Olga Girya, Elisabeth PaehtzAlina Kashlinskaya and Natalia Zhukova are some of the biggest names who were eliminated in the first round of the women’s world championship in Khanty-Mansiysk. Our women’s chess reporter IM Jovanka Houska has the story.

One of the perks of being a chess player is that tournament life will usually lead players far, far down the road less traveled but as the glamorous Mae West once declared: “You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.”

One place doing everything right is the chess famous Siberian town of Khanty-Mansiysk. Not only has it played host to a whole array of prestigious tournaments, but this November, Khanty started the chess month by hosting the 2018 Women’s Knockout Chess Championship

Playing hall Women's World Championship 2018

The playing hall during the second day of play. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

These days there seems to be a women’s world championship to celebrate the changing of the season—the last women’s world championship was in May 2018! So, it is a big pleasure to see the new FIDE president Arkady Dvorkovich giving the world championship cycle a much-needed shake-up. You can read all the details and more here.

Anything is possible. Or is it?

In the words of the current women’s world champion Ju Wenjun, “It’s a knockout, everyone has a chance!” 

Ju Wenjun

The reigning world champion Ju Wenjun. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

The first round saw 64 players from all over the world, 32 matches amid some insanely intense competition. With 23 of 25 of the top female players in the world competing, including grandmasters Humpy Koneru (IND), Anna Muzychuk (UKR), Kateryna Lagno (RUS) and Alexandra Kosteniuk, there is no easy path to the top.

Foisor Stefanova Women's World Championship 2018

Antoaneta Stefanova (right) back at the chessboard after becoming a mother. She is together with Ivan Cheparinov. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Each match consists of two classical games played at the standard FIDE time control, followed by tiebreaks of rapid and blitz games should the score still be level. With little margin for error, winners are often decided on factors such as form, nerves and sometimes just plain luck. There is no denying it: knockout championships are the chess version of the Hunger Games. May the odds be ever in your favor.

For the first round, the pairing system of top-vs-bottom seed resulted in three pairing scenarios:

  • Grandmaster vs. mortal (rating difference between players over 300 points)
  • David vs. Goliath (rating differences between 76-300 points).
  • Roll the dice, it’s anyone’s guess (rating difference of 75 points and under).

The grandmaster juggernauts 










Hardegen Kathryn

(AUS)

0-2

Ju Wenjun

(CHN)

Koneru Humpy

(IND)

2-0

Toubal Hayat

(ALG)

February Jesse Nikki

(RSA)

0-2

Lagno Kateryna

(RUS)

Muzychuk Anna

(UKR)

2-0

Hamid Rani

(BAN)

Vazquez Maccarini, Danitza

(PUR)

0-2

Kosteniuk Alexandra

(RUS)

Goryachkina Aleksandra

(RUS)

1½-½

Ouellet, Maili-Jade

(CAN)

Wafa Shahenda

(EGY)

0-2

Muzychuk Mariya

(UKR)

Tan Zhongyi

(CHN)

1½-½

Sun Fanghui

(CHN)

Aliaga Fernandez, Ingrid Y

(PER)

½-1½

Gunina Valentina

(RUS)

With rating differences between players varying from a staggering 736 points (Ju Wenjun with 2568 vs Kathryn Hardegen with 1832) to a “mere” 303 points between Gunina (2497) and Aliaga (2194), let’s face it, things were always going to be difficult for the underdogs.

Indeed, the top-seeded grandmasters all did their duties and dispatched their opponents with professional ease.

Watch GM Anna Muzychuk put away Bangladeshi chess legend Rani Hamid (incidentally a fellow British women’s champion ) in an effortless attack.

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Bangladeshi WIM and three-time British woman’s champion Rani Hamid faces off against GM Anna Muzychuk. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

In GM Valentina Gunina‘s case, it was this delightfully fiendish trick that netted her the match.

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The sneakiest trick you ever did see! Ninth-seed Valentina Gunina from Russia. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

David vs Goliath (Remember that slingshot!)















Paehtz Elisabeth

(GER)

½-1½

Alinasab Mobina

(IRI)

Miranda Llanes, Yerisbel

(CUB)

0-2

Dzagnidze Nana

(GEO)

Harika Dronavalli

(IND)

2.5-1.5

Khukhashvili Sopiko

(GEO)

Foisor Sabina-Francesca

(USA)

1-3

Stefanova Antoaneta

(BUL)

Pogonina Natalija

(RUS)

1½-½

Kulkarni Bhakti

(IND)

Padmini Rout

(IND)

1.5-2.5

Abdumalik Zhansaya

(KAZ)

Batsiashvili Nino

(GEO)

2-0

Arakhamia-Grant Ketevan

(SCO)

Zhai Mo

(CHN)

2-0

Girya Olga

(RUS)

Zhao Xue

(CHN)

2-0

Lujan, Carolina

(ARG)

Zhu Jiner

(CHN)

2-0

Javakhishvili Lela

(GEO)

Saduakassova Dinara

(KAZ)

3-1

Matnadze Ana

(ESP)

Vo Thi Kim Phung

(VIE)

½-1½

Khotenashvili Bela

(GEO)

Lei Tingjie

(CHN)

3-1

Gara Anita

(HUN)

Shvayger Yuliya

(ISR)

½-1½

Socko Monika

(POL)

If the top boards mundanely stuck to the script, things got a little bit spicier on the middle boards. Most of the higher-rated players managed to outclass their opponents either in classical or rapid chess as duly required. However, the dying seconds of the rapid tiebreaks between Harika Dronavalli of India and Sopiko Khukhashvili of Georgia sure managed to send the audience heart-rate rocketing…

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Harika Dronavalli next to her lucky charm—her grandmother! | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

There were noticeably three big upsets. The first came in the shape of 18-year-old Iranian WIM Mobina Alinasab, who overcame a 259 rating deficit to defeat German IM Elisabeth Paehtz 1.5-0.5. The match started to go wrong for Paehtz when the following over-the-board drama occurred:

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Mobina Alinasab put up some tough defense to knock Germany’s Elisabeth Paehtz out of round one. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

It seems the Chinese are absolutely determined to smash their way through every chess record on the planet, so it’s no surprise that the other “upsets” of the round came from young talents WGM Zhai Mo and 16-year-old WIM Zhu Jiner. (In fact, with the exception of WIM Sun Fanghui, who faced off against GM Tan Zhongyi all the Chinese women have progressed to the second round.)null

Deep focus for the 16-year-old Zhu Jiner. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Both Zhai and Zhu defeated IMs Olga Girya and Lela Javakhishvili with the wholesome score of 2-0. A relative unknown outside of her native China, the 16-year-old Zhu was in especially fine form.

Roll those dice:










    Ushenina Anna (UKR) 1½-½ Mkrtchian Lilit (ARM)
Tokhirjonova Gulrukhbegim (UZB) 1½-½ Kashlinskaya Alina (RUS)
Atalik Ekaterina (TUR) 3-1 Cori T., Deysi (PER)
Nakhbayeva Guliskhan (KAZ) 1.5-2.5 Galliamova Alisa (RUS)
Ni Shiqun (CHN) 3.5-2.5 Zhukova Natalia (UKR)
Vega Gutierrez Sabrina (ESP) 1.5-2.5 Bodnaruk Anastasia (RUS)
Hoang Thanh Trang (HUN) 2.5-1.5 Danielian Elina (ARM)
Nechaeva (Guseva) Marina (RUS) ½-1½ Zawadzka Jolanta (POL)
Krush Irina (USA) 3-1 Gaponenko Inna (UKR)

The real uncertainty of the first round lies almost exclusively with all the evenly matched players facing off on the lower boards. Anything can happen.

From boards 24-31, only three matches were decided by classical games with Anna Ushenina (UKR), Jolanta Zawadzka (POL) and world junior silver medalist, the 19-year-old Gulrukhbegim Tohirjonova (UZB) all passing onto the next round. But it was the latter’s victory over Russia’s Alina Kashlinskaya that raised a few eyebrows.

Despite the small rating difference, Kashlinskaya had been riding high after her tremendous performance at the Isle of Man. Indeed, it was all going very well for Kashlinskaya until she was brought down to earth by Tokhirjonova in the following moment. 

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Gulrukhbegim Tokhirjonova of Uzbekistan, 2018 World Junior medalist. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

It was a curious fact that of the 11 tiebreak matches, 10 of the matches were decided in the rapid segment. In fact, these rapid games were rather one-sided and it was excellent news for the fans of the victors Atalik, Galliamova, Bodnaruk, Hoang and Krush, all of whom put in some incredible performances.

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Last woman to the post! WGM Ni Shiqun defeats Natalia Zhukova in a tumultuous match. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

The last game to finish was an epic, six-game battle between Ukrainian grandmaster Natalia Zhukova and Chinese WGM Ni Shiqun. Zhukova looked to be in full control until her desire to win clouded her judgement. Such is chess: beautiful yet painful! 

Pairings for round two:

















Ju Wenjun (CHN) Krush Irina (USA)
Zawadzka Jolanta (POL) Koneru Humpy (IND)
Lagno Kateryna (RUS) Hoang Thanh Trang (HUN)
Bodnaruk Anastasia (RUS) Muzychuk Anna (UKR)
Kosteniuk Alexandra (RUS) Ni Shiqun (CHN)
Galliamova Alisa (RUS) Goryachkina Aleksandra (RUS)
Muzychuk Mariya (UKR) Atalik Ekaterina (TUR)
Tokhirjonova Gulrukhbegim (UZB) Tan Zhongyi (CHN)
Gunina Valentina (RUS) Ushenina Anna (UKR)
Socko Monika (POL) Alinasab Mobina (IRI)
Dzagnidze Nana (GEO) Lei Tingjie (CHN)
Khotenashvili Bela (GEO) Harika Dronavalli (IND)
Stefanova Antoaneta (BUL) Saduakassova Dinara (KAZ)
Zhu Jiner (CHN) Pogonina Natalija (RUS)
Abdumalik Zhansaya (KAZ) Zhao Xue (CHN)
Zhai Mo (CHN) Batsiashvili Nino (GEO)

The women’s world championship takes place November 3-23 in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia. Russia. A field of 64 players from 28 countries will be fighting in a knockout format to determine the new champion. More details on the official website.

Games via TWIC.

Snow Women's World Chess Championship 2018

Players arriving through the snow. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Snow Women's World Chess Championship 2018

It’s been below zero mostly, and for Friday -18 degrees Celsius is expected. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Olga Girya Women's World Championship 2018

Olga Girya, one of the victims of the first-round upsets. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Alina Kashlinskaya Women's World Championship 2018

Alina Kashlinskaya couldn’t continue her great form from Isle of Man. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Sabina Foisor Women's World Championship 2018Sabina Foisor got eliminated in the tiebreak. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Humpy Koneru Women's World Championship 2018

Humpy Koneru didn’t need “the stare” to win comfortably. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Irina Krush Women's World Championship 2018

Irina Krush eliminated Inna Gaponenko. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

ZawadskaЗ Women's World Chess Championship 2018

Jolanta Zawadzka of Poland. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Nino Batsiashvili Women's World Chess Championship 2018

Nino Batsiashvili defeated Ketevan Arakhamia-Grant. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Bodnaruk Women's World Chess Championship 2018

Russia’s Anastasia Bodnaruk (left) eliminated Sabrina Gutierrez of Spain. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Galliamova Women's World Chess Championship 2018

Alisa Galliamova signing the score sheets after eliminating Guliskhan Nakhbayeva of Kazakhstan. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Chief Arbiter Igor Bolotinsky Women's World Chess Championship 2018

Chief arbiter Igor Bolotinsky. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Match TV Women's World Chess Championship 2018

If there’s a big tournament in Russia, you can bet you’ll see WGM Elmira Mirzoeva (and her cameraman) of Match TV there. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.


Previous report:

https://www.chess.com/news/view/womens-world-chess-championship-girya-paehtz-kashlinskaya-zhukova-out