clinch a spot in the next round was Le Thao Nguyen Pham of Vietnam, No. 47. Just like Ni, she has also defeated two higher rated opponents in regulation. In Round 2, her victim was Aleksandra Goryachkina of Russia.

Goryachkina, Aleksandra vs. Pham Le Thao Nguyen
Womens World Ch. | Tehran | Round 2.2 | 15 Feb 2017 | 0-1
Kd6 White is okay, but the position is very dangerous for her because of the passed a-pawn. With a couple bad moves, the position becomes indefensible.
49. Rf7?
49. Kd4! White needed to play this move to prevent Kc5.
49... Bc5+ 50. Kc4! The threat of Nf7 is no laughing matter, so Black should play:
50... Kxe5 51. Kxc5 When the advance b6 is very dangerous for Black. In fact, Black's only move to survive would be:
51... Rd8! So she can reply to b6 by playing Rd5+.  )
49... Kc5 50. Rxc7 Kxb5 The a-pawn is much more dangerous than the c-pawn as nothing stands in its way.
51. Rb7+ Kc5 52. Rh7 Bc3! 53. c7 Rc8 54. Rd7 Kb6
54... a4 This move would have been more effective. Black has nothing to fear and the a-pawn would advance quickly.  )
55. Rd6+
55. Nc4+! Kc6 56. Rd6+ Kxc7 57. Kd3! White could fight on and probably hold a draw with accurate play.  )
55... Kb7 56. Rxe6
56. Nc4 This move was more resilient, though after:
56... Bb4! 57. Rxe6 Rxc7 58. Kd4 Rc6 Black would still have a big edge.  )
56... Rxc7 57. Kd5 Bxe5! Correctly switching to a rook-and-pawn ending that White cannot save.
58. Rxe5 Rc6 Not the quickest way to win, but the simplest one. With the kingside protected and the White king cut off along the c-file, Black is free to advance the a-pawn.
58... a4 59. Re4 a3 60. Ra4 Rc3 This would also have led to a win.  )
59. h4 gxh4 60. Rh5 a4 61. Rxh4 a3 62. Rh2 Ra6 63. Ra2 Kc7 The rest was easy for Black.
64. Kc4 Kd6 65. Kb3 Ke5 66. Re2+ Kf4 67. Ka2 Kxg4 68. Re8 h5 69. Rg8+ Kh3

Others had to win just to stay alive. After losing Game 1 of her match to Anna Ushenina of Ukraine, No. 24, a former Women’s World Champion, Tan Zhongyi of China, No. 9, fired back and won Game 2 on Wednesday to send the match to tiebreaks.

Tan Zhongyi vs. Ushenina, Anna
Womens World Ch. | Tehran | Round 2.2 | 15 Feb 2017 | 1-0
b5 White has more space and a nice advantage, but Tan was not content with that; she wanted the whole cake.
27. g4!? I like this move.
27. Rgc1 This move would have been fine for White, but it would still take a lot of work to win. Black doesn't have any clear weaknesses to target.  )
27... fxg4? This gives White a huge advantage.
27... Rac8 This move was much better. The rooks will work well on the c-file and Black does not need to fear gxf5.
28. gxf5 Bxf5 29. Bxf5 exf5 Black is fine because White's remaining bishop is blocked in and not very useful.  )
28. Ng5! It's possible that Black overlooked this move
28. hxg4 The automatic recapture is much less effective.
28... Bxd3 29. Qxd3 Be7! And Black has defended against the invasion on g5 by the knight.  )
28... Qe8 29. hxg4 Now Black cannot stop f5, after which the kingside will swiftly collapse.
29... h6 30. f5! Bf7 31. Nf3
31. Nxf7 I probably would have taken the bishop, but the move played by White is also good.  )
31... Ne7 32. Rg2 Simple and effective. White plans Rbg1, Rh2, and the kingside assault will break through.
32... Kh8 33. Rh2 Ng8 34. Rf1 Rac8 35. f6 Finally a breakthrough. Black's kingside is decimated and she has no counterplay on the c-file since every square is well defended.
35... Rc4 36. g5! Ignoring the rook; White has a more important target in mind: the Black king.
36... Bxb4 37. Bxb4 Rxb4 38. fxg7+ Kxg7 39. gxh6+ Kh8 40. Qg1 Ushenina had seen enough and will have to try to prevail in the tiebreak on Thursday.

With so many matches still undecided, Thursday should be another exciting day.


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.