WWch Semis G2: the queen of must-wins

by Albert Silver
3/31/2015 – Three times Natalia Pogonina was faced with a must-win situation, a draw would see her in the spectators side of the cordoned area, and three times she pulled it off to press her claim to the Women World Championship. Harika Dronavalli drew her second game with Mariya Muzychuk, so both semifinals will be decided by tiebreaks. Report and interview with Pogonina.

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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 two

Although in recent years, Natalia Pogonina has been playing 1.d4 with ever growing frequency, today, needing a win at all costs, she opted for the more aggressive 1.е4. The players soon reached a very sharp line of the Sicialian Paulsen.

Natalia Pogonina has proven herself a fantastic clinch fighter

Natalia Pogonina vs Pia Cramling

[Event "WCh Women 2015"] [Site "Sochi RUS"] [Date "2015.03.30"] [Round "5.2"] [White "Pogonina, Natalija"] [Black "Cramling, Pia"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B28"] [WhiteElo "2456"] [BlackElo "2495"] [PlyCount "75"] [EventDate "2015.03.17"] 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 a6 3. Be2 e6 4. d4 cxd4 5. Nxd4 Nf6 6. Nc3 Bb4 7. e5 Nd5 8. O-O Nxc3 9. bxc3 {Perhaps what is most unexpected here is that Black accepts to enter such a double-edged line when a safe draw best suits her goals.} Be7 ( 9... Bxc3 10. Ba3 Qa5 11. Bd6 Nc6 12. Nxc6 dxc6 13. f4 Bxa1 14. Qxa1 Qd2 15. Bd3 Qe3+ 16. Kh1 Bd7 17. Qb2 b5 18. a4 Rc8 19. f5 exf5 20. e6 Qxe6 21. Qxg7 Qxd6 22. Qxh8+ Qf8 23. Qxh7 Kd8 24. Bxf5 Bxf5 25. Qxf5 Kc7 26. c4 Kb6 27. Rb1 b4 28. a5+ Kc7 29. c5 Rb8 30. Qe5+ Kc8 31. Qf5+ Kc7 32. Qf4+ Kc8 33. Rxb4 Rxb4 34. Qxb4 Qh6 35. Qc4 Kd8 36. h4 f5 37. Qd4+ Kc8 38. Qc4 Kd8 39. Kh2 Ke7 40. Qd4 Qh5 41. Kh3 Qg6 42. Qe3+ Kd7 43. Qd2+ Ke8 44. Qf4 Qf6 45. Qd6 Qc3+ 46. Kh2 Qxa5 47. Qxc6+ Kf7 48. Qd5+ Kf6 49. Qd6+ Kf7 50. Qd7+ Kf6 51. Qc6+ Kf7 52. Qb7+ Kg8 53. Qc8+ Kg7 54. Qxf5 {1-0 (54) Giri,A (2714)-Vitiugov,N (2729) Reggio Emilia 2012}) 10. Bf4 O-O 11. Qd3 b6 (11... Bg5 12. Bxg5 Qxg5 13. f4 Qe7 14. f5 f6 15. Qh3 Nc6 16. fxe6 Nxe5 17. Bd3 Nxd3 18. exd7 Bxd7 19. Qxd3 Rfe8 20. Rf3 Rac8 21. Rg3 Rc5 22. Rd1 Re5 23. h3 Re3 24. Rxe3 Qxe3+ 25. Kh1 h6 26. Qc4+ Kh7 27. Rf1 Bxh3 28. gxh3 Qxh3+ 29. Kg1 Qg3+ 30. Kh1 Qh3+ 31. Kg1 Qg3+ 32. Kh1 Qh4+ 33. Kg1 Re3 34. Rf2 Re1+ 35. Rf1 Re3 36. Rf2 Re1+ 37. Rf1 Qg3+ 38. Kh1 Qh3+ 39. Kg1 Qg4+ 40. Kf2 Qh4+ 41. Kg1 {1/2-1/2 (41) Negi,P (2621)-Muzychuk,A (2523) Wijk aan Zee 2010}) 12. Bf3 Ra7 13. Be4 g6 14. Rfd1 Bb7 15. Bxb7 Rxb7 16. Rab1 Qc8 17. a4 Qc5 18. Nb3 Qc7 19. Nd2 Nc6 20. Qg3 {White's ambitions are no secret, and the attack on the dark squares with bishop, queen, and the knight are not exactly hidden from sight.} Rc8 21. Ne4 Qd8 22. Bg5 Bxg5 23. Nxg5 Na5 24. Ne4 Nc4 25. Rd4 Kg7 26. Re1 h6 $2 {Not only a free weakness, but there was no reason to play it instead of a more constructive move such as 26...b5} (26... b5 27. axb5 Rxb5 {would offer better chances than the game, with an attempt at counterplay.}) 27. h4 $1 Qc7 $2 {In time trouble, Black wastes tempi moving the queen back and forth while White gets ready to drop the hammer.} 28. f4 { Securing the e-pawn, but there was better.} (28. h5 $1 {immediately was much stronger.} Qxe5 (28... b5 29. hxg6 fxg6 30. Nf6 $18) 29. Qxe5+ Nxe5 30. Nd6 { does not require a long explanation.}) 28... b5 29. h5 Qd8 30. axb5 axb5 31. Qg4 Qe7 {[#]} 32. Rd3 $1 {preparing to invite the rook to the party.} Rg8 33. Nf6 Rh8 34. Rg3 $1 d5 35. hxg6 fxg6 36. Qxg6+ Kf8 37. Ra1 {Threatening Ra8+ followed by mate.} Ra7 38. Nd7+ $1 ({After} 38. Nd7+ Rxd7 (38... Qxd7 39. Qf6+ Qf7 40. Qxh8+ Ke7 41. Rxa7#) 39. Ra8+ Rd8 40. Rxd8+ Qxd8 41. Qg7+ Ke8 42. Qxh8+ Kd7 43. Rg7+ Kc8 44. Rg8 {and the queen is lost.}) 1-0

Some sisterly advice before the big game

Harika Dronavalli tried with all her might to break Mariya Muzychuk's Dutch defense, but to no avail. The Indian player arranged her pieces harmoniously and built up some unpleasant central pressure, but thereafter failed to find the best way to tighten the screws. A rook endgame resulted in a classic four against three pawn on the same wing, and in spite of an energetic attempt to push it, Muzychuk held the draw.

Mariya Muzychuk has defied expectations, as has Harika Dronavalli. Only a tiebreak will separate them.

The commentators are caught on camera

Short interview with Natalia Pogonina

Anastasia Karlovich: Natalia, this is the third time you win on demand at this championship! How did you do it today?

Natalia Pogonina: My opponent went into a variation that is considered dangerous for Black – a strange choice in a situation when you need a draw to advance. We arrived at a complicated position with good attacking chances for White. My maneuvering was probably not ideal, but her 17...Qc5 gave me a tempo for 18.Nb3 and 19.Nd2, after which White should have a very comfortable edge. 

After that I had so many tempting continuations that it was difficult to choose between them, that's why I took so much time for my moves.

Yet Pia was spending more time than you, and in the end you had some extra time on the clock, which allowed you to calculate the nice finale! Or did you see it instantly?

No, I discovered 38.Nd7+ only after some thought. I had 10 minutes left, so I could afford using some of this time.

It must be very pleasing to end the game in such fashion...

I would take any win, to be honest.

On the move 28, did you consider other ideas apart from 28.f4?

I calculated some knight leaps, but eventually decided to strengthen my base on e5, and then push the h-pawn. It looked a solid plan to me.

What about 28.Rxc4?

I looked into it, but not very deeply. Now I see that I don't have to regain an exchange after 28...Qxc4 29.Nd6, but can simply continue the attack. Looks good for White, too.

Which of the three matches you saved on demand was the most difficult?

All of them were difficult – there were tough opponents, and I needed to win... I don't want to single out any of them.

What is your mood before the tie-break? What color do you have in the first game?

My mood is good as usual. I will play Black in the first game.

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
Harika, Dronavalli IND 2492 ½
Player Fed Rtg G1
G3 G4 G5 G6 G7 G8 G9 Pts
Cramling, Pia SWE 2495 1
Pogonina, Natalia RUS 2456 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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