Tehran WGP Final: Ju Wenjun is gold, Sara is silver

by Alina l'Ami
2/28/2016 – The final rounds of the tournament were no less thrilling than the rest, with a new leader taking over: Ju Wenjun, and taking gold. It was a fitting result as she was also the only undefeated player. In second was the Cinderalla story wth Iranian IM Sarasadat "Sara" Khademalsharieh, the lowest rated by far, who took a fantastic silver. A large illustrated report.

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Photos by Alina L'Ami for the official site

Round ten

IM Batsiashvili Nino 2485 ½ - ½ GM Koneru Humpy 2583
GM Stefanova Antoaneta 2509 ½ - ½ GM Gunina Valentina 2496
GM Zhao Xue 2506 0 - 1 IM Khademalsharieh Sarasadat 2403
GM Zhukova Natalia 2484 1 - 0 WGM Pogonina Natalija 2454
GM Dzagnidze Nana 2529 0 - 1 GM Ju Wenjun 2558
GM Harika Dronavalli 2511 ½ - ½ GM Cramling Pia 2521

Nana Dzagnidze - Ju Wenjun 0-1

Playing with Black in a typical Bogo-Indian acquiring some Dutch Defence silhouette, Ju Wenjun seemed to be more familiar with the position as she played quicker than her opponent, who spent a lot of time in the early middlegame. And yet, Black's kingside attack was more of a Fata Morgana, as Nana could have played:

27.e4! where White's bishop pair would have had the telling and Black's structure would have started to desintegrate as well. Nana couldn't explain why she played instead 27.fxe5? handing Black the initiative on a silver plate.

After round ten, Ju Wenjun stood in first with 7.0/10, given the superior tie-break and had White
in the final round against Harika Dronavalli

Ju Wenjun used the favourable moment, carried out a well-timed break with ...b6-b5 spreading chaos over White's position. Deeply affected by her unsound 27th move, in severe time trouble and with a pawn less, Nana didn't make use of all the saving resources offered by the presence of the opposite-coloured bishops.

By losing two games in a row, Nana drops from the first place on a shared 3rd-4th with Zhao Xue

Zhao Xue - Sarasadat Khademalsharieh 0-1

First move on Sara's game by the first Iranian Women National Champion: Ms. Shokouh Soroushazar

Xue vs Sara was one of the most dramatic games of the tournament, with the advantage bouncing from one player to the other much to their trainers' despair. The Chinese player chose an inspired opening, the Reti, thus taking her opponent out of her usual excellent preparation. Sara played relatively slowly, but quite well the early phase. She soon obtained an advantage and even a won position had she played:

22...Qxe3+ (23. Rf2 is met by 23... Bg3), followed by 23...Qg3 trapping the h4-knight or with a mate in sight on h2. After 22... Qxg4?, the queen exchange suddenly yielded White an advantage, especially during the "lottery", aka the rather unpleasant time trouble... One of the favourable moments missed by Xue was when she played the natural:

30.Ba3. Instead, the pin created with 30.Bc4 could have decided the game in White's favour as the Chinese pointed out: 30... Kh7 31. Ba3 Ree8 32. Rd7 and the bishops are not bishops anymore but lethal rifles.

The chess tombola continued, White had several ways of achieving a draw, but the winner's attitude betrayed the Chinese who pushed things too far and eventually lost. Zhao Xue shares the fate of her round nine co-leader Nana Dzagnidze, dropping on a shared third-fourth, while Sara advances to a shared first with Ju Wenjun.

Sara cannot withhold her happiness and she shouldn't! Shared first and a last round White
against Natalia Zhukova
. Would she be the Cinderalla of the event?

Natalia Zhukova - Natalija Pogonina 1-0

In the game between the two Natalias, Zhukova-Pogonina, the latter deviated from the main course of theory, probably in an attempt to change the unfavourable trend created by her two consecutive losses the days before.

Favourite pieces for Natalia? Perhaps the knights...

The Ukrainian didn't expect 6...Nb6 as 6...Bd6 is the main variation at top level, but in principle the position with two white knights vs two bishops remained interesting. Natalia Zhukova mentioned:

16...c5 as the best way to reach counterplay with Black, but Natalija Pogonina played slowly and somewhat passive with 16... Bd7, eventually overlooking White's winning combination:

21. Nxg6! fxg6 (obviously 21... hxg6 runs into 22. Qe5!22. Qxe6+ Bf7 23. Qxe7 and there was nothing more for Black to do but clutching at straws.

Antoaneta Stefanova - Valentina Gunina 1/2-1/2

We are used already with Antoaneta's habit to pull out a new rabbit from her magician hat, but this time the 37 minutes spent on 5.0-0 in a Reti Opening was quite confusing. On move 9 she had only 14 minutes left on the clock! Antoaneta confessed that she was so tired that she simply didn't feel how and when the time was flying away. True, the line she played, implying an early pawn sacrifice, requires high accuracy, which she proved with the strong:

14.Qc4, which threatens (as played further on in the game), Nxb7, getting the pawn back and weakening Black's structure further.

Valentina is not the type of player to sit and wait

After the energetic 14...e5 the position became messy for the time trouble, as it started to demand clear answers from White... with the seconds ticking away, choosing between various promising lines is not so easy, therefore Antoaneta went for the most rational and straightforward solution: simplifying until an obvious draw.

Nino Batsiashvili - Humpy Koneru 1/2-1/2

For the fourth time in this tournament, Humpy played the Tartakower Queen's Gambit in her today's game against Nino Batsiashvili. The Georgian didn't create the hanging pawns with dxc5, but this allowed Humpy to obtain a mobile queenside majority with ...c5-c4. She confidently stabilized the kingside position, repelling White's attacking attempts and both players agreed that Black should have won, given the very far advanced black c-pawn. Just one more square and the little pawn would have metamorphosed into a gorgeous lady, hadn't been Humpy's severe time trouble which made her hesitate.

The best defense is a good offense

Nino's stubborness in defence was noteworthy as well and the game eventually ended in a draw... not without what could have been a hair raising moment for Black:

Nino played 60. Rc3 allowing Humpy the forcing 60... Rxc1 61. Qxc1 Qxe4+ 62. Rf3 (if 62. Kg3 Ne7) 62... Ne5 63. Qc8+ and a draw was agreed by perpetual. But White had another square available for the rook 60. Rb3! and all of a sudden, 60... Rxc1 is no longer dangerous, since 61. Qxc1 Qxe4+ 62. Kg3 Qe5+ 63. Qf4 is possible and the rook on c3 is no longer hanging, while 62... Ne7 resource is no longer there either, as the b3-rook is pointing at b8...

Harika Dronavalli - Pia Cramling 1/2-1/2

Always focused and determined

The Queen's Gambit Accepted in Harika-Pia soon transposed to a reversed French Isolani structure. In a more or less stable position, Harika managed to squeeze water out of dry stone reaching an ending with space advantage, but according to her own confession, she found it harder to hit on the right plan than in positions with concrete play and attacking ideas.

Good save for Pia

Pia's equivocal knight retreats ...Nf6-g8 and ...Ng6-h8 caught Harika off guard. However, even in the final position, she could have tried playing on for a while but Harika didn't notice that she allowed a three-fold repetition and a draw had to be agreed.

Round eleven - Final round

GM Cramling Pia 2521 0 - 1 IM Batsiashvili Nino 2485
GM Ju Wenjun 2558 ½ - ½ GM Harika Dronavalli 2511
WGM Pogonina Natalija 2454 1 - 0 GM Dzagnidze Nana 2529
IM Khademalsharieh Sarasadat 2403 0 - 1 GM Zhukova Natalia 2484
GM Gunina Valentina 2496 ½ - ½ GM Zhao Xue 2506
GM Koneru Humpy 2583 1 - 0 GM Stefanova Antoaneta 2509

Sarasadat Khademalsharieh – Natalia Zhukova 0-1

When the stakes are high, the players still survive, strive and thrive!

I am sure it is not mistaken saying that Sara – Natalia became the epicenter of the whole tournament, as for the organizers and the local spectators nothing would have been more desirable than a tournament win for their player. And for the reporters covering the event, the triumph of the lowest rated player in the tournament would also have been something quite sensational to comment on.

Thwarting Sara's plans

In a Cambridge Springs Queen's Gambit, Natalia Zhukova slowly took over the initiative, reaching a superior endgame. Sara plentifully proved that her previous achievements were not casual by displaying great defensive skills and will power, but all her fantastic efforts came to nothing when she resigned in a drawn position according to the tablebases...

This type of endgame is known from an old game Rubinstein-Tartakower Vienna 1922 (with reversed colours) with the difference that Sara's bishop was not on the optimal b1-h7 diagonal. But even so, Black could have made no progress(!) against the most accurate defense:

75. Kf2! Should have been played (since the key square is e3 and the white king has to keep his enemy at a respectful distance...you know what they say: keep your friends close and your enemies closer). Of course Black can still try with 75... Rh2+ where the reply has to be prompt: 76. Bg2!

76. Kf3 loses in view of 76... Rb2 and at some point check on the third rank, followed by the king's march into White's territories via e3, all caused by the poor placement of White's bishop – I kindly advise playing through this endgame with tablebases! 

In case the black rook would choose a different plan, in an attempt to confuse matters with, for instance 75... Rb3, the square to which White should retreat the bishop becomes of vital importance: g2 and h1 have written on them "bingo" while all the others would 'secure' White a zero on the scoreboard. The point is the same e3 square, which can be guarded from either f2 or f3, therefore the white king must be able to juggle between those two. If White's bishop would be on b7 or c6 instead, with some clever rook and king moves, Black will eventually succeed to first chase away the minor piece and then pave the way via e3 towards the f4 pawn.

This somewhat tragic end can be explained by the fact that, tired after six hours of play, both players thought the endgame was won for Black.

Encouraged and supported throughout the entire event, it was a happy end for Sara, in spite
of the last round loss...

...at least until the moment she realised her resignation was premature.

I remember Gelfand once told me that he doesn't understand people when they speak about the additional pressure when one is in the lead of the tournament. He never feels 'any' stress, on the contrary, it is great having more points than the others. But for Sara things must have been different, the perspective of winning the tournament probably was much higher than her wildest expectations before the first round...

Ju Wenjun – Harika Dronavalli 1/2-1/2

This final draw ensured the Chinese player the win in the tournamentand also the title of being
the only one undefeated!

Harika deviated from her beloved King's Indian, preferring a provocative version of the Queen's Gambit declined. Wenjun chose the practical approach for the last round: to play in the slow mode, keeping a pleasant position all over the game with no risk at all. Both players agreed that Black's position had been difficult all the way, but eventually the drawish tendency yielded by the opposite-coloured bishops prevailed.

Ju Wenjun's solid last round strategy paid off after Sara stumbled against Natalia Zhukova

Natalija Pogonina – Nana Dzagnidze 1-0

Pogonina-Dzagnidze was a game between players who shared a similar tournament fate, as both were in the lead for a determined period and had a less fortunate final part of the event.

Moreover, Natalija's win against Nana leveled their score regarding the three consecutive losses

Just as yesterday, Nana couldn't explain how she could ruin the game in just one move:

17...Bxc6, concealing the d5-square. 17...bxc6 would have led to a normal Bogo-Indian structure, but this opening brought her bad luck as she lost in it with both colours.

When the tournament gave Nana a hundred reasons to cry, she showed a thousand reasons to smile!

Valentina Gunina – Zhao Xue 1/2-1/2

The bronze medal goes to Zhao Xue

Zhao Xue must have been content with her position in the 5...b5 fianchetto Queen's Indian line from the earlier game against Nana Dzagnidze, as she repeated the system against Valentina again. But this time her opponent reacted better, obtaining an advantage and there was even a moment when White could have started throwing projectiles in Black's camp:

16.exd5 cxd5 17.Nxd5 exd5 18.Bxd5 with the double threat Bxa8 and e5-e6.

Less aggressive, for a change

Valentina saw this surprising resource and thought tactics should work out well for her, but contrary to her approach from the previous games, decided that the last round requested a more calm treatment. After her solid 16.Qd4 the game entered a better ending for White, eventually petering out into a draw. None of the players was happy with her own play, but they agreed that the draw was a fair enough result. 

Humpy Koneru – Antoaneta Stefanova 1-0

Sixth place and a 4500 Euro prize but some rating loss too

Ending a tournament with a win always brings a bit of blessing, irrespective of how bad things went all the way.  Humpy stepped on +1 after breaking Antoaneta's 4...a6 Slav, a game which was crowned tactically with:

24. Bxf6 Bxf6 25.Bxf7+! Kxf7 26.Rxd7 Kf8 27.Qc4. Despite being known as always inventive and resourceful, the Bulgarian couldn't avoid the defeat. 

Pia Cramling – Nino Batsiashvili 0-1

In Pia – Nino, White obtained an advantage in a Catalan/Chigorin hybrid, punishing Black's ambitious and creative plan of castling long. But somewhere in the middle of the game and then towards the ending, Pia lost the thread allowing Black to improve her position bit by bit.

Nino scored in the final round

At some point the Georgian seemed to be close to winning but the final part of the endgame must be drawn, even though highly interesting and instructive. At least this was the conclusion of both players but if you wish analyzing a bit deeper... be my guest!

Move 64! (chosen on purpose) - White to play: fortress or not?

After several missed chances for half a point, even in the very end, White achieved quite a curious fortress... not sure about the outcome in the over the board play but I get the feeling you will have some fun figuring that out!

That was it from Tehran. We close one chapter just to open another one in the never ending chess book...

The podium ruled by China (click image for high-res version)

The environmental symbol of Iranian Chess Federation - the pelican

More awards and presents - a great place to be as the Iranians are friendly and generous!

The finish line of the Tehran FIDE Women Grand Prix is in fact a new start as most of the players are flying directly to China for the next tournament, IMSA Elite Mind Games. The happiest of them must be Ju Wenjun, as she returns to her homeland with the gold medal, while other players may look into the near future with the desire to take their sportive revenge.

In fact, the winner doesn't take it all - that's the spirit!

I cannot end without thanking you all for following us, expressing my gratitude to the organizers, sponsors and the wonderful team who all made this event possible. And of course: good luck, my dearest friends and players for the next quest in China & Bundesliga!

The End (click on image for high-res version)

Final standings


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.

Alina is an International Master and a very enthusiastic person in everything she does. She loves travelling to the world's most remote places in order to play chess tournaments and report about them here on ChessBase! As chance would have it Alina is also an excellent photographer.


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