Reports | August 02, 2008 4:53

Kosteniuk wins FiNet Chess960 Rapid World Championship

There is one big disadvantage of Sochi: I cannot visit the Mainz Chess Classic this year. Fortunately, this great tournament also provides a great media service, and helped by many press releases, here's the first report, on the FiNet Chess960 Rapid World Championship, won by Alexandra Kosteniuk.

This year, the annual festival in Mainz takes place a bit earlier, because of the Summer Olympics in Beijing: July 28 - August 3. As always, it's held in the Rheingoldhalle of the Congress Centre, Hilton Hotel in Mainz, Germany.

Of many events being organized, four are most important. First there's the FiNet Open, held yesterday and today: the world's strongest Chess960 tournament. Saturday and Sunday it's time for the ORDIX Open, probably the world's strongest big rapid event. The FiNet Chess960 Rapid World Championship included Alexandra Kosteniuk, Kateryna Lahno, Victorija Cmilyte and Natalia Zhukova. And last but not least, in the GRENKELEASING Rapid World Championship (held this weekend), World Champion Viswanathan Anand, Magnus Carlsen, Alexander Morozevich and Judit Polgar will play.

We'll focus on the four ladies today. Last night, Alexandra Kosteniuk from Russia won the Chess960 Rapid World Championship title, beating Kateryna Lahno from the Ukraine in the final. Below you'll find a video of the press conference (by Georgios Souleidis), and reports by Johannes Fischer on all days of this women's only Chess960 event.

Day 1
The first half of the 2. FiNet Chess960 Rapid World Championship produced entertaining though not perfect chess. It also showed that Alexandra Kosteniuk was able to handle the challenge of the limited time and the uncommon opening position best. After three rounds she leads with 2.5 points, followed by Kateryna Lahno with 2 points. Victorija Cmilyte scored 1.5 points while Natalia Zhukova had three promising positions and spoiled them all in time trouble to still remain on zero. Playing with a time limit of 20 minutes plus 5 seconds increment per move time proved to a crucial factor in all games. Having no theory to rely on, the players had to think right from the start and very often had only minutes left to realize possible advantages gained before. But judging from their relaxed and animated chat after the games, they all seemed to have a good time in Mainz.


Viktorija Cmilyte

Indeed, the press conference seemed more like a meeting of friends talking about their day in the office than the follow-up of three fierce battles on the chess board. Even before the official start of the press conference the four rivals for the 2. FiNet Chess960 Rapid World Championship chatted amicably and lightheartedly with each other ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú though it has to be said that Natalia Zhukova seemed to be a little less cheerful than the others.


Kateryna Lahno

When all the journalists had finally arrived, Harry Schaack asked the players to switch from Russian to English and share their insights. Which they willingly did: They talked about how nice it is not to have to prepare in the morning for the game, how they liked to test Chess960 but also how difficult it was to cope with the pressure of the clock and the unusual positions. Natalia Zhukova in particular was plagued by time trouble. In the first round she spoilt a completely winning position against Kateryna Lahno, in the second game she lost her way after a bold pawn sacrifice by Alexandra Kosteniuk and in the third round she again spoilt a promising position against Cmilyte.

Cmilyte herself said about Chess960: ?¢‚Ǩ?ìI always got good positions after the opening. So, if I lost, this does not seem to be due to the unusual placement of the pieces.?¢‚Ǩ?

They all agreed that in Chess960 White is more likely to get an advantage in the opening but as Alexandra Kosteniuk said, ?¢‚Ǩ?ìas there is no theory, White has to work to be precise. Which costs time.?¢‚Ǩ?

However, the Russian solved this task very well. She started with a draw against Victorija Cmilyte but then went on to win against Natalia Zhukova and Kateryna Lahno. Her win against Kateryna Lahno was particularly impressive. In a queenless middlegame with opposite colored bishops both sides preferred dynamic play to material considerations, which led to a tense struggle.


Zhukova-Kosteniuk

With 2.5 points Kosteniuk has very good chances to finish first or second, gaining the right to play for the title against the other top finisher. But rounds 4 to 6 will be everything but a walkover for Kosteniuk. Cmilyte and Lahno will give their best to finish on top and Zhukova will definitely want to take revenge for her misfortune in the first half.

All friendliness will be forgotten. The atmosphere in the press conference was relaxed, but the fights on the chess board were intense. Yes, Cmilyte, Kosteniuk and Zhukova are friends: after the press conference they sat together to have dinner, all three have children, Kosteniuk and Cmilyte played on the same team, Zhukova and Kosteniuk visit each other privately ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú but when playing against each other all friendship seems to be suspended. Which promises entertaining, though not always perfect chess for today and tomorrow ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú crowned by a friendly, amicably and intelligent chat after the game.

Day 2
The second half of the 2. FiNet Chess 960 Rapid World Championship turned out to be a rather one-sided affair. Alexandra Kosteniuk and Katerina Lahno, who were leading after the first half, had a simple recipe to qualify for the final: They both won in rounds four and five to safely qualify. While Natalia Zhukova still had trouble with the clock she also seemed to be a bit shaken after her disastrous start into the tournament. Viktorija Cmylite tried hard but in without success.

Round four indicated that Alexandra Kosteniuk and Kateryna Lahno used the insights they had gained yesterday to good effect. In contrast to her rather lucky win in the first round, this time Lahno deservedly won against Natalia Zhukova by exploiting some inaccuracies of her opponent to unleash a ferocious attack leading to a quick win.
Meanwhile Alexandra Kosteniuk grabbed a pawn offered to her by Viktorija Cmilyte right after the opening. Whether Cmilyte blundered or sacrificed is hard to tell but she never had compensation for the pawn. In the further course of the game Kosteniuk hold on to her material advantage and finally reached a theoretically easily won endgame K+R+b- and g ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äúpawn against K+R. However, with the seconds ticking away on the clock theoretical wins can prove difficult to play. But after a couple of inaccuracies Kosteniuk finally managed to get her rook behind her b-pawn after which the game did not last much longer.


Kateryna Lahno

Thus, in round five Cmilyte had to win against Lahno to have any hopes for the final. With this in mind she proceeded rather aggressively with Black and decided to give a pawn for some initiative. However, in a crucial position Lahno found a convincing tactical counterblow which extinguished all initiative Black had and secured her a material advantage and the better position, which she duly won.

Natalia Zhukova, however, found out once more that Lady Luck did not smile upon her in this tournament. Against Alexandra Kosteniuk she again had a promising position but again spoiled it in time trouble. And though Kosteniuk suddenly showed nerves and did everything to make things difficult for herself, in the end Zhukova was the unlucky one. Kosteniuk won and with one round to go she and Kateryna Lahno safely qualified for the final.

Thus, the games of the final round ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú Kosteniuk against Lahno and Cmilyte against Zhukova ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú turned out to be a prelude for tomorrow's final. While practically without importance these games were psychologically important because their result might well set the tone for the final.

And as it turned out, Kosteniuk had the better of it. She won against Lahno to win the tournament with a convincing score of 5.5 out of six and will hope to carry her good form into the final. She will definitely not lack the necessary motivation. In the press conference she said: ?¢‚Ǩ?ìI enjoy Chess960 very much. You do not have to learn theory, you can just play.?¢‚Ǩ? And of course, it's easy to enjoy a game in which you are winning.

However, despite her somewhat unfortunate result ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú or, as she put at the press conference ?¢‚Ǩ?ìThis is not my tournament?¢‚Ǩ? ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú Natalia Zhukova seems to have taken a liking to Chess960. After all, she decided to take part in the 7. FiNet Chess960 Open, which will start tomorrow. Though she managed to draw her last round game against Cmilyte things can only get better tomorrow. And with five more Chess960 games of the open she might be quite ready to play for third place against Cmilyte.

Day 3
It was an exciting end of an entertaining and interesting event. In the final of the 2. FiNet Chess 960 Rapid World Championship Alexandra Kosteniuk and Kateryna Lahno played four hard fought, entertaining games. Sometimes Lahno Kosteniuk proved to be lucky, sometimes Lahno. But in all four games of the match, Kosteniuk set the pace in the end she deservedly won became World Champion.

The first game already set the tone of the match. Kosteniuk with White, proceeded aggressively and in the middlegame her passed d-pawn and her prospects on the kingside seemed to give her good chances ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú though she probably was not too happy about her exposed king.

But in the tactical complications that ensued after Kosteniuk tried to break through on the kingside White had to give a couple of pawns. When the queens went off the board Kosteniuk put all her faith into the strong passed pawn on the d-file. As both players were desperately short of time by now Lahno failed to find the proper defense ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú which was there ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú and lost.

However, fortune smiled upon her in the second game. Kosteniuk with Black again gained the initiative but after winning a pawn with a tactical combination suddenly found herself confronted with a lot of counterplay by White. While still keen on converting her extra pawn into a win she took too many chances and in the end was mated by Lahno.

Unperturbed, Kosteniuk continued to play well in game three, which opened with 1.e4 e5 2.f4 d5 and thus led to a bizarre ?¢‚Ǩ?ìKing's Gambit?¢‚Ǩ?. In fact, Kosteniuk played in a good King's Gambit style to gain a lead in development and started to open files against the enemy king. However, though her position looked overwhelming she failed to deliver the decisive blow and Lahno could escape into a draw. Thus, after three games the score was 1.5:1.5 and the fourth game was to decide the match.

Maybe it was the pressure of the match, maybe it was the disappointment of the chances she had missed in the previous games, but in the crucial fourth game Kosteniuk seemed to be determined. Perhaps a bit too determined. The opening being barely over she decided to go for complications which could have easily backfired had Lahno found the right moves. But maybe the pressure of the situation also affected Lahno's nerves. At any rate, in a complicated tactical position she blundered a piece and after a couple of irrelevant moves finally decided to resign which made Alexandra Kosteniuk the new World Champion in Chess960.


Alexandra Kosteniuk

However, despite winning the title, Kosteniuk did not get carried away. In the press conference after the game she said, that she ?¢‚Ǩ?ìwas not too happy about the chess. I had a number of promising positions and made too little of them.?¢‚Ǩ? That might be true, but that she still won just shows her class.

The match for third place between Natalia Zhukova and Viktorija Cmilyte came to a quicker end. Both players had decided to take part in the FiNet Open, in which Natalia Zhukova with 3.5 points from 5 games did pretty okay. However, against Cmilyte she again had troubles with the clock and clearly lost 1:3.

But in the press conference after the match Zhukova did not seem to be too shaken by her disastrous tournament and was keen to play the second half of the FiNet Open tomorrow: ?¢‚Ǩ?ìOf course, I want to qualify for the next World Championship.?¢‚Ǩ?

She seems to know what a good tournament is.

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Peter Doggers's picture
Author: Peter Doggers

Founder and editor-in-chief of ChessVibes.com, Peter is responsible for most of the chess news and tournament reports. Often visiting top events, he also provides photos and videos for the site. He's a 1.e4 player himself, likes Thai food and the Stones.

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Comments

semipatz's picture

Wow...great photos. Truly a Battle of the Babes! ;)

Johnny's picture

Nice photos of the event on chesspics.com you can vote too.

Zenman's picture

YES YES ALEXANDRA!!!

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