2017 Women’s World Chess Championship (Tehran, Iran)

2017 Women's World Chess Championship, Tehran, Iran

The Women’s World Championship is underway in Tehran, Iran with 63 women vying for the world title. Apart from the pre-tournament controversy, the event would begin on a somber note after the unfortunate passing of Romanian Cristina Adela Foisor. She passed away just over two weeks ago on January 22nd at age 49. The organizers could not fill the position, so her opponent Olga Girya will automatically advance.

Despite the absence of the world champion Hou Yifan and perennial top-tier Indian player Humpy Koneru, the event will be hotly-contested. Some of the players scored well in the Gibraltar Masters and will be coming will high expectations. Anna Muzychuk, the winner of World Rapid and Blitz, will be one of the front-runners as will China’s Ju Wenjun, the tournament’s top seed.

There will be several former world champions in the field including Alexandra Kosteniuk, Zhu Chen and Anna Ushenina. Unfortunately, the last knockout winner Mariya Muzychuk declined her invitation. There will be three Iranians playing host, but looking to make and impact in front of the supportive country of nearly 78 million. Mitra Hejazipour will be joined by FIDE selections Atousa Pourkashiyan and Sarasadat Khademalsharieh, Iran’s rising star.

Ju Wenjun in Women's Grand Prix, Tehran, 2016. Photo courtesy of chessdom.com

Ju Wenjun, shown here at 2016 Women’s Grand Prix in Tehran, will be top seed. While the tournament lists her at 2583, her live rating is currently over 2600. Photo courtesy of chessdom.com

Official Website: https://tehran2017.fide.com/
Live Games: https://tehran2017.fide.com/live/live.html

Daaim Shabazz

Dr. Daaim Shabazz is the creator and webmaster of The Chess Drum. He serves as a tenured faculty member of Global Business & Marketing at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, Florida, USA. He holds an MBA in Marketing and a doctorate in International Affairs & Development. He has served the journalist community for more than 30 years and still competes in tournaments occasionally.

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  1. PARTICIPANTS of the WORLD WOMEN’S CHAMPIONSHIP 2017

    a) From World Women’s Championship 2014-15

    01. Pogonina Natalija (RUS) – Runner up 2014 (2457.00)
    02. Cramling Pia (SWE) Semifinalist 2014 (2511.50)
    03. Harika Dronavalli (IND) – Semifinalist 2014 (2506.16)

    b) World Girl Junior Champions 2014-2015

    04. Goryachkina Aleksandra (RUS) World Junior G20 Champion 2014 (2479.16)
    05. Buksa Nataliya (UKR) World Junior G20 Champion 2015 (2227.58)

    c) From average Rating List 2/2015 to 1/2016

    06. Ju Wenjun (CHN) 2547.08
    07. Muzychuk Anna (UKR) 2545.58
    08. Kosteniuk Alexandra (RUS) 2530.08
    09. Zhao Xue (CHN) 2522.66
    10. Shen Yang (CHN) 2460.75
    11. Ushenina, Anna (UKR) 2452.16

    d) 28 players from European Women’s Championships 2014 & 2015

    12. Gunina Valentina (RUS) 2014
    13. Melia Salome (GEO)
    14. Zhukova Natalia (UKR)
    15. Dzagnidze Nana (GEO)
    16. Batsiashvili Nino (GEO)
    17. Javakhishvili Lela (GEO)
    18. Stefanova Antoaneta (BUL)
    19. Foisor Cristina-Adela (ROU) (deceased)
    20. Socko Monika (POL)
    21. Khurtsidze Nino (GEO)
    22. Kashlinskaya Alina (RUS)
    23. Danielian Elina (ARM)
    24. Bodnaruk Anastasia (RUS)
    25. Mkrtchian Lilit (ARM)
    26. Guseva Marina (RUS) 2015
    27. Girya Olga (RUS)
    28. Gaponenko Inna (UKR)
    29. Kovalevskaya Ekaterina (RUS)
    30. Khotenashvili Bela (GEO)
    31. Paehtz Elisabeth (GER)
    32. Charochkina Daria (RUS)
    33. Savina Anastasia (RUS)
    34. Hoang Thanh Trang (HUN)
    35. Guramishvili Sopiko (GEO)
    36. Atalik Ekaterina (TUR)
    37. Zimina Olga (ITA)
    38. Ziaziulkina Nastassia (BLR)
    39. Gvetadze Sofio (GEO)

    e) 8 players from Americas

    40. Arribas Robaina Maritza (CUB) (Continental)
    41. Nemcova, Katerina (USA) (Zone 2.1)
    42. Ni, Viktorija (USA) (Zone 2.1)
    43. Foisor, Sabina (USA) (Zone 2.1)
    44. Zhou Qiyu (CAN) (Zone 2.2)
    45. Marrero Lopez, Yaniet (CUB) (Zone 2.3)
    46. Cori T., Deysi (PER) (Zone 2.4)
    47. Martinez, Ayelen (ARG) (Zone 2.5)

    f) 12 players from Asia/Oceania

    48. Sukandar, Irine Kharisma (INA) (Continental 2014)
    49. Hejazipour, Mitra (IRI) (Continental 2015)
    50. Zhu, Chen (QAT) (Zone 3.1)
    51. Shamima, Akter Liza (BAN) (Zone 3.2)
    52. Pham, Le Thao Nguyen (VIE) (Zone 3.3)
    53. Saduakassova, Dinara (KAZ) (Zone 3.4)
    54. Tan Zhongyi (CHN) (Zone 3.5)
    55. Zhai Mo (CHN) (Zone 3.5)
    56. Ni Shiqun (CHN) (Zone 3.5)
    57. Huang Qian (CHN) (Zone 3.5)
    58. Lane, Nancy (AUS) (Zone 3.6)
    59. Padmini, Rout (IND) (Zone 3.7)

    g) 3 players from Africa

    60. Mona, Khaled (EGY) (Continental)
    61. Mezioud, Amina (ALG) (Continental)
    62. Latreche, Sabrina (ALG) (Continental)

    h) 2 nominees of the FIDE President

    63. Khademalsharieh, Sarasadat (IRI) (FIDE nominee)
    64. Pourkashiyan, Atousa (IRI) (FIDE nominee)

    TOTAL: 64 players

  2. 2017 Women’s World Chess Championship
    February 10th-March 4th, 2017 (Tehran, Iran)
    Match Scores (Round #1)
    Bracket 1
    1 Ju Wenjun
    CHN
    2-0
    Lane, N
    AUS
    2 Zhu Chen
    QAT
    1½-½
    Sukandar, I
    BLR
    3 Hejazipour, M
    IRI
    4-5
    Bodnaruk, A
    RUS
    4 Girya, O
    RUS
    *-*
    Foisor, C
    UKR
    Bracket 2
    5 Martinez, A
    ARG
    1-3
    Zhao Xue
    CHN
    6 Danielian, Elina
    ARM
    ½-1½
    Padmini, Rout
    IND
    7 Tan Zhongyi
    CHN
    1½-½
    Foisor, S
    USA
    8 Ziaziulkina, N
    BLR
    ½-1½
    Ushenina, A
    UKR
    Bracket 3
    9 Shamima, Akter Liza
    BAN
    1½-2½
    Harika, Dronavalli
    IND
    10 Saduakassova, D
    KAZ
    1½-½
    Nechaeva, M
    RUS
    11 Hoang, T
    HUN
    1½-2½
    Buksa, N
    UKR
    12 Guramishvili, S
    GEO
    2½-1½
    Khademalsharieh, S
    IRI
    Bracket 4
    13 Dzagnidze, Nana
    GEO
    4-2
    Khaled, M
    EGY
    14 Zimina, Olga
    ITA
    1-3
    Khotenashvili, Bela
    GEO
    15 Arribas Robaina, M
    CUB
    1-2
    Shen Yang
    CHN
    16 Socko, Monika
    POL
    2½-1½
    Savina, Anastasia
    RUS
    Bracket 5
    17 Mezioud, A
    ALG
    0-2
    Muzychuk, A
    UKR
    18 Cori, D
    PER
    ½-1½
    Kashlinskaya, A
    RUS
    19 Goryachkina, A
    RUS
    1½-½
    Zhai Mo
    CHN
    20 Pham, Le Thao
    VIE
    1½-½
    Javakhishvili, L
    GEO
    Bracket 6
    21 Stefanova, A
    BUL
    2-0
    Marrero Lopez, Y
    CUB
    22 Melia, S
    GEO
    2½-1½
    Atalik, E
    TUR
    23 Gvetadze, S
    GEO
    0-2
    Batsiashvili, Nino
    GEO
    24 Zhukova, N
    UKR
    ½-1½
    Khurtsidze, Nino
    GEO
    Bracket 7
    25 Kosteniuk, A
    RUS
    2-0
    Latreche, S
    ALG
    26 Gaponenko, I
    UKR
    1½-½
    Kovalevskaya, E
    RUS
    27 Pourkashiyan, A
    IRI
    ½-1½
    Paehtz, E
    GER
    28 Cramling, P
    SWE
    1½-½
    Nemcova, K
    USA
    Bracket 8
    29 Ni, V
    USA
    0-2
    Gunina, V
    RUS
    30 Mkrtchian, L
    ARM
    ½-1½
    Ni Shiqun
    CHN
    31 Pogonina, N
    RUS
    1½-½
    Zhou Qiyu
    CAN
    32 Charochkina, D
    RUS
    1-3
    Huang Qian
    CHN
    Drum Coverage
    | Round 1 | Round 2 | Round 3 | Round 4 |
    | Semifinals | Finals |

    The opening round kicked off in Tehran, Iran leaving behind a cloud of controversy. As the clouds passed, the opening ceremony officially kicked off the championship and pairings released. Russia brought ten players, while Georgia had eight and China had seven. During the Opening Ceremony, there was a moment of silence for Cristina-Adela Foisor who had passed away prior to the tournament’s start. Her daughter Sabina-Franseca Foisor received gifts and condolences from the attendees. It was a touching moment.

    WGM Sabina Foisor receives tributes, the statue of a knight (horse) and flowers, from Iran’s Minister of sport and youth affair, Masoud Soltanifar, and president of FIDE Kirsan Ilyumzhinov. Photo by Reza Mahdipour

    Sabina-Franseca Foisor receives condolences from the Iran’s Minister of Sport and Youth Affairs, Masoud Soltanifar, and President of FIDE Kirsan Ilyumzhinov. Photo by Reza Mahdipour.

    With the opening of the tournament, there were some complaints about the air conditioning which prompted an inquiry from the Association of Chess Professionals (ACP), but they were soon rectified.

    There were a couple of upsets including Elina Danielian (Armenia), Natalia Zhukova (Ukraine) and Lilit Mkrtchian (Armenia). Mona Khaled of Egypt scored an upset victory over Nana Dzagnidze putting the Georgian player at the brink of elimination.

    It was the first victory for an African player in the women’s championship. However, she could not clinch the match as Dzagnidze came storming back with a win. The Egyptian player then won the first rapid tiebreak game, putting her a draw away from advancing. Again… she could not clinch the match. She ultimately lost in the 10’+10″ tiebreaks.

    Mona Khaled of Egypt

    Mona Khaled of Egypt had her chances.
    Photo by Reza Mahdipour

    Official Website: https://tehran2017.fide.com/
    Live Games: https://tehran2017.fide.com/live/live.html
    All PGN Games (TWIC): https://www.theweekinchess.com/

  3. 2017 Women’s World Chess Championship
    February 10th-March 4th, 2017 (Tehran, Iran)
    Match Scores (Round #2)
    Bracket 1
    1 Ju Wenjun
    CHN
    1½-½
    Zhu Chen
    QAT
    2 Bodnaruk, A
    RUS
    0-2
    Girya, O
    RUS
    Bracket 2
    3 Zhao Xue
    CHN
    1½-2½
    Padmini, Rout
    IND
    4 Tan Zhongyi
    CHN
    4½-4½
    Ushenina, A
    UKR
    Bracket 3
    5 Harika, Dronavalli
    IND
    2½-1½
    Saduakassova, D
    KAZ
    6 Buksa, N
    UKR
    3½-4½
    Guramishvili, S
    GEO
    Bracket 4
    7 Dzagnidze, Nana
    GEO
    2-0
    Zimina, Olga
    ITA
    8 Shen Yang
    CHN
    1½-½
    Savina, Anastasia
    RUS
    Bracket 5
    9 Muzychuk, A
    UKR
    1½-½
    Kashlinskaya, A
    RUS
    10 Goryachkina, A
    RUS
    ½-1½
    Pham, Le Thao
    VIE
    Bracket 6
    11 Stefanova, A
    BUL
    2½-1½
    Melia, S
    GEO
    12 Batsiashvili, Nino
    GEO
    4-5
    Khurtsidze, Nino
    GEO
    Bracket 7
    13 Kosteniuk, A
    RUS
    2½-1½
    Gaponenko, I
    UKR
    14 Paehtz, E
    GER
    1-3
    Cramling, P
    SWE
    Bracket 8
    15 Gunina, V
    RUS
    0-2
    Ni Shiqun
    CHN
    16 Pogonina, N
    RUS
    3½-2½
    Huang Qian
    CHN
    Drum Coverage
    | Round 1 | Round 2 | Round 3 | Round 4 |
    | Semifinals | Finals |

    Ju Wenjun will lead the Chinese in the next round. Photo by David Llada.

    Round two of the Women’s World Championship was filled with twists and turns. There were seven tiebreak games with two going into Armageddon. Tan Zhongyi showed resilience by staving off three different elimination games to force a final sudden death game. The last game Tan had black with time-odds deficit and was able to hold. It was a good day for the Chinese as they maintained four candidates, the highest number of any federation.

    It was a disastrous day for Russian players. Russia started with 10 and are down to two. One of the biggest casualties came at the hands of Ni Shiqun, an unheralded player from China who was more than a hundred points lower than her highly-fancied opponent, Valentina Gunina. Russia lost five matches, but national team members Olga Girya, Alexandra Kosteniuk and Natalija Pogonina went through. Gunina was brutally crushed by Chinese upstart Ni Shiqun.

    Games from WWCC2017 (Round 2, Game 1)

    Games from WWCC2017 (Round 2, Game 2)

    Georgia started with a eight players and have two remaining. Two of their survivors won thrilling matches with two Georgians with the names “Nino” battled until the Armegeddon game. This match was an even affair, but it was Nino Batsiashvili who had better chances throughout. In the Armegeddon game, she was completely winning and somehow allow Nino Khurtsidze to turn the tables.

    Georgian Sopiko Guramashvili certain won the award for best photo in the round and her chess-themed hijab seemed to yield results. Photo by David LLada.

    After 125…Rg2+ Buksa played 126.Kxe3 when 126.Ke1 would have secured the draw and the match. Heart-breaking.

    In a brutal fight against Natalija Buksa, she was down a point and needed a win to stay alive. Despite outplaying Buksa she ended up a piece up in a R+N vs. R ending. It seemed that Buksa was easily hold the draw and move on, but a bit of fate occurred during the time scramble. In the diagrammed position, instead of 126.Ke1= (126…Rxa2 stalemate) Buksa blundered with 126.Kxe3?? and 126…Rxa2 ended the game. The chess community was aghast at the turn of events, but Guramashvili simply signed the sheets and walked off as if it were an expected result.

    In the last 5’+3″ game, Buksa fell behind in the opening, lost the tactical thread on the position and dropped an exchange. With her wrecked pawn structure and passive knight, she was unable to hold and Guramashvili would advance.

    Games from WWCC2017 (Round 2, Tiebreaks)

    Two Indian players will advance. Dronavali Harika and Padmini Rout have been seen enjoying the experience. Harika has a strong support system and has brought her grandmother along! Photo by David Llada.

    So the tournament goes down to the last 16 players. Apart from the Indian duo, four Chinese, three Russians, three Georgians remain. In addition, there is one player from Bulgaria, Ukraine, Vietnam and Sweden.

    Press Conference with Pia Cramling

    Interview with Pia Cramling.

    Pia Cramling may be the story as the congenial 53-year old has been at the top longer than some of the players have been alive. Always very gracious and humble, she looks forward to her epic match with Alexandra Kosteniuk.

    Official Website: https://tehran2017.fide.com/
    Live Games: https://tehran2017.fide.com/live/live.html
    All PGN Games (TWIC): https://www.theweekinchess.com/

  4. 2017 Women’s World Chess Championship
    February 10th-March 4th, 2017 (Tehran, Iran)
    Match Scores (Round #3)
    Pairings
    1 Ju Wenjun
    CHN
    3½-2½
    Girya, O
    RUS
    2 Padmini, Rout
    IND
    2½-3½
    Tan Zhongyi
    CHN
    3 Harika, Dronavalli
    IND
    3½-2½
    Guramishvili, S
    GEO
    4 Dzagnidze, Nana
    GEO
    1½-½
    Shen Yang
    CHN
    5 Muzychuk, A
    UKR
    2-0
    Pham, Le Thao
    VIE
    6 Stefanova, A
    BUL
    1½-½
    Khurtsidze, Nino
    GEO
    7 Kosteniuk, A
    RUS
    4-2
    Cramling, P
    SWE
    8 Ni Shiqun
    CHN
    1½-½
    Pogonina, N
    RUS
    Drum Coverage
    | Round 1 | Round 2 | Round 3 | Round 4 |
    | Semifinals | Finals |

    The cream is starting to rise to the top as the round of “Sweet Sixteen” featured marquee matchups. There were the young hopefuls hoping for another upset and veterans hoping to keep them at bay. Former champions Alexandra Kosteniuk and Antoaneta Stefanova will try to reclaim the title while several elite Europeans and a contingent of seven Asians vie for the crown.

    In the first game, there were victories by Anna Muzychuk and Nana Dzagnidze, but the win by Stefanova ended in a bishop and knight mate.

    Nino Khurtsidze played on, but it was apparent that Stefanova had the technique and got the formation to execute the “W” technique.

    The idea is to get the same formation on the h-, f-, d- and b-files. You lose a tempo, deliver a check with the knight and then checkmate with the bishop on a1. Interestingly enough, Khurtsidze resigned instead of allowing the checkmate. The question being, why test your opponent’s technique until two moves before mate then deny her the chance to present it?

    Games from WWCC2017 (Round 3, Game 1)

    Most of the favorites were winners of the matches, but Natalija Pogonina was sent home by 19-year old Ni Shiqun of China. Ni, who admires Boris Gelfand, won the second with a powerful performance. She stated that she never had an idea that she would be close to a championship title, but faces former champion Alexandra Kosteniuk who beat the legendary Pia Cramling. There would be four tiebreaks to decide the quarterfinalists. Dronavali Harika, who is one of the favorites to win the crown, would have to go to tiebreaks to keep her dream alive.

    Games from WWCC2017 (Round 3, Game 2)

    Padmini Rout

    India’s Padmini Rout

    The tiebreaks were very tense with Ju Wenjun and Olga Girya trading wins in the rapids and the Chinese player winning in the last 10+10 game. Tan Zhongyi who had lost the first rapid game against Padmini Rout and had to bounce back quickly in the second and promptly equalized. Rout played a horrible opening in the second 25+10 game and was crushed. In the first 10+10 game, Rout sacrificed an exchange, but did not get enough compensation and was behind a game. In the second 10+10, Tan played the Pirc Defense and equalized easily to become the third Chinese player to advance.

    Alexandra Kosteniuk who won a thrilling encounter over Pia Cramling when the Sweden blundered in time pressure of the first 10+10 game. In fact, Cramling was an exchange for a pawn with clear winning chances when disaster struck. Cramling was trying to get the queens off the board, but lost her sense of danger in time pressure after 47.Qd2?? Kosteniuk belted out 47…Qf1+ 48.Kh2 Be5+ winning back the exchange. White’s exposed king was defenseless as black gobbled up two more pawns and developed a deadly battery on the diagonal. Cramling resigned. Heart-breaking loss for the Swede, who always charms chess fans for her humility and graciousness.

    Games from WWCC2017 (Round 3, Tiebreaks)

    Official Website: https://tehran2017.fide.com/
    Live Games: https://tehran2017.fide.com/live/live.html
    All PGN Games (TWIC): https://www.theweekinchess.com/

  5. 2017 Women’s World Chess Championship
    February 10th-March 4th, 2017 (Tehran, Iran)
    Match Scores (Round #4)
    Pairings
    1 Ju Wenjun
    CHN
    ½-1½
    Tan Zhongyi
    CHN
    2 Dronavalli, H
    IND
    2½-1½
    Dzagnidze, N
    GEO
    3 Muzychuk, A
    UKR
    1½-½
    Stefanova, A
    BUL
    4 Kosteniuk, A
    RUS
    1½-½
    Ni Shiqun
    CHN
    Drum Coverage
    | Round 1 | Round 2 | Round 3 | Round 4 |
    | Semifinals | Finals |

    A nation of over a billion people are cheering after Dronavali Harika advanced to the semifinal round of the Women’s World Championships in Tehran, Iran. After defeating Nana Dzagnidze in the tiebreaker, she is on a history-making quest to become the first India woman in history to win the title. The other three countries represented in the final four have all had champions, including Alexandra Kosteniuk who was world champion in 2008.

    Mariya and sister Anna after advancing to the final.

    Will Anna claim the glory like younger sister Mariya?

    Anna Muzychuk is trying to make history by being the first sister duo to hold world championships in chess. Her younger sibling Mariya Muzychuk won the last knockout tournament two years ago. Tan Zhongyi attempts to add to the Chinese dominance and become the fifth Chinese player to hold the title. Hou Yifan will abdicate her crown.

    In round four, perhaps stamina becomes a factor. Former champion Antoaneta Stefanova lost focus an erred with after 34.d6! Qe6?! (34…Kh8) 35.dxc7 Nd5? Approaching the 40th move, Muzychuk sealed the result with 36.Qb5 when black’s position collapses. In Dronavali-Dzagnidze, the Indian positionally outplayed the Georgian and scored a smooth win.

    Games from WWCC2017 (Round 4, Game 1)

    In the second game, Dzagnidze came roaring back to equalize the match in an English. Dronavali’s pieces got tangled and she ceded a pawn in the middlegame. She was confident she could hold the draw in the rook ending, but even with her active rook, she couldn’t manage. She was slowly pushed back and Dzagnidze converted the point to level the match 1-1.

    The biggest upset of the round was Ju Wenjun falling to Tan Zhongyi. In fact, it was revealed in the post-game press conference that Tan has had quite a bit of success against Ju and won another tiebreak match against her in a Chinese tournament. The top seed allowed black good play and there was a buzz in the air after 16…Bc2!

    Bad news for Ju. The move 16.g4 was definitely a risk that came to hurt her later. After 19…Bd6! the white queen was overloaded and she had to donate material. In a weird ending white had two knights and a bishop versus two rooks, but the active rooks demolished the clumsy minor pieces. Ju blundered in time pressure with 37.Ke3?? and 37…Rxe2 wins trivially.

    Alexandra Kosteniuk is attempting to reclaim the crown and made a statement that she had already done better than expected. She was facing a 19-year old upstart who had already beaten two of her Russia compatriots in Valentina Gunina and 2015 finalist Natalija Pogonina. This game would be one of the close study and the ending was definitely better for white with her two bishops and extra pawn.

    Kosteniuk probed and probed until she found the right plan and set up a cute finale with a deflection mate in two. Out of the ten Russians who made it to Tehran, there was still one standing… and she is perhaps the best candidate given her experience.

    Games from WWCC2017 (Round 4, Game 2)

    There would only be one tiebreak with Dronavali and Dzagnidze. In the first tiebreak game, Dronavali opted for 1.e4 and faced a Kan Sicilian. The game got tactical, but when the queens were traded, white had a slight advantage with the two bishops and space. What more could you want? As the bishops zipped around the board, black’s pieces could not gain any mobility and was slowly squeezed.

    Black managed to simplify into a rook ending, but white’s rook on the 7th and aggressive king was compensation for the pawn. Dronavali showed a bit of technique and ended the game with the smart 47.Rxa3! when white pawn will go through. Dzagnidze resigned a few moves later. In the second tiebreak game, Dzagnidze ran out of gas and was also outplayed, but the Indian offered a draw in a winning position.

    Games from WWCC2017 (Round 4, Tiebreaks)

    Official Website: https://tehran2017.fide.com/
    Live Games: https://tehran2017.fide.com/live/live.html
    All PGN Games (TWIC): https://www.theweekinchess.com/

  6. 2017 Women’s World Chess Championship
    February 10th-March 4th, 2017 (Tehran, Iran)
    Match Scores (Semifinals)
    Pairings
    1 Tan Zhongyi
    CHN
    5-4
    Dronavalli, H
    IND
    2 Muzychuk, A
    UKR
    2-0
    Kosteniuk, A
    RUS
    Drum Coverage
    | Round 1 | Round 2 | Round 3 | Round 4 |
    | Semifinals | Finals |

    Tan Zhongyi
    Photo by David Llada

    The first game of the semifinal matches began with a bang. Two Asian competitors faced off and in the other match were players from two European chess powers. Dronavali Harika and Tan Zhongyi (with surnames first) started off calmly, but it appeared the Indian played too cautiously with her Nimzo-Indian. Essaying a solid setup, the Indian player played 14…Ng4!? The move looks like a one move cheap shot as it threatened 15…Bxf3 and 16…Qxh2 mate, but the idea was to force white to commit to playing h3 and weaken the kingside a bit.

    Dronavali seemed to wander with 20….Qa6 and the queen and Tan grabbed more space. While white had a weak pawn structure, black had a flexible formation and few worried, but after 23.Qg4, white’s intentions were clear. They repeated moves twice, but the Chinese continued to forge ahead with the ambitious 26.Re4. Even though this move is apparently dubious, it has psychological value. Engines don’t like it, but they have no emotions. It is certainly a menacing move.

    Tan Zhonyi vs. Dronavali Harika, 1-0

    Tan Zhonyi on the attack with 35.Qf3 against Dronavali Harika
    Photo by David Llada

    Tan ended the game smartly with the picturesque 44.Rxh6!

    The black queen kept flailing away on the queenside, not fully appreciating the pending trouble. Before Dronavali realized her peril, she had to scurry the queen with 33…Qh7, literally guarding the king. It wasn’t enough. Tan played 34.Rf4, and at this point, the Indian knew she was in grave danger. She tried to solve her problems tactically, with 36…Nd7, hoping for 37.Rxf7 Qb1+! 38.Kh2 Nxe5 when 39.Rf8+ Kh7!-+ However, the Chinese player maintained the pressure. Finally, the black queen became entombed the white rooks, and the finishing blow came with 44.Rxh6! Dronavali resigned and must win to continue her historic quest.

    Tan-Dronavali (Annotations by WGM Swati Ghate)

    Anna Muzychuk

    Anna Muzychuk is the reigning women’s blitz and rapid champion and is trying to win the classical. She would repeat the feat of Magnus Carlsen who held three such titles at once. The Ukrainian did not get off to a good start, and it appeared she would have problems holding the position. Alexandra Kosteniuk got a favorable position out of the opening but no decisive advantage. Both players made some inaccuracies as time pressure loomed, but Kosteniuk missed a few knockout blows such as 32.Bxg7, 33.Bc5 and 34.Be3!

    Nevertheless white had a pawn edge (after 41.Nxe6!) to go along with a queenside majority. Inexplicably, Kosteniuk continued to make mistakes. On 56.Ne5?? Muzychuk found 56…Ng5! and now the tide turned. With the devastating Rxe5 threat, white had to cede a pawn. After 57.Rb3 Nxh3+ 58.Kh2 Nxf2! black is up a pawn. Muzychuk pocketed another pawn after Kosteniuk played 60.Qb2? She probably was still in shock at the turn of events. The game ended swiftly after 64…Rf1 as white would suffer massive losses after 65.Kh1 Qe6! Kosteniuk will have to rebound to keep Russia’s hope alive for a championship.

    Games from WWCC2017 (Round 5, Game 1)

    Today’s games were must-win situations for both Dronavali and Kosteniuk. There were two Siclians today as Dronavali-Tan was a Rossolimi and Muzychuk-Kosteniuk was Sicilian Taimanov. Incidentally, Dronavali turned the position in a type of Ruy Lopez structure, but Tan overextended on the queenside and dropped a pawn. Tan sacrificed a pawn for counterplay, but Dronavali returned the pawn.

    Fatigue must be setting in because Tan dropped another pawn after 40.Nxa5 and white was now clearly winning. Suddenly the Indian player launched at attack after 50.h5 gxh5 51.Qc1 (or 51.Qc7!), but the game got a bit murky. Dronavali missed mate after 56…f5?? For example, 56.Qe7+! Kxc8 57.Bd3! White still carried the advantage but needed the services of her passed pawn.

    The queens came off, and black had to sacrifice her pieces to stop the white pawns setting the stage for another bishop and knight mate. It may be the first time in awhile that we’ve seen two in one tournament. Dronavali showed some poor technique in executing the maneuver and allowed the king to escape a few times before getting the right formation and delivering the mate. As in Stefanova-Buska, the mate was not allowed.

    Anna Muzychuk vs. Alexandra Kosteniuk, 1-0

    Anna Muzychuk and Alexandra Kosteniuk prepare to play with an inspiring background. Photo by David Llada

    In the Muzychuk-Kosteniuk game, the Russia misplayed the opening and there followed a Maroczy Bind set. Kosteniuk played the speculative 6…Bc5 instead of 6…Bb4 and never got close to equalizing after 7.Nxc6 bxc6 8.e5 Ng8. With only a draw needed, white swapped queens and there was no hope to win for black. In fact, white was better with an advantage in space and the two bishops. It was simply a smooth win for Muzychuk as she closed the match and will try to win the “Triple Crown” in the finals.

    Games from WWCC2017 (Round 5, Game 2)

    The tiebreaks between Dronavali and Tan were epic. There were three occasions where a win was needed to stave off elimination and it and was delivered. The first game was a complete disaster and Tan simply had not focused and was demolished in 17 moves. The simply 12.Qh4! wins a pawn as black’s knights are in awkward positions. The ensuing attack looked like something out of a blitz game in a coffee house.

    In the second rapid game, Dronavali appeared to be heading toward a draw and thus, advancing to the finals. The game evolved into a knight ending with have to be treated with care. Some opine that they are more like pawn ending in that tempos are extremely crucial. There were a number of missed opportunities as the Indian was trying to avoid getting into zugzwang. However, there were a comedy of errors made between moves 40-50 with 49…Kb5?? being ultimate. After that, white picked off pawns and use her a- and h-pawns with great effect. Unfortunately, minor pieces can’t effectively defend both sides of the board and Tan had leveled the score.

    In the ten-minute games, the game was mostly equal until Dronavali got her pieces tangled up when trying to shield her exposed king. White’s 54.Qe3 required 54…Re7 when Ng6 would cover everything. However, 54…Qf5?? was played and 55.Nd3 wins a piece. Fatigue was certainly becoming a factor. Tan finished the game with a cute mating sequence. So Dronavali had to win again.

    In the Lowental variation, the Indian was not playing the most testing lines and Tan got comfortable equality. Dronavali sacrificed her queen for a rook and bishop believing she could gang up on black’s weakened pawns. It appeared that the active queen was more than capable of disrupting the coordination of the pieces. Nevertheless, the position was dynamically equal until Tan began wandering her queen around the board flailing at secured targets.

    After 61…Qe5+ Dronavali got her break! On 66.e5! Qg6?? the tide had turned. White basically shouldered the queen away and started advancing both the b- and e-pawns. The checking queen chased the white king to no avail and Dronavali had equalized again!! Amazing comeback!

    Comparatively speaking, the two 5-minutes games were uneventful and they were drawn. It is uncertain why Dronavali kept trying the Lowenthal when she was not getting an advantage. The Armageddon game would the last of a tense and thrilling match. Both players were completely exhausted as the level of play was deteriorating. In the coin toss, Tan got the choice and chose black and four minutes. This mean white had to win the game. Since Dronavali had not shown anything with white, it was a prudent choice.

    Either 57.Qf5+! or 59.Qf5+! would have sealed the win since white will force a trade of queens after a check on the dark square and then Qh4.

    This time the game started 1.Nf3 and went into a type of King’s Indian Attack. Tan actually dropped a pawn with 31…Nhf6 32.Nfxe5. The problem was that white had to win. Tan made a few mistakes in assessing the situation and thought that the queen ending would easily be drawn. She actually blundered with 54…Qh3 when 55.exf6+ Kxf6 56.Qe5+ wins.

    After black’s 56…Kf7, Dronavali panicked and played 57.Qe1?? Black even repeated the losing position meaning she was encouraging white to find the winning plan. She didn’t find 57. Qf5+! or 59.Qf5+! which leads to a trade of queens on the h4-square. Play was fast and furious with white trying to break through. She had another chance, but was running dangerously low on time.

    On 66.Qd6+, black repeated moves twice so on 68…Kf7, white should play 69.Qe6+ and forcing a trade of queens on the h4-square as in the previous line. After 20 more moves both had taken pawns and tried to race passed pawns to the queening square. However, both queens on an open board were defending and attacking, neutralizing. Dronvali queened. Tan queened. In the final position, it would have been drawn, but the Indian GM had lost on time.

    Dronavali was distraught after the match feeling that she had let her country down. Not at all. She played every match until tiebreak and deliever a bishop and knight mate in 162-move game and staved off elimination a number of times. Her performance was truly courageous. Viswanthan Anand had also tweeted words of support.

    Games from WWCC2017 (Round 5, Tiebreaks)

    Official Website: https://tehran2017.fide.com/
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  7. 2017 Women’s World Championship: Finals

    2017 Women's World Chess Championship, Tehran, Iran

    A new woman will be declared World Champion as the knockout tournament dwindles down to two competitors. Both Tan Zhongyi and Anna Muzychuk had trod different paths to reach the final Zhongyi survived an intense tiebreak despite being on the brink of defeat in the Armageddon game.

    On the other hand, Muzychuk has waltzed through her five competitors winning every match without tiebreaks. Odds would have her as the favorite since she is higher rated and has had more rest. However, Tan has showed tremendous grit and determination without the pressure of high expectations.

    Tan has beaten Sabina Foisor (USA) 1½-½, Anna Ushenina (UKR) 4½-4½ (tiebreaks), Padmini Rout (IND) 3½-2½, Ju Wenjun (CHN) 1½-½ and Dronavali Harika (IND) 5-4… formidable competition. Muzychuk defeated Amina Mezioud (ALG) 2-0, Alina Kashlinskaya (RUS) 1½-½, Pham Le Thao (VIE) 2-0, Antoaneta Stefanova (BUL) 1½-½ and Alexandra Kosteniuk (RUS) 2-0.

    There will be four classical games with 40 moves in first 90 minutes and then 30m+30s. In the event of a equal score, the tiebreak will consist of two-game matches two rapid 25m+10s, two blitz 10m+10s, two blitz 5m+3s and one Armageddon will decide the match.

    2017 Women’s World Chess Championship
    February 10th-March 4th, 2017 (Tehran, Iran)
    FINAL (Tan Zhongyi vs. Anna Muzychuk)
     
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    Zhongyi
    China
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    Ukraine
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    Drum Coverage
    | Round 1 | Round 2 | Round 3 | Round 4 |
    | Semifinals | Finals |

    Official Website: https://tehran2017.fide.com/
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  8. Game #1: Match starts off slowly… Tan Zhongyi holds with ease
    Monday, 27 February 2017

    The first game of the final was a bit staid and not much content was seen in the battle. Tan played the “Fort Knox” French which is characterized by a quick Bd7-c6 maneuver to solidify the center. It is a solid setup that is difficult to breach. Muzychuk had an interesting plan. She wanted to set up an attacking formation with a bishop on b2, but was unable to get a sizable advantage.

    Tan’s kingside was compromised after 21.Bxf6, but there was nothing. Usually the queen and knight make a devastating attacking pair, covering many squares and patterns. However, the Chinese player even moved into a discovered check with 38…Kh8 to sure she had no fear. The game ended in a three-fold repetition.


    Game Result:
    Tan-Muzychuk, ½-½
    Match Score: Tan-Muzychuk, ½-½

    Game #1 from WWCC2017 (Finals)

    Official Website: https://tehran2017.fide.com/
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  9. Game #2: China roars as Tan takes lead!
    Tuesday, 28 February 2017

    Tan Zhongyi, 2017 Women's World Chess Championship, Tehran, Iran

    After holding comfortably with the black pieces, the Chinese tried 5.Qd3!? instead of the normal 5.Bg5 or 5.e3. Perhaps Tan wanted to sidestep preparation. The game followed Mchedlishvili-Georgiev, but after 12.e5!? Tan grabbed space and pushed back black’s foray 13…Ng4. She continued to grab space after 19.Be4 Bxe4 20.Nxe4 Rhc8 21.f3 Nh6 22.g4. Black donated a pawn, but it did not relieve the pressure.

    Muzychuk swapped pawns to activate her rook, but the advantage turned over the kingside. White’s king marched up the board and participated in the mating attack. Black was looking for stalemating “crazy rook” tricks, but there was nothing left and after 55.Kg6 Ra1 55.Rf7 (55.Rxa1?? stalemate). Tan is in line to become the 5th Chinese World Champion, but Muzychuk still wants to be the 3rd Ukrainian.


    Game Result:
    Tan-Muzychuk, 1-0
    Match Score: Tan-Muzychuk, 1½-½

    Game #2 from WWCC2017 (Finals)

    Official Website: https://tehran2017.fide.com/
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  10. Game #3: Muzychuk levels the score!
    Wednesday, 1 March 2017

    Anna Muzychuk stormed back today with a sacrificial attack.
    Photo by David Llada

    In the third game of the final match, Anna Muzychuk would play the white pieces and while she didn’t necessarily need to score a win, it may be her best chance. Thus far, Tan Zhongyi has played very well in this match, but perhaps her energy is fading. She played the French Defense once again, but the game entered classical lines.

    In fact, the game followed a couple of notable games (Shomeoev-Nepomniachtchi, 0-1 (51); Leko-Thorhallsson, 1-0 (34)), but instead of 12.Nb5 and 12.Qe1! Muzychuk played the natural-looking 12.Bd3. In these types of position, there is a anticipation of whose attack will break through first. Both continued with the motif after 12…a6 13.h4 b5. GM Pavel Eljanov had this to say about the position…

    Muzychuk sat there transfixed at the board. There was a buzz coming from the commentator booth where Evgeny Miroschenko was analyzing 14.Bxh7 and 14.Ng5… both looked promising, but the former was speculative. The problem with this sacrifice was that if it didn’t work, the match could be over immediately. Muzychuk’s time was dwindling down. It was now or never. Then…

    Wham!

    Muzychuk admitted that the continuation was not clear and she didn’t see a forcing win. However, she is playing Tan Zhongyi and not Sergey Karjakin. In fact, black missed chances to defend more vigorously. After 14…Kxh7 15.Qd3+ Kg8 16.Ng5, black played the best move in 16…f5. With less than 10 minutes on the clock Muzychuk missed 17.Qe2! with a powerful attack and opted for 17.Nxd5.

    Tan simply ignored white’s attack at her peril. She could’ve held with 19…Nd5!

    Both Miro and Anastasia Kharlovich, both from the Ukraine, found it difficult to be objective as they didn’t examine the most stout defensive options for Tan. There was a lot of optimism in the Ukrainian camp, but when 19.Bd2?! was played, there was pause even though white was clearly better. Tan didn’t play the 19…Nd5 when the position becomes unclear after 20.Qf3. On Qh5, Black can always sacrifice a knight with Nf6 and fight a pawn down. However, Tan played 19.Rb8?? losing to 20.Qd6! after which she had a number of ways to finish the game. Muzychuk found 30.h6! Nf7 31.Rd7 Rxd6 32.Rxf7.

    Tan resigned and perhaps it is quite a blow for her. Holding a draw would have put immense pressure on Muzychuk. The Ukrainian is the reigning rapid and blitz champion and will be favored if they should go to tiebreaks. The fourth and possibly last game will be highly intense. Will they draw quickly and go for tiebreaks or will someone try a surprise and go for the crown?


    Game Result:
    Muzychuk-Tan, 1-0
    Match Score: Tan-Muzychuk, 1½-1½

    Game #3 from WWCC2017 (Finals)

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  11. Tiebreaks: Tan Zhongyi wins the Women’s World Championship!
    Friday, 3 March 2017

    Today would be the finale’ of the Women’s World Chess Championship. After 20 days of mental combat, two heroines were left standing. In fact, it would be a “David vs. Goliath” type of match with Anna Muzychuk being the heavy favorite against China’s unheralded Tan Zhongyi.

    Anna Muzychuk
    Photo by David Llada

    Muzychuk was the reigning women’s rapid and blitz champion, and Tan had no such accomplishments. However, it is very difficult to know how strong Chinese players are since they play most of their tournaments locally. We saw relatively unknown Chinese Ni Shiqun reach the quarterfinals before being ousted by Alexandra Kosteniuk. One thing going to Tan was being battle-tested by playing the toughest opposition. On the other hand, Muzychuk would be playing her first tiebreak under tremendous pressure.

    The first game was a Petroff when the game steered into an aggressive treatment with 5.Nc3 Nxc3 6.dxc3. This line features opposite side castling and takes on a Sicilian character. In this game, it appeared that Tan almost equalized, but Muzychuk was holding an edge in space. The Ukrainian then dove in with 19.Qxb7 believing that her king would be perfectly safe despite the open b-file. The queens came off, and white had a better pawn structure, but nothing that would lead to a decisive edge.

    Tan alertly sacrificed a pawn with 32…e4! to free her bishop. White still have a slight advantage with a rook on the 7th and an aggressive king. However, Tan played actively and was able to swap a few pawns, reducing her losing chances. Muzychuk was quietly trying to get at the bare black king with 49.Rh7+ Ke8 50.Be5, but perhaps overestimated black’s f-pawn and instead of 51.Ra7, traded rooks after 50…Rh2 51.Rxh2. The game fizzled quickly into a draw.

    The second game started as a Catalan, but the game quickly became unbalanced. Tan tried 15.Na4!? with the idea on 15…Nxa4 16.bxa4 white would generate queenside pressure. Black subsequently equalized and had a strong knight on d5. It appeared that black was making progress and decided to sack a pawn for piece play. The plan seemed to be paying off as Muzychuk generated a passed b-pawn and started racing it toward b1. However, a horrible blunder occurred after 38…b4 39.Qe5+. In this crucial position, black can continue with 39…Kg8 giving white a draw at any time, but she opted for the fatal 39…Kh6?? and after 40.g4 she was being mated!

    What a turn of events! In the two world championship matches, the h6-square was prominent in opposite ways… Carlsen’s brilliant Qh6+!! and the lowly black king being slain on h6. Awful to end world championship in such a way, but a deserving victory for Tan Zhongyi!


    Final Match Score: Tan-Muzychuk, 3½-2½

    Tiebreaks from WWCC2017 (Finals)

    Official Website: https://tehran2017.fide.com/
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