Tehran WGP Rd1: What a setting

by Alina l'Ami
2/12/2016 – In the strongest tournament organized in Iran, the FIDE Women's Grand Prix has just started in Tehran with the best female players in the world. The exceptions being Hou Yifan and Mariya Muzychuk who are preparing for their epic showdown in March. As can be seen in the photos, the location was a beautiful venue that just begs to be photographed.

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The combat zone

Photos by Alina L'Ami for the official site

Sometimes coincidence is a plan in desguise. Programmed or not, the first round of Tehran FIDE Women Grand Prix could have hardly found a better day to start its battless: perfect synchronization with the Revolution Day celebrated all over Iran on 11th February! And, as expected, the 'unexpected' happened. No, chess is not and will never (hopefully) be a drawish game, as the percentage of today's round speaks for itself - four decisive results and two hard fought draws is a great start for the chess lovers and for some of the players too...

Stefanova Antoaneta
½ - ½
Batsiashvili Nino
Zhao Xue
0 - 1
Koneru Humpy
Zhukova Natalia
1 - 0
Gunina Valentina
Dzagnidze Nana
½ - ½
Khademalsharieh Sarasadat
Harika Dronavalli
0 - 1
Pogonina Natalija
Cramling Pia
0 - 1
Ju Wenjun

This is how the chess life wheel spins around, with the inherent pressure accumulating before the game to then be released move by move, requiring enormous nervous strength to emerge as a winner. The chess world is all gates, all opportunities, strings of tension waiting to be struck. And yet, the participants of the Tehran FIDE Women GP prove the image of a chess player as a ruthless warrior wrong. They are all beautiful, have family lives, university studies… plus, the "genius" label completes the profile too.

Harika Dronavalli - Natalija Pogonina 0-1

Hard fought game but time trouble ruined everything for Harika...

After a very interesting strategic fight, implying a pawn sacrifice for initiative by her opponent, Natalija Pogonina, Harika's clock started to run too fast. With the seconds ticking away, she went for the concrete:

32. Rd1 which failed in view of 32...Rxe2 33.Rxd4 Qxd4! (this is what Harika missed) 34.Qxd4 Rxc2 and a long term advantage for Black, which was eventually converted into a point. 

Had the Indian GM had just a bit more time, she would have gone for the more solid 32.Qa5 or 32.a4 but today it was not to be.

Good game played by Natalija Pogonina, even though she couldn't remember precisely her opening theory

Pia Cramling - Ju Wenjun 0-1

A good day in the office for Ju Wenjun

During the game I thought 12. Bf4, which was played in the game, to be an interesting decision, but Pia was not too happy about it afterwards, as she said during the press conference. 12... Bxf4 13. gxf4 Rb8 14. Rb1 Ba6 15. Bf3 Qc8 16. Re1 Ne7 17. cxb6 axb6 18. Rc1 Qd8 White's initiative has vanished and Black retained the better structure. Pia confessed she did not manage to find the right places for her pieces, slowly but surely her position deteriorated and in the end Black won the game.

Long game and long analysis - this is how Pia keeps on playing high level
chess, in spite of today's hiccup

Natalia Zhukova - Valentina Gunina 1-0

Congrats Natalia for a good game and many thanks for removing the water bottle on the
other side of the board!

The Catalan tabyia of this game bears structural similarity with the advance French but it is not easy at all to find the right way, given the rather difficult knight placed on e8... Both players agreed that the following bishop manoeuvre was inaccurate, by losing too much time without getting anything in exchange:

13... Ba6 14. Nf1 Nb8 15. Bd2 Nc6 16. Rac1 Bc4 17. Qd1 Bd3 18. Re3 Bc4 19. a3 Kh8 20. Rec3The real mistake though was only the next move: 20... f6 (another typical French break), but Black didn't notice her pieces were hanging. 21. b3 Bxa3 22. bxc4 Bxc1 23. Qxc1 and there is nothing to be done to save the house from burning down.

Zhao Xue - Humpy Koneru 0-1

Always good to start with a point

In this more or less typical Tartakover QG structure, White's next move prematurely displayed aggressivity, weakening the c4-square chronically:

17. b4 was not the most fortunate plan as 17... b5 is a very strong counter-move, stopping White's ideas on the wing and preparing to jump with the knight to c4 via b6.

18. Qb3 a5 19. a3 Nb6 20. Ne1 Nc4 21. Ra2 After the first success on the queenside, Black will soon establish a domination on both wings, which was rewarded in the end with the coveted point.

Antoaneta Stefanova - Nino Batsiashvili 1/2-1/2

A tough position with tough defence by the former Women World Champion, Antoaneta Stefanova

Antoaneta was not happy with her early middlegame play and soon landed in a joyless ending with a pawn down and a passive position. During the press conference none of the players could formulate a clear winning plan but probably a good moment could have been:

31... Bc5 was played in the game, missing the right time to strike with the idea mentioned by the players during analysis: 31... Bg1! (obviously taking is out of the question, since the White king will be invited for a walk, with the final destination - mate in four!) 32. g4 (what else?) 32...Bh2! which is by the way, a difficult move to make I believe... and if 33. Rd4 then 33... Ra3 with a beautiful, if not winning position for Black.

Nana Dzagnidze - Sarasadat Khademalsharieh 1/2-1/2

Playing in your native country: pressure or additional energy? Today's answer for Sara was:
the more support, the better!

The local player had a very good game, celebrating the Revolution Day with very nice play. As she confessed later, she did not feel the pressure of her family, fans and the whole country following her, but more of a support and encouragement.

23... d4 was played which keeps White under serious pressure but, as suggested by her very good friend later on, Sara had an even stronger reply: 23... Bh6! increasing the force of ...d5-d4. 24. Bxc6 Rxc6 25. exd4 Bh6 26. d5 Rd6 27. f4 Nxd5 28. Nxd5 Rxd5 and White somehow managed to save this position.

Sometimes things go differently than planned; good save by Nana

A wonderful sight for any chess photographer: the extra bits of energy are resting outside
of the cameras' frames...

The strongest chess tournament ever organized in Iran has just started. On the way to finding out who will have the strongest nerves to stand the pressure all the way, do stay tuned for the second round tomorrow at the same hour, 15 o'clock!

Replay all games from round one

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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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fons fons 2/21/2016 04:19
Subjugating women in the name of religion. Promoting dictators and undemocratic regimes. Welcome to FIDE.
BelowZero BelowZero 2/18/2016 12:31
Disgusted to see these photos. Where is the backbone of these women players? Was not one of them courageous enough to defy the hijab mandated by Iran's mad mullahs? Doesn't anyone remember Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci, who tore off the "stupid medieval rag" (her words) in the midst of an interview with the evil Ayatollah Khomeini?
global_homicide global_homicide 2/15/2016 05:44
for those who bash the head scarf, first of all it is not a head scarf or the hijab as you think.

secondly, the players didnt seem to be bothers at all.

thirdly, your anger is totally unjustified. if the player were realy forced, they would have protested and didnt play... but then again, eye candies are hidden so scream on internet. right?
frist_ frist_ 2/14/2016 09:58
Congrats to fide for allow non arabic women be subjudged by islamic culture. Hope you have tons of money now
BillyG BillyG 2/14/2016 05:15
I simply would not play there, forced to wear a head scarf
Justjeff Justjeff 2/14/2016 03:47
It's all about keeping the sponsors happy. Players in top-level tournaments in the West show up in a suit and tie. So long as the sponsors are willing to splash the cash players will go along with it.

It's worth noting that the sponsors themselves may just be adhering to local custom too. After all, why spend the money on a tournament if it gets you attention for allowing those "devil foreigners" to disrespect local customs?

In reality, wearing a hijab or a suit doesn't signify endorsement of anything other than the willingness of the sponsor to pay money to have the players show up and at least on the surface respect local customs. If someone were to pay me enough I'd play naked, although it is more likely people would pay me not to.
shutrunja shutrunja 2/14/2016 12:25
Great article Alina! Strong work and keep up the good work! As for the headscarf issue, it is in poor taste that (if) the Iran government mandated it. For those calling it 'ugly', your ignorance and prejudice speaks volumes! To disagree with a custom is one thing, to disrespect and vilify it another! Chess fans should focus on the wonderful thing that unites them - chess! Not on the divisiveness of religion, culture, race, governmental policies, human rights etc!
Please keep all of the above out of the realm of chess!
ubernomics ubernomics 2/13/2016 11:35
Down in the arabstanis, the headscarf is free sunblock, mustn't forget. To avoid summertime overheating, or how some girls walk around with umbrellas to avoid the dark, sun-burnt "field worker" look.

And it *can* make average girls look adorable. (abdekkar is wrong to say the headscarf is necessarily ugly.)

It's like how people often pose in a photograph to "show their good side", some flattering angle. What happens is, cuts away the bad angles. Wenjun Ju is the perfect case. She's not bad-looking to start with.

(Or in Humpy's case, bad hair. Humpy has rough-hewn, lackluster, uncontrolled hair going every-which-way. The headscarf hides her worst feature.)

Pogonina suddenly looks cutsy in headscarf. Guinea, also. For two, what it does is cover up slight deviation from imperfection. Reducing the absolute number of "flaws". Which messes with the evaluation function of the male.
Frits Fritschy Frits Fritschy 2/13/2016 10:24
If Iranian women were forbidden to wear a scarf in western tournaments, I would object too. If the rules in this tournament were non-muslim women don't have to wear a scarf, but then male visitors are not allowed in the tournament, okay, you could make compromises as you don't want Iranian women to be shut out from FIDE competitions because of something they cant't change.
But if non-muslim women would be shut out from competition in a FIDE tournament when they object to wearing a scarf, there is reason to object as strongly as possible.
What I don't understand from chessbase, is that they don't seem to see there is a subject here, that they don't give any information on how rules are exactly, that they don't ask any of the competitors what they feel about it. Even without wanting to give an opinion, it's a journalist's task to ask questions. If you don't do that, this is not a news site, but just a collection of advertorials.
abdekker abdekker 2/13/2016 09:44
Why should the players have to wear the ugly headscarves. Ok, maybe they were forced to by FIDE, but its a poor form for the writer not to even mention the issue as if its normal. Bad article Chessbase, and bad idea FIDE for running a tournament in Iran in the first place.
Gars Gars 2/13/2016 03:15
People sometimes conform without thinking about the actual meaning of what they conform to, agree with and the message it sends out. As a well educated woman and firmly grounded in my faith I would not have conformed in this situation. I would have chosen to either not participate or ask that my own religion be respected and participate without the scarf. If these participants do not have their own religions that they respect then they can happily choose to represent any religious position for whatever reason they choose to. To require your participants to wear physical attire of a religion other than their own is very insensitive. But to the participants: on a spiritual level, if you have arrived at the point of spiritual maturity and are comfortable with your religious beliefs, you will not even think twice before saying 'no' to wear any symbol of another religious faith. It saddens me to see these women not taking a stand, knowing full well that some of them have different religious beliefs other than Islam (which wearing the hijab represents).
PatrickP PatrickP 2/13/2016 12:50
A bit of a shame the scarfs is something Alina has no influence on. I think it is a nicely written article with great photos in it. Great work Alina!
digupagal digupagal 2/13/2016 10:13
In today's world only women are smart, they have all the rights and then can screw anyone.

Wearing a scarf is such a torture for them. In fact they should wear no clothes. That will make them look more attractive and we can also help ourselves in a better way with nothing left for imagination.

Why do we talk of freedom of speech and democracy so much, people in countries who are not democracies are so happy with what they are getting while people in countries with all facilities and benefits only want "more and more"

But i guess that is how Humans behave in a natural way
johan1234 johan1234 2/13/2016 04:54
Why would smart young modern women subject themselves to wearing that nonsense on their head? Why would modern Indian and Chinese and European women agree to play in a country that allows zero human rights and zero equality to it's female population.
Disgusting tournament. Disgusting barbaric country.
fightingchess fightingchess 2/13/2016 12:53

let's make it clear: i have no objections to discussing the hijab issue here as far as it is related to this chess tournament and yes i condemn the mandatory hijab. you say this is a political and religious thing but where should we draw the line in chessbase? now would you like to prove how stupid hijab is? or why did mullahs make it mandatory? how about a discussion on the human right reports on iran? it is fide to blame here. iran government can not change the rules for a wgp tournament. now should we not give countries like iran a chance to host chess events? what should be done?
fightingchess fightingchess 2/13/2016 12:49
@kevinC , your argument and the first line you wrote back prove you should be playing checkers. Think about it.

KevinC KevinC 2/12/2016 11:18
@fightingchess, your argument and the first line you wrote back prove you should be playing checkers. Think about it.
Frits Fritschy Frits Fritschy 2/12/2016 11:17
I could understand your point (without supporting it) when this was a private tournament. But it is a bit more than that: it is part of the women's world championship cycle.
I have no information about contenders being forced or just asked to wear a head scarf. If forced, you could argue (although I wouldn't sympathize) that in a private tournament women would be free to choose whether to compete or not. But women willing to participate in the world championship cycle don't have that freedom if they want to pursue a career.
It's not KevinC who's is mixing up sports and politics/religion here, it's the Iranian organization/government by demanding this, or FIDE for accepting this.
So if there are worthwile items to put forward on a chess site, this surely is one.
sxb103 sxb103 2/12/2016 10:45
@ fightingchess. Sorry but the discussion about the hijab is relevant to the thread. . It is the organizers who have brought religion and politics into this tournament by forcing the women players to conform to Islamic rules.
sxb103 sxb103 2/12/2016 10:38
These headscarves look ugly. They have only one purpose: force women conform to Islamic rules which say that women should look modest at all times. It does not look like it was optional to me but mandatory
Fortunately in the West we have separation of Church and state, which is not the case in Islamic countries
fightingchess fightingchess 2/12/2016 10:21
@kevinc the same person who made you defender of "free speech".
if this is about a chess tournament, how did it turn into a discussion about human right reports? with your reasoning, one can discuss anything here: let's now discuss the revolution in 1979 since it obviously affected the situation in this tournament. Alina simply meant this tournament synchronized with celebrations in iran and that is a great start to this tournament. that is an interesting fact. period. there is nothing political about it and there is no reason to criticize her for that. iran is a theocracy and fide can do nothing about it. on the other hand iran is a chess developing country and deserves a chance to host these events.
flachspieler flachspieler 2/12/2016 09:25
We should wait what the players say after the tournament, when they have left Iran.
KevinC KevinC 2/12/2016 09:22
@fightingchess, who made you the decider of free speech? This is about a chess tournament, clearly, forcing women to wear something they normally do not wear. That makes it relevant to this site.
fightingchess fightingchess 2/12/2016 08:39
this is not a place for human rights discussions. if you have a problem with any ideology, find a good place to discuss it. this is a chess forum. it is funny how people always find other things to comment on other than the main subject.
Stupido Stupido 2/12/2016 08:17
What a terrible paper...
The anniversary of the Iranian revolution? What a nice day indeed that the one who created a theocratic state. And what a better illustration than those women forced to wear that thing on their head even if they are not muslims. Oh no wait but they are "beautiful" says Ms L'Ami. I kindly suggest her to read reports on human rights in Iran for a change.

tigerprowl2 tigerprowl2 2/12/2016 08:11
I don't see Iran as an oppressive country any more or less than other countries. The headscarf issue should be optional during play. Either the player normally wears one, doesn't wear one but wants to try it, or doesn't wear one at all while playing. Before or after playing, there could be an event which is looked at similar to the handshake before a game. If you don't do what the organizer asks during the event, don't expect to be invited back.

If I want to eat with chopsticks or not, it should be my choice in China. If a Chinese employer or tour guide took me to a restaurant and handed out chopsticks I would have no problem joining in for immersion. However, while you are doing your chess, you should be allowed to perform in the way you feel comfortable.
fixpont fixpont 2/12/2016 08:02
if i were fide, i would not let any country to force any player to wear special clothes on a fide event
HubertKnott HubertKnott 2/12/2016 07:50
Gee, I was thinking about that issue too. As an unabashed defender of liberal western democracy, I find it incredibly unfortunate that any woman would have to wear something that smacks of oppression. But to be fair, polls have demonstrated that solid majorities of Saudi Arabian women like wearing protective scarves for the head. Iran serves as a poor analog for Saudi Arabia, but barring any polls on what women think about scarves from Iran, one cannot conclude much else. Iran certainly has the right to ask the players to do something like this. I mean, if we start griping about that, then where does one draw the line? Even players in the Nanjing tournaments have had to wear the qipao---
fightingchess fightingchess 2/12/2016 07:11
because iran islamic government has its own rules and make women to wear head scarf.
fixpont fixpont 2/12/2016 07:08
why do western world players (and chinese) have to wear hijab? (or whatever being the name of these head covers)