The Women’s World Championship in Tehran is nearing its climax with one finalist already known – GM Anna Muzychuk of Ukraine. Her sister, Mariya, who chose not to enter as a result of  the hijab controversy, said that she respected her sister’s decision to take part as it had always been her dream to be world champion. In football terms she is now only one game away from achieving this but in this tournament that one game might in reality be nine….If she has any advantage over her opponent in the final, it will be in the number of games played. In none of her matches hitherto has Anna been stretched beyond the classical format including a 2-0 victory in the semi-final. On the other hand, one of her possible opponents, WGM Tan Zhongyi of China, has already played twenty-one games of various lengths including victory in an armageddon finish in Round 2 and a 1.5-0.5 win over the favourite Ju Wenjun in the quarter-final. Her semi-final match with GM Harika Dronavalli of India is tied at 1-1 after the two classical games. Harika herself has had no easier time, having played twenty games so far with the prospect of another possible seven before either player reaches the final. On that basis you have to fancy Anna’s chances although you can’t question Harika’s resilience. Having lost the first game in the semi-final and knowing a draw in the second would not be enough, she was faced with having to win a knight and bishop ending.  If you want to see how to achieve this but don’t fancy playing through 162 moves, you might want to start the following game at White’s move 116 when Black gives up her last piece and the fun begins.

White:   Harika Dronavalli (2539)   Black:  Tan Zhongyi (2502)       

Women’s World Championship 2017

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.

Broadstairs  2         Margate   2 

(Board positions based on July grades)

1 John Couzens (121) 0-1     Colin Gregory  (107)
2 Andy Flood (114) ½-½     Clive Le Baigue  (117)
3 Reg Pidduck (109) ½-½     Leon Garfield (105)
4 Bob Cronin (106) 1-0     John Clarke  (97)

Andy Flood writes:

Another close and even match between the local rivals saw Broadstairs achieve an unlikely draw from a late evening losing position. As John sought to secure a quick win with white for Broadstairs on Board 1, he was the first to finish in a surprise loss to Colin Gregory. Not the best of starts for Broadstairs who were in time difficulty on Board 2 and a piece down on Board 4 going into the endgame. Somehow Broadstairs Bob with his never-say-die attitude won from a lost position to even the match at 1 – 1 and to wrestle the Houdini mantle from the absent Paul Carfrae. On Board 2 against a resolute Clive Le Baigue playing a very solid game, I was in real time trouble and only achieved the requisite 36 moves with three seconds to spare. Closing up shop, the inevitable draw was agreed at the second offer: 1.5 v 1.5. So all depended on the last game with Reg a pawn down (rook and four pawns) to Leon (rook and five pawns). Reg cleverly swapped off the rooks and aggressively pushed forward his pawns to secure half a point for Broadstairs and to maintain our unbeaten record.


                                 Ju Wenjun

The 2017 Women’s World Chess Championship began in Tehran on February 11 and continues until March 3. 63 players are taking part in a six-round knockout tournament that has been surrounded by controversy since it was announced that all players would have to wear the hijab, leading to the refusal of several players to take part. Top seed, fresh from her triumph at the Tradewise Gibraltar Masters where she won the women’s first prize, is Ju Wenjun. If she can add the $60,000 first prize to the £15,000 she won in Gibraltar, it would make it a terrific start to 2017 for her. The odd number of players is explained by the death of the Romanian women’s chess champion, Cristina-Adela Foisor, last month. She has not been replaced and her opponent in round one has been given a bye.

Second seed in the competition is Anna Muzychuk of Ukraine who also had a fine tournament at Gibraltar, scoring 6/10, although her sister Maria, a former women’s world champion, is one of the absentees, saying that in her opinion “it’s absolutely obvious that Iran isn’t a suitable country for such a prestigious event.” An alternative view was understandably offered by the Iranian WGM Mitra Hejazipour, who said: “This is going to be the biggest sporting event women in Iran have ever seen; we haven’t been able to host any world championship in other sporting fields for women in the past. It’s not right to call for a boycott. These games are important for women in Iran; it’s an opportunity for us to show our strength.”  Unfortunately, we shall not be seeing any more of the strength of Iranian women’s chess for now as all three home players have already been eliminated.

The current world champion, Hou Yifan, is also absent from Tehran owing to her objection to the arrangements. Her mood at Gibraltar and bizarre protest in the final round may have had something to do with this defeat in Round 6 to her new rival and the favourite to take her crown.                                  

White:   Hou Yifan (2651)   Black:  Ju Wenjun (2583)       

Tradewise Gibraltar Masters 2017

Broadstairs  5         Herne Bay   2 

1 David Faldon (179) 0-1        Bernie Kooiman  (189)
2 Nick McBride (171) 1-0         Bob Pooley  (153)
3 Bob Page (141) 0-1         Paul Arnold (120)
4 John Couzens (125) 1-0         Paul Johnson (113)
5 Andy Flood (117) 1-0         Ronnie Melhuish (96)
6 Reg Pidduck (107) 1-0         Eddie Ridley (64)
7 Bob Cronin (103) 1-0         John Heath  (48)

David Faldon writes:

Our second win of the season out of six attempts leaves us in mid-table of the 2016/17 Millar Cup, behind Bridge and Folkestone but above Herne Bay and Margate. Reg was the first to score on board 6. His opponent played very quickly, but Reg wasn’t put off, calmly winning a pawn, then a bishop, then the game without any big scares. All of the other games lasted until 10pm, when Nick on board 2 completed a very well-played attack with a snap checkmate. Hopefully we’ll be able to show this game on the site as it’s a great example of bringing every last piece (and pawn) into the attack to overcome the toughest defence. John’s game on board 4 finished next with another Broadstairs win. This time it was John defending carefully until he got his chance to break out. Bob Cronin then finished off his game to wrap up the match win (4-0 up with 3 to play). Bob won a rook early on but he then had to be a bit careful not to let things slip. Next, Andy’s slow but sure progress on board 5 put us 5-0 up, which was just as well as the last two boards didn’t add to the team’s score. Overall a good solid team performance where none of our winners ever seemed in any danger of losing. Bridge next, away, on Feb 28th.