European Women CC is won by Natalia Zhukova

by Albert Silver
6/1/2015 – There is no question that the entire European Women's Championship was overshadowed by the baseless accusations undersigned by a number of the players, and certainly more was written on the topic than the event itself. Zhukova took gold, and Batsiashvili silver, while at stake were 14 spots in the world championships. Report with analysis of one of the controversial games.

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This is all the more pity as the tournament had every reason to  have been covered on its own merits as a competition that would crown not only a winner, but a new European Champion, a title not without a fair amount of prestige.

The early part of the competition was indeed dominated by the surprise lead of Mihaela Sandu from Romania, who scored unexpected wins over some of the top seeds such as Alexandra Goryachkina and Olga Girya. This led to its blackest moment: The Letter.

The author of these lines was covering something else, and barely followed the controversy, just noting that evidence was supposedly lacking. After taking exactly one game at random, the win over Olga Girya in round four, it is quite clear the players signing the letter made no effort whatsoever to examine the case before making the accusations.

Olga Girya was one of the victims... of her own play

Komodo 9 doesn't think too much of the play in the game, from its lofty 3300 perch, and the evaluation was quite equal until move 36, with very little going on. Olga Girya, who is playing white begins to get herself in trouble with imprecise moves, possibly trying to push for more than the position could yield, but Sandu, playing black is also lacking in cybernetic precision, and only gets a minor edge. Even by move 45, when things are beginning to become unpleasant for White, there were resources, but a massive blunder threw the game away and suddenly White was losing a piece. The tactic involved was nothing mind blowing either. See for yourself:

Olga Girya - Mihaela Sandu

[Event "16th ch-EUR Indiv w 2015"] [Site "Chakvi GEO"] [Date "2015.05.22"] [Round "4.1"] [White "Girya, Olga"] [Black "Sandu, Mihaela"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "E92"] [WhiteElo "2479"] [BlackElo "2300"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "8/4qk2/5pp1/p1pb4/P5N1/4Q3/1P4PP/6K1 w - - 0 36"] [PlyCount "72"] [EventDate "2015.05.19"] 36. Qg3 $6 ({Although the computer suggests Qc3, even a move such as} 36. Kf2 { was not the end of the world, to show that White was hardly reduced to only moves. The a4-pawn that seems about to fall would be no less vulnerable to the knight, and White even has ways for counter play on the h-file. For example:} Qxe3+ 37. Nxe3 Bb3 38. h4 Bxa4 39. Nc4 {and a5 falls with a dead equal position.}) 36... Be6 $1 {threatening ...Bxg4 and ...Qe1 mate.} 37. Ne3 Qb7 38. h3 Qxb2 39. Qc7+ Kg8 40. Qxa5 Qd4 41. Kf2 c4 42. Qb5 Kg7 43. a5 c3 44. Qc6 Bc4 45. Kf3 $4 {A dreadful blunder that loses the game pretty much on the spot, even though White will take another 25 moves to throw in the towel.} (45. Qb6 { would have been good enough to draw.}) 45... c2 46. Qc7+ ({White would lose the queen after} 46. Nxc2 $2 Bd5+ 47. Ke2 Qe5+ 48. Kd2 Bxc6) 46... Kh6 47. Ng4+ Qxg4+ 48. hxg4 c1=Q {White is down a piece and the game is over.} 49. g5+ Kxg5 50. Qg3+ Kf5 51. Qg4+ Ke5 52. Qe4+ Kd6 53. Qxg6 Bd5+ 54. Kg3 Qe3+ 55. Kh2 Qe5+ 56. Kg1 Qe3+ 57. Kh2 Qf4+ 58. Kg1 Qg5 59. Qc2 Qe3+ 60. Kh2 Qe5+ 61. Kg1 Qa1+ 62. Kh2 Qxa5 63. Qb2 Ke7 64. Qe2+ Kd8 65. Qd3 Qc7+ 66. Kg1 Qc1+ 67. Kh2 Qf4+ 68. Kg1 Qe4 69. Qg3 Qd4+ 70. Kh1 Qa1+ 71. Kh2 Qe5 0-1

A smiling Mihaela Sandu against Lela Javakishvili

Since Sandu's play had been good, and she had enjoyed a fantastic run, it was just that fortunate combination of factors that led to it. Though she lost in round six, the quality of her play was actually quite consistent, and by the end of the tournament, the Romanian finished with 6.0/11 with an excellent 2457 performance, but short of one of the dearly sought qualification spots.

Natalia Zhukova won the title with 9.5/11 and a 2662 performance

The two players who truly ran with the tournament were Nino Batsiashvili from Georgia  and Ukrainian GM Natalia Zhukova. The Georgian player was unstoppable and by round eight had 7.5/8 (letter anyone?), a full point ahead of Zhukova with 6.5/8. The two leaders collided in round ten in a game that was to decide the tournament and the fate of the title.  

Nino Batsiashvili was the true runaway train from the start with 7.5/8

Nino Batsiashvili - Natalia Zhukova

[Event "16th ch-EUR Indiv w 2015"] [Site "Chakvi GEO"] [Date "2015.05.29"] [Round "10.1"] [White "Batsiashvili, Nino"] [Black "Zhukova, Natalia"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A58"] [WhiteElo "2473"] [BlackElo "2456"] [PlyCount "82"] [EventDate "2015.05.19"] 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 c5 3. d5 b5 4. cxb5 a6 5. bxa6 g6 6. Nc3 Bxa6 7. Nf3 d6 8. g3 Nbd7 9. Bg2 Nb6 ({In the usual lines,} 9... Bg7 {is played earlier so that} 10. Rb1 {does indeed take the bite out of a future ...Bc4. Ex:} Nb6 11. O-O Bc4 { and although Black may win back the pawn, the entire opening strategy of using the long lines and heavy pieces for pressure on the queenside, has been thrown out the window.}) 10. Rb1 Bc4 {It isn't as bad as it looks, since now White will be gaining tempi for the pawn recovered.} 11. b3 {Really not best.} (11. Ng5 {was stronger, choosing to hold the d5-pawn instead of the much less useful a2.} Bxa2 12. Nxa2 Rxa2 13. Qb3 Ra8 14. Qb5+ Nbd7 {[#]} 15. Ne6 $1 {and White gains a nice edge.}) 11... Bxd5 12. Nxd5 $6 {The biggest problem is that now a2 is undefended, since the Nc3 was its bodyguard.} Nbxd5 13. Bb2 $2 ({ Since Black was threatening both ...Rxa2 and ...Nc3, White had to play} 13. Ra1 {as ugly as it might seem.}) 13... Rxa2 14. O-O Bg7 15. e4 $2 {White has made a complete mess of the opening, and is now in serious trouble. What can one say about a Benko Gambit in which White is the one down a pawn after 13 moves, instead of Black?} Nb4 16. Re1 O-O 17. e5 Ng4 18. h3 Nxe5 19. Nxe5 dxe5 20. Bxe5 Nd3 21. Bxg7 Kxg7 22. Re2 Nc1 $1 23. Qxc1 (23. Qxd8 $2 Nxe2+) (23. Re1 Ne2+ $1 24. Rxe2 (24. Kf1 Rd2 $1 {and the queen is lost!}) 24... Qxd1+ 25. Rxd1 Rxe2) 23... Rxe2 24. Qxc5 Qd3 25. Qc1 Qf5 26. Qc3+ e5 27. Rf1 Rc8 28. Qa5 Rcc2 29. Qb6 e4 30. b4 Qf6 31. Qxf6+ Kxf6 32. Ra1 Ke5 33. Ra5+ Kd4 34. b5 Re1+ 35. Kh2 Rxf2 36. b6 Ree2 37. Ra4+ Kc5 38. b7 Rxg2+ 39. Kh1 Rh2+ 40. Kg1 Reg2+ 41. Kf1 Rb2 0-1

GM Monicka Socko finished with 7.5/11 in seventh place

This sealed the fate of the top two spots, and while bronze was up for grabs, the real battle continued for one of the 14 qualification spots in the Women World Championship. Natlaia Zhukova took gold with 9.5/11, Nino Batsiashvili was silver with 9.0/11 and Alisa Kashlinskaya was third with 8.0/11. Since seven of the top finishers were already qualified for the Women World Championship, the actual quaifiers went down to the 21st place, with Sopiko Guramishvili and Nino Khurtsidze as the last to make it.

Photos by Sopio Nikoladze

Final standings (top 21 qualify)

1 15 GM Zhukova Natalia UKR 2456 9.5 2369
2 7 IM Batsiashvili Nino GEO 2473 9.0 2426
3 20 IM Kashlinskaya Alina RUS 2423 8.0 2438
4 14 GM Danielian Elina ARM 2458 7.5 2421
5 30 IM Guseva Marina RUS 2391 7.5 2419
6 4 WGM Girya Olga RUS 2479 7.5 2410
7 11 GM Socko Monika POL 2467 7.5 2361
8 16 IM Melia Salome GEO 2452 7.5 2354
9 29 IM Gaponenko Inna UKR 2391 7.5 2352
10 18 IM Kovalevskaya Ekaterina RUS 2450 7.0 2411
11 25 IM Bodnaruk Anastasia RUS 2402 7.0 2394
12 2 GM Khotenashvili Bela GEO 2527 7.0 2371
13 5 IM Galliamova Alisa RUS 2478 7.0 2365
14 6 WGM Goryachkina Aleksandra RUS 2474 7.0 2359
15 8 IM Paehtz Elisabeth GER 2473 7.0 2358
16 31 WGM Charochkina Daria RUS 2391 7.0 2355
17 13 IM Mkrtchian Lilit ARM 2459 7.0 2330
18 22 IM Savina Anastasia RUS 2417 6.5 2386
19 9 GM Hoang Thanh Trang HUN 2472 6.5 2362
20 34 IM Guramishvili Sopiko GEO 2370 6.5 2320
21 17 IM Khurtsidze Nino GEO 2451 6.5 2314
22 28 IM Atalik Ekaterina TUR 2392 6.5 2262
23 37 IM Zimina Olga ITA 2339 6.5 2258
24 21 IM Ziaziulkina Nastassia BLR 2423 6.5 2253
25 41 IM Gvetadze Sofio GEO 2319 6.5 2238
26 45 WGM Sandu Mihaela ROU 2300 6.0 2472

Click for complete standings


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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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johnmk johnmk 12/3/2015 02:04
Really a sorry affair. You should not be able to accuse someone of cheating simply because he/she wins a game or two. Maybe the TD can be alerted and he can review the scoresheets or even frisk all the participants. But for all the players to gang up on Sandu was certainly wrong. It reflects badly on all those players who signed the letter, too.
cptmajormajor cptmajormajor 6/3/2015 02:20
Paranoia took over and one player suffered. At least an apology should be required. Even if this young lady was a horrible cheat, (which looks very unlikely) the way that they lit torches and waved pitch forks is obviously wrong. If FIDE was not ruled by self-serving fellows then incidents like this would not happen. Makes the rules clear!
WickedPawn WickedPawn 6/3/2015 03:28
Natalia Zhukova has lost all the sympathy and respect I had for her.
flachspieler flachspieler 6/3/2015 01:01
@diegoami: You are right. Form the signatures
10 are from Russian players,
Belorussia 1, Bulgaria 1, Georgia 1, Serbia 1, Ukraine 1;
Sorry for giving a wrong impression.
mssrclever mssrclever 6/2/2015 09:27
Anyone who makes accusations like this without any tangible evidence should simply be disqualified from the tournament immediately.
MaxMinus MaxMinus 6/2/2015 08:18
As an advocate of fair play, one still hopes the accusers will come forward with a statement. However, there's a big chance that they have convinced themselves they did the right thing, even if the facts may be different from what they thought. That's why FIDE should step in. But who expects the board of FIDE to step in? There are far too many political connections there.
ff2017 ff2017 6/2/2015 06:05
Go Natalia!! What can I say, she said nice positive things about the Chinese women when there was negative speculation on the ointments they were using.

Also, what about the idea that this wasn't some tactical mind game, but she and the letter signers really though there was cheating going around. Just blame Borislav Ivanov for getting people all paranoid and starting Salem styled witchhunts.
diegoami diegoami 6/2/2015 04:00
I doubt that. Natalia Zhukova is actually from Ukraine and is known for calling Lahno bad names when she switched her allegiance to Russia.
flachspieler flachspieler 6/2/2015 01:52
I think it is not accident that the whole affair happened in times where Russia is (politically) fighting against the rest of the world. The 15 players signing were almost all from Russia - for them it is easy to throw all players from other states (Bulgaria, Georgia, Romania) in one pot.
Second comment: it should become standard rule for all FIDE title tournaments that relay via internet is postponed by at least 15 minutes - for all games.
weerogue weerogue 6/2/2015 12:20
Hang your head in shame, Natalia Zhukova. Disgusting.

FIDE: part of the blame lies with you - if proper anti-cheating measures were in place, the participants would have much less grounds for suspicion in the first pace. Sort it out.
Mason Mason 6/2/2015 09:26
Yeah, sadly no measures will be taken against those who wrote the letter , at least i hope they will apologize and in the future such acts will be swiftly punished .
Pavel Eljanov was tweeting something like " it's time to move on from this Sandu case " . Of course, it's time to move on, what happen was absolutely normal, right ?
Pionki Pionki 6/2/2015 09:05
Correcto. A 15 seed player should not be a winner. She must have used an outside assistance.
thlai80 thlai80 6/2/2015 08:33
Zhukova seeded 15 became champion. Based on her own logic, she must be cheating. Her huge disrespect had given her unfair advantages by rattling Sandu's nerve and concentration before their match. Zhukova should be sanctioned for using under-handed tactic. Zhukova definitely cheated, not by using computer assistance but by disturbing opponents off-board.
Pionki Pionki 6/2/2015 08:33
And so she has won ... by eliminating her strongest opponent (with a little help of her friends, organizers including). It may not be in style, but a win is a win.
MrL2014 MrL2014 6/2/2015 05:44
"letter anyone?" I like your sense of humor!
Great_Scot Great_Scot 6/2/2015 05:43
I would like to see the WWCC spots of everyone who signed that letter forfeited. Through their behavior, they have forfeited any right to compete for chess's highest honors. (They are still eligible to earn slots through other methods, if they can earn it without making any other salacious accusations.)
hpaul hpaul 6/2/2015 04:05
A sad ending. No doubt Zhukova played good chess, but she (and her friends) also tried to destroy a fellow player. Ms. Sandu has been successfully accused and lied about, and has been put in her place, back at the end of the table "where she belongs". Can this possibly go by without official notice and condemnation? The answer is probably "yes".

FIDE and the European Federation clearly don't want to besmirch their championship, so they're keeping quiet. Typical political brushing-it-under-the-rug. Maybe no-one will notice. But thousands have noticed.

We've also noticed the corruption in FIFA, and have wondered about the similarity with FIDE: An almighty President who picks his own "presidential board", small or unimpressive countries that have the same vote as the great chess nations, presidential gift-giving to these countries, and presidential untouchability in elections... Those of us who remember earlier times wonder, what has become of FIDE? Who will be standing up and telling the truth about today's FIDE? Does investigave journalism exist in chess??
The D M G The D M G 6/2/2015 03:15
Zhukova should be de-titled for her inappropriate conduct against fellow player Sandu!
ArqueiroNegro ArqueiroNegro 6/2/2015 02:22
A fine report, and I was glad to see the first direct word of support for Mihaela in a CB article. A sad injustice indeed, but let us hope it will lead to a better revision of the issue.
Igor Freiberger Igor Freiberger 6/2/2015 01:53
Excellent report, Albert. It covers the tournament and also shows how inconsistent was the accusation against Mihaela.
malfa malfa 6/2/2015 01:02
Why nobody made a cause of Zhukova scoring 5 points in the last 5 rounds? :-P
Truffaut Truffaut 6/2/2015 12:28
Boo, hiss!