Women's World Ch: Lagno goes through in Armageddon

by Antonio Pereira
11/12/2018 – Seven out of eight rating favourites won their round-of-16 matches at the 2018 Women's World Championship, as 40th seed Gulrukhbegim Tokhirjonova took over Valentina Gunina to become the surprising quarter-finalist. So far, Ju Wenjun is the only player that has not played a single tiebreak game, while Kateryna Lagno had to go all the way to Armageddon to eliminate her compatriot Natalija Pogonina. | Photos: Official site

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Three World Champions still in

It is true that the women's cycle to get the championship is less gruelling than the absolute cycle, but it is still noteworthy that the current World Champion and two former 'queens of chess' remain alive in this year's edition. With none of them facing each other it is very likely that we will have a repeat-champion in Khanty-Mansiysk.

The rating favourite and defending champion Ju Wenjun has lived up to the expectations and is the only player that has surpassed the first three rounds without ever needing a single tiebreak game. After getting a clear 2:0 against Kathryn Hardegen, she defeated seven-time U.S. Women's Champion Irina Krush and now has taken down Zhai Mo, who arrived in the match after dispatching her opponents with four consecutive wins.

Ju Wenjun immediately put her compatriot up against the wall by winning the first classical game of the match with Black. She got a positional edge in the opening and, when things started to look grim, Zhai Mo thought she was escaping with a tactical shot but instead gave her rival a chance to get a bigger advantage:


The 19.Rxf7 sacrifice turned out to be a mistake. Zhai Mo probably missed that after 19...Rxf7 20.Rf1, 20...Bf5 is enough for White to emerge an exchange up with a technical winning position. After 21.Rxf5, the intermediate check 21...Qc1+ allows Black to take her queen back to the defence from c7. The World Champion's task to convert her advantage was not easy at all, but she eventually managed to coordinate her pieces and take the full point.

A draw in the following game gave Ju Wenjun a ticket to the quarter-finals and a third rest day in a row.

No rapid games for Ju Wenjun so far

Three and a half years ago Mariya Muzychuk became the Women's World Champion by winning a knockout tournament just like this one in Sochi. Back then, she went to tiebreaks in the two first rounds and defeated Antoaneta Stefanova 1½/½ in the round-of-16. This year, her third opponent was not as highly regarded in terms of historical prestige, but certainly just as dangerous — Mobina Alinasab came from eliminating two strong and experienced players in the previous rounds (Paehtz and Socko).

The Iranian youngster got to this stage with fearless play, going into complications if the position called for it. Muzychuk, with White, did not shy away from fighting fire with fire in the second game and took full advantage of Black's unguarded king in the centre:


Mariya pounced with 38.Nxc7, which was enough to get the win after four more moves: 38...Rxd1 39.Qxc6 Rd4 40.Ne6+ Ke7 41.Nxd4 cxd4 42.f6+ and Black resigns. In the position of the diagram, the best continuation actually is 38.Bh4+ — you can find the lines that give White the win by playing the position against the computer right there.

Mariya Muzychuk will try to repeat her 2015 success 

The third former champion is Alexandra Kosteniuk, who is a big connoisseur of this format — she got to the final of an event like this back in 2001, when she was only 17. In order to reach the quarter-finals, she beat world's number 12 Harika Dronavalli in the second tiebreak mini-match (with a 10+10 time control). She did so after surviving a scare in the second round, when she was on the verge of being eliminated by Ni Shiqun.

A smiling Alexandra Kosteniuk

The youngsters

After mentioning some very well-known names, we can now talk about the younger survivors in Khanty-Mansiysk: Gulrukhbegim Tokhirjonova, Zhansaya Abdumalik and Lei Tingjie.

Torkhijonova is 19-years-old and is the biggest surprise of the event. She arrived as the 40th seed, but already defeated three players that could have easily reached the final stages of the event — Alina Kashlinskaya, who came from winning the women's prize in the Isle of Man; Tan Zhongyi, the last winner of a knockout World Championship; and Valentina Gunina, a three-time European Champion. Against Gunina (a very strong tactician), the player from Uzbekistan demonstrated her calculation skills in a complex middlegame position:


The youngster found that 21.Rxd7 led to a forced series of exchanges that would leave her in the driving seat. After 21...Rxd7 22.Nc5 Ka8 (otherwise there is a fork from a6) 23.Bxd7 Bxc1 24.Bxe8 Bxe8, White is not only a pawn up but also has much more active pieces. Torkhijonova went on to win in 72 moves.

This was the first tiebreak game and, as it so often happens, Gunina over-pressed in a must-win situation and ended up losing the next encounter as well. Gulrukhbegim now has the arduous task of facing Ju Wenjun, but she certainly has what it takes to at least take the current champion to tiebreaks.

Will Gulrukhbegim stop the defending champion?

Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan are neighbouring countries, and they seem to be doing things right in their junior female categories, as Zhansaya Abdumalik is also in this year's quarter-finals. In the third round, she eliminated Jolanta Zawadzka after coming back from a loss in the first classical game. And she got to finish off her opponent in style in their decisive tiebreak encounter:


Abdumalik has an overwhelming position, but it is always pleasant to find a move like 38.Rb7, especially in a rapid game. Zawadzka resigned when she realised there is no way to save her queen — the Polish WGM was not able to recover in the following game and had to say goodbye to Khanty-Mansiysk.

18-year-old Zhansaya Abdumalik

Finally, in the youngster's category, Lei Tingjie is the only player besides Ju Wenjun (and the only other surviving Chinese) who remains undefeated. Despite having gone to tiebreaks in the first and third rounds, she has not lost a single game so far in the event.

China keeps producing young talents, like Lei Tingjie

Top-10 players

All three former World Champions mentioned above are ranked in the Top-10, but two other strong and experienced players are still alive and eager to join the champions' circle.

Anna Muzychuk started the tournament with five straight wins and seemed to be ready to easily take down Antoaneta Stefanova in the third round. However, the Bulgarian bounced back in their second classical encounter and forced Anna to show her rapid skills on Sunday. After drawing the first 25+30 game, Muzychuk got a quick 28-move victory with the black pieces to move forward.

The older Muzychuk, Anna

The road was not that short for Kateryna Lagno, who defeated Natalija Pogonina in the first Armageddon game of the tournament. The compatriots drew their first six encounters, until Lagno grabbed the advantage in the first 5+3 game of the whole event (Lagno was still undefeated by then). Pogonina, who came from playing the longest tiebreak of the second round, bounced back with a gruelling 67-move win…and they were off to Armageddon.

Lagno played White and was forced to win; in exchange for the draw odds, Pogonina had less time on the clock — and she decided to use this wisely, by evening out the clock times with quick moves from the get go. Unable to find a clear path to keep pushing, Kateryna offered an ill-timed queen exchange:


Pogonina happily — and quickly — swapped the queens and soon got an edge in the position. Only then Lagno went into "Armageddon mode" and started playing quickly, without paying that much attention to the position. This proved to be the right strategy, as Pogonina started getting nervous (seeing that she was so close to going through) and erred on move 48:


Probably even in a blitz game with less pressure on her shoulders, Pogonina would not even consider playing 48...Na5?. Lagno first took on c5 with 49.Bxc5 and then gobbled the b2-pawn. In the endgame, White's a-pawn is too fast. In an already desperate position, Pogonina lost on time after 57 moves.

It was a nerve-wrecking third round for Kateryna Lagno

Results of Round 3

Zhai Mo (CHN) ½-1½  Ju Wenjun (CHN)
 Zawadzka Jolanta (POL) 1½-2½  Abdumalik Zhansaya (KAZ)
 Pogonina Natalija (RUS) 4-5  Lagno Kateryna (RUS)
 Muzychuk Anna (UKR) 2½-1½  Stefanova Antoaneta (BUL)
 Harika Dronavalli (IND) 2½-3½  Kosteniuk Alexandra (RUS)
 Galliamova Alisa (RUS) 1-3  Lei Tingjie (CHN)
 Alinasab Mobina (IRI) ½-1½  Muzychuk Mariya (UKR)
 Tokhirjonova Gulrukhbegim (UZB) 3-1  Gunina Valentina (RUS)


Ju Wenjun (CHN)    Tokhirjonova Gulrukhbegim (UZB)
 Muzychuk Mariya (UKR)    Abdumalik Zhansaya (KAZ)
 Lagno Kateryna (RUS)    Lei Tingjie (CHN)
 Kosteniuk Alexandra (RUS)    Muzychuk Anna (UKR)

All games



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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