Grandmaster Sergey Shipov reviews the final round.

Most experts thought that Antoaneta Stefanova had better chances in the final. She is more experienced, more decorated, and she is a winner by nature, while her opponent Anna Ushenina never won anything big except for various team trophies with the team Ukraine. However, the final match proved the experts wrong. Ushenina quickly got used to playing for the highest title, and achieved her goal in this very tough match. She also got lucky in the very first game…


 Ushenina, Anna – Stefanova, Antoaneta

First classical game

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 Bb4+ 4.Bd2 Bxd2+ 5.Qxd2 d5 6.e3 0–0 7.Nc3 Qe7

Black’s position is solid but a bit passive.

8.Rc1 Rd8 9.cxd5 exd5 10.Bd3

10…Nbd7. It seems Antoaneta did not study this line deeply, as her next move is rather superficial. The theory suggests 10…Nc6! – Black intends to play with the pieces. For example, 11.Bb5 (11.0–0 Ne4, and 12.Qc2 fails to 12…Nb4) 11…Rd6 12.Bxc6 Rxc6 13.Ne5 Re6 14.f3 b6 15.0–0 Bb7 16.Rfe1 h6 17.Ne2 c5 18.Nf4 Rd6 19.dxc5 bxc5 20.Ned3 c4 21.Nb4 Rad8 22.Nc2 Nd7 23.Nd4 Ne5, and the position is about equal, Bacrot-Carlsen, Biel 2012.

11.0–0 c6 12.Qc2 Re8. This version of a standard QGD structure favors White.

13.Rb1. Pawn minority attack is the most standard plan. Another idea is to carry out the e3-e4 break.

13…a5. Black could avoid touching the queenside: 13…Ne4 14.Bxe4 dxe4 15.Nd2 f5 16.b4 Nb6, and her position is quite solid. 17.b5 is met by 17…c5, and if White plays slowly, Black has time to centralize: 17.Rfc1 Be6 18.a4 Rac8, etc.

14.a3 Ne4. White gained a tempo – normally this position arises with Black to move. So White is clearly better here.

15.b4. A new move with old ideas. Also logical is 15.Bxe4 dxe4 16.Nd2, and if 16…f5, White can utilize weakness on b6: 17.Na4 Nf6 18.Nb6!

Iljin-Gorbatov, Alushta 2009 continued 16…Nf6 17.b4 axb4 18.axb4 Bg4 19.Rfc1 Ra7 20.Nc4 Nd7 21.b5 h5 22.bxc6 bxc6 23.Nd2 Nf6 24.Nf1 h4 25.h3 Be6? 26.Nxe4 Bf5 27.Nxf6+ Qxf6 28.Qc5, and Black lost.

15…axb4 16.axb4 Ndf6 17.b5. 17.Bxe4 dxe4 18.Nd2 Bf5 19.Rfc1 gives White a better game.

17…Ra3. Both players surprisingly ignored 17…c5! 18.dxc5 Nxc5 with excellent piece play for Black that compensated for her small structural problems.

18.Rb3. For the third time Anna rejects trading on e4, although I cannot see how Black can equalize after 18.Bxe4 dxe4 19.Ne5.

18…Rxb3 19.Qxb3.

19…Bg4!? Objectively a dubious move, but in this game it worked. Stefanova radiated such energy that it confused her opponent. Stronger is 19…Ng4, e. g. 20.bxc6 bxc6 21.Qc2 Nexf2 22.Rxf2 Nxf2 23.Qxf2 Qxe3 24.Qxe3 Rxe3 25.Ne5 Ba6 26.Bxa6 Rxc3 – this looks drawish.

20.Bxe4?! This is premature. White gets an advantage by 20.bxc6!, and Black cannot counterattack by 20…Bxf3 21.cxb7! Rb8 22.Ra1 Bg4 23.Bxe4 dxe4 24.Ra8 Qd8 25.Qa4 Nd7 26.Nxe4, the knight comes to с5 and gets to b8.

20…Nxe4. Suddenly it turns out that after 21.Nxe4 dxe4 22.Ne5 Black gets a slightly better game by 22…Be2! 23.Ra1 Bxb5 24.Ra7.

21.Qc2. 21.bxc6 should be preferred: 21…Bxf3 22.cxb7 Rb8 23.gxf3 (also interesting is 23.Nxe4 Bxe4 24.Ra1 Qd8 25.Qb5) 23…Nd2 24.Qxd5 Nxf1 25.Kxf1 – Black is unable to convert this extra exchange.

21…Bxf3 22.gxf3 Qg5+ 23.Kh1 Nxc3 24.Qxc3 Qh5 25.Kg2 Re6! Black defends her queenside and creates a strong attack.

26.Ra1 h6 27.bxc6 Rxc6! 28.Qd3 Rg6+ 29.Kf1 Qxf3 30.Ra8+ Kh7 31.Rb8.


Here Antoaneta had a nearly won position and three times more time on the clock. To be honest, I was worried that the match will not last four games. But life is full of surprises.

31…f5? 31…Qh1+ 32.Ke2 Qxh2 33.Rxb7 Qh5+ 34.Kd2 Qf3 35.Qe2 Qf5, and White is unlikely to survive.

32.Rf8! Rg5?! (more subtle is 32…Qh3+ 33.Ke2 Rg5) 33.h4! Rh5 34.Qc2! A brilliant resource! The game is no longer one-sided.

34…Qe4 35.Qc8 Qe7 36.Rxf5.

Here the players decided not to risk fighting under mutual time pressure and agreed to a draw. Objectively the position is indeed almost even: 36…Qxh4 37.Rf8 Qh1+ 38.Ke2 Qe4 39.Rh8+ Kg6 40.Re8 Qf5, and Black holds.

This unfortunate mistake probably cost Antoaneta some of her confidence, and gave Anna a morale boost. The general trend of the match changed in the next couple of games.


Stefanova, Antoaneta – Ushenina, Anna

Second classical game

1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 c6 4.e4! The Slav Gambit is an ideal opening for the all-Slav final of the World Championship.

4…Bb4! 5.Bd2 (a viable alternative is 5.cxd5 exd5 6.e5) 5…dxc4 6.Nf3. White deviates from the most principled 6.Bxc4 Qxd4 7.Qe2 with good compensation for an exchange.

6…b5! Now Black’s extra pawn is quite valuable.


7…a5 8.axb5. I think more promising is the unhurried 8.Be2.

8…Bxc3 9.Bxc3 cxb5 10.Qd2?! Antoaneta is not familiar with the theory of the variation. The two main lines are 10.b3 and 10.d5.

10…Nf6 11.Qg5. After 11.Bxa5? Nxe4! 12.Qb4 Nc6 13.Qxb5 Rxa5 14.Qxc6+ Bd7 White loses!

11…0–0 12.Qxb5 (not good for White is 12.e5 Ne4 13.Qg4 Bb7) 12…Nxe4 13.Bxc4. An unimportant novelty. Earlier White tried 13.Be2 Ba6! 14.Qxa5 (14.Qe5 Nxc3 15.bxc3 Nd7!) 14…Bb7! 15.Qxa8 Bxa8 16.Rxa8 Qb6 17.0–0 Nxc3 18.bxc3 Qb2 19.Bxc4 Qxc3, and Black is clearly better, De Waal-Kuijf, Netherlands 2006.

13…Qc7?! This is too soft. I prefer the energetic 13…Nd6! 14.Qb3 Nxc4 15.Qxc4 Ba6 16.Qc5 (16.Qb3 Nc6!) 16…Nd7 17.Qxa5 (17.Qc6!?) 17…Qc8 with the strong initiative for Black.

14.Qb3 a4. An interesting and tricky move, but the routine development seems stronger: 14…Bb7 15.0–0 Nxc3 16.Qxc3 (16.bxc3 Bxf3!) 16…Rc8 17.Rfc1 Nd7, and Black enjoys long-lasting initiative.

15.Rxa4 Rxa4 16.Qxa4 Nxc3 17.bxc3 Bb7

And the players suddenly agreed to a draw. Well, Black indeed has sufficient compensation for a pawn, for example, 18.0–0 Bxf3 19.gxf3 Nd7 20.Be2 Nf6 21.Rc1 Nd5 22.Qc2 Rd8 23.Qd2 Nf4 24.Bf1 Rd5 25.Re1 Rg5+ 26.Kh1 Rh5 27.Re5!, etc.

After this game Anna probably realized that she can do it. And she did it on the next day.


 Ushenina, Anna – Stefanova, Antoaneta

Third classical game

1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 a6

The Chebanenko Variation was Antoaneta’s pet line for many years, and who could think it will let her down in the most important match?

5.c5 Nbd7 6.Bf4

6…Nh5! 7.Bd2 Nhf6 8.Rc1. Anna played very quickly until the move 15, which means she was well prepared for this variation.

8…g6 9.h3 Qc7! 10.g3! Bg7. 10…e5 is refuted by 11.dxe5 Nxe5 12.Nxe5 Qxe5 13.Bf4 Qf5 14.Qd4! Bg7 (or 14…Be7 15.g4 Qe6 16.g5) 15.Bd6! Rg8 16.Bg2 Ne4 17.Qe3 Bh6 18.f4!, and White must win, Xu Jun – Zhou Weiqi, Suzhou 2006.

11.Bf4 Qd8 12.Bg2 0–0 13.0–0 Nh5! 14.Bd2 (14.Bg5 f6 15.Bd2 f5 is just a move transposition) 14…f5! The immediate central break 14…e5 has important drawbacks: 15.dxe5 Nxe5 16.e4! dxe4 (16…d4 17.Na4; 16…Nd3? 17.Bg5) 17.Nxe4 Nf6 (17…Nd3 18.Bg5! Qd7 19.Rc2±) 18.Nd6 Nd3 19.Rc2 Nxc5 20.Bb4 Ne6 21.Nxc8 21…Qxc8 22.Bxf8, and the compensation is not adequate.

On 14…Re8 White continues 15.e4 dxe4 16.Nxe4 Nhf6, and after 17.Nxf6+ Nxf6 18.Re1 Be6 19.Rxe6! fxe6 20.Qe2 gets strong initiative for an exchange.

15.Qb3. 15.Na4 e5 if rather fruitless for White, for example, 16.dxe5 Nxe5 17.Nxe5 Bxe5 18.e3 Be6 19.Bc3 Qf6 20.Bxe5 Qxe5 21.Nc3 Rae8 22.b4 Bf7, Mozharov-Malakhov, Sochi 2012.

15…e5?! A serious mistake. I am surprised that Stefanova took such a risky path without proper analysis. Correct is 15…Kh8!, and on 16.Na4 Black can play 16…e5. Nechepurenko-Kobalia, Krasnoyarsk 2007 continued 17.dxe5 Nxe5 18.Nxe5 Bxe5 19.e3 Qe7 20.Bc3 Nf6 21.Bxe5 Qxe5 22.Qc3 Qe7 23.Qd4 Kg8 24.Nc3 Bd7 25.b4 Ne4 with an equal game. Or 16.Ng5 Ndf6 17.Na4 h6 18.Nf3 (Vallejo Pons-Malakhov, Pamplona 2008 went 18.Nb6 Rb8 19.Nf3 Ne4 20.Qb4 Kh7 21.Ne5, and Black could obtain a good game by 21…Nxd2 22.Qxd2 Bxe5 23.dxe5 f4) 18…Ne4 19.Be1 19…Kh7 20.Qb6 Ng5 21.Qxd8 Rxd8 22.Ba5 Rf8 23.Bc7 (neat, but gives no advantage) 23…Ne6 24.Be5 Bxe5 25.dxe5 f4!, and Black got some counterplay on the kingside, Bologan-Malakhov, Konya 2012.

Actually I think Anna and her team have something to show for White. Future tournaments will reveal it.

16.Ng5! Antoaneta was not happy to see this move.

16…exd4. Other ways to cover on e6 are clearly inferior 16…Ndf6 17.dxe5 Ne4 18.Ncxe4 fxe4 19.Nxe4! Bxe5 20.Nd6 Bxd6 21.cxd6 Qxd6? 22.Bb4. Or 16…Re8 17.Nxd5! Or the most spectacular 16…Qe7 17.Bxd5+! cxd5 18.Nxd5 Qd8 19.Nf6+ Kh8 20.Qg8+ Rxg8 21.Nf7#.

17.Nxd5 (17.Ne6? Qe7 18.Nxf8 dxc3 19.Nxd7 cxd2 gives Black extra material) 17…cxd5 18.Bxd5+ Kh8 19.Ne6.

Another tough choice for Black.

19…Qf6! The former World Champion finds the most tenacious reply. Braun-Laznicka, Gaziantep 2008 continued 19…Qe7 20.c6! bxc6 21.Bb4! Qf6 22.Rxc6 Bb7 23.Nxf8 Bxc6 24.Nxd7 Bxd5 25.Qxd5 Qd8 26.Rc1, and White won.

On 19…Qe8 White should continue 20.Nxf8! and then either с5-с6 or take on b7. The analysis shows that Black is in big trouble.

20.Nxf8. And Black must choose again. An unfortunate situation for Black – she had to make tough decisions on each move.

20…Qxf8. It seems 20…Nxf8 is stronger. If White continued 21.Bxb7 Rb8 22.c6, Black has 22…Qe5! 23.Bb4 Ne6 24.Qa3 Rxb7! 25.cxb7 Bxb7 26.Bd6 Qe4 27.Qf3 Nf6, and Black’s three minor pieces can hold against White’s rooks. The best reply for White is 21.c6 bxc6 22.Rxc6 Qe5 23.Rb6 Ra7 24.Rc1 Bd7 25.Bf3, and in this position the computer votes for White, but Black has decent practical counterchances.

21.Bxb7. 21.c6 bxc6 makes no sense now, because 22.Rxc6 does not gain a tempo.

21…Rb8 22.c6 Nc5 23.Qb6! 

The only way to the goal. Here Stefanova spent almost all the remaining time and collapsed. The Bulgarian beauty ran out of fuel…

23…Nxb7? Basically a resignation. Equally bad is 23…Bxb7 24.Qxc5! Ba8 (or 24…Bc8 25.Qxf8+ Bxf8 26.Rc4 Bg7 27.Rb4!) 25.c7 Rc8 26.Qxf8+ Bxf8 27.Rfd1. The only chance is 23…Ne4! with subsequent kingside play. With many pieces remaining on the board Black can create (or fake) some threats to confuse her opponent.

Of course, the cool-blooded computer shows the right way: 24.Rfd1! Qe8 (or 24…Nxf2 25.Kxf2 Qd6 26.Qb3 Be5 27.Qb4!+-) 25.Be1 f4 (25…Ng5 26.Rxd4! Bxd4 27.Qxd4+ Kg8 28.h4!+-) 26.g4 f3! 27.Rxd4! Bxd4 28.Qxd4+ Ng7 29.Rc4! Bxb7 (29…Ng5 30.Bc3) 30.cxb7 Rxb7 (30…Ng5 31.Qc3!) 31.Qxe4 Qxe4 32.Rxe4 Rxb2 33.exf3, and this ending is won easily for White.

24.Qa7! Be5. 24…Qd6 25.c7! is just hopeless for Black. Somewhat more intriguing is 24…Be6 25.cxb7 Be5, and after 26.Qxa6 Re8 Black can try placing the bishop on b8 and then push the f-pawn. However, 26.Ba5! f4 27.Bc7 is much stronger.

25.c7! Ra8 (25…Bxc7 26.Rxc7 Be6 27.Qxd4+ Kg8 28.Bc3) 26.Qxa8. Now White has both material and positional advantage.

26…Qe8 27.Qxa6 Nc5 28.Qa8 Ne4 29.Rc2.

29…Nxd2. Perhaps 29…Kg7 is somewhat better.

30.Rxd2 Kg7 31.Rc2 Kh6 32.b4 Bd6 33.Qd5 Nxg3 34.Qxd6! Nxf1 35.Qxd4! g5 36.Qf6+! Kh5 37.Rc6! Black resigns. White handled the concluding part of the game flawlessly. Bravo, Anna!


However, the fourth game was completely one-sided. The Ukrainian was unable to show her best chess.


Stefanova, Antoaneta – Ushenina, Anna

Fourth 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

In the quarterfinal Stefanova confused Sebag with this move. It seems Ushenina also did not expect it or just did not have enough time to study it properly.

13…Qc7 (the aforementioned game proceeded 13…Rc8 14.h3 Qe7?! 15.Bg5 h6 16.Be3, and Black pushed too hard: 16…c5!?) 14.h3 Rfe8 15.Be3 exd4. Bacrot-Korobov, Warsaw 2011 continued 15…Rac8 (the most logical move) 16.Rac1 Qb8 (also interesting is 16…exd4 17.Nxd4 b4 18.Na4 c5! 19.Nb5 Bh2+ 20.Kh1 Qb8) 17.dxe5 Nxe5 18.Nxe5 Bxe5 19.b4! axb4 20.axb4 Bxc3 21.Qxc3 Nxe4 22.Qc2 Nf6 (22…c5!?) 23.Bd4 Qf4 24.Bxf6 Qxf6 25.Bxh7+ Kh8 26.Be4 – White got a stable advantage, but lost in the end.

16.Nxd4 Bh2+. Jakovenko-Grachev, Tyumen  2012 saw 16…Bf4 17.Bxf4 Qxf4, and White created powerful positional pressure by 18.Nce2! Qd6 19.Rac1 Ne5 20.Nb3 Qe7 21.Ng3 g6 22.Nc5 h5 23.Bf1, etc.

17.Kh1 Bf4 18.Bxf4 Qxf4.

Unlike in Jakovenko-Grachev, the white king stands on h1, therefore does not protect the f2-pawn. However, Stefanova is unperturbed:

19.Nce2! White shows that she is not impressed with Black’s tricky move order – a strong hit for the opponent’s confidence!

19…Qb8?! The most principled reply is clearly 19…Qxf2, but one should not even hope calculating everything. You have to believe in your chances and intuition!

Here is my brief analysis. After 20.Rf1 deserves attention 20…Qe3 21.Rf3 (21.Nf5 Qb6 gives nothing) 21…Qg5 22.Nf5 (threatening Rf3-g3) 22…Nh5 23.Nd6 Ne5! 24.Rf5 Ng3+ 25.Nxg3 Qxg3 26.Rxe5 (less attractive is 26.Nxe8 Rxe8 27.Bf1 Bc8 due to serious technical difficulties) 26…Rxe5 27.Nxb7 Re7 28.Nc5 Rd8

White’s two minor pieces are stronger than Black’s rook and pawns, but converting this advantage is very hard.

The second main line is 20…Qh4 21.Nf5 Qg5, and White has to choose. After 22.Nd6 Ne5! (bad is 22…Reb8? 23.Rf5 Qe3 24.Raf1 with two threats Rf1–f3 and e4-e5) 23.Nxb7 (23.Nxe8 Rxe8 gives Black decent compensation) 23…Nxd3 24.Qxd3 Nxe4 the knight has problems on b7. For example, 25.Rae1 Qe7 26.Nd4 Nf2+ 27.Rxf2 Qxe1+ 28.Rf1 Qe4 – I think two knights cannot handle a rook in such an open position.

The computer prefers sharper game: 22.h4! Qg4 (clearly bad is 22…Qh5 23.Nf4 Qg4 24.Be2) 23.Rf4 Qg6 (23…Qh5 24.Neg3) 24.e5! Nxe5 25.Ne7+ Rxe7 26.Bxg6 hxg6.

Time to draw conclusions. White had a queen for two minor pieces and two pawns. Her advantage seems huge, but is this position won? I am not sure. Black’s forces are well coordinated, and she had decent chances to build a fortress. White should begin with 27.a4!, but how knows whether she can succeed.

So taking on f2 would lead to a very interesting and unclear game. Stefanova was ready for it, not Ushenina. And bravery eventually turned more important than ability to calculate.

In any case Anna could decline the offer in a different way by 19…Qh4. White retains a small edge, but this is clearly better than the text.

20.Ng3. I am curious how deeply they calculated the consequences of 20.Nxc6. 20…Bxc6 21.Qxc6 Ne5 22.Qxb5 Nxd3 23.Qxd3 Nxe4 24.Qd4, and here Black should have decent compensation for a pawn: 24…Ra6!, threatening Ra6-d6. Only the computer insists on White’s advantage: 25.Nc3 Rd6 26.Qe3 Nf6 27.Qc5! Rxd1+ 28.Rxd1 Qxb2 29.f3 g6 30.Qxa5 Rc8 31.Rd3!

Stefanova clearly didn’t want to weaken the light squares by 20.f3, although it was the most practical way to increase her advantage.

Back to the game. From now on, Anna’s play fails to impress completely. She was obviously doomed to lose that day.

20…Ne5? Better is 20…Qf4 or 20…Qe5, and then g7-g6.

21.Bf1 Rc8? Another suicidal maneuver. More interesting is 21…g6 with a trap 22.f4? Neg4! 23.hxg4 Qxf4 24.Rd3 Nxg4 25.Kg1 c5, etc. After 23.Qd2 Black has a pleasant choice between 23…Rd8 and 23…Rxe4!? However, White does not have to fall for this trap. After 22.Qc1! (this is more accurate than 22.Qd2 as it also covers on с5) she still has a big advantage.

My analysis shows that Black’s best try is 21…Ng6 22.Ndf5 Re6!

22.Ndf5 Rc7 23.Qc3.

White just wants to get to g7, and Black has no defense.

23…Rd7 24.f4 Rxd1 25.Rxd1 Ng6 26.Nh6+! The most accurate, as 26.Nxg7 Qxf4! leaves Black come hope.

26…gxh6. 26…Kf8 27.Qc5+ Ne7 28.Nhf5 Qc7 29.Nxg7! Kxg7 30.Qg5+ Ng6 31.Nf5+ and wins.

27.Qxf6 Qf8 28.Nf5?! This move wins, too, but after 28.Rd7! Black must resign immediately.

28…c5! 29.Bxb5. Probably Antoaneta wasn’t sure about 29.Rd7 Bxe4 30.Rxf7 Bxf5 31.Rxf8+ Rxf8, although I fail to see any reason why. For instance, 32.Qd6 c4 (32…b4 33.Bc4+) 33.Qd5+ Kg7 (or 33…Rf7 34.Qxb5 Nxf4? 35.Qb8+) 34.Qxb5 Nxf4? 35.Qe5+, etc. Of course, White wins easily by 29.e5 and Nf5-d6, f4-f5, too.

29…Bxe4 30.Nd6?! (30.Ng3! Bc2 (30…Bb7 31.Rd7!) 31.Rd2 (31.Rd7 Qg7!) 31…Bb3 32.Qc3 a4 33.Nh5 with irresistible attack) 30…Rd8! The knight on d6 is suddenly pinned, and Black created a threat to trade the queens by Qf8-e7. In addition, both players were in serious time trouble by this point.

31.Rd2. More sensible and energetic is 31.Bc4, but Black defends by 31…Qe7 32.Qxe7 (weaker is 32.Bxf7+ Kf8 aiming at 33.Qxe7+ Kxe7!) 32…Nxe7 33.Bxf7+ Kf8 34.Bh5, and the game continues. Stronger is 31.Ba4!, protecting the rook. The machine suggests the incredible 31…Bb1!

31…Bb1? The decisive mistake. Anna probably wanted to keep an eye on f5 to trade the white knight when the opportunity arises, however, she fails to notice a more important nuance.

The most tenacious is 31…Ba8. The natural 32.Bc4 Qe7 33.Qxf7+ Qxf7 34.Bxf7+ Kf8 35.Bxg6 hxg6 36.Kg1 Ke7 37.Nc4 Rxd2 38.Nxd2 leads to an ending where Black’s chances to survive almost equal to White’s winning chances.  The machine suggests to meet 31…Ba8 by 32.Rd3 Qe7 33.Qxe7 Nxe7 34.Nf5 Rxd3 35.Nxe7+ Kf8 36.Bxd3 Kxe7 and is very confident about White’s chances, but I have good reasons to doubt it.

32.Nxf7! Rxd2 33.Nxh6+. Black resigns in view of 33…Qxh6 34.Bc4+.

After such punishment it looked like Stefanova must take care of her opponent on tie-break rather easily. She is the reigning World Rapid Champion, after all. However, she faced unpleasant opening surprises in both games, had to spend a lot of energy and time to solve unexpected problems, and got tired, which told dramatically in the second rapid game…


Ushenina, Anna – Stefanova, Antoaneta

Second rapid game

1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 e6 5.e3 a6 6.b3 Bb4 7.Bd2 Nbd7 8.Bd3 0–0 9.0–0 Qe7 10.Qc2 dxc4 11.bxc4 e5 12.Ne4 Bxd2

The theory of this variation is based on Stefanova’s games. She wins as Black on a regular basis.



A good choice, as Antianeta started to think. Earlier White tested different ideas: 13.Nexd2 Re8 14.Ng5 h6 15.Nge4 Nxe4 16.Nxe4 c5 (safer is 16…exd4 17.exd4 Nf6) 17.Rfe1! f5 18.Nc3 e4 19.Nd5 Qd6 20.Bf1 b6 21.Rab1 Bb7 22.dxc5 Qxc5 23.Red1, and White is better, but Black won the game, Cmilyte-Stefanova, Olginka 2011, and 13.Nxf6+ Qxf6 (13…Nxf6!) 14.Qxd2 exd4 15.exd4 Rd8 16.Rfe1 Nf8 17.Rab1 g6 18.Be4 Ne6 19.d5 Nc5 20.Bc2 cxd5 21.cxd5 b5, and Black got a good game and won in Zatonskih-Stefanova, Tbilisi 2012.

13…Nxe4. Antoaneta’s trainer was unable to equalize after 13…Rd8 14.c5! Nd5 15.Nd6 (this is White’s main idea) 15…Nf8 16.Nf3 exd4 17.exd4 Nf4 18.Bc4 Be6 19.Rfe1 Qf6 20.Ne5 N8g6 21.Nexf7, Andonovski-V. Georgiev, Skopje 2012.

14.Nxe4 f5 (more sensible is 14…c5!, because after 15.d5 f5 and 16…e4 Black gets a good structure and secures the e5-square for the knight) 15.Nc3! A sensible novelty! Black is fine after 15.Nd2 e4 16.Be2 c5 17.d5 Ne5 18.Rab1 Rf6 19.Qc3 b6.

15…e4 16.Be2. It turns out that on с6-с5 White simply returns the knight to d5.

16…b6. 16…b5 is strongly met by 17.cxb5 axb5 18.a4!

17.Rab1 Rb8 18.a4 Nf6?! Safer is 18…a5, but Black is clearly unable to equalize this position.

19.Rb2. Very tempting is 19.a5 b5 20.d5!, but Anna decided to avoid risk.

19…Be6 20.Rfb1. Here 20.a5 b5 21.d5 is risky for White: 21…cxd5 22.cxb5 f4!

20…Qc7. One can suggest 20…Qa7, defending against White’s break.

21.d5! A powerful play. A champion’s play!

21…cxd5. Retreating the bishop does not make Black’s life any safer.

22.cxd5 Nxd5 23.Nxd5 Qxc2 24.Rxc2. Somewhat unexpected. I thought about 24.Ne7+ Kf7 25.Rxc2 Kxe7 26.Rc7+, however, the ending after 26…Kf6 27.Bxa6 Rfd8 is probably a better version for Black compared to the game.

24…Bxd5 25.Bxa6 Rf6.

Black’s position seems solid, but she had no counterplay, while White can keep improving her position. Practically White has a large advantage.

26.Bb5 g6?! (26…Rd8! 27.Rd1 (27.Rc7 Rf7) 27…Rfd6 28.Rc7 h6 29.h4 Bb3! with excellent drawing chances) 27.h3 (thinking about g2-g4, perhaps?) 27…Bf7 28.Rc7 Bd5. Here Antoaneta clearly lost the thread, and her position kept deteriorating.

29.Rd1 Rf7 30.Rc3! Be6 31.Rd6 Re7 32.Rcc6 Bb3! 33.Rc3! (White loses the a4-pawn after 33.Rxb6 Rxb6 34.Rxb6 Ra7) 33…Bf7 34.Kh2 Ra7 35.Kg3 g5? Black is unable to defend passively and finally cracks under pressure. However, I am not sure whether this position can be saved at all.

36.Rf6! Bg6 37.h4. The king breaks through.

37…gxh4+ 38.Kxh4. 

The rest is a matter of technique, although showing the technique is never easy under such huge pressure.

38…Kg7 39.Rcc6 Rd8 40.Rxb6 Rd2 41.Kg3 Ra2 42.Rfd6 Kh6 43.Rd7 Ra8 44.Rbd6 Rc8 45.Rd2 Ra1 46.Rd1 Ra2 47.R1d2 Ra1 48.Kf4 Rg1 49.g3 (stronger is 49.f3!) 49…Ra1 50.Rd1?! The machine recommends 50.f3! Rh1 51.a5! exf3 52.a6!, but such lines are not destined for a crucial title game.

50…Rxd1 51.Rxd1 Rc2! 52.Rf1 Ra2 53.Bd7.

The last critical moment of the game.

53…Bf7? Black had practical chances after 53…Kg7! with the idea 54.Bxf5 Rxa4 55.g4 Rb4 56.Rd1 (humans cannot find the computer-suggested victory 56.Rc1! Rb2 57.Kg5! h6+ 58.Kf4 Rxf2+ 59.Ke5!) 56…Rb2! 57.Rf1 Rb4, and Black creates some sort of a fortress.

However, White could respond to 53…Kg7 by the prophylactic 54.Ke5. So it wasn’t much of a chance, but still!

54.Bxf5 Rxa4 55.Rh1+ Kg7 56.Rxh7+. And the Ukrainian grandmaster slowly concerted her huge advantage.

56…Kf6 57.Rh6+ (57.g4! wins at once) 57…Kg7 58.Rh2 Bg6 59.Bxg6 Kxg6 60.g4 Rb4 61.g5 Rb5 62.Rh6+ Kg7 63.Rh2 Kg6 64.Kxe4 Kxg5 65.Rg2+ Kf6 66.f4 Rb3 67.Rd2 Rb6 68.Rh2 Rb4+ 69.Kf3 Rb3 70.Rh6+ Kf5 71.Rh5+ Kf6 72.Rc5 Ra3 73.Rd5 Rb3 74.Ke4 Rb4+ 75.Rd4 Rb6 76.f5 Rb5 77.Rd6+ Ke7 78.Re6+ Kf7 79.Kf4 Rb1 80.e4 Rf1+ 81.Ke5 Ra1 82.Rd6 Ra5+ 83.Rd5 Ra7 84.f6 Kg6 85.Ke6 Ra8 86.Rd7 Ra6+ 87.Rd6 Ra8 88.Ke7 Ra7+ 89.Ke6 Ra8 90.e5 Re8+ 91.Kd5 Kf5 92.f7 Rf8 93.Rf6+ Kg5 94.Ke6. Black resigns.

My congratulations to Anna Ushenina with her outstanding achievement! Celebrate, Kharkov, celebrate, former Soviet Union! We got the title back!

China can strike back next year in the title match between Anna Ushenina and Hou Yifan. Hou Yifan is a favorite in this match – her rating and results are more impressive. However, if chess Ukraine supports the champion properly, and the preparation goes smoothly, the outcome of this match can become a complete mystery.

Overall, this championship produced many exciting and dramatic games, and many players established their reputations at the international level.

Thank you for your attention, my readers and viewers! See you soon!