WWch Rd4 tiebreaks: The mighty fall

by Albert Silver
3/29/2015 – It was a day when expectations went one way, and reality the other. Not only were all three tiebreaks won by the lower-rated players, but four out of the eight games played were decided in Black's favor. The biggest surprise was M.Muzychuk's victory over Koneru after her perfect start, while her sister fell to Pia Cramling. Pogonina beat Zhao Xue once more with her Benko Gambit.

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Tournament conditions

The Women's World Chess Championship takes place from March 17 – April 7 in Sochi, Russia. The knock-out tournament is attended by 64 players, including the former World Champions Alexandra Kosteniuk (Russia), Anna Ushenina (Ukraine), and Antoaneta Stefanova (Bulgaria), the three-time Russian champion Valentina Gunina, the World Vice-Champion Humpy Koneru (India), as well as other leading grandmasters. Unfortunately, the reigning champion Hou Yifan was unable to come for personal reasons, but as the winner of the FIDE Grand Prix she will still be able to challenge the new champion to a match.

The first five rounds consist of mini-matches of two games played at 90 minutes for 40 moves followed by 30 minutes for the rest of the game and a 30-second increment per move. The final match will consist of four games.

In the event of a tie, the winner will be determined by a series of tiebreak games: two rapid games of 25 minutes plus 10 seconds per move. If the score remains equal, the players then proceed to two more games played at 10 minutes plus 10 seconds per move. If the score continues tied a final mini-match will be played of two blitz games of 5 minutes plus 3 seconds per move. Finally, an Armageddon game will be played to decide the winner in which White has five minutes and Black has four minutes, with a three-second increment per move after move 61. Black will be declared the victor if the game is drawn.

Round four - tiebreaks

The biggest surprise of the day, in a day full of surprises, was Humpy Koneru's elimination by Maria Muzychuk. The Indian, who had started with a sterling six wins in six games, before reaching the fourth round, stumbled against Muzychuk in their classical games match, forced to fight her opponent off in the tiebreak. In both games the top-seed managed to outplay her opponent quite handily, but a losing blunder in game one of their rapids, cost her a chance at the title.

A grinning Maria Muzychuk after winning her foremost trial by fire embodied by Humpy Koneru

Maria Muzychuck's older sister Anna, was less fortunate against the veteran Pia Cramling, and after a tense struggle in which both won their game with black, the Swedish player prevailed in the following bout of 10-minute games.

Anna Muzychuk covers her face in disappointment, as she comes to terms with her elimination

Anyone who thought Natalia Pogonina's choice of the Benko Gambit in the previous day was a fluke, a one-off, was disabused of this notion when the Russian unleashed it once more at the first chance she got. Since Zhao Xue had nothing to show for it, and did not seem to have anything special in store, Pogonina achieved a very comfortable position early on, making better use of her preparation this time.

Zhao Xue vs Natalia Pogonina

[Event "WCh Women 2015"] [Site "Sochi RUS"] [Date "2015.03.28"] [Round "4.2"] [White "Zhao, Xue"] [Black "Pogonina, Natalija"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A58"] [WhiteElo "2527"] [BlackElo "2456"] [PlyCount "98"] [EventDate "2015.03.17"] 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 c5 3. d5 b5 4. cxb5 a6 5. bxa6 g6 6. Nc3 Bg7 7. g3 O-O 8. Bg2 d6 9. Nf3 Nxa6 10. O-O Qb6 11. Nd2 Nc7 12. Nc4 Qb4 13. Ne3 Ba6 14. Rb1 Nb5 15. Bd2 Nd4 16. Re1 Rfb8 17. b3 Nd7 18. Qc1 Qb7 19. Nc4 Ne5 20. Nxe5 Bxe5 21. e3 Nb5 22. Nd1 Bg7 23. a4 Nc7 24. Bc3 Bxc3 25. Nxc3 Bd3 26. Rb2 Qb4 27. Rd1 Ba6 28. Rdd2 Ra7 29. Na2 Qa3 30. Qc2 Rab7 31. Nc1 Qb4 32. Ra2 Qa5 33. Qd1 Rb4 34. h4 h5 35. Kh2 {After lengthy maneuvering, Black has placed her pieces nearly ideally, except for one.} Ne8 $1 {Time to bring that knight to some place where it can contribute to the struggle.} 36. e4 Nf6 37. f3 {[#]} c4 $1 {A vital break that cracks open the position in favor of Black. After careful preparation in order to get the most benefit from the position, Black is ready. } 38. bxc4 Bxc4 39. Ra1 Rb2 ({It is perhaps counterintuitive for a human to consider repositioning the knight after having done just that, but the engine has no such qualms and recommends} 39... Nd7 $1 {with the idea of Ne5 or Nc5}) 40. Rxb2 Rxb2 41. Qd4 Rc2 $1 {Black is now winning. The complete domination and imminent invasion of White's position is her doom.} 42. Qe3 Qb4 43. Nd3 Bxd3 44. Qxd3 Rxg2+ 45. Kxg2 Qb2+ 46. Kh3 Qxa1 47. Kg2 Qxa4 48. Qc3 Qa2+ 49. Kh3 Qf2 0-1

In their second game, after a brawl in the middlegame, Pogonina was once more ahead, but was content to force a draw and secure her spot in the next round.

Natalia Pogonina is through to the semifinals after bludgeoning Zhao Xue with the Benko Gambit

Report by Albert Silver and Eteri Kublashvili
Photos by Eteri Kublashvili, Anastasia Karlovich, and Vladimir Barsky

Round 4 pairings / results

Player Fed Rtg G1 G2 G3 G4 G5 G6 G7 G8 G9 Pts
Muzychuk, Mariya UKR 2526 1
Koneru, Humpy IND 2581 0
Player Fed Rtg G1
G3 G4 G5 G6 G7 G8 G9 Pts
Pogonina, Natalia RUS 2456 0
½           2.5
Zhao, Xue CHN 2527 1
½           1.5
Player Fed Rtg G1
G3 G4 G5 G6 G7 G8 G9 Pts
Cramling, Pia SWE 2495 ½
0 1
Muzychuk, Anna UKR 2552 ½
1 0
Player Fed Rtg G1
G3 G4 G5 G6 G7 G8 G9 Pts
Arabidze, Meri GEO 2374 ½
Harika, Dronavalli IND 2492 ½


Round 1 - 64 players
March 17 Game 1 3:00 p.m. local time
March 18 Game 2 3:00 p.m. local time
March 19 Tie breaks 3:00 p.m. local time
Round 2 - 32 players
March 20 Game 1 3:00 p.m. local time
March 21 Game 2 3:00 p.m. local time
March 22 Tie breaks 3:00 p.m. local time
Round 3 - 16 players
March 23 Game 1 3:00 p.m. local time
March 24 Game 2 3:00 p.m. local time
March 25 Tie breaks 3:00 p.m. local time
Round 4 - 8 players
March 26 Game 1 3:00 p.m. local time
March 27 Game 2 3:00 p.m. local time
March 28 Tie breaks 3:00 p.m. local time
Round 5 - 4 players
March 29 Game 1 3:00 p.m. local time
March 30 Game 2 3:00 p.m. local time
March 31 Tie breaks 3:00 p.m. local time
Rest day - April, 1
Round 6 - 2 players
April 2 Game 1 3:00 p.m. local time
April 3 Game 2 3:00 p.m. local time
April 4 Game 3 3:00 p.m. local time
April 5 Game 4 3:00 p.m. local time
April 6 Tie breaks 3:00 p.m. local time
April 7 Closing Ceremony*  
*Closing Ceremony can be shifted to
April 6 in the absence of tie breaks


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.

Born in the US, he grew up in Paris, France, where he completed his Baccalaureat, and after college moved to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He had a peak rating of 2240 FIDE, and was a key designer of Chess Assistant 6. In 2010 he joined the ChessBase family as an editor and writer at ChessBase News. He is also a passionate photographer with work appearing in numerous publications, and the content creator of the YouTube channel, Chess & Tech.


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