Rather like London buses, you wait for a decent tournament and then two come along at once. As Round 3 in the Women’s World Chess Championship is almost complete, the first leg of the FIDE Grand Prix has begun in Sharjah. This competition is divided into four separate tournaments, the other three to be held in Moscow, Geneva and Majorca later in the year. The finer details lack clarity in the eyes of this correspondent who would welcome any available explanation. Twenty-four players have been selected and each will play in three of the four tournaments. The two players with the most points at the end qualify for the Candidates Tournament next year to select a challenger for the next World Championship. Eighteen are playing at Sharjah and as 4 x 18 = 72, all twenty-four players will have played in three tournaments at the end of the cycle. So far, so good. However, the official website lists only twenty-two players and does not include Hou Yifan who is currently playing at Sharjah. (Wei Yi is included but is not playing at Sharjah.) Are the two extra places left for ‘wild cards’? Not all the players regard the nine-round Swiss format as a ‘new, exciting format’ as described by FIDE on their site as with such a high-quality field there are no easy games from the start which might explain the high percentage of draws in Round 1.
Meanwhile, for those who like complicated tournaments, the Women’s World Championship should suit you. There are three preliminary rounds followed by four quarter-finals, two semi-finals and the final. The first two rounds whittled the players down from 64 to 32 and then 16 in Round 3. Tomorrow (Sunday) Round 3 will conclude and the last eight will begin their quarter-finals on Monday. Each match consists of two classic chess games followed, if necessary, by two 25 min + 10-sec increment rapid games, then if needed two additional 10+10 games, two 5+3 blitz games and finally a single Armageddon game, where White has 5 minutes to Black’s 4, but a draw counts as a win for Black. Not everyone is happy with the format and there have been many adverse comments posted online but this is why nine days have been set aside for the quarter-finals. While some of the early games posed few problems for the stronger players, Round 3 has proved tougher and four of the eight matches go to tie-breaks on Sunday. Watch this space. In Round 2 two games went to an Armageddon finish with one ending in a draw which meant that Black wins. The unluckiest player was probably WGM Natalyia Buksa of Ukraine who only needed a draw against IM Sopiko Guramishvili of Georgia in the second 10-minute rapidplay game to go through to Round 3. With K + R v K + R + N, she must have felt confident as the seconds ticked away. However, with only 1m 38 secs left on her clock, Black played the following move: 125….Rg2+
White, understandably, thought that was it and made the meaningless move 126.Kxe3?? before resigning after 126…Rxa2. What she missed, though, was that 126.Ke1! still draws, since 126…Rxa2 is stalemate! The first of the blitz games was drawn but Sopiko went on to win the second and go through to Round 3 and she is still there going into Sunday’s tie-breaks.