WWch Semis TB: Oh the humanity!

by Albert Silver
3/31/2015 – The Women World Championship has been one of the most exciting on record, with drama, tension, front runners, and comebacks, and plain old fighting chess. The semifinal tiebreaks lived up to the billing, and it all came down to strong play and missed opportunities, the kind to leave a player awake at night. See what happened in this report illustrated by powerful images.

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Tournament conditions

The Women's World Chess Championship takes place from March 17 – April 7 in Sochi, Russia. The knock-out tournament is attended by 64 players, including the former World Champions Alexandra Kosteniuk (Russia), Anna Ushenina (Ukraine), and Antoaneta Stefanova (Bulgaria), the three-time Russian champion Valentina Gunina, the World Vice-Champion Humpy Koneru (India), as well as other leading grandmasters. Unfortunately, the reigning champion Hou Yifan was unable to come for personal reasons, but as the winner of the FIDE Grand Prix she will still be able to challenge the new champion to a match.

The first five rounds consist of mini-matches of two games played at 90 minutes for 40 moves followed by 30 minutes for the rest of the game and a 30-second increment per move. The final match will consist of four games.

In the event of a tie, the winner will be determined by a series of tiebreak games: two rapid games of 25 minutes plus 10 seconds per move. If the score remains equal, the players then proceed to two more games played at 10 minutes plus 10 seconds per move. If the score continues tied a final mini-match will be played of two blitz games of 5 minutes plus 3 seconds per move. Finally, an Armageddon game will be played to decide the winner in which White has five minutes and Black has four minutes, with a three-second increment per move after move 61. Black will be declared the victor if the game is drawn.

Round five - tiebreak

This is yet another event at Sochi, but as can be seen behind Sergey Rublevski, it is hardly eye-sore

Natalia Pogonina vs Pia Cramling

In their first 25-minute game Cramling and Pogonina continued the theoretical discussion in the Queen's Gambit started in the first classical game. The Swedish player was first to deviate and got a considerably better game, but after some strange time-wasting moves, she appeared to lose the thread of the game and suddenly forced a repetition before things got out of hand.

Prior to the start, even the comeback queen shows her concern

[Event "WCh Women 2015"] [Site "Sochi RUS"] [Date "2015.03.31"] [Round "5.2"] [White "Cramling, Pia"] [Black "Pogonina, Natalija"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "D37"] [WhiteElo "2495"] [BlackElo "2456"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "3r4/pq2rpk1/1p1n1bp1/3p3p/3P1N1P/3Q1NP1/PPR2PK1/2R5 w - - 0 29"] [PlyCount "26"] [EventDate "2015.03.17"] {White has reached a very comfortable advantage.} 29. Kg1 $6 (29. Ne5 {would have led to a nice advantage, but Cramling misses the tactics here. The point is that} Bxe5 30. dxe5 d4+ (30... Rxe5 $2 {loses to} 31. Rc7 {with the threat Qxg6!}) 31. Kg1 Rxe5 32. Nxg6 $1 {and the knight cannot be touched since after} fxg6 $2 33. Rc7+) 29... Rdd7 30. Kg2 $2 {It is hard to understand what the Swede was thinking. Was she actually trying to repeat the position?} Re4 31. Ne2 {and this is right after having just brought the knight from c3 to f4 via e2. White seems to have completely lost the thread of the game.} Nf5 32. Rd1 Rde7 33. Rdc1 Qd7 34. Rc7 Qd8 35. Rc8 {forcing the repetition after sensing she is in danger of going down.} Qd6 36. R1c6 Qd7 37. R8c7 Qd8 38. Rc8 Qd7 39. R8c7 Qd8 40. Rc8 Qd7 41. R8c7 Qd8 1/2-1/2

With a look of all business, the games revealed just how tense the players really were

In the second rapid game the players once again repeated their classical match opening – the Sicilian Paulsen. Pogonina soon got a dream setup versus her opponent's hedgehog with full control of the center and well-placed pieces. Nerves began to creep up on both players very quickly, and with missed wins by White, constantly and chronically, it was a war of nerves and attrition. The game lasted as long as it did entirely thanks to the increments, and it took a full 116 moves for Natalia Pogonina to force Pia Cramling to capitulate and secure the first spot in the World Championship final.

[Event "WCh Women 2015"] [Site "Sochi RUS"] [Date "2015.03.31"] [Round "5.2"] [White "Pogonina, Natalija"] [Black "Cramling, Pia"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B47"] [WhiteElo "2456"] [BlackElo "2495"] [PlyCount "231"] [EventDate "2015.03.17"] 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 e6 5. Nc3 Qc7 6. Be2 Nf6 7. Be3 a6 8. O-O Bb4 9. Na4 O-O 10. c4 Be7 11. Nc3 d6 12. Rc1 Nxd4 13. Qxd4 Nd7 (13... Bd7 14. Rfd1 Rac8 15. b4 Qb8 16. a4 Rfd8 17. Rb1 Be8 18. a5 d5 19. exd5 Bd6 20. Qh4 Be5 21. Bd4 exd5 22. c5 Bc6 23. Bxe5 Qxe5 24. Qd4 Qe7 25. Bd3 Ne4 26. Ne2 Qg5 27. f3 Kf8 28. Kh1 Qh4 29. Bc2 Bb5 30. Nc3 Nf2+ 31. Kg1 Nxd1 32. Qxh4 Nxc3 33. Re1 d4 34. Qxh7 Ne2+ 35. Rxe2 Bxe2 36. Qh8+ Ke7 37. Qxg7 Rd5 38. Bb3 Rcd8 39. Qh7 Kf6 40. Qh6+ Ke7 41. Qf4 Kf8 42. Qe4 {1-0 (42) Grischuk,A (2702)-Polgar,J (2677) Moscow 2002}) 14. Rfd1 b6 15. b4 Rd8 16. Na4 (16. Bf4 {was worth considering, putting pressure on d6.} Nf6 (16... e5 {loses to} 17. Nd5 $1) 17. e5 dxe5 18. Bxe5 Rxd4 19. Bxc7 Rxd1+ 20. Rxd1 Bb7 (20... Bxb4 $2 21. Rd8+ Bf8 22. Bf3 {and Bd6.}) 21. a3 b5 22. cxb5 axb5 23. Nxb5) 16... Rb8 17. a3 Qc6 18. Nc3 Bb7 19. f3 Ba8 {The position is a classic hedgehog and the question is whether Black will manage one of the key breakthroughs, or will she be strangled in her own bed.} 20. Kh1 Nf6 21. Bf1 h6 22. Qd2 Nd7 23. Qf2 Rdc8 24. Qg3 ({Now, and for the next several moves, White misses the very strong} 24. b5 axb5 25. Nxb5 Rd8 26. Qg3 {and the double threat of taking on d6 or Bxh6 would win material.}) 24... Kf8 25. Bd4 (25. b5 $1) 25... g6 26. Be3 (26. b5 $1) 26... Kg7 27. Qh3 (27. b5 $1) 27... h5 28. Qg3 h4 29. Qf2 Ne5 30. h3 Qe8 31. Nb1 Rc6 32. Bd4 Kg8 33. f4 Nd7 34. Nd2 e5 35. Be3 exf4 36. Bxf4 Ne5 37. Nf3 Nxf3 38. Qxf3 Rbc8 39. Qd3 Bf8 40. Re1 b5 41. cxb5 Rxc1 42. Bxc1 axb5 43. Bb2 Kh7 44. e5 ({It would be easy to criticize White for missing a fairly obvious move such as} 44. Qd4 $1 {but these are rapid games, tiebreaks for the world championship, and this late in the game, both players were very short of time. Increments are the only reason the game was able to last as many moves as it did.}) 44... d5 45. e6 fxe6 46. Qd4 Bh6 47. Qxh4 Qf7 48. Bxb5 Rc2 49. Bd4 e5 50. Rxe5 Rc1+ 51. Bg1 Qf8 52. Re8 Qf4 53. Qxf4 Bxf4 54. g3 Be3 55. Rxa8 Rxg1+ 56. Kh2 d4 57. Rd8 Rb1 58. Kg2 Rb3 59. Be2 Rxa3 60. b5 Rb3 61. Rd6 Rb2 62. Kf3 {It is now entirely a battle of nerves.} Rb3 63. Ke4 Bf2 64. Bd3 Bxg3 65. Rxd4 Be1 66. Rd6 Bg3 67. Rc6 Kg7 68. Kd4 g5 69. Rg6+ Kf8 70. Rxg5 Bh2 71. h4 Rb4+ 72. Bc4 Rb1 73. h5 Rg1 74. Rf5+ Kg7 75. Kc5 Rc1 76. Rd5 Kh6 77. Kb4 Rb1+ 78. Kc3 Rc1+ 79. Kb3 Bf4 80. Rf5 Be3 81. Be2 Re1 82. Bf3 Bg5 83. Kc4 Re6 84. Rd5 Rf6 85. Rd3 Bh4 86. Kd5 Bg3 87. Rb3 Bf2 88. Ke5 Rb6 89. Bc6 Rb8 90. Rf3 Bc5 91. Kd5 Bg1 92. Rf5 Rd8+ 93. Ke6 Rd2 94. Bf3 Bd4 95. Rd5 Be3 96. Re5 Bd4 97. Rf5 Rf2 98. Kd5 Rd2 99. Ke4 Bc3 100. b6 Rd4+ 101. Ke3 Rb4 102. b7 Kg7 103. Kd3 Be1 104. Bc6 Kh6 105. Bb5 Bg3 106. Kc3 Rh4 107. Be2 Rh1 108. Rf6+ Kh7 109. Rf7+ Kg8 110. Rd7 Rb1 111. Bc4+ Kh8 112. h6 Be5+ 113. Kc2 Rb4 114. Bd3 Kg8 115. h7+ Kf8 116. h8=Q+ 1-0

A disappointed Pia Cramling absorbs the moment

The sheer size of her accomplishment begins to sink in, as Pogonina begins to smile uncontrollably

Eteri Kublashvili, the tournament press officer, shares some pictures with Natalia Pogonina

The spectators enjoying the live commentary of Sergey Shipov are also treated to a
larger-than-life display of the action

Harika Dronavalli vs Mariya Muzychuk

Both Mariya Muzychuk and Harika Dronavalli put on their war faces

In the second tiebreak, Harika Dronavalli and Mariya Muzychuk exchanged blows in rapid games, both winning with black. The first game saw wild complications: Harika, playing White, sacrificed a rook and created a strong attack, but in the time trouble did not find the winning maneuver. Mariya found the defense, parried all White's threats and kept the decisive material advantage. The return game was very stressful and erratic. First Black made a mistake that cost a pawn, then White returned the favor, allowing her opponent to create dangerous counterplay. The Indian developed powerful piece activity and tied the score in a sharp game.

A supportive Anna Muzychuk can be seen in the background watching
her younger sister

The first ten-minute game was probably a key to the match. Dronavalli outplayed her opponent and transposed to a queen ending with two extra pawns, which was completely winning for White.

It is completely winning for White and the Indian will now secure her spot
into the finals. Qg7+ and there is nothing to it. Suddenly she plays 83.Qe3??
and after ...Qxe3 the resulting pawn endgame is a draw. Oh the humanity!

This lucky draw clearly inspired Mariya Muzychuk, and the Ukrainian handled the next game with great confidence and won convincingly, securing her seat in the final.

A devastated Harika realizing it is over

Mariya receives the warmest of congratulations from sister...

...and Evgeny Miroshnichenko, commentator, supporter, and friend.

On his Facebook page, Gata Kamsky, who like much of the chess world, has followed the thrilling event thus far, posted:

"Considering the current political situation. It must be really ironic that the finals of the Women's World Championship have a Russian player vs. a Ukrainian player. Chess as a peacemaker is doing its job and leading by the example. But, very exciting chess still and thanks to all the participants for the tremendous fighting spirit displayed. Looking forward to watching the finals."

April 1st is a rest day and the final match, with four classical games, will start on Thursday, April 2nd, between Natalia Pogonina and Mariya Muzychuk.

Report by Albert Silver and Eteri Kublashvili
Photos by Eteri Kublashvili, Anastasia Karlovich, and Vladimir Barsky

Semifinal pairings / results

Player Fed Rtg G1 G2 G3 G4 G5 G6 G7 G8 G9 Pts
Muzychuk, Mariya UKR 2526 ½
1       3.5
Harika, Dronavalli IND 2492 ½
0       2.5
Player Fed Rtg G1
G3 G4 G5 G6 G7 G8 G9 Pts
Cramling, Pia SWE 2495 1
Pogonina, Natalia RUS 2456 0


Round 1 - 64 players
March 17 Game 1 3:00 p.m. local time
March 18 Game 2 3:00 p.m. local time
March 19 Tie breaks 3:00 p.m. local time
Round 2 - 32 players
March 20 Game 1 3:00 p.m. local time
March 21 Game 2 3:00 p.m. local time
March 22 Tie breaks 3:00 p.m. local time
Round 3 - 16 players
March 23 Game 1 3:00 p.m. local time
March 24 Game 2 3:00 p.m. local time
March 25 Tie breaks 3:00 p.m. local time
Round 4 - 8 players
March 26 Game 1 3:00 p.m. local time
March 27 Game 2 3:00 p.m. local time
March 28 Tie breaks 3:00 p.m. local time
Round 5 - 4 players
March 29 Game 1 3:00 p.m. local time
March 30 Game 2 3:00 p.m. local time
March 31 Tie breaks 3:00 p.m. local time
Rest day - April, 1
Round 6 - 2 players
April 2 Game 1 3:00 p.m. local time
April 3 Game 2 3:00 p.m. local time
April 4 Game 3 3:00 p.m. local time
April 5 Game 4 3:00 p.m. local time
April 6 Tie breaks 3:00 p.m. local time
April 7 Closing Ceremony*  
*Closing Ceremony can be shifted to
April 6 in the absence of tie breaks


The games are being broadcast live on the official web site and on the chess server Playchess.com. If you are not a member you can download a free Playchess client there and get immediate access. You can also use ChessBase 13 or any of our Fritz compatible chess programs.

Born in the US, he grew up in Paris, France, where he completed his Baccalaureat, and after college moved to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He had a peak rating of 2240 FIDE, and was a key designer of Chess Assistant 6. In 2010 he joined the ChessBase family as an editor and writer at ChessBase News. He is also a passionate photographer with work appearing in numerous publications.
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ex0 ex0 4/3/2015 05:32
We will have a new world champion? Um no, sorry, but Hou Yifan is the womens world champion. This is just a candidates tournament to find the challenger..

Otherwise if the winner of this is the world champion, then why are they fighting for a chance to play Yifan in a match(thats result will decide the womens world champion?)

Only matchplay decides the REAL world champion(no matter what Kasimzhanov/Khalifman etc might think). No knockout blitz games or armageddon bullet games with black having a minute less..
Offramp Offramp 4/2/2015 10:16
Wow! These pictures are very dramatic. They show how chess can grip the psyche. Thank you to the three photographers.
websnarf websnarf 4/2/2015 07:45
@daftarche You think these women don't have poker faces? You're kidding right? Magnus Carlsen and Garry Kasparov are the most transparent players in the world when in comes to facial expression. If you want to know if you've got a cheapo tactic against Kasparov, you just need to wait until he starts gyrating uncontrollably as if he had just been electrocuted or something. Nigel Short even made a joke about this to Kasparov saying he used to check if his tactics were sound by looking at Kasparov's reaction to his moves. Similarly with Carlsen, when he messes up, you can usually tell how disgusted with himself he appears.
santasiere santasiere 4/2/2015 06:22
this championship match feel more like a playoff. the winner get to challenge the real world champion - hou yifan
ashperov ashperov 4/2/2015 08:06
This has been a fantastic exciting championship! both finalists are very worthy. Going to be great!
All the Naysayers must just go suck it!
daftarche daftarche 4/1/2015 11:25
Maybe the quality is not high compared to men cycles but women championships are always full of drama. and besides they usually can not hold a poker face and show their emotions unlike men.
websnarf websnarf 4/1/2015 11:00
No conspiracy Klacsanzky. There were many Russians and many Ukrainians entering this WWch. That they would eventually face each other was not an unlikely outcome.
ChessHulk ChessHulk 4/1/2015 06:18
Great to see these two in the finals! Sorry one has to lose!
KevinC KevinC 4/1/2015 02:46
Tin-foil hats for sale, only $100.
Alex f Alex f 4/1/2015 02:36
I'm sure none of these girls is thinking in Hou Yifan now and they should not care. It is such a great achievement for them that whoever wins will have it more than deserved as they both outplayed theoretically better and more experienced players. Marya has maybe slightly better chances but you never know. Anyhow, we will have a new World Champion. Let's give her a warm welcome!
Klacsanzky Klacsanzky 4/1/2015 09:25
Almost seems set up. I know it sounds ridiculous, but it is a strange coincidence that a Ukrainian and a Russian is playing in the final in Sochi. Almost seems like it was fixed so the Russian could win against the Ukrainian in the end.

It is strange that Pogonina always won in her must win situations (3 games). Maybe she is just an awesome comeback player, but it is still incredibly difficult to win three games in a row in comeback situations.

But who knows, maybe it was just that they were the strongest players or got lucky. But as Kamsky said, it is ironic.
Van_Phanel Van_Phanel 4/1/2015 09:09
Curious to find out who's going to get destroyed by Hou Yifan.