8 December 2016

Ju the Challenger

The ultimate stage of the FIDE Women's Grand Prix in Khanty-Mansiysk in the Review of Eteri Kublashvili.

Literally same day as the epic tie break of the World Championship match was taking place in New York, the other side of the world saw the final stage of the Women's FIDE Grand Prix come to its end. 

The "hockey" phenomenon of the second rest day caught on to continue the trend of the first one as those who used to spectate the "Ugra" - "Kunlun" match went on to either win or draw their games the following day without suffering any losses. Thus, in round nine Nino Batsiashvili defeated Natalya Zhukova, Olga Girya beat Elmira Skripchenko and Bela Khotenashvili outperformed Valentina Gunina. 

However, Ju Wenjun, who was not among hockey match spectators, defeated one of her main rivals Sarasadat Khademalsharieh in her trademark positional style to join Nino into the share of the tournament race lead. 

In round 10 the Chinese defeated Nino Batsiashvili to become winner of the overall GP Series! 

Batsiashvili – Ju Wenjun


After 33. Ne5?! Black succeeds in capitalizing on the pin via 33…Ng5 34. Rc1 Nxe4 35. Rxe4 Nc3! 36. Rf4 

36. Rh4 was proposed by Nino at the press conference and it indeed seems to be a better try at saving the game. 

36…Qxc2 37. Rxc2 Nd5 38. Rf3 c3 39. Kf2 Re7 

White commits a fatal error with one move to reach the time control limit: after 40. b6? Re6 White's position has become defenseless. Nino resigned on move 48. 

In the final round Ju Wenjun made a draw with Natalija Pogonina to take a clear first with 7,5 points out of 11.  An excellent result allowed her not only taking a clear first at the Khanty-Mansiysk stage, but also confidently winning the overall Grand Prix event, which entitles her the right to challenge in a match the winner of the knockout World Championship (to be held in Iran in 10-28 February, 2017). 

At a press conference, held after the ultimate round game, Wenjun shared about her intention to participate in the Iran competition, as well as about preferring to play the upcoming title match in her native China, even though stating it as being not a matter of principle for her. 

“I was under a lot of pressure in this strong competition. It happened not only because I was contesting the top place, but also because the overall winner of Grand Prix series was to be defined.  I felt a lot of stress and played somewhat conservative chess in the first five games.  Following my loss to Kosteniuk I managed to relax and started taking much pleasure from my games.  I think this was a key to my final success: I decided that my chances of winning the Grand Prix series were so minute that I simply stopped thinking about it altogether. This is when victories started coming my way! was the way Ju Wenjun explained her success. 

The first thing I am going to do when at home is invite my friends to a good restaurant to enjoy food and time together. I am unlikely to spend all my prize money for it, but it will definitely take some of it.” 

Since probably half the participants had been watching fierce tiebreaker battles between Magnus Carlsen and Sergey Karjakin, an early final round came as an ordeal for many. Alexandra Kosteniuk's going down to Valentina Gunina stripped her of any chances of sharing first, while Harika Dronavalli managed to snatch a victory in a seemingly drawish rook ending from Almira Skripchenko. All other games quickly ended in draws. 

The silver goes to Nino Batsiashvili, this tournament being one of her career's best at the moment. Besides, the Georgian grandmaster has earned the second male grandmaster norm-point. 

According to the Grand Prix regulations the prize money and standing points are shared equally between point-sharing participants without taking any tie breakers into consideration. Thus, Valentina Gunina, Sarasadat Khademalsharieh, Harika Dronavalli, Olga Girya and Alexandra Kosteniuk have scored 6 points each to come into the share of 3-7 places. 

Final standings: 

1. Ju Wenjun – 7,5; 2. Nino Batsiashvili – 6,5; 3-7. Alexandra Kosteniuk, Sarasadat Khademalsharieh, Olga Girya, Valentina Gunina, Dronavalli Harika – 6; 8. Natalia Zhukova – 5,5; 9 Bela Khotenashvili – 5; 10-11. Natalija Pogonina, Lela Javakhishvili – 4,5; 12. Almira Skripchenko – 2,5. 

This is how the grand trio looks like as defined by the summary results of all women's Grand Prix legs: Ju Wenjun - 413,3 points,  Humpy Koneru - 335, Valentina Gunina - 287. 

At the closing ceremony the participants were congratulated by the director of the Department of physical culture and sports of Ugra Igor Gubkin and the Chairman of the Appeals Committee and the Continental FIDE President for Africa Lewis Ncube. All speakers noted a high level of tournament organization and enthusiastic performance demonstrated by participants. 

Ju Wenjun could not hold back tears when China's national anthem was being played. Well, emotions are indeed a necessary and beautiful component of women's chess. 

Following the closing ceremony, everyone headed for the dinner event and continued their communication in an informal setting. 

I want to wrap up my review by once again expressing my gratitude to the organizers for setting up ideal conditions for players and journalists. Khanty-Mansiysk will see more chess as undergoing now is the Russian Rapid Grand Prix final to be followed by the Russian Cup final in the classical chess. 

Pictures by E.Kublashvili, E.Listyuk, V.Maslova, A.Popova and E.Atarov