Tan Zhongyi of China won the second game of the final. If she wins one more time, or draws twice, she will be the new champion.

Tan Zhongyi of China needs one more win, or two more draws in the final of the Women’s World Championship in Tehran to win the title. After winning Game 2 of her match against Anna Muzychuk of Ukraine, Tan leads 1.5 points to 0.5 point. Game 1 of their match ended in a draw.

The championship, a knockout tournament in the same format as used in tennis, began just over two weeks ago with 64 competitors. As the No. 2 seed, Muzychuk was expected to make it to the final. But Tan, as the No. 9 seed, was not expected to be in this position.

Though China has produced most of the Women’s World Champions in recent decades, notably Hou Yifan, the reigning champion, who will lose her crown when this tournament is over, Tan was a bit of an unknown quantity when the championship began. She was the third highest seeded Chinese player, behind Ju Wenjun, the top seed, and Zhao Xue, the No. 8 seed, and the first player in the field after the top eight who was not a full-fledged grandmaster. (Tan has the women’s grandmaster title, which is not as difficult to earn.) Should Tan win the title, it would not be as big an upset as when Anna Ushenina of Ukraine won in 2012 (Ushenina was the 30th seed), but it would still be a surprise. 

The final of the World Championship is best-of-four regulation, or slow, games. (Should it end in a tie, the players will go to tiebreaker games, just as in the earlier rounds.) 

Game 1 was uneventful as Tan easily neutralized Muzychuk’s initiative with White.

Anna Muzychuk vs. Tan Zhongyi
Women's World Championship | 0:15:33-1:09:33 | Round 6.1 | 27 Feb 2017 | 1/2-1/2
1. e4 e6 The French Defense. It can be solid and drawish or incredibly complicated. It depends a great deal on the plans both players choose.
2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 dxe4 A quieter variation than the Winawer Variation, which arises after 3... Bb4.
4. Nxe4 Bd7 Black obviously wants to play solid and take few chances.
5. Nf3 Bc6 6. Bd3 Nd7 7. O-O Ngf6 8. Ned2 With a bit more space and a lead in development, White is not interested in any trades.
8... Be7 9. b3 Not the only way to develop the bishop, but it makes sense as it will help White control the center, particularly the square e5.
9... O-O 10. Bb2 b6 Black's bishop is a bit awkward on c6, where it is exposed and blocks the c-pawn. A retreat back to b7 will help Black to coordinate her pieces a bit better.
11. c4 Bb7 12. Qe2 c5 Striking at White's center before she gets too comfortable must be done sooner rather than later.
13. Rfe1 Re8 14. Rad1 Qc7 White has made logical developing moves, but because she has been unable to do anything to pressure Black, Black's position is fine. Chances are roughly equal.
15. Ne4 Nxe4 16. Bxe4 Bxe4 17. Qxe4 Nf6 18. Qe5 Bd6 19. Qe2 Rad8 Black is not worried about her kingside pawns being broken up as once the g-pawn arrives on f6, it will actually help Black to control key squares, notably e5 and g5.
20. dxc5 Bxc5 21. Bxf6?! Maybe not best. The knight had no immediate prospects and White's bishop might eventually have been useful in supporting her queenside pawns.
21... gxf6 22. g3 The light-squared weaknesses are not a problem because Black no longer has her light-squared bishop.
22... Rxd1 23. Rxd1 Rd8 The game is definitely headed for a draw.
24. Kg2 Rxd1 25. Qxd1 Qc6 26. Qd3 f5 27. Qd8+ Kg7 28. Qg5+ Kf8 29. h4 White does not want to repeat the position and force a draw, so she tries her one idea -- trying to pushing the h-pawn to h6.
29... Qe4 30. Qd8+ Kg7 31. Qd2 a5 32. h5 h6 And that is that. White has no way to make progress. The game soon ended in a draw.
33. Qc3+ Kg8 34. Qd2 Kh7 35. Qb2 Qg4 36. Ne5!? Tricky, but it is not enough.
36... Qxh5 37. Nd7 Qg5 38. Nf6+ Kh8 39. Ne8+ Kg8 40. Nf6+ Kh8 41. Ne8+ Kg8 42. Nf6+ Draw by repetition.

In Game 2, Tan gained a clear edge in the opening and gradually increased it until she won a pawn. Despite a couple of small inaccuracies after that, the game was not really in doubt.

Tan Zhongyi vs. Anna Muzychuk
Women's World Championship | 0:39:33-0:23:33 | Round 6.2 | 28 Feb 2017 | 1-0
1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 The Slav Defense. It is very solid buy also offers dynamic counterattacking possibilities for Black.
3. Nf3 Nf6 4. Nc3 e6 The Semi-Slav.
5. Qd3 An unusual move. White's idea is to play e4 as quickly as possible.
5... dxc4 6. Qxc4 b5 This structure usually arises in the Meran Variation, but it is with the White bishop on c4, not the queen.
7. Qd3 a6 8. e4 c5 Perhaps too ambitious. Black counterattacks when White is better developed.
9. dxc5 Bxc5 10. Qxd8+ Kxd8 11. Bd3 Bb7 12. e5 Ng4 The wrong way. The knight would have been better on either d5 or d7.
13. Ne4 Even better was 13. Be4. If 13... Nf2, then 14. Bb7 Ra7 15. Ne4! Nh1 16. Nc5, or 15... Nd3 16. Kd2.
13... Bb4+ 14. Ke2 Nd7 15. Bf4 Nc5 The computer prefers 15... f5 in order to breakup White's center or dislodge the White pieces in the center. Both make sense. The problem with Nc5 is that it allows White to keep control of the center.
16. Nxc5 Bxc5 17. Rhc1 Bb6 Black does not have time to take the pawn on f2. 17... Bf2 18. h3 wins a piece.
18. Ng5 Ke7 19. Be4 Each move by White gains a tempo, slowly building her advantage.
19... Bxe4 20. Nxe4 Though the position is symmetrical, the space advantage that White has in the center and the beautiful outpost she has for her knight on d6 give her a clear edge.
20... Rhc8 21. f3 Nh6 22. g4 Sealing the knight off from the game. White is effectively up a piece.
22... Ng8 After so many moves, the knight returns to its original starting square. Sad.
23. Nd6 Rxc1 24. Rxc1 Black is just about helpless. The threat of Rc6 is terrible.
24... Kd7 Choosing to give up a pawn in order to keep the rook out and reactivate her knight.
25. Nxf7 Ne7 25... Rf8 does not win because of 26. Rd1 and Black can either play 26... Kc8, allowing 27. Nd6, or 26... Ke7 27. Rd6! Rf7 28. Bg5+!
26. Be3 Bxe3 27. Kxe3 Ng6 Black tries to gain counterplay against the e-pawn, but it does not quite work.
28. h4?! It was difficult to calculate, but 28. Ke4 was possible. After 28... Rf8 29. Ng5 Rf4 30. Ke3 Ra4 31. Rd1 Ke7 32. Rd6, Black's e-pawn will fall.
28... Rf8?! In fact, 28... Nh4 was playable. After 29. Rh1 Ng2 30. Kf2 Kf7 31. Nd6 Nf4 32. Rh7 Nd3 33. Kg3 Ne5 34. Ne4 Rg8, Black is still holding on.
29. h5 Ne7 29... Rf7 30. hg6 hg6 31. Rd1 is an easy win for White.
30. Ng5 Nd5+ 31. Kf2 White's problems are substantially over.
31... h6 32. Ne4 Ra8 33. a3 a5 34. Nc3 Rc8 35. Rd1 Ke7 36. Nxd5+ exd5 37. Rxd5 Rc2+ 38. Ke3 Rxb2 39. Ke4 The rest is easy. White's four-pawn to two-pawn majority on the kingside is decisive.
39... a4 40. f4 Rb1 41. Kf5 Rb3 42. Rc5 Kd7 43. Kg6 b4 44. axb4 Rxb4 45. Kf5 Ke7 46. Rc7+ Kf8 47. Ra7 Kg8 48. g5 hxg5 49. fxg5 Rb6 50. Rxa4 g6+ 51. hxg6 Rb1 52. Ra8+ Kg7 53. Ra7+ Kg8 54. g7 Rf1+ 55. Kg6 Ra1 56. Rf7


Dylan Loeb McClain is a journalist with more than 25 years of experience. He was a staff editor for The New York Times for 18 years and wrote the paper’s chess column from 2006 to 2014. He is now editor-in-chief of WorldChess.com. He is a FIDE master as well.