A few lower seeds pulled off upsets to keep their hopes alive.

After another exciting day of tiebreaker games, 16 players remain in the hunt for the Women’s World Championship in Tehran. 

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!

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
Rf4 Unlike 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... Rxe4 Fails 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... Kxa3 60. Nd3 Rd4?
60... Re4! This was necessary, preventing Rg1
61. Rg1 Re2+  )
61. d6?
61. Rg1! This move was very strong, after which Black would have been in a mating net.
61... Ka2 Otherwise Ra1 would be mate
62. Rb1! And White would have deadly threats, such as 63. Nc1+ Ka3 64. Rb3+. Note that:
62... Rxd5 Fails to
63. Nb4+  )
61... Ne6 62. Rf2?
62. Rg1! again, this was winning  )
62... Nd8 63. 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. Ra8 Bf5! 65. Ne1 Rd2+ 66. Kg3 Bxc2 67. Nxc2+ Rxc2 68. e6 Re2 69. e7 Nxe7 70. Rxa7+ Kb4 71. Rxe7 Rd2 72. d7 Kc5 73. Kf4 Kc6 74. Re5 Kxd7 75. Rxh5 Rd4+ 76. Ke3 Ra4 77. Kd3 Ke7

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
Rf6 This 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+ Kh8 29. Nxb7 There is nothing wrong with this but White could have won even more material.
29. Ne8  )
29... Qxb7 30. Re5 Nd6 31. Bd5 Qc7 32. g3 Black 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... Nb5 This move has a hidden threat.
33. c4? Oops!
33. Bf3 This 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. fxe5 Rxf2 35. Rxf2 Rxf2 36. cxb5 axb5 Now 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. a4 bxa4 38. bxa4 Re2
38... Rf5 This offered Black more winning chances I guess, but after:
39. h4 Rxe5 40. Bf3 Ra5 Even without the pawn on a4, the position is one that White should not lose.  )
39. e6 Re5 40. Bb3 g6 41. Kg2 Kg7 42. Kf3 Kf6 43. Kf4 Re1 44. Bc4 Ra1 45. Bb5 h6 46. h4 Kxe6 47. Kg4 Kf6 48. Kf4 Rb1 49. Be8 Rb4+ 50. Kf3 Rb3+ 51. Kf4 Ra3 52. Kg4 g5 53. hxg5+ hxg5 54. Bb5 Rb3 55. Bc6 Rc3 56. Bb5 Re3 57. Bc6 Rb3 58. Bb5 Rb4+ 59. Kh5 Rd4 60. Bc6 Rd6 61. Be4 Ra6 62. Bc2 Ra8 63. Kg4 Rc8 64. Bd3 Rc3 65. Bb5 Rc7 66. Bd3 Ra7 67. Bb5 Ra8 68. Bc6 Rc8 69. Bb5 Rd8 70. Bc6 Rc8 71. Bb5 Rf8 72. a5 Rb8 73. Bc6 Rb4+ 74. Kh5 Rc4 75. Bb7 Ra4 76. a6 Ra3 77. Kg4 Ra4+ 78. Kh5 Ra3 79. Kg4 Ra5 80. Bc8 Ra4+ 81. Kh5 Ra5 82. Kg4 Kg6 83. Bb7 Ra4+ 84. Kf3 Kf5 85. Bc8+ Ke5 86. Bb7 Kd6 87. Ke3 Kc7 88. Kf3 Kb6 89. Ke3 Ra3+ 90. Kf2 Kc5 91. Kg2 Kb6 92. Kh3 Ra4 93. Bc8 Kc7 94. Bb7 Kb6 95. Bc8 Rc4 96. Bb7 Ka7 97. Kg2 Rc3 98. Kf2 Kb6 99. Kg2

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.

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
Qe8 White 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. Rf3 This move was simple and strong. Black's only good reply would have been:
36... Ng6 37. Nxg6 Qxg6 And then after:
38. Re3 Moving 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. Qf4 Ng6 Forking the queen and rook.  )
37... Rd7! 38. Nd6
38. Qf4 This move was best, but White would lose material after:
38... Ng6  )
38... Qe7! Too many of White's pieces are attacked. After:
39. Qxd7 Qxd7 40. Nxb5 cxb5 Black was up a lot of material. The rest of the game was not difficult for her.
41. Rhe4 Qd5 42. Kg1 Qa2 43. d5 Qxd5 44. Rb4 Nd7 45. Rd3 Qc6 46. Rc3 Qd5 47. Rd3 Qc6 48. Rc3 Qb6 49. Rc8+ Kh7 50. Rf4 Nf6 51. e3 e5 52. Rb4 Nd5 53. Rh4 Qe6 54. Rb8 Qc6 55. Rd8 Nf6 56. Rb4 e4 57. Kg2 Qc5 58. Rbd4 Qh5 59. Rd1 Ng4 60. Rh1 Qf5 61. Rd2 Qf3+ 62. Kg1 Ne5 63. Rd5 Nd3 64. Rh2 Qd1+ 65. Kg2 Ne1+

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.