Women's World Ch: A warm welcome in freezing Khanty-Mansiysk

by Antonio Pereira
11/4/2018 – The 64-player knockout tournament that will result in a second 2018 Women's World Champion took off on Saturday. The Ugra Chess Academy received yet another strong event and showed the usual high-calibre organisation. The first games of round one left few clear upsets, but did include many results that will very likely produce interesting return matches — games where the clear favourite only got half a point, and close match-ups where one of the players is now in a must-win situation. | Photos: Official site

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A place for chess

Changes are starting to take place in elite chess, as Arkady Dvorkovich — the new FIDE President — announced that all four semi-finalists from this event will participate in the upcoming Candidates Tournament, a part of the new — and still not completely defined — Women's World Championship cycle.

What has not changed, however, is the choice of venue. Khanty-Mansiysk's Ugra Chess Academy already hosted the (open) Candidates Tournament and many Grand Prix events (both for men and women). It is hard to think of other venues that have been built mainly for chess tournaments, and it seems like the harsh Siberian weather is more than countered by the good conditions given to the players. As Kateryna Lagno declared:

The opening ceremony was nice – it was short and good. So nobody got tired. The rest is okay. We’re used to play here and used to have good conditions here, so everything is fine.

The newly-elected Arkady Dvorkovich during the opening ceremony | Photo: Official site 

A frequent supporter of the game, the Governor of Ugra Natalia Komarova both feels grateful and is looking forward to keep this "tradition":

I want to note that there is no such thing as too many chess tournaments for Ugra. I would like to thank FIDE for their trust in our region. With all the procedures required to get the right to hold an international competition, FIDE keeps choosing Ugra as a host of its events. Thank you for that.

Now to the games. 

Girya and Paehtz against the ropes

As usual in this type of events, the highlights of the opening round are the upsets suffered by the strongest participants. In this year's Women's World Championship, only two decidedly higher-rated players lost their first game. 

Olga Girya faced one of eight Chinese participants, 22-year-old Zhai Mo, and despite a rating difference of 129 points ended up losing their first encounter. Girya was Black and played a Caro-Kann that led to an opposite-side castling position. The Russian had the upper hand in the early middlegame, but lost control of the situation and allowed her opponent to dangerously move forward on the kingside. By move 30, White was a pawn up and had a markedly better position:

 

Girya assessed that it was time to take drastic measures and gave up an exchange with 31...Rxb5, looking for complications. However, Zhai Mo kept a cool head and tempered Black's threats:

 

Girya checked consecutively with 41...Ra1+ 42.Kc2 Qf5+, but the Chinese defended and went on to gain a knight after 43.Qd3 Qd7 44.c5 e4 45.Qd4 Bg7 46.cxd6. Girya resigned two moves later and will have to win on Sunday if she wants to stay in Khanty-Mansiysk.

Was the little girl Zhai Mo's lucky charm? | Photo: Official site

A bigger upset (rating-wise) was seen in the game between Iranian WIM Mobina Alinasab (2236) and German IM Elisabeth Paehtz (2495). The experienced German correctly decided to give up a pawn for a strong initiative: 

 

Paehtz could have followed with the natural 25.dxe6 fxe6, but found the also correct 25.Nd4 which hands over a pawn after 25...exd5 26.cxd5 Rxd5. In a post-game interview, Mobina accurately described the game as "very tough" — she held on to the material advantage and defended against the advancement of White's passed d-pawn to take the full point after 81 moves. Her rival is now forced to win with Black in their return match.

Mobina Alinasab had good reasons to celebrate | Photo: Official site 

Obliged to win?

A much less dramatic situation is seen in other pairings where the clear favourite only managed to draw the first game. However, these players are now faced with the dilemma of how much to push in the second classical encounter, as they are more prone to err in the rapid and blitz play-off stage in case of a second draw.

This is the case of two-time Russian Women's Champion Aleksandra Goryachkina, who missed a couple of chances to take down the 2125-rated Canadian WIM Maili-Jade Ouellet. Aleksandra probably thought it was unnecessary to go for the throat on move 22:

 

White has all her pieces pointing at the kingside (with the d1-rook capable of quickly transferring to the g-file), while Black's pieces are away from the defence. It was time, therefore, to go for 23.Nxg6!, with a strong attack. Goryakchina chose 23.f4 instead, which keeps her advantage but is not decisive. Ouellet went on to defend stubbornly and even was a pawn up at some point in the game. Nonetheless, the hard-fought struggle ended up peacefully on move 81.   

Aleksandra Goryachkina needs a win if she wants to avoid the play-offs | Photo: Official site

Five other players are facing the same dilemma as Goryachkina (the colours listed correspond to the second game to be played on Sunday):

  • Antoaneta Stefanova (2490) - Sabina-Francesca Foisor (2264)
  • Ana Matnadze (2372) - Dinara Saduakassova (2474)
  • Sopiko Khukhashvili (2316) - Harika Dronavalli (2498)
  • Bela Khotenashvili (2477) - Vo Ti Kim Phung (2354)
  • Zhansaya Abdumalik (2473) - Rout Padmini (2341)

Former World Champion Antoaneta Stefanova facing former U.S. Champion Sabina Foisor | Photo: Official site 

Comeback required

It is not all one-sided pairings in a knockout tournament, as the middle of the pairings tree sees many close match-ups. Many of them finished drawn on Saturday's round, but others left one of the players in need of a victory after the first game. This is one of the most attractive situations in this type of events, as it is interesting to see how the player in need of a win approaches the challenge.

Ketevan Arakhamia-Grant will have White in the must-win second game, after falling victim to a nice-looking tactic against Nino Batsiashvili:

 

Nino followed with 31.Rc6!, opening the diagonal for her queen. The Scottish GM resigned after 31...bxc6 32.Qxe6+ — White has mate-in-two, either on the back-rank or on g7.

A nice shot from the playing hall | Photo: Official site

A frequent visitor of elite events Natalia Zhukova is actually facing a higher-rated opponent in the first round, the Chinese Ni Shiqun. Zhukova, nonetheless, showed her class and won the inaugural encounter with Black. The Chinese tried to trick her rival in a losing position with 53.Nxg4:

 

Zhukova was ready to continue with the winning 53...Qe2, forcing the exchange of queens and creating an unstoppable passed e-pawn. The game finished on move 56 with mate-in-eight on the board.

Natalia Zhukova only needs a draw in game two to stay in contention | Photo: Official site

Another experienced player, the Polish GM Monika Socko, also concluded her game in style — she defeated Israeli IM Yuliya Shvayger with Black after mercilessly advancing her kingside pawns:

 

Socko started the pawn storm with 36...f5 and continued with 37.Ba8 f4 38.gxf4 g3 White resigns. The final position:

 

Three other match-ups left one of the players in need of a win (the results of the first game are presented below):

  • Gulrukhbegim Tokhirjonova (2435) 1-0 Alina Kashlinskaya (2477)
  • Anna Ushenina (2440) 1-0 Lilit Mkrtchian (2396)
  • Zhu Jiner (2379) 1-0 Lela Javakhishvili (2477)

Anna Ushenina | Photo: Official site

Results of Round 1, Game 1

 Hardegen Kathryn (AUS) 0-1  Ju Wenjun (CHN)
 Koneru Humpy (IND) 1-0  Toubal Hayat (ALG)
 February Jesse Nikki (RSA) 0-1  Lagno Kateryna (RUS)
 Muzychuk Anna (UKR) 1-0  Hamid Rani (BAN)
 Vazquez Maccarini, Danitza (PUR) 0-1  Kosteniuk Alexandra (RUS)
 Goryachkina Aleksandra (RUS) ½-½  Ouellet, Maili-Jade (CAN)
 Wafa Shahenda (EGY) 0-1  Muzychuk Mariya (UKR)
 Tan Zhongyi (CHN) 1-0  Sun Fanghui (CHN)
 Aliaga Fernandez, Ingrid Y (PER) 0-1  Gunina Valentina (RUS)
 Paehtz Elisabeth (GER) 0-1  Alinasab Mobina (IRI)
 Miranda Llanes, Yerisbel (CUB) 0-1  Dzagnidze Nana (GEO)
 Harika Dronavalli (IND) ½-½  Khukhashvili Sopiko (GEO)
 Foisor Sabina-Francesca (USA) ½-½  Stefanova Antoaneta (BUL)
 Pogonina Natalija (RUS) 1-0  Kulkarni Bhakti (IND)
 Padmini Rout (IND) ½-½  Abdumalik Zhansaya (KAZ)
 Batsiashvili Nino (GEO) 1-0  Arakhamia-Grant Ketevan (SCO)
 Zhai Mo (CHN) 1-0  Girya Olga (RUS)
 Zhao Xue (CHN) 1-0  Lujan, Carolina (ARG)
 Zhu Jineer (CHN) 1-0  Javakhishvili Lela (GEO)
 Saduakassova Dinara (KAZ) ½-½  Matnadze Ana (ESP)
 Vo Thi Kim Phung (VIE) ½-½  Khotenashvili Bela (GEO)
 Lei Tingjie (CHN) ½-½  Gara Anita (HUN)
 Shvayger Yuliya (ISR) 0-1  Socko Monika (POL)
 Ushenina Anna (UKR) 1-0  Mkrtchian Lilit (ARM)
 Tokhirjonova Gulrukhbegim (UZB) 1-0  Kashlinskaya Alina (RUS)
 Atalik Ekaterina (TUR) ½-½  Cori T., Deysi (PER)
 Nakhbayeva Guliskhan (KAZ) ½-½  Galliamova Alisa (RUS)
 Ni Shiqun (CHN) 0-1  Zhukova Natalia (UKR)
 Vega Gutierrez Sabrina (ESP) ½-½  Bodnaruk Anastasia (RUS)
 Hoang Thanh Trang (HUN) ½-½  Danielian Elina (ARM)
 Nechaeva (Guseva) Marina (RUS) ½-½  Zawadzka Jolanta (POL)
 Krush Irina (USA) ½-½  Gaponenko Inna (UKR)

All games from Round 1, Game 1

 

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Antonio is a freelance writer and a philologist. He is mainly interested in the links between chess and culture, primarily literature. In chess games, he skews towards endgames and positional play.
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genem genem 11/4/2018 09:04
41% draw rate, so far. As the lowest rated players tend to be cut during the earliest knockout rounds, I would expect the draw rate to increase in the later rounds when there are fewer players.
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