Women's World Ch: Final sixteen

by Antonio Pereira
11/8/2018 – Round two of the 2018 knockout Women's World Championship culminated with a handful of upsets, a few fighting matches and a couple of favourites dominating their rivals. Mobina Alinasab, Jolanta Zawadzka, Gulrukhbegim Tokhirjonova, Alisa Galliamova and Zhai Mo were the surprising winners in this stage of the event. The tension will continue to rise in round three, as the players know that getting through two more rounds will secure them a place in the Candidates. | Photos: Official site

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Merciless knockout

Exactly half of the matches were decided in the classical portion of the round, and half of these were upsets. The 2nd, 6th, 16th and 23rd seeded players had to pack their bags on Wednesday, as their theoretically weaker opponents proved they have what it takes to knock them out in slow time controls. 

Humpy Koneru took a hiatus from chess for almost two years, before returning to represent India at this year's Olympiad in Batumi. There, she lost two out of her last three games to finish with a subpar 5½/9. It seems like it will take the Indian some more time to recover her usual high standards of play (although we trust she will), as she was eliminated by 2407-rated Jolanta Zawadzka. After drawing their first game, the Polish WGM first neutralised and then overpowered Humpy with the black pieces.

It was definitely a great achievement for Jolanta Zawadzka

While Zawadzka surprised in the second game, Mobina Alinasab from Iran already arrived in the playing hall on Wednesday knowing that a draw would be sufficient to send Monika Socko home. She had the white pieces and did not recoil from entering a sharp position with her king uncastled. Socko had the initiative in the early middlegame, but Alinasab courageously used her king to support her queenside majority:

 

Despite being a pawn down — or perhaps because of that — Mobina put all her hope on the queenside pawn-mass moving forward and continued with 30.Kb4. The final position convincingly demonstrates that it was the correct strategy:

 

The 18-year-old Iranian defeated world's numbers 13 and 25 so far, but will have the tough task of facing the 5th highest rated player in the women's ranking in round three — Mariya Muzychuk.

Monika Socko knew it would be hard to come back from Tuesday's loss

Another unexpected 2:0 was attained by 22-year-old Zhai Mo, who took down Nino Batsiashvili after having dispatched Olga Girya in round one. Her Georgian opponent missed a tactic that involved a queen sacrifice in their return match:

 

Nino just moved her bishop to f1 when it was absolutely necessary to take her queen away from d2. The idea is that after 21...Bxc4 22.Rxc4 White can take the rook on g3 with 22...Qxg3 — after 23.hxg3, the fork 23...Bxe3+ recovers the queen and leaves Black an exchange up. 

In other tournament situations, Batsiashvili would not have taken long to resign, but the knockout format pushed her to keep going until move 53, when she finally gave up with mate-in-one for Black.

Zhai Mo will face her compatriot World Champion Ju Wenjun in round three.

Zhai Mo does not lose focus

The last upset from Wednesday came in the all-Russian match between Alisa Galliamova and Aleksandra Goryachkina, where experience beat youth, as 46-year-old Galliamova stopped her opponent's aggressive attempts in the second game to secure a ticket to the next round. The three-time Russian champion will face yet another youngster, this time from China, 21-year-old Lei Tinjie.

20-year-old Aleksandra Goryachkina will have many more chances in the future

Russians prevail on tiebreaks

All three Russian players that turned up for Thursday's rapid tiebreaks advanced to round three of the Championship. Alexandra Kosteniuk had survived an endgame a pawn down in game two, but was able to recoup and beat Ni Shiqun 2:0 on Thursday; Kateryna Lagno also drew both classical games and won both rapid games to eliminate Hoang Thanh Trang; and Natalija Pogonina played the only match that got to the 10+10 portion against Zhu Jiner. Pogonina managed to finish the very last game of round two in style:

 

White resigned after 48...Qxd2, due to the upcoming knight fork on f1.

It was a long — but finally victorious — day for Natalija Pogonina

Zhao Xue was taken down by Zhansaya Abdumalik, while the surprise of the day was given by Gulrukhbegim Tokhirjonova, who defeated Tan Zhongyi 2½:½ in a tense match — yes, three Chinese players were eliminated on Thursday's tiebreaks. 

While three Chinese players were knocked out, three former World Champions went through — besides Kosteniuk, Antoaneta Stefanova and Mariya Muzychuk put their nervous systems to test successfully and are set to stay in Khanty-Mansiysk at least two more days. The younger of the Muzychuks beat Ekaterina Atalik with black after finding a nice tactic in the opening:

 

Mariya correctly saw that 14...Nxf2 is good for her. After 15.Rxf2 Bc5 16.Qe2 Bxf2+ 17.Qxf2, the pinned bishop falls:

 

The Ukrainian took advantage of her material superiority and won the game in 46 moves. 

Mariya Muzychuk knows she could only face her sister in the final match

With a rather important chess event going on in London, Natalija Pogonina trusts that she and her colleagues might steal the show:

Results of Round 2

Ju Wenjun (CHN) 1½-½  Krush Irina (USA)
 Zawadzka Jolanta (POL) 1½-½  Koneru Humpy (IND)
 Lagno Kateryna (RUS) 3-1  Hoang Thanh Trang (HUN)
 Bodnaruk Anastasia (RUS) 0-2  Muzychuk Anna (UKR)
 Kosteniuk Alexandra (RUS) 3-1  Ni Shiqun (CHN)
 Galliamova Alisa (RUS) 2-0  Goryachkina Aleksandra (RUS)
 Muzychuk Mariya (UKR) 2½-1½  Atalik Ekaterina (TUR)
 Tokhirjonova Gulrukhbegim (UZB) 2½-1½  Tan Zhongyi (CHN)
 Gunina Valentina (RUS) 1½-½  Ushenina Anna (UKR)
 Socko Monika (POL) 0-2  Alinasab Mobina (IRI)
 Dzagnidze Nana (GEO) ½-1½  Lei Tingjie (CHN)
 Khotenashvili Bela (GEO) 1½-2½  Harika Dronavalli (IND)
 Stefanova Antoaneta (BUL) 2½-1½  Saduakassova Dinara (KAZ)
 Zhu Jineer (CHN) 2-4  Pogonina Natalija (RUS)
 Abdumalik Zhansaya (KAZ) 3-1  Zhao Xue (CHN)
 Zhai Mo (CHN) 2-0  Batsiashvili Nino (GEO)

All games from Round 2

 

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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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royce campbell royce campbell 11/9/2018 03:04
Yes, please keep these reports coming in English in a timely manner...
gary135 gary135 11/9/2018 12:50
round 3 same day as open championship starts. please continue to cover women's tourney Ju Wenjun is at a peak- going to be very, very difficult to top her but 3 former champions still in field makes it very interesting. Hats off to mariya muzichuk for rebounding after horrible showing on Tuesday to win match.
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