by Ian Rogers
The Knock-out Women’s World Championship reaches its final stages this week, an event which has been marked by the exit of the pre-tournament favourites as well as some of the most condescending and sexist commentary ever provided by an official tournament web site.
The 64 player KO Championship had been scheduled for 2014 but was delayed because the world body FIDE was unable to find a venue.
By the time Sochi offered to host the event, Women’s World Champion Hou Yifan had already committed to a strong tournament in Hawaii (which she won). Unwilling to break her contract, especially for a KO event which she regards as a lottery, Hou decided to skip Sochi and surrender her title.
When asked if he would be closely following the tournament, World Champion Magnus Carlsen queried if Hou was playing. After receiving an answer in the negative he responded similarly.
Perhaps the main commentators chosen by the Russian organisers should have stayed clear of the event as well, since both GM Shipov (pictured top left and cover)– widely regarded as one of the world’s best commentators – and GM Miroshnichenko have not tried to hide their disdain for the games and the players they were watching. (Miroshnichenko does temper his attitude during the time that he shares the commentary booth with Germany’s non-nonsense Elizabeth Paehtz.)
Lela Javakhishvili, the Georgian WGM who was eliminated in the third round by Anna Muzychuk, described the Russian coverage as “Just horrible… shameful.”
Miroshnichenko’s attitude was summed up in his pre-tournament comments: “In my opinion, this is possibly the best format for the Women’s World Championship. Girls are getting bored playing a 12-game match, and the knock-out is so emotional! … Their brand of chess is different… having their mind locked on a long match is harder for them, and it does not look so thrilling, too.”
Official annotator Ilya Smirin wrote in similar vein, “I am really convinced that the number of games in women’s tie-breaks should be reduced to avoid the sometimes unbearable stress for girls.”
Fortunately, the competitors in Sochi can avoid most of the commentary until they are eliminated, though for many of the top seeds this has come far earlier than expected.
China entered the tournament with nine of the 64 players but the second round was a massacre; all but one Chinese player, Zhao Xue, were knocked out.
The third round was similarly devastating for the Russians, with three of their four surviving players (from 10) eliminated – a day after Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev had paid a visit to the tournament. Only Natalia Pogonina, one of the lower ranked of the Russian representatives, survived.
The final eight saw a broad spread of countries – Russia, China, Sweden, Georgia plus two players from each of Ukraine and India, with Indian top seed Humpy Koneru (below) looking as if the tournament was hers to lose.
However Koneru faltered in the quarter-finals, allowing two huge tactical shots against the lower rated of the Muzychuk sisters, Maria, and, with Zhao Xue going out to Pogonina (who had earlier beaten second seed Ju Wenjun), the tournament winner was anyone’s guess.
Sydney’s Irina Berezina (below left) was eliminated from the FIDE Knock-out World Championship in Sochi after a 2-0 first round defeat by former KO Champion Alexandra Kosteniuk (below right).
Berezina qualified as Oceania’s representative almost two years ago and was also seriously inconvenienced by FIDE’s announcements and subsequent cancellations of places and dates for the KO Championship.
The 49-year-old from Bondi was seeded near the tail of the field, but a strong performance at the Tromso Olympiad gave hopes that Berezina might upset the highly ranked Kosteniuk. (In the first round, seed 1 played seed 64, seed 2 v seed 63, etc.)
Unfortunately Berezina’s first game was a disaster; a game which showed all the hallmarks of jet-lag, handing Kosteniuk an easy win in the best-of-two contest. Berezina then needed to gamble to stay in the tournament, and her risk-taking play very nearly paid off (see game below).
So once again Oceania’s representative in a KO has fallen at the first hurdle and Berezina left the Black sea resort – alongside 32 of her fellow competitors – after only a handful of days.
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.g3 d5 4.Nf3 dxc4 5.Bg2 Nc6 6.0-0 Rb8 7.Re1?!
A rather too subtle idea. 7.Nc3 b5 8.Ne5! is considered White’s best try.
7…Be7 8.e4 0-0 9.Nc3 b5 10.a3?! Na5! 11.Bf4 Nb3 12.Rb1 a6 13.Qe2 Bb7 14.Rbd1 Re8 15.h3 Qd7 16.g4!
With little for the pawn, White must attack.
16…Rbd8 17.g5 Nh5 18.Be3 g6 19.Ne5 Qc8 20.Bf3 Ng7?!
Nerves are kicking in; the immediate 20…c5 would keep Black well on top.
21.Ng4! c5! 22.dxc5 Qc6? 23.Nh6+?
Presented with a golden chance, Berezina misses 23.Nd5!! which might have levelled the match, e.g. 23…exd5 24.exd5 Qc8 25.c6 with an attack that is not easy to contain.
23…Kf8 24.Rxd8 Rxd8 25.h4 Bxc5
Now the initiative changes hands and Berezina is pushed off the board.
26.Bxc5+ Qxc5 27.Bg4 Rd3 28.Qf1 Nd2 29.Qg2 Nf5!? 30.Nxf5 exf5 31.Be2 Rd6 32.Bf3 Qe5 33.Rd1 fxe4 34.Bg4 a5 35.Re1 b4 36.axb4 axb4 0-1