Tehran WWC: Bittersweet beginnings

by Elshan Moradiabadi
2/12/2017 – The first round of the Women's World Championship 2017 was off to a controversial start in Iran. For a handful of higher rated players, it was a frustrating opening round as they were held to draws. Some even lost. Check out GM Elshan Moradiabadi's illustrated report with analysis and more.

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Tehran WWC: Bittersweet beginnings

by Elshan Moradiabadi

As is usual in tournaments of such a format, we saw a lot of nerve-wracking moments, upsets, and surprises. However, the remarkable fact is the almost equal percentage of draws’ compared to decisive games. Given the bimodal distribution of players ratings in this event, one might expect a high number of decisive results in the first round. However, it is quite interesting to see that apart from a few top board players who outclassed their much lower rated opponents we saw tense battles on every other board.

Round one of the first stage of the nerve-wrecking FIDE Knockout Women’s World Championship ended around midday in Texas (February 11) where I am based. Here is my recap of the games with a number of observations, pictures, and commentaries.

From today onward, we will be able to bring you more visual content because two of the chess world’s greatest chess photographers — David Llada and Anastasia Karlovich — have joined the Iranian press to provide us with better insight of the tournament hall and actions.

Speaking of the tournament hall…

The President of the Association of Chess Professionals (ACP) lashed out online against the poor state of affairs in the playing hall! Read more.

Everything seems to be ready for round 1.

The games began with a minute’s silence to respect the memory of IM Cristina Foisor. [Photo: Reza Mahdipour]

Women are always fashionable whether in hijab or without it! Here we see IM Elisabeth Paehtz who is dressed like a typical Amish girl, maybe inadvertently, meanwhile…

…one of the veterans and ex-finalist of world championships, Ekaterina Kovalevskaya from Russia decided, again, probably inadvertently, to dress like Katherine Hepburn in The Lion in Winter.

While most competitors, like Bela Khotenashvili, who has visited Iran in a number of times before, chose the typical modern Tehrani outfit.

The CEO of MCI, a company also known under its brand name Hamrahe Aval, the first and largest mobile operator in Iran, made the opening move. [Photo: Reza Mahdipour]

But it was not official until the chief arbiter Anastasia Sorokina started the clock running on board one. [Photo: Reza Mahdipour]

Today was not a bad day for the host but the bad news for Iranian fans was the surprising loss of Sara Khademalsharieh. The local superstar, probably due to the pressure of playing at home and having the eyes of fans and press on her, did not manage to handle the stress and lost her game without much of a fight. Luckily for her, she has white pieces tomorrow which gives her the good chances to fight back and equalizes the match. [Photo: David Llada]

For instance, in an interview after the opening, Minister of Sport and Youth Affairs, Masoud Soltanifar, said to the press that he thinks Sara can become a world champion. Such words and attention, although not intentional, might have put a lot of pressure on the Iranian superstar. She received a bitter lesson at the hands of…

IM Sopiko Guramishvili from Georgia who demonstrated an excellent positional understanding. [Photo: Reza Mahdipour]

[Event "World women chess championship (1.1)"] [Site "?"] [Date "2017.02.11"] [Round "1.1"] [White "Guramishvili, Sopiko"] [Black "Khademalsharieh, Sara"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "E20"] [Annotator "Elshan Moradiabadi"] [PlyCount "75"] [EventDate "2017.??.??"] [SourceDate "2003.06.08"] 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. f3 $5 {Sopiko, unlike Anish's style, plays very uncompromising chess. It'd be a mistake to think of her recent result in Tata Steel as an indicator of her strength. This move, suggests that she is up to her task to make the most out of her white pieces.} c5 $5 {Interestingly, Sara is up for the challenge and chooses the most committal and complicated continuation. When I was her coach long ago we were conceding to much safer, yet a bit passive, d5.} 5. d5 O-O 6. e4 d6 {we soon will get a form of what is known as snake-Benoni. I have to confess that I personally am not a fan of this set up.} 7. Nge2 Ba5 {This move has only been player once before, however it was played between two corresponding chess GMs. It means that the two parties must have thoroughly analyzed it. However, from human standpoint, I really cannot understand where black is heading to with this move. This is a very difficult position to play as black. It is not something I'd pick for an event with such brutal format. But it seems that Sara is up for the task.} ( 7... a6 {Here is a beautiful victory from Aronian in this line against current world no.2 Wesley So.} 8. a4 Ba5 9. Bd2 exd5 10. cxd5 Nh5 11. g3 Nd7 12. Bg2 b5 13. g4 b4 14. Nb1 Qh4+ 15. Kf1 Ne5 16. Be1 Qf6 17. gxh5 Nxf3 18. Bf2 Bg4 19. Qc1 Nd4 20. Nxd4 cxd4 21. e5 dxe5 22. Nd2 Rac8 23. Qb1 b3 24. Nxb3 Bb6 25. a5 Ba7 26. Kg1 Bf5 27. Be4 Qg5+ 28. Kf1 Qf4 {0-1 (28) So,W (2779)-Aronian,L (2765) Saint Louis 2015}) 8. Ng3 a6 {Change in plans?} (8... b5 $5 9. cxb5 exd5 10. exd5 Bb7 11. Bd2 Nxd5 12. Nxd5 Bxd5 13. Bxa5 Qxa5+ 14. Qd2 Qxd2+ 15. Kxd2 Rd8 16. a4 Nd7 17. h4 Rab8 $132 {1/2-1/2 (60) Papenin,N (2687)-Clever,H (2520) ICCF email 2013}) 9. Bf4 $146 exd5 10. cxd5 b5 $6 (10... Nbd7 {is possible.} 11. Bxd6 $4 Qb6 {and loss of b2 and winning the knight on c3 leads to disaster for white.}) 11. Be2 Ne8 12. O-O Nd7 (12... f5 {is a move hard to play but the position calls for it. Although, white is still mich better after it.}) 13. Kh1 (13. a4 b4 14. Nb1 {[#]}) 13... Rb8 14. Qc1 Ne5 15. Nd1 (15. a4 b4 16. Nd1 { might have been better.}) 15... Ng6 16. Be3 Qc7 17. f4 f5 18. Nxf5 Bxf5 19. exf5 Ne7 20. g4 Nxd5 (20... h5 21. h3 Nf6 {is preferred by engines. However, it is hard for human to voluntarily enter this position.}) 21. Bf3 $1 {white has an eye on d5 square.} Qf7 $2 {The queen does not belong to this square. Black had to remove his knight.} 22. Nf2 {This knight will land on g5 one way or another.} Nef6 23. Nh3 Nc7 24. Bg1 Qe8 25. Qc2 {white is strategically winning.} Kh8 26. Rad1 Rd8 27. b3 {From here till the end of the game, Sopiko Guramishvili, slowly but surely, converts her advantage into a full point. Her technique is rather impressive.} Qf7 28. a3 Bb6 29. Ng5 Qg8 30. Rfe1 Rfe8 31. b4 Rxe1 32. Rxe1 Qf8 33. Qa2 Rd7 34. Bc6 Re7 35. Rxe7 Qxe7 36. Nf7+ Kg8 37. Nxd6+ Kf8 38. Nc8 {Have an eye on their return match tomorrow!} 1-0

However, it seems that Sara is not disheartened and ready for a good fight. Here is what she communicated with her fans through Instagram.

Nevertheless, Iranians didn’t end the day empty-handed — WGM Mitra Hejazipour, who qualified by winning the 2015 Asian Championship, pulled out a miraculous victory in a ‘soon-to-be-worse’  endgame against IM Bodnaruk from Russia

Mitra was Caissa’s choice for round one. Let us see if she can make the best out of it! [Photo: David Llada]

[Event "World women chess championship (1.1)"] [Site "?"] [Date "2017.02.11"] [Round "1.1"] [White "Hejazipour, M."] [Black "Bodnaruk, A."] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B80"] [Annotator "Elshan Moradiabadi"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "2r2b1R/R7/3ppk2/1N3p2/5P2/3B1b2/KPP5/6r1 b - - 0 37"] [PlyCount "2"] [EventDate "2017.??.??"] [SourceDate "2003.06.08"] {[#]} {[#] After a tupsy-turvy game, through which, Bodnaruk had the upper hand the players are reaching 40th move in a somewhat balanced position but it is white who has to be cautious. In time pressure, Bodnaruk had a number of safe choices to enter a slightly better ending, however, time pressure took its toll and she blundered right away} 37... Kg6 $4 {a painful loss for Bodnaruk} (37... Rh1 38. Rg8 Rb8 39. Nd4 Bd5+ 40. b3 Rh4 {Mitra needed to find} 41. c4 {in order to keep the balance.}) ({Or} 37... Rb8 38. Rhh7 Ra8 39. Rhf7+ Kg6 40. Nd4 Rxa7+ 41. Rxa7 Be4 42. Bxe4 fxe4 43. Nxe6 Bh6 {when black's passed pawns are more dangerous.}) 38. Rg8+ 1-0

If these two games were a bit of a surprise, GM Nana Dzagnidze’s loss with the white pieces to WGM Mona Khaled from Egypt was the biggest upset of the day! My research may be inept but it seems that Mona Khaled's victory in this game is the first victory by any African player in the modern form of Women’s World Championships! Go Figure. [Photo: Reza Mahdipour]

[Event "World women chess championship (1.1)"] [Site "?"] [Date "2017.02.11"] [Round "1.1"] [White "Dazgnidze, N."] [Black "Khaled, M."] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A09"] [Annotator "Elshan Moradiabadi"] [PlyCount "128"] [EventDate "2017.??.??"] [SourceDate "2003.06.08"] 1. Nf3 d5 2. c4 d4 3. g3 Nc6 4. Bg2 e5 5. d3 Bb4+ 6. Bd2 a5 7. O-O Nf6 8. Na3 O-O 9. Nb5 Re8 10. Bg5 Be7 11. e3 h6 12. Bxf6 Bxf6 13. exd4 exd4 14. Nd2 Ne5 15. Qc2 c6 16. Na3 Bg4 17. Rae1 Qd7 18. f4 Ng6 19. c5 Bh3 20. Nac4 Bxg2 21. Kxg2 Rxe1 22. Rxe1 Qd5+ 23. Ne4 Bd8 24. Qb3 b5 25. Ncd2 Qd7 26. a4 Bc7 27. axb5 cxb5 28. Qd1 Re8 {[#] Mona Khaled outplayed Dzagnidze out of opening and as the game went through Dzagnidze bounced back and got a much better position, however, a couple of inaccuracies caused her advantage to fizzle out and Mona got the upper hand again. Here, black is slightly better but what happens next is Dzagnidze get herself into trouble in a couple of moves.} 29. Kf1 $2 { planning to play knight f2? probably} Ne7 $1 {Great piece play by Mona Khaled. This knight is heading to e3.} 30. Nf3 $2 {Dzanidze plans a piece sacrifice but her plan does not work at this instance.} Nf5 31. Kf2 Ne3 32. Qc1 Qh3 ( 32... f5 $19) 33. Rxe3 dxe3+ 34. Qxe3 Qd7 35. f5 $6 Rd8 $1 {wins a pawn.} 36. d4 Qxf5 {and Mona Khaled converted her advantage gradually.} 37. Ned2 Kf8 38. Qc3 Re8 39. Qb3 g5 40. Qxb5 g4 41. Qc6 Bb8 42. Qxh6+ Ke7 43. Qg5+ Qxg5 44. Nxg5 f5 45. Nc4 Kf6 46. h4 Rd8 47. Nxa5 Rxd4 48. Nc6 Rd2+ 49. Ke3 Rxb2 50. Nxb8 Rxb8 51. Kd4 Rd8+ 52. Kc4 Ke7 53. c6 Rd1 54. c7 Rc1+ 55. Kd5 Rxc7 56. Ke5 Rc5+ 57. Kf4 Kf6 58. Nh7+ Kg7 59. Ng5 Kg6 60. Ne6 Rc4+ 61. Ke5 Re4+ 62. Kd5 Kf6 63. Nf8 Re7 64. h5 f4 0-1

Other African players also proved prominent — Sabrina Latreche from Algeria... [Photo: Reza Mahdipour]

...had ex-world champion Aleksandra Kosteniuk on the ropes until when she failed to find a decisive tactic. [Photo: Reza Mahdipour]

[Event "World women chess championship (1.1)"] [Site "?"] [Date "2017.02.11"] [Round "1.1"] [White "Kosteniuk, A."] [Black "Latereche, S."] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "C78"] [Annotator "Elshan Moradiabadi"] [PlyCount "57"] [EventDate "2017.??.??"] [SourceDate "2003.06.08"] 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. d3 Bc5 6. O-O b5 7. Bb3 d6 8. a4 Bg4 9. c3 O-O 10. Qe2 b4 11. a5 bxc3 12. bxc3 Rb8 13. Nbd2 Nh5 14. g3 Qf6 15. Kg2 {[#] The Alegerian player had pressed with black pieces so far against one of the strongest female player in the world, however in the next two moves, she goes astray.} Bxf3+ $4 {Not only losing her chances to get a huge advantage. This move also gives white a huge positional advantage.} (15... Qh6 $1 16. Bd1 Nf6 (16... Bh3+ 17. Kh1 Bxf1 18. Nxf1 Qg6 {winning an exchange is also a choice.}) 17. h4 Qg6 {and black's pin looks very deadly. Specially when Nh5 and f5 are coming next!}) 16. Qxf3 Qxf3+ 17. Kxf3 Rb5 $4 {final blunder.} 18. Ba4 Na7 (18... Rxa5 19. Nb3 $18) 19. Bxb5 Nxb5 20. Bb2 f5 21. exf5 Rxf5+ 22. Kg2 Nf6 23. Rab1 d5 24. c4 dxc4 25. Nxc4 Ng4 26. h3 Nh6 27. Nxe5 Nf7 28. f4 Nfd6 29. g4 1-0

Finally, I think the best game of the day is the following king hunt by Melia Salome against Ekaterina Atalik from Turkey.

[Event "World women chess championship (1.1)"] [Site "?"] [Date "2017.02.11"] [Round "1.1"] [White "Salome, M."] [Black "Atalik, E."] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "C54"] [Annotator "Elshan Moradiabadi"] [PlyCount "69"] [EventDate "2017.??.??"] [SourceDate "2003.06.08"] 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Bc5 4. c3 Nf6 5. d3 O-O 6. O-O d5 7. exd5 Nxd5 8. Nbd2 Nb6 9. b4 Be7 10. b5 Na5 11. Nxe5 Naxc4 12. Ndxc4 Nxc4 13. Nxc4 a6 14. bxa6 Rxa6 15. Re1 Be6 16. Bf4 Bf6 17. Ne5 Ra3 18. Qc2 Qa8 19. d4 Rd8 20. Qb2 c6 21. h3 h6 22. Re3 c5 23. dxc5 Qa4 24. Bg3 h5 25. Nf3 Rxa2 26. Rxa2 Rd1+ 27. Kh2 Bxa2 {[#]} 28. c6 $1 {Black queen is overloaded and white cuts its way to e8 while opening up b-file for a final brekthbreakthroughher rook and queen.} bxc6 29. Re8+ Kh7 30. Qb8 Bd5 31. Rh8+ Kg6 32. Qg8 {simple and effective. The check on h7 is decisive.} Kf5 (32... Bxf3 33. Qh7+ Kg5 34. h4+ Kg4 35. Qxh5#) 33. Rxh5+ Ke4 {The king is rushing to join other black's pieces but Melia Salome seals the deal with this cute tactic.} 34. Qh7+ g6 35. Rh4+ {A queen up is enough! you can checkmate the king later!} 1-0

Results from Round 01:


Elshan Moradiabadi is a GM born and raised in Tehran, Iran. He moved to the US in 2012. Ever since, he has been active in US college chess scenes and in US chess. is a veteran instructor and teaches chess to every level, with students ranging from beginners to IM. He can be contacted for projects or teaching.


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