WWch Semis G1: Cramling scores first

by Albert Silver
3/30/2015 – After considerably nail-biting in the tiebreaks the previous day, in which three of the four players to qualify for the semifinals had to decide their fates in the rapids, only two matches remain to determine the champion. While Harika Dronavalli drew her game against Mariya Muzychuk, Pia Cramling played against Natalia Pogonina and drew first blood.

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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 five - game one

And then there were four

Playing white, Mariya Muzychuk, opted for a Scotch game, an opening that came as no surprise as he had employed in against Humpy Koneru in the previous round. Harika Dronavalli responded with a rare variation, and quickly took her opponent out of the her preparation in a couple of moves the players started to explore an unknown territory.

Mariya Muzychuk has made it this far through tenacity and tactical opportunism. Will she
make it two Indians in a row? Or will Harika "Evergrin" Dronavalli be her downfall?

The queens were exchanged, and a complicated ending arose with White having a spatial advantage. Muzychuk played actively but left Black counterplay and with a timely pawn sacrifice Harika created a strong passed pawn, forcing further simplifications and a draw.

Pia Cramling and Natalia Pogonina went for a popular line of the Queen's Gambit Declined. White's slight pressure did not evaporate even after most pieces were exchanged. Black's position remained passive. Pogonina missed the best moment for trading minor pieces, and later had to do this trade under less favorable circumstances. This led to a favorable rook endgame for the Swede.

Aside from her obvious strength, all the players who know her agree that one thing that
sticks out with Pia Cramling is her unquestioned love of the game even after so many years

As Cramling explained after the game, "You need to have active pieces. You should find more targets. When I put a pawn on h5, there was a target on h6. It was quite logical that pawn should go further."

Pia Cramling vs Natalia Pogonina

[Event "WCh Women 2015"] [Site "Sochi RUS"] [Date "2015.03.29"] [Round "5.2"] [White "Cramling, Pia"] [Black "Pogonina, Natalija"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "D56"] [WhiteElo "2495"] [BlackElo "2456"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "4k3/1p3pp1/p3r2p/3p4/PP1Pp1P1/4P2P/5P2/2R3K1 w - - 0 31"] [PlyCount "97"] [EventDate "2015.03.17"] 31. Rc5 $1 {White has a clear advantage, but it is a long way yet to try to convert it.} Rd6 32. a5 Kd7 33. b5 axb5 34. Rxb5 Kc6 35. Rc5+ Kd7 36. Kg2 g5 37. Kg3 Kd8 38. f3 {Up until now, the engines, in their infinite wisdom (in other words well over 30 plies), have agreed with White's play, but here they offer an alternate approach.} (38. h4 f6 39. f4 Kd7 40. h5 Kd8 41. f5 {The engine is not blindly blockading the position as one might think, based on decades of such absurdities. It is fixing weaknesses that it can exploit.} Kd7 42. Kf2 {and now it brings the king over with deadly effect.} Kd8 43. Ke2 Kd7 44. Kd2 Kd8 45. Kc3 Kd7 46. Rb5 Kc7 47. Kb4 {and White wins.}) 38... exf3 39. Kxf3 Kd7 40. Kg3 Kd8 41. Kf2 Kd7 42. Ke2 Kd8 43. Kd2 Kd7 44. Kd3 Kd8 45. Ke2 Kd7 46. Kf1 Kd8 47. Kg2 Kd7 48. Kg3 Kd8 {[#] White has been fishing for the right plan and now has realized what it is, hence the return of the king.} 49. h4 $1 Kd7 50. h5 $1 {Fixing the weakness on h6. If it falls, the h-pawn will race forward.} Kd8 51. Kf3 Kd7 52. Ke2 Kd8 53. Kd3 Kd7 54. Rb5 Kc7 {[#]} 55. e4 $1 {The decisive break.} dxe4+ 56. Kxe4 Rf6 57. Rf5 Re6+ 58. Kd5 Rd6+ 59. Kc4 f6 60. Rb5 Re6 61. Kd5 Re3 62. Rb6 Rf3 63. Ke6 Rf4 64. d5 Re4+ 65. Kxf6 Rxg4 66. d6+ Kc8 67. Kg6 Rg1 68. Kxh6 g4 69. Kg7 g3 70. h6 Rh1 71. Rb2 Rh4 72. h7 Rg4+ 73. Kf6 Rh4 74. Kg6 Kd7 75. Rxb7+ Kxd6 76. Rb1 Ke5 77. a6 g2 78. Rg1 Rg4+ 79. Kh5 1-0

While the games were still underway, FIDE Vice-President Israel Gelfer said he could only
compare Pia Cramling to "Lasker or Kortchnoi. Those two great players had been playing
and fighting for so many years. It’s obvious and clear that Pia loves the game so much. She
has been playing for so many years and with such enthusiasm. We can only salute her."


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

Semifinal pairings / results

Player Fed Rtg G1 G2 G3 G4 G5 G6 G7 G8 G9 Pts
Muzychuk, Mariya UKR 2526 ½                 0.5
Harika, Dronavalli IND 2492 ½                 0.5
Player Fed Rtg G1 G2 G3 G4 G5 G6 G7 G8 G9 Pts
Cramling, Pia SWE 2495 1                 1
Pogonina, Natalia RUS 2456 0                 0


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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