Grandmaster Sergey Shipov reviews the third round of the World Women’s Championship.

There are two real empires in chess – Russia and China. They are actively competing for the first place in the world in both team and individual events.

In the third round Russia lost three out of four representatives, while all three Chinese players remained in contention. Two days ago Chinese fans were probably depressed about Hou Yifan’s loss, now their mood should improve.

In my opinion, Antoaneta Stefanova is by far the most impressive player at the championship. She plays like her famous compatriot Veselin Topalov – simply sweeps the opponents from the board. Regardless of the match score, color of her pieces, or positional assessment, Antoaneta always plays for a win. And her current score is quite impressive – 5.5 out of 6! Ironically, such approach saves her a lot of energy, because she always earns extra rest days, avoiding tie-breaks. It is also pretty good for her confidence.

Monika Socko, who heroically knocked out the World Champion, wasn’t ready for a serious fight. And all Stefanova needed was one mistake…

                 SockoMonikaStefanovaAntoaneta

                 First classical game

The central tension is worrisome for White. Monika decides to solve the problem with the d4-pawn, but chooses the worst possible approach. She could take on d5 or move the bishop away from d3. However, she played more recklessly.

20.Qe3? e5!

A fine shot. White queen is under threat.

21.Bxe5.

Nothing is changed by 21.dxe5 d4, for example, 22.Qg3 (22.Qe2 dxc3 23.Bxb5 Nd4!) 22…dxc3 23.Bxb5 cxb2!, and Black wins.

 21…Nxe5 22.dxe5 d4 23.Qe2 dxc3.

The piece is gone, but the complications just begin.

 24.Bxb5 Qf8!

Black’s strongest piece learns from its white counterpart’s experience and retreats in advance.

 25.Bxa6 cxb2!

This important nuance is the only way for Black to get an advantage.

26.Rb1. The point is that after 26.Rxc8 Nxc8 White cannot take the pawn on b2 at once because she must protect the bishop on a6, and if 27.Bxc8, then 27…Rxa2! is very strong, threatening b2-b1Q.

 26…Rc7

27.e6.

Black’s pawn is tasteless: 27.Rxb2 Na4 and 28…Nc3 – Black wins an exchange.

 

27…Na4! 28.Bc4 f6. Simple and safe.

29.Qc2?

There was no need for it.

29…Qc8 30.Rd4 Nb6 31.Qxb2 Nxc4 32.Qe2 Na3 33.Rbd1 Qxe6. White resigns.

In the second game Antoaneta also initiated a complicated battle and won with confidence.

Who can stop the Bulgarian amazon on her way to another title? This is the main question at the championship right know.

The experienced Ukrainian and the young Chinese played a very intriguing and deep match. The outcome was decided by subtle nuances.

                  JuWenjunZhukovaNatalia

                    First classical game

The rook ending looks slightly better for White, but is actually completely equal.

34…Rc4 35.Rd4.

Ju made this move very quickly, which probably confused Natalia. 35.Rd8 Rxb4 36.Rb8 Rb2+ 37.Kf3 g5! leads nowhere.

35…b5?

This was also played without much thought, just like the opponent’s previous move. If Zhukova took her time, she would notice that the pawn ending after 35…Rxd4 36.exd4 Kd5 37.Kd3 b5 is a book draw. I was unable to find any subtle lines where Black needs an extra tempo b7-b6, so there are no complications whatsoever. For example, 38.h4 (38.f3 g5) 38…g6 39.f3 h6 40.g4 f4! (40…fxg4 gives White illusion of hope after 41.fxg4 g5 42.h5 b6 43.Ke3 Kc4 44.Ke4 Kxb4 45.d5 Kc5 46.Ke5 b4 47.d6 b3 48.d7 b2 49.d8Q b1Q 50.Qd6+ Kb5 51.Qxh6, although not really…) 41.g5 h5, and this is simply a fortress: 42.Kc3 Ke6 43.Kd2 Kd6 44.Kd3 Kd5.

36.Kd3 Rc1.

Now the rooks cannot be traded, because White then brings her king on d4.

37.g4!

White creates dangerous activity on the kingside.

37…fxg4.

More accurate is 37…g6! 38.gxf5+ gxf5 39.Rh4 Rb1 40.Rxh7 Rxb4 with decent drawing chances.

38.Rxg4 Kf6.

Here 38…g6 is not good because of 39.Rg5!

39.Rf4+! Ke6?!

An inaccuracy that leads to a disaster. Much better is 39…Kg6!, and the outcome is still uncertain.

40.Rh4!

This rook pendulum destroys Black’s defense.

40…Rd1+ (if 40…h6, then 41.Rh5 is unpleasant)

41.Ke2 Rb1 42.Rxh7 g5.

After 42…Kf6 43.Rh4 White has basically two extra pawns. It is curious that the computer needs some time to assess the position correctly.

43.h4! g4.

This is the only practical chance.

44.Rxb7 Rxb4 45.h5 Rb2+.

There are no good alternatives: 45…Rb1 46.h6 Kf6 47.Rb6+! Kf7 (или 47…Kg5 48.h7 Rh1 49.Rxb5+ Kg6 50.Rb7+-) 48.e4 b4 49.h7 Kg7 (49…Rh1 50.Rxb4 Rxh7 51.Rb7+) 50.Rb7+ Kh8 51.e5+-.

46.Kf1 g3 47.fxg3 Kf5 48.h6

During the game I thought White has some difficulties, but the analysis showed that she had many ways to the goal.

 48…Rh2 49.h7.

Also after 49.Rxb5+ Kg4 50.h7 Rxh7 (50…Kxg3 51.Rb7 Kf3) 51.Kg2 White reaches a won position.

 49…Kg4 50.Kg1 Rh3 51.Rg7+ Kf3 52.g4 b4 53.g5 b3 54.g6 b2 55.Rb7 Rh6 56.Rxb2 Rxg6+ 57.Kh1. Black resigns.

In the second game Natalia pressured very hard. Ju only managed to build an illusion of a fortress.

                    ZhukovaNataliaJuWenjun 

                            Second classical game

During the online commentary I even thought this is a real fortress! However, the analysis killed this illusion, and the Ukrainian player confidently converted her advantage as well, playing under the strict regulation of 30 second per move.

56.Kf5 Bd4 57.Qc8 Be5 58.Qg8 Nc5 59.Qa8 Nd7 60.Qa7 Ke8 61.Qg1 Ke7 62.Qg5+ Ke8 63.Qh4 Nc5 64.Kg6 Nd7 65.Qf2 Nf8+ 66.Kf5 Nd7 67.Qa7 Bh2 68.Qc7

White wins quicker after 68.Qa4! Kd8 69.c5! and Qa4-h4+.

68…Be5 69.Qc8+ Ke7 70.Qg8 Nc5 71.Qh7+ Ke8 72.Kg6 Kd8 73.Kf7 Kc7 74.Ke8+ Kb6 75.Qb1+ Kc7 76.Qb5 Nb7 77.Qc6+ Kb8 78.Qb6 Kc8 79.Ke7 Nc5 80.Qa7 Nb7 81.Ke6 Nd8+ 82.Kf5 Nb7 83.Qb6 Bh2 84.Qc6+ Kb8 85.Qe8+ Ka7 86.Ke6 Nc5+ 87.Ke7 Kb7 88.Kd8! Be5 89.Qb5+ Ka7 90.Kc8 Bf4 91.Qb8+ Ka6

92.Kc7 Ne6+! 93.dxe6!, and Black gave up, not waiting for 93…d5+ 94.Kc6 Bxb8 95.e7!

However, on the next day the Chinese player proved more consistent and endure in a quickplay finish…

The Russian champion lost the match to her own ambition.

                      Ushenina, Anna – Pogonina, Natalija

                        First classical game

Black has dangerous initiative for a pawn. Her knight dreams about the outpost on c5, and when it comes there, white king will be in serious trouble. Anna was short on time at this point, so she decided to avoid risks.

35.Qc8+ Nf8 36.Qc4.

Here Black could just retreat the knight to d7 and accept a draw. However, Natasha saw the opponent’s nervousness and decided to gamble. And… it didn’t pay off.

36…Rxe2+? 37.Kxe2 Qb2+.

Now on 37…Nd7 White consolidates by 38.Qb3 Qc1 39.Qc2 Qa3, and now, for example, 40.g3 – Black cannot put the knight on c5 due to Nd3-c4.

38.Kd3 Kg7?!

A very logical misstep – Black attempts to bring her knight to d7. More tenacious is 38…Qb1+ 39.Kd2 Qb2+ 40.Nc2 Qb6.

39.Qb3.

Neither player spotted the surgical 39.Qc7! Qb1+ 40.Kd2 Qxa2+ 41.Nc2, capturing the d6-pawn.

39…Qa1 40.Qa4 (40.Qb6!?) 40…Qb1+ 41.Kd2 Qb2+ 42.Qc2 Qb6 43.Qb3 Qd8 44.Qa3.

This game is now over. Black’s activity evaporated. White carried out the с3-с4-с5 break and won easily.

The most experienced Russian player fell short of patience.

                Galliamova, Alisa – Sebag, Marie

                        First classical game

Very slow and painful preparation of the pawn break exhausted Alisa, and she slipped within a step from her goal.

23.Ne3?

Underestimating the strength of the c7-bishop. Of course, 23.Nf2 is correct, and on 23…Nh5 White has 24.f4 with the idea 24…Rxd2 25.Rxd2 Nxf4 26.Bf3!

23…Nh5! 24.Be1.

With the knight standing on e3 White cannot play 24.f4 due to 24…Nxe4. 24.Nf5 g6 is also bad.

24…Nd3 25.f4 Nxe1 26.Rexe1.

It is also possible that Galliamova stopped her calculation on this position – alas, little bit too early.

26…g5!

This changes everything – now White cannot hold the dark squares.

27.Bf3.

More resistant is 27.e5 gxf4 28.gxf4 Nxf4 29.Ng4!

27…Nxg3 28.Kxg3 gxf4+ 29.Kh4 fxe3 30.Rxe3 Rd4.

After 30…Rd6 31.Bg4! White installs her bishop on f5 and parries direct threats. Here Alisa was probably too upset about her pawn chain and missed a promising resource.

31.Rfe1?!

White’s best shot at a draw is 31.Rd1 – Black has big technical difficulties, and I am not even sure whether this position is won objectively.

31…f5.

Not the strongest of moves, but one cannot judge the winner.

32.R3e2?

32.Kg5 leads nowhere: 32…Re5!, and 33.exf5 is bad cause of 33…Rxe3 34.Rxe3 Bf4+. However, 32.Rd1! was once again possible, and Black does not profit from any exchanges.

32…Kg7!

The white king is in the mating net now.

33.Rg2+.

Similar is 33.Kh5 Re5! or 33.Kg5 Re5 34.exf5 Bd8+ 35.Kh5 Rh4#.

33…Kh6 34.Rge2 Rg8 35.Bg4 f4!

The mate is inevitable. White resigns.

The situation almost repeated itself on the next day: in the beginning everything was fine for Alisa, and then…

Sebag, Marie – Galliamova, Alisa

    Second classical game

After the dubious opening Black seized the initiative and made a lot of progress. White lost a pawn, and the following semi-sound attack is her only chance to survive.

39.g4! hxg4?

An automatic response in the time trouble! If Alisa had a couple of minutes to spare, she would find the correct reply: 39…Qc6! 40.Qf4 Rd4 41.Qf6 h4! (less clear is 41…Nd3 42.Nd5!) 42.g5 (or 42.Qxh4 Nd3 43.Rd1 Nxe5–+) 42…Nd3 43.Rf1 Nf4, and Black wins.

40.Nxg4.

Now white pieces get to the black king. The position is approximately even.

40…Rd1 41.Rxd1 Qxd1+ 42.Kh2 Qd4 43.Qf3!

Marie plays imaginatively and accurately.

43…Kf8 44.Qf6 Nd3 45.Kg3! b5.

After 45…Nxb2 46.Nh6 Ke8 47.Nxf7 Nxc4 48.Nd6+ Nxd6 49.Qxe6+ Kd8 50.exd6 Qg7 51.Qd5 White is saved by her active queen.

46.cxb5 axb5 47.Qh8+ Ke7 48.Qf6+ Ke8 49.Qh8+ Kd7 50.Qf6 Kc6 51.Qxf7 Qd7.

If Black continues 51…Qd5 52.Qxg6 Nxb2 53.h4, the passed pawn gives White enough compensation. Now the capture on g6 looks most natural, but Marie picks a different move.

 52.Qf8

This is so typical. Being under time pressure (for the second and the last time in the game), one wants to give checks – it saves time and occasionally checkmates the opponent. Well, it worked.

52…c4 53.Nf6 Qd4?

The decisive mistake. The best defender must stay close to the king: 53…Qc7!

54.Qc8+ Kb6 55.Nd7+ Ka5 56.Qa8+.

Black resigns in view of  56…Kb4 57.Qa3#.

Irina Krush was really close to the quarterfinal. She conducted the first game splendidly, and in the second game needed to make a draw as White. Everything was under control for a while.

                               KrushIrinaHuangQian

                                Second classical game

20.Qb1?

A wrong implementation of the correct idea. However, the reason is difficult to understand at the board.

The correct way of attacking the b6-pawn is 20.Qb3. In this case draw is inevitable. For example, 20…Nc6 21.Rxb6 dxc4 22.dxc4 Na5 23.Qb4 Nxc4 24.Rxb8 Qxb8 25.Qxb8 Rxb8 26.Nc5 Bb5 27.Rc1.

20…dxc4 21.dxc4 Bxc4! 22.Rxc4 b5.

First thunderstorms are gathering for White. She cannot retreat with her rook to b4 due to 23…bxa4, and the a4-pawn remains alive. Thus she needs to look for other squares on the 4th rank, and the choice is limited.

23.Rh4 bxa4 24.Qa2 Nd5 25.Qxa4 (25.Rxa4 Nc3!) 25…Bf6!

It’s even more limited that we expected!

26.Rh3.

A sad necessity. 26.Re4 Nc3 or 26.Rc4 Nb6 loses an exchange, as well as 26.Rg4 h5, etc.

26…Rb4 27.Qc2 Qc8!

With the rook is misplaced so badly on h3, Black is happy to trade queens.

28.Qxc8 Rxc8. 

White has no weaknesses yet, but the opponent effectively had an extra rook, and resisting under such circumstances is very hard.

29.Nd2 Nc3 30.f4.

This desperate freeing attempt only facilitates the inevitable conclusion. However, passive strategy was also doomed, for example, 30.Re1 h5 31.Bf1 Kg7 32.Bg2 Rd8 33.Nf3 Rb2 34.Bf1 Ne4, and Black gets to f2 first.

30…Rd8 31.Nf3 Kg7.

The Chinese player could be more forceful, but precision was so much more important in her situation, and we cannot blame her.

32.g4 g5! 33.fxg5 hxg5 34.Ne1 (34.Rg3? Ne2+) 34…Rxg4 35.Rhf3 Ne4 36.h3 Rh4.

Ironically, the poor rook is imprisoned on f3 as well.

37.Nc2 Rd7 38.Re1 Bc3 39.Rc1 f5 40.Rff1 Bd2 41.Rb1 Rc7 42.Rb2 Rc3 43.Rf3 Rh8 44.Bf1 Rhc8 45.Nb4 Bxe3+ 46.Kg2

46…g4!

The unfortunate rook is gone. White resigns.

The first rapid game was decided by a huge blunder.

                     HuangQian  – KrushIrina

                         First rapid game

Black seems to be in order. Her bishop is more active than its white counterpart, and the c6-pawn is safely blocked. Alas, Irina ran out of energy…

42…Qd2+ 43.Kh3 h5??

Of course one had to take the с4-square under control first, for instance, by 43…Qd4.

44.Bc4!

Now it’s over.

44…Qd8 45.Qxf7+ Kh8 46.Qxg6. Black resigns.

I have mixed feelings about the match of Kosintseva sisters. On one hand, this was a match of highly skilled players. On the other hand, they clearly didn’t want to distress each other by winning before tie-breaks or to reveal their opening secrets. In the end Nadezhda took the upper hand. Her current form is better, so it is only fair that she continues fighting for the title.

Which is already up for grabs.