The second day of tiebreakers produced some very topsy-turvy battles. As is always true at faster time controls, there were many mistakes and the momentum in some games swung back-and-forth repeatedly. The narrative that ran through the day was that a player with Black would win a game and then fail to hold the next one with White!
Nataljia Pogo was able to overcome her opponent, Huang Qian, in the second set of tiebreakers.
Indeed, Black won six consecutive games in the match between Anna Ushenina of Ukraine, a former Women’s World Champion and the No. 24 seed, and Tan Zhongyi of China, No. 9, before Tan prevailed in the Armageddon game (in which the player with Black only has to draw to be the winner of the match). It was a game in which Ushenina, who had White, got the upper hand, but made errors later that allowed Tan to hold a draw.
Ushenina, Anna vs. Tan Zhongyi
Womens World Ch. |Tehran |Round 2.8 |16 Feb 2017 |1/2-1/2
Rf4Unlike all the other games in this matchup, White had been doing well throughout this game. If this were a rapid game I would expect Ushenina to win pretty easily, but if the time stamps are right, she had just nine seconds left which made her moves much more random. 59. Bc2+?
( 59. Nd3!This pretty move would have expelled Black's rook because: 59... Rxe4Fails to ...60. Nc5+Black does not have to fall for this, but if she retreated the rook she would have no counterplay and the center pawns would eventually march up the board to promote. )
59... Kxa360. Nd3Rd4?
( 60... Re4!This was necessary, preventing Rg1 61. Rg1Re2+ )
( 61. Rg1!This move was very strong, after which Black would have been in a mating net. 61... Ka2Otherwise Ra1 would be mate 62. Rb1!And White would have deadly threats, such as 63. Nc1+ Ka3 64. Rb3+. Note that: 62... Rxd5Fails to 63. Nb4+ )
61... Ne662. Rf2?
( 62. Rg1!again, this was winning )
62... Nd863. Rf8?
( 63. Rf1!If a player misses this idea the first time, she will probably miss it every time. )
63... Nc6!Now Black was winning the White pawns. With all the pieces coming off, there was not much more reason to play. 64. Ra8Bf5!65. Ne1Rd2+66. Kg3Bxc267. Nxc2+Rxc268. e6Re269. e7Nxe770. Rxa7+Kb471. Rxe7Rd272. d7Kc573. Kf4Kc674. Re5Kxd775. Rxh5Rd4+76. Ke3Ra477. Kd3Ke7
There were equally large swings in other matches. One player who has to be very disappointed is Nataliya Buksa of Ukraine, No. 52. Not only did she lose a game with White (rook-and-knight vs rook) against Sopiko Guramishvili of Georgia, No. 45, when a draw would have sent her through to the next round, but she also blundered away a totally winning position in the first blitz game, something that surely would not have happened if she had more time on her clock.
Buksa, Nataliya vs. Guramishvili, Sopiko
Womens World Ch. |Tehran |Round 2.6 |16 Feb 2017 |1/2-1/2
Rf6This position is an absolute disaster for Black -- she is down three pawns and White's pieces are ripping her position to shreds. It's hard to believe that in just six moves she will be playing for a win! 28. Nd6+Kh829. Nxb7There is nothing wrong with this but White could have won even more material.
( 29. Ne8 )
29... Qxb730. Re5Nd631. Bd5Qc732. g3Black at least managed to not lose anything more and not get mated, but she is still down three pawns and has no compensation for her material deficit. But now she continued: 32... Nb5This move has a hidden threat. 33. c4?Oops!
( 33. Bf3This was the easiest way of consolidating her position. Basically, anything that does not allow Qxe5 should have been enough to win. )
33... Qxe5!The tables have turned as White has lost a rook. 34. fxe5Rxf235. Rxf2Rxf236. cxb5axb5Now Black has an exchange for two pawns and a very strong rook. She is now the one trying to play for a win, though the game should end in a draw with best play on both sides. 37. a4bxa438. bxa4Re2
( 38... Rf5This offered Black more winning chances I guess, but after: 39. h4Rxe540. Bf3Ra5Even without the pawn on a4, the position is one that White should not lose. )
At this point the trend was clearly in Guramishvili’s favor, and she won the second blitz game pretty smoothly to punch her ticket to Round 3.
Rout Padmini, left, and Harika Dronavalli after both made it through to Round 3.
While many matches went back and forth, some ended promptly. A notable example was the win of Rout Padmini of India, No. 40, who made it through to Round 3 after just the first two rapid games against Zhao Xue of China, No. 8, confirming my prediction that she was primed for an upset the way she was playing. It was anything but a clean victory, however, as her opponent blundered away a strategically dominant position in Game 1. In Game 2, Padmini did not succumb to the bug infecting everyone else and held without trouble while playing White.
Zhao Xue vs. Padmini, Rout
Womens World Ch. |Tehran |Round 2.3 |16 Feb 2017 |0-1
Qe8White has lost a lot of her edge but still has a pretty pleasant position because of her superior pawn structure. But no position is ever blunder-proof. 36. Nc4?
( 36. Rf3This move was simple and strong. Black's only good reply would have been: 36... Ng637. Nxg6Qxg6And then after: 38. Re3Moving back now that the pawn on e6 is not as well defended and Rd8 is no longer a threat. White would have a nice edge, particularly with the other rook ready to go to e4. )
36... Rd8!White's queen has no good flight squares. 37. Qc7
( 37. Qf4Ng6Forking the queen and rook. )
37... Rd7!38. Nd6
( 38. Qf4This move was best, but White would lose material after: 38... Ng6 )
38... Qe7!Too many of White's pieces are attacked. After: 39. Qxd7Qxd740. Nxb5cxb5Black was up a lot of material. The rest of the game was not difficult for her. 41. Rhe4Qd542. Kg1Qa243. d5Qxd544. Rb4Nd745. Rd3Qc646. Rc3Qd547. Rd3Qc648. Rc3Qb649. Rc8+Kh750. Rf4Nf651. e3e552. Rb4Nd553. Rh4Qe654. Rb8Qc655. Rd8Nf656. Rb4e457. Kg2Qc558. Rbd4Qh559. Rd1Ng460. Rh1Qf561. Rd2Qf3+62. Kg1Ne563. Rd5Nd364. Rh2Qd1+65. Kg2Ne1+
Five of the remaining 16 players are from the lower half of the original field. They have played impressively so far to earn their place in the final 16. It will be interesting to see if they can keep it up and continue to score upsets.
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.