26 March 2015

One out of four Russians advances to the Quarterfinals

Eteri Kublashvili and Vladimir Barsky reporting about the third round of the Women's World Championship

While Hou Yifan prepares for her future World Chess Championship match in an amusing Hawaiian tournament, another stage of the current World Championship just passed by in a Russian resort. The third round turned into a big obstacle for the Russian participants, as only Natalia Pogonina advanced to the Quarterfinals. Valentina Gunina, Alexandra Kosteniuk, and Alisa Galliamova were all eliminated.

Galliamova faced the rating favorite Humpy Koneru. The Indian won both games and extended her streak to six wins in a row.

Gunina lost the first game to Pia Cramling. According to Sergey Shipov, “Valya relies on her tactical inventiveness, but one has to play more responsibly in the opening. Apparently, Gunina did not realize the idea behind 10.h3 followed by Qf3 and g4. The resulting position was so unpleasant for Black that even Valentina failed to create any counterplay. Cramling's play was not perfect but it sufficed to win.”

Cramling – Gunina

In this position Valentina tried to complicate the game and grabbed the poisoned pawn on e4, however, after 16…Bxc3 17. bxc3 Nxe4 18. Re1 Rae8 19. Bh6 she did not get any compensation for the lost exchange.

In the second game Valentina fought like a lioness, but did not win and had to leave the tournament, greatly disappointing her fans.

Kosteinuk lost the first game to Harika Dronavalli. Sergey Shipov: “The Indian played badly in the opening – her Ng6 maneuver and recapturing on c5 with a pawn gave White a huge advantage. However, White somehow underestimated Black's passed pawn on the a-file, and was unable to switch to defending an inferior position. This was a bitter loss, of course.”

In the return game the Russian literally crushed her opponent.

Dronavalli – Kosteniuk


A very strong preparatory move! Black places the rook on a protected square and at the same time attacks the f6-pawn. The immediate 29...Bxe4 is met by 30.Re2! Bxd3 31.Qxg5+ Qxg5 32.Rxe8+ Kh7 33.hxg5 Bxc4 34.Rf4 with equal chances.

30.hxg5 Bxe4 31.Rf4

A dull move that leads to a prosaic finale. 31.g6!? is a more dangerous attempt; Alexandra was worried about this idea. She did not see a clear-cut way to a win, but believed her position to be solid enough for the defense to exist.

Intuition did not let the ex-World Champion down, although the correct line is by no means easy to find: 31...Bxf3! 32.Qh6 Qxf6! 33.Qh7+ Kf8 34.Rxf3 Qxf3! (allowing the enemy pawn to promote) 35.g7+ Ke7 36.g8Q Re1! With two queens on the board, White is helpless against the mate!

31…Bxd3 32.Qxd3 Qxg5, and Black won.

Unfortunately, on the tie-break Alexandra committed two serious mistakes in rook endings that resulted in losing the first game and missing winning chances in the second one.

Both classical games of Pogonina-Sebag match ended in rook endings. In the first game Natalia almost saved a very difficult position, but made the fatal mistakes after more than five hours of play. In the second game Marie returned the favor.

Pogonina dominated on tie-break. Her first game was of a very high quality, probably it was her best game of the tournament so far. The second game was very erratic, the initiative change hands many times, but in the mutual time trouble it was Sebag who made the final mistake...

The 21-year-old Meri Arabidze became the last Georgian standing. She has proven to be a very good rapid chess player, defeating Victoria Cmilyte in the first game and successfully defending in the second one.

The Muzychuk sisters both demonstrate very confident play and excellent technique. Anna defeated Lela Javakhishvili in two classical game; Mariya broke the resistance of the former World Champion Antoaneta Stefanova on the tie-break.

Zhao Xue knocked out another Georgian contender Bela Khotenashvili. At the press conference Zhao Xue, who unlike most other Chinese players speaks fluent English, said that reaching the Semifinals is her minimal goal, since it gives her a seat in the FIDE Grand Prix series.

Prior to the championship Sergey Shipov predicted that the title will be won by a player from Asia. The three remaining Asians – Koneru, Dronavalli, and Zhao Xue – all look very confident, however, other five players are hardly inferior to them in terms of fighting spirit and inventiveness. Soon we will find out whether Shipov's prediction comes true, and now let us focus on the Quarterfinal matches, paying most attention to the encounter between Natalia Pogonina and Zhao Xue.