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

These were incredible battles of the equals. Many brilliant moves, tons of mistakes, cemeteries of neuronal cells… The winners were luckier, sure, but they deserved it.

I do not believe in fate, so I think we must not talk about fairness and legitimacy. Each player could advance to the semifinal. The losers just made their mistakes later than the winners did. Unlucky.

The winners, however, earned these victories with their fighting spirit, patience and passion. They are deserved to be lucky.

The most exciting match was played between the most decorated and the most withdrawn of the remaining participants. The French wasn’t weaker on the board, but lost the battle of wills.

 

Sebag, Marie – Stefanova, Antoaneta

First classical game

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0–0 b5 6.Bb3 Bb7 7.d3 Be7 8.a4 0–0 9.Re1 d6 10.Nbd2 Na5 11.Ba2 b4 12.Nf1 c5 13.Bd2 Rb8 14.Ne3 Bc8 15.Nc4 Nc6 16.c3

Black’s build is very firm and solid. It cannot be refuted by either direct assault or subtle positional maneuvers. One needs to come up with something very special.

16…h6. A new move. Earlier Black tested 16…a5 17.h3 Qc7 18.Rc1 Qb7?! (18…Ba6!) 19.Bg5 Rd8 20.d4 h6 21.d5!, and White is better, Spraggett-Campora, Santo Antonio 2003.

17.h3 Be6 18.a5! An enterprising attempt!

18…bxc3. Already here I started to worry about Stefanova. I figured she doesn’t feel confident, and that was about right. The move is not bad by itself, but why would she want to release the tension when it’s not necessary? More energetic is 18…Rb5, leaving White fever options due to the a5-pawn weakness. The game could continue 19.Ne3 Rxa5 20.Bxe6 fxe6 21.cxb4 Rxa1 22.Qxa1 Nxb4 23.Bxb4 cxb4 24.Qxa6 Nh5, and Black puts the knight on f4 and solves all her problems.

19.bxc3 Nd7. This maneuver is a bit strange. Black cannot play f7-f5 or Be7-g5 in the near future, so why she moves the knight away from d5? Here 19…Rb5! also looked quite safe, for example, 20.Ne3 (or 20.Qa4 Qc7, and there is no 21.Ne3 Rxa5) 20…Bxa2 21.Rxa2 Rxa5 etc.

20.Qa4 Qc7. Forced. 20…Rb5 is now strongly met by 21.Nxd6! Bxd6 22.Bxe6 fxe6 23.c4 – White regains a piece and leaves Black with a ruined pawn formation.

21.Ne3! White uses time to regroup and prepare a break in the center.

21…Nf6. Black holds by 21…Bd8 22.Bxe6 fxe6 23.Qc4 Re8 24.Qxa6 Nxa5, but this looks too artificial.

22.d4! The most interesting continuation, although computer considers it only second best. It suggests 22.Nd5 Bxd5 23.exd5 Nxa5 24.c4 Nb7, which gives next to nothing in my opinion.

22…Bxa2 (of course not 22…Nxe4? 23.d5) 23.Rxa2 exd4 24.cxd4 Nb4! Mass exchanges give Black no relief: 24…Nxd4 25.Nxd4 cxd4 26.Qxd4, and the white knight is about to jump on f5, while 26…g6 is bad because of 27.Bc3!

25.Bxb4. It is hard to believe, but one could simply ignore the black knight on b4: 25.e5! dxe5 26.dxe5 Ne4 (weaker is 26…Nd7 27.Bxb4 Rxb4 28.Qd1! threatening Ne3-d5) 27.Nf5!, and if 27…Nxa2, then after 28.Qxe4 Black has no time to save her kingside: 28…Bd8 29.Qg4 g6 30.e6 with a devastating attack. Also after 27…Nxd2 28.Rxd2 the knight on b4 is useless, and White can continue her attack: 28…Rbd8 29.Qb3 Nc6 30.e6.

However, let us remain objective: among human beings, only Kasparov in his prime could find such variations. Girls can rarely play like this.

25…Rxb4 26.Qc2

A very subtle moment of the game. Analytically the position is about even. However, Black has serious difficulties from practical standpoint. White simply has a free ride in the center…

26…Qb7. There is no need to analyze the computer suggestion 26…Rd8! – humans don’t place their rooks so passively. However… there is not much to analyze really. After 27.e5 dxe5 28.dxe5 the d8-rook supports 28…Nd5!, and on 27.Nf5 the vacated f8-square becomes a home for the bishop – 27…Bf8!

The text move also secures d5 and defends against the e4-e5 break. However, it allows something else.

27.Nf5! Rb8. Black once again had to choose safety: 27…Rc8!, simply defending on с5. However, Stefanova’s instincts are forcing her to play actively.

28.e5! dxe5 29.Nxe7+ Qxe7 30.Rxe5. Now Black loses a pawn. Can she create any counterplay?

30…Rb1+ 31.Kh2 Qd8. One needs truly steel nerves to go for the following tricky line: 31…Qc7 32.Qxc5 Qd8 33.Qe7 Nd5 34.Qxd8+ Rxd8, and Black has very good drawing chances in the endgame. Black can put the rook on b5, chaining White to her a5-pawn. And after 35.Rc2 Rb5 36.Rc5 Rxc5 37.dxc5 the knight comes to с6 – 37…Nb4!

32.Rxc5 Nd5?! More promising is the solid 32…R1b5! – the fifth rank is a very busy place.

33.Qf5 (33.Ne5!) 33…Ne7 34.Qe4 Ng6. Not a very good place for the knight. However,  34…R1b5 also doesn’t help – after 35.Rac2 Black can’t play 35…Nd5 due to 36.Ne5!

35.Rac2 (35.Rc6!) 35…Ra1 36.Ne5 Rxa5? A grave time trouble error. Black needed to trade knights.

37.Nxf7! Simple and strong.

37…Kxf7 38.Qf5+ Kg8 39.Rxa5. Without an exchange Black has no chances to survive.

39…Qd6+ 40.g3 Nh4 41.Rc8+. Avoiding a trap: 41.Qd5+? Qxd5 42.Rxd5 Nf3+ 43.Kh1 Rb1+! 44.Kg2 Ne1+, and Black wins.

41…Rxc8 42.Qxc8+ Kh7 43.Qc2+ Kh8 44.Rc5 Nf3+ 45.Kh1. Black resigns.

 

Stefanova, Antoaneta – Sebag, Marie

Second classical game

1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.e3 e6 5.Nf3 Nbd7 6.Qc2 Bd6 7.Bd3 0–0 8.0–0 dxc4 9.Bxc4 b5 10.Bd3 Bb7 11.a3 a5 12.e4 e5 13.Rd1 Rc8?! 14.h3 Qe7?! 15.Bg5 h6 16.Be3

Marie handled the opening poorly, and now decides to complicate things.

16…c5! This move is dubious objectively, but practically proved very strong, because it confused the opponent.

17.dxe5 Nxe5 18.Nxb5. During the online commentary I considered 18.Nxe5 the strongest, then analyzed both captures on e5 and concluded that White stands much better. However, Sebag could (if she tried hard enough) find the correct 18…c4! with decent counterchances: 19.Nf3 (less clear is 19.Nxf7 Rxf7 20.Be2 Nxe4 21.Nxb5 Bf4!) 19…b4! 20.Be2 bxc3 21.e5! Bxe5 22.Nxe5 Qxe5 23.Qxc3, and White maintains a small plus thanks to her bishop pair: 23…Qxc3 (23…Qf5 24.Bd4) 24.bxc3 Nd5 25.Bd4 (25.Bd2!?) 25…Nf4 26.Bf1, etc.

Anyway, if Stefanova wanted to take on b5, it was better to take with the bishop: 18.Bxb5. This is much safer. However, Black could develop some kingside activity by 18…Nxf3+ 19.gxf3 Nh5 (19…Be5) 20.Nd5 Bxd5 21.Rxd5 Nf4 22.Bxf4 (22.Rf5 Ng6 и 23…Nh4) 22…Bxf4, and it would be difficult for White to convert her extra pawn.

18…Nxf3+ 19.gxf3 Bb8. Now Black has serious initiative for the pawn, and a very clear plan. For White life is much more complicated.

20.Bc4. Stefanova just loves double-edged positions, but here it looks too risky. However, the outcome speaks for itself! The safe-looking 20.Bf1 is strongly met by 20…Nh5 (20…Qe5 21.f4!) 21.Bg2 Qe5 22.Kf1 Qh2 followed by Rc8-c6-g6.

20…Qe5 (weaker is 20…Nh5 21.Kf1!) 21.Qb3. Probably the best chance. White’s problem is that after 21.Kf1 the queen does not move to h2, but locates more actively – 21…Qh5!, and the f3-pawn falls.

21…a4. An original move! A fighting move! Pushing the queen off the strong outpost is very useful, and the pawn does not matter really… yet. On 21…Qh5 22.Nd6 is strong, and the b7-bishop is loose. The computer suggests 21…Qh2+, but White responds by 22.Kf1 Nd7 (intending 23.Rxd7? Qxh3+) 23.Ke2 Ne5 24.Bd5 c4 25.Qc3, and this is still everybody’s game.

22.Qxa4

22…Qh5. A small mistake. The tactical 22…Nxe4 23.fxe4 Qxe4 led to a dull ending with an extra pawn for White: 24.Bxf7+! Rxf7 25.Qxe4 Bxe4 26.Nd6. However, 22…Nd7! was once again on agenda, and this time with a devastating effect. It would be difficult for White to survive, for example, on 23.Kf1 Black has 23…Qh5! with pressure against f3.

23.Kg2. Stronger is 23.Bf1! Qxf3 24.Bg2 Qh5, e. g., 25.Nd6 Bxd6 26.Rxd6 Qe5 27.Rad1 with unclear complications.

23…Qg6+ 24.Kf1 Qh5 25.Kg2 Qg6+ 26.Kf1 Qh5. Objectively it is correct for White to take a draw, but Antoaneta desperately needed a win.

27.Be2! Qxh3+ 28.Ke1 Be5. Simpler is 28…Nh5! 29.Kd2 Nf4, and White must trade her strong bishop – 30.Bxf4 Bxf4+ 31.Kc2 Qh2 32.Rf1. Here Black retains strong initiative and risks absolutely nothing. Marie rejected 28…Rfd8 because of 29.Rxd8+ Rxd8 30.Rd1, however, if we extend the variation a bit by 30…Qh1+ 31.Bf1 Rc8!, it seems White’s pawn center is doomed. For example, after 32.Ke2 Qh5 33.Nc3 Be5 34.Qa7 Rb8! White cannot defend on e4. Of course, this is not easy to find under time pressure.

29.Nc3?! A good way to complicate the game is 29.Rac1! Bxb2 30.Rxc5.

29…Rfd8 30.Qb5 Bd4! The correct way of simplifying the game, as a draw wins for Black. There is no need to look for alternative like 30…Ba8.

31.Qxb7 Bxe3 32.Rxd8+. After 32.fxe3 Black gives the perpetual: 32…Qh4+ 33.Kf1 Qh1+ 34.Kf2 Qh2+, etc.

32…Rxd8 33.Qc7

 

Here I had no doubt that Marie Sebag advances. She already found the key move and set up the perpetual mechanism. She had a few minutes left on the clock. Everything was under control.

33…Bd2+? A very expensive Thanksgiving present. 33…Rd7 is safer and stronger, because White has to take a draw after 34.Qc8+ Kh7, otherwise she is just lost: 35.Rd1 Rxd1+ 36.Bxd1 Qxc8! or 35.Bf1 Qxf3 36.fxe3 Ng4 37.Qxd7 Qf2+ 38.Kd1 Nxe3+ 39.Kc1 Qc2#.

More interesting is 34.Qb8+! Kh7 – the white queen is at least not attacked here. However, her choice is still limited. It’s either an immediate draw: 35.Rd1 Qh1+ 36.Bf1 Qxf3 37.fxe3 Qxe3+ 38.Be2 Qg1+ 39.Bf1 Qe3+, or a slightly delayed draw: 35.fxe3 35…Qh4+ (35…Qh1+? 36.Bf1) 36.Kf1 Qh1+ 37.Kf2 Qxa1 38.e5 Ng8 39.Ne4 (other moves permit Rd7-d2) 39…Qh1 40.Qb5 Qh2+ 41.Kf1 Qh1+ 42.Kf2 Qh2+ 43.Ke1 Qg1+ 44.Bf1 Qxe3+, etc.

34.Kd1 Rc8 (or 34…Rd7 35.Qb8+ Kh7 36.Kc2) 35.Qb7 Bf4. The computer suggests 35…Bxc3 36.bxc3 Rf8 with the kingside counterplay. This is correct, of course. However, Marie was so busy attacking the king that she didn’t look elsewhere.

36.Kc2. The king ran away!

36…Qe6? A big time trouble mistake.

37.Qa6? White returns the favor – a perfect example of fair play! She could win immediately by 37.Bc4! Qe8 (or 37…Qxc4 38.Qxc8+ Kh7 39.Qf5+) 38.Bxf7+.

37…Rc6 38.Qc4 Qe5 39.a4!

Now White’s extra pawn decides.

39…Rd6 40.Rd1. The control has passed, and Stefanova’s technique for the rest of the game is impeccable.

40…Rxd1 41.Nxd1 Qd6 42.Ne3 Nd7 43.a5 Ne5 44.Qd5 Nc6 45.Qxd6 Bxd6 46.a6 Bb8 47.Kc3 Nb4 48.Nd5 Nc6 49.Kc4 Ba7 50.Nc3 h5 51.Nb5 Bb6 52.Nd6 Na7 53.f4 h4 54.Bg4 Kf8 55.Nc8 Nxc8 56.Bxc8 Ke7 57.Kb5 Ba7 58.Kc6 c4 59.Kb7 Bxf2 60.a7 Bxa7 61.Kxa7 Kd6 62.Kb6 g5 63.fxg5 Ke5 64.Bf5 Kd4 65.Kc6  Black resigns

 

StefanovaAntoaneta  – SebagMarie

First rapid game

The opening was very complicated. Choosing such variations for a rapid game is a sheer madness.

1.Nf3 d5 2.c4 c6 3.g3 Nf6 4.Bg2 dxc4 5.0–0 Nbd7 6.Qc2 Nb6 7.a4 a5 8.Na3 Be6 9.Ng5 Bg4 10.Nxc4 Bxe2 11.Ne5 Bh5 12.b4 e6 13.b5 Bd6 14.Bb2 0–0? This is a first big mistake. Correct is 14…Bxe5 15.Bxe5 Bg6 and now 16…0–0 gives Black a good game.

15.bxc6 Rc8 16.Qb1 Bxe5 17.cxb7 Rc5 18.d4

Black’s position is hopeless. Everything loses: 18…Bxd4 19.Bxd4 Qxd4 20.Qxb6 Nd7 21.Qa7, or 18…Rc7 19.dxe5 Bg6 20.Qe1 Nfd5 21.Ba3 Re8 22.b8Q! Qxb8 23.Bd6 Bd3 24.Be4! So Marie tries her last chance.

18…Bg6! 19.Ne4? It works! White wins quickly by 19.dxc5! Bxb1 20.Bxe5 Nbd7 21.Bd6 Bd3 22.Rfd1 Ba6 23.c6.

19…Rc4! 20.Rd1! The position becomes more and more complicated, and the result becomes less and less predictable.

White is clearly unimpressed by simplifications: 20.dxe5 Bxe4 21.Bxe4 Nxe4, and 22.Rd1 Qc7 23.Bd4 does not work in view of 23…Nxa4 24.Qxe4 Nc3 25.Bb6! Qxb6 26.Qxc4 Nxd1 27.Rxd1 Qxb7 with Black’s significant and stable advantage.

20…Bc7 21.Ba3. I cannot continue annotating the game at this point. Black is completely won after capturing on e4, there are other good moves, too. However, in the subsequent game the assessment changed on every second move, Black missed a number of winning continuations and was defeated in the end.

In the other European duel the loss of Kosintseva was determined by her inability to put the ball into the empty net.

 

Kosintseva, Nadezhda – Ushenina, Anna

First classical game

Anna was in the time trouble and had little time to think.

35…f6? Even the world’s best players are prone to a common mistake of playing too aggressively when the time is short. The calm 35…Rhf8 or even 35…Be8 gives Black even chances, because the g5-pawn is very weak.

36.Ka2? White tries to exploit the opponent’s time trouble by responding very fast, and pays dearly for it. It would take half a minute for Nadezhda to find 36.gxf6+ Bxf6+ 37.Rxf6! Kxf6 38.Rxd6+ Ke5 39.Rxc6 with a huge material advantage for White and no counterplay for Black: 39…g5 (or 39…Rbc8 40.Re6+ Kf4 41.Ba6!) 40.Rg6 Kf4 41.Bd5 g4 42.a4!, etc.

36…Rhf8 37.Nd4 Bd7 38.Be6 Ba4 39.Rdf1 Rbe8 40.Bd5. The immediate 40.Bg4 is met by 40…fxg5! 41.Ne6+ Kg8 with approximately even chances. Therefore White should have started with 40.R4f2, threatening Be6-g4, and if 40…Bd8 41.Bd5 Bd7, then White penetrates by 42.Rb1!

Of course, this is the notorious control move, so we cannot blame Nadezhda for missing such subtleties.

40…Bd7

Black barely holds. I couldn’t believe that Kosintseva gives up her winning attempts in such a promising position. However, she burnt 20 minutes out of 30 and decided to go for a draw.

The best try is 41.a4! Rb8 (not 41…Bxa4? 42.Ne6+) 42.c3 Rb6, and now 43.Rh1! fxg5 (Black is helpless after 43…Ra6 44.Rfh4 Rxa4+ 45.Kb3 Rb8+ 46.Kc2) 44.Rxf8 Kxf8 (44…Bxf8 45.Rf1 wins on the spot) 45.Rh8+ Kg7 46.Ra8, and there is no defense against a4-a5 and Ra8-a7.

41.Be6 Ba4 42.Bb3. White could return to the idea 42.R4f2!, but…

42…Bd7 43.Be6. Game drawn.

The gods of chess had no choice but to punish the Russian player for taking a draw in such situation.

 

 

Ushenina,Anna – Kosintseva,Nadezhda

Second classical game

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e3 0–0 5.Bd3 d5 6.Nf3 c5 7.0–0 Nc6 8.a3 Bxc3 9.bxc3 Qc7 10.cxd5 exd5 11.a4 Re8 12.Ba3 c4 13.Bc2 Bg4 14.Qe1 Bh5 15.Nh4 Ng4 16.g3 Bg6 17.Nxg6 hxg6 18.Qd2 Na5 19.Rae1 Nf6 20.f3

So far the game looked like tennis practice with a wall. Anna took her time, made her next move, and Nadezhda replied in a second. Here White was already 40 minutes behind on the clock!

20…Qc6? However, the first original move of Kosintseva is quite bad. More accurate is 20…Nb3!, checking the white queen’s intentions. Gelfand-Eljanov, Astrakhan 2010 continued 21.Qd1 (not good is 21.Qg2 Qa5 22.Bb2 Nd7! 23.e4 Nb6!, and the knight comes to a4, which is simply disastrous for White) 21…Qa5 (Black also tried 21…Qc6 22.Bxb3 cxb3 23.Qxb3 Rac8 with insufficient compensation – 24.Bb4 b6 25.a5 Qb5 26.Qa2 bxa5 27.Bxa5 Re6 28.Bb4 Rce8 29.Qe2 Qa4 30.Qd2 a5 31.Ra1 Qc6 32.Bxa5 Rxe3, although he made a draw in the end,  Beliavsky-Sokolov, Budva 1996) 22.Bb4 (on 22.Bxb3 Qxc3! is very strong; 22.Bb2 Qxa4 23.e4 does not appeal due to 23…Qa2!) 22…Qxa4 23.e4 a5 24.Bd6 Re6 25.Be5 (25.e5 Ne8!) 25…Qd7 (25…dxe4 26.fxe4 Qb5 with the idea a5-a1Q is also sensible) 26.Bxf6 Rxf6 27.e5 Rb6 28.f4 f5 29.exf6 Rxf6 30.Bxb3 cxb3 31.Qxb3 a4 with a complicated game and equal material.

21.Qg2! An excellent idea. The queen is ideally placed for the forthcoming attack, eying on e4 and d5 and supporting the eventual g3-g4.

21…Nb3. The only move.

22.e4 Qxa4 23.Bb2! Once again the strongest reply. The bishop leaves, but with a warning: “I’ll be back!” Weaker is 23.Bd6 (or 23.b4 a5) 23…Re6! 24.e5 Ne8!

23…Qb5. Creating the threat Nb3xd4. One could try 23…Qc6 24.e5 Nh7 25.f4 b5! 26.f5 a5!, but that would require an unusual ability to predict future.

24.Bb1. Not a bad move, but White could already start her attack.

24…dxe4? A clear mistake that ruins Black’s strategy completely.

First I thought that Black can hold by keeping the game closed and creating the queenside play: 24…Nd7! 25.e5 Nb6 – the knight goes to a4. However it turned out that White can just ignore the threats: 26.f4! (26.Qc2 is good too, but why waste time?) 26…Na4 27.f5! gxf5 (27…g5 28.f6!) 28.Bxf5. Now Black loses after 28…g6 29.e6! and after 28…Nxd4 29.cxd4 Qxb2 30.Qh3 Qxd4+ 31.Kh1 g6 32.e6!, but the most beautiful line is 28…Nxb2 29.Qh3 g6 30.Bxg6! fxg6 31.Rf7!! Kxf7 32.Qh7+ Ke6 33.Rf1 Rf8 (33…Re7 34.Qh3#) 34.Qxg6+ Ke7 35.Qd6+ Ke8 36.Rxf8# – that would be an excellent 19th century game!

So in the diagrammed position Black should probably create her countrplay differently: 24…a5! 25.e5 Nh7 26.f4 Qc6 (losing a tempo is no big deal) 27.f5 b5! Here Black at least does not lose immediately: on 28.e6 she can play 28…g5!

25.fxe4. The rest is basically a matter of technique. The knight on b3 stays offside for the rest of the game.

25…Re6. The iron friend insists on 25…Qc6, dreaming of trading the queens by e4-e5. However, after 26.g4! the evaluation drops quickly: 26…b5 27.g5 Nh5 28.Rf2 a5 29.e5! Qxg2+ 30.Kxg2 b4 31.e6!, and White enjoys dangerous initiative.

26.Re2 Rae8 27.e5! Nd5 28.Qf3 f5. Neither 28…R6e7 29.Ba3, nor 28…R8e7 29.Be4 Rd7 30.h4, threatening h4-h5, is sweet for Black.

29.g4! White keeps her center intact and removes the last obstacle on the way to the enemy king. The rest is trivial.

29…f4 30.Be4 Rd8 31.Bxd5! Qxd5 32.Qxf4 Qd7 33.Ba3!

The ruthless Terminator is back as promised.

33…Ra6 34.Bb4 Qe6 35.Qe4 b5 36.Ref2 Ra1 37.Rxa1 Nxa1 38.Ra2 Nb3 39.Rxa7 Nc1 40.Re7 Qa6 41.Qf3 Kh8 42.Qf7 Rg8 43.Ra7 Qc8 44.Qxg6 Ne2+ 45.Kf1 Nf4 46.Qg5. Black resigns, as the only way to avoid mate is to give up a piece.

The last Russian participant was knocked out in the quarterfinal. This is clearly a huge failure of the Russian team. Our players alternate brilliant team successes with disastrous individual results, and vice versa. Anyway, this was painful to watch. We always want to see our girls on top. However, the Chinese did better in this particular case.

A small sensation occurred in the Asian derby. The favorite could and should have advanced to the next stage. After an uneventful draw in the first game, the Chinese confidently increased her advantage the second game, but probably lost her focus too early.

 

Harika,Dronavalli – Zhao,Xue

Second classical game

 Black’s three extra pawns is a clear indication of the objective assessment of the situation.

65…e4 66.Qd8! The last chance for Harika. I doubt the Indian seriously believed in it, but it never hurts to try.

66…exf3? This was played very quickly. Did Zhao seriously think the opponent just blundered? The Chinese still had a couple of minutes on the clock, and she could easily discover the primitive trap.

Black wins by 66…Qe6 67.Qc7+ Nd7 68.Nd2 Qe5+, trading the queens.

67.Qc7+ Kh8 68.Qe5+ Kh7 69.Qc7+. Suddenly it turns out that Black’s cannot run away from checks.

69…Kh8 70.Qe5+ Kh7. Game drawn. This is how Zhao threw her semifinal ticket in a trash can.

The same problem – lack of attention to the opponent’s threats – let her down in the quickplay finish.

Zhao,Xue  – Harika,Dronavalli

First rapid game

Everything is still under White’s control. Taking on d3 is impossible due to 30…Qa1+ 31.Be1 Rxd3 32.Qxd3 Bf5. Zhao needed to activate her knight first by 30.Nc4!

30.g4? White “cuts off” the bishop on h3, however, Black has no problem with that, as her bishop still creates threats to the king.

30…Qc3. This move not only supports the d3-pawn, but also prepares f7-f5. For example, 31.Nc4 is refuted by 31…f5! 32.gxf5 Qc2! 33.Rd2 (33.Rc1 d2!) 33…Qb1+ 34.Qe1 Qxe1+ 35.Bxe1 Bxf5 36.Re7 Bh3 with irresistible threats.

31.Qxg5. Taking calculated risks.

31…d2 32.Be3? But this is just too optimistic – White does not want to waste time on calculation! Much better is 32.Qe3. Black would retain the initiative, but isn’t it less scary than a direct win in two moves?

32…Qb3! 33.Rxd2 Rxd2. Only here Zhao Xue realized that black queen takes on f3 on the next move, and resigned the game.

The match between two Chinese players was the most hard-fought. Sometimes I think that surviving the national competition in China is more difficult than winning something big at the international level. The tension was colossal, and it the rivals were constantly striking each other with electrical discharge. The victory, as it often happens, was awarded to the player who made a penultimate blunder.

 

Huang,Qian  – Ju,Wenjun

Second 10-minute game

1.Nf3 d5 2.d4 Nf6 3.c4 c6 4.Nc3 g6 5.Bf4 dxc4 6.a4 Bg7 7.e4 Bg4 8.Bxc4 Bxf3 9.gxf3 0–0 10.Be3 a5 11.Qb3 Qc7 12.e5 Nfd7 13.Rc1 Nb6 14.Be2 N8d7?! 15.f4 e6 16.h4 h5 17.Nb5 Qd8 18.Nd6 Rb8?!

Black’s play in the opening lacked confidence, and White is pressing hard now.

19.f5! exf5. Clearly bad is 19…gxf5? 20.Rg1 Kh7 21.Bg5 Qc7 22.Qf3+-.

20.Bg5 Qc7 21.Nb5. I thought White repeats the moves to win time. It turned out she decided to change the course of the game completely!

The simple and strong 21.Be7 created huge problems for Black. Even computer’s recommendation 21…Nxe5 fails to 22.Bxf8 Rxf8 23.dxe5 Bxe5, and now 24.Nc4 (the brutal 24.Nxf5! is also interesting but probably not necessary) 24…Nxc4 25.Bxc4 Kg7 leads to a position with an extra rook for White, and all Black’s extra pawns are just worthless. And if 21.Be7 Rbe8, then 22.Bxf8 Rxf8 23.Rg1!, and Black cracks under the pressure on f7 and g6.

21…Qc8 22.Be7? Perhaps Huang Qian planned to return the knight to d6 later, but this proved wrong. She could still advance to the semifinal with the correct 22.Nd6 Qc7 23.Be7!

22…Qe8! (obviously not 22…Re8? 23.Nd6) 23.Bxf8 Bxf8. It turns out that the white knight is misplaced.

24.Nc3. On 24.Nd6 Black replies with the highly unpleasant 24…Bxd6 25.exd6 Qe4!

24…c5!

This powerful blow demolishes the White’s center. Black’s compensation for an exchange is already more than sufficient.

25.e6. Huang probably noticed the variation 25.dxc5 Bxc5 26.f4 Be3! and realized that she can’t hold the center. The computer finds a narrow path to hold the balance: 25.Rg1! Kh7 26.Nb5! cxd4 27.Nxd4 Bb4+ (27…Qxe5? 28.Qxf7+) 28.Kf1 Nxe5 29.Rc7!, but no human probably can repeat it at the board.

25…Qxe6 26.Qxe6 fxe6 27.dxc5 Nxc5 28.Rd1. More tenacious is 28.Bb5, but even here defending is extremely difficult – 28…Be7 29.Rd1 Kf7 30.Ke2 Rc8 and 31…Bf6 with heavy pressure on both flanks.

28…Nbxa4! Not worrying about ghosts!

29.Nxa4 Nxa4 30.Bc4 Nc5 31.Ke2 b5 32.Ba2 Kf7. Black obtained three pawns for an exchange and consolidated her position. In the subsequent game she carried out a successful queenside attack and advanced to the semifinal.

The semifinals offer us a great chess feast. Hope everyone involved, including observers and commentators, remains hungry for the show.