Reports | November 25, 2012 21:00

Stefanova and Ushenina go to World Championship final

8 women left in the playing hall in Khanty-Mansiysk

Khanty-Mansiysk - The Women's World Championship is taking place from 11th November to 3rd December. The strongest 64 female chess players are playing in a World Cup (knock-out) format to determine who will unseat Hou Yifan as World Champion. The winner will face Hou in a World Championship match next year.

Eight women left in the playing hall | Photos courtesy of FIDE

Event Women's World Championship | PGN via TWIC
Dates November 11th-December 2nd, 2012
Location Khanthy-Mansiysk, Russia
System 64-player knockout
Players The top 10 on rating is Hou Yifan, Humpy Koneru, Anna Muzychuk, Zhao Xue, Kateryna Lahno, Nadezhda Kosintseva, Viktorija Cmilyte, Marie Sebag, Valentina Gunina, Pia Cramling
Rate of play

90 minutes for the first 40 moves followed by 30 minutes for the rest of the game with an
increment of 30 seconds per move from move one

Tie-breaks 2 rapid games (25 minutes + 10 seconds increment), 2 blitz games (10 minutes + 10 seconds increment), 2 blitz games (5 minutes + 3 seconds increment), 1 sudden-death (5 vs 4 + 3 seconds, increment frome move 61).


After two weeks of nerve-racking knock-out matches the Women's World Championship is approaching its climax. On Tuesday, November 27th, the final match of four games commences, between Antoaneta Stefanova and Anna Ushenina. In this report we'll have a look at the quarter-final and semi-final highlights.

Quarter Finals

The match between Anna Ushenina and Nadezhda Kosintseva was the only one to be decided after two classical games. However, the outcome could have been the opposite had Kosintseva exploited a horrible blunder by her opponent.

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After this missed opportunity Kosintseva couldn't recover and duly lost her game with Black. Ushenina gradually improved her position by advancing the central pawns and convincingly converted her material advantage.

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Anna Ushenina defeated Nadezhda Kosintseva with 1.5-0.5

The other matches were no less dramatic. Marie Sebag outplayed Antoaneta Stefanova with White in a Ruy Lopez and had good chances reaching the semi finals, but succumbed to the pressure in the second game and allowed the Bulgarian to level the score. That game was the turning point of the match, since in the tiebreak the Bulgarian was superior to her opponent.

The former Bulgarian Women World Champion defeated Marie Sebag in the tie-break (3-1)

In the match between Zhao Xue and Dronavalli Harika the Indian was on the verge of elimination. After a rather correct draw with Black in the first game things went completely wrong for her in a Nimzo-Indian with 4.f3. Like she admitted afterwards, she was just about to resign when her Chinese opponent allowed a perpetual check.

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After this swindle Zhao Xue couldn't come back to power and lost thread with White in a King's Indian: 

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A miracle happened for Harika to advance to the semi-finals

The last seat in the final four would be given to a Chinese woman, since Wenjun Ju and Huang Qian had to battle it out against each other. Neither the two classical games nor the first two rapid games brought any decision. In the 6th game Wenjun Ju proved to possess the stronger nerves and after a mishandled opening she fought back to secure qualification:

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Quite a big Chinese delegation is still present in Khanty-Mansiysk

Semi Finals

The pairing tree decided that Stefanova had to play with Harika for a spot in the final. In the first game, the Bulgarian opted for a fashionable line against the Queen's Gambit Declined and soon a complex middlegame arose with chances for both sides. The Indian sacrificed a pawn, but was too tempted, opening the centre with 23...d4?

In order to prove her compensation she had to follow up with a piece sacrifice, attempting to exploit the exposed position of the white king. Stefanova had estimated well that her king was safe enough, surrounded by the white forces, and once it arrived on c1 the game was basically over. Harika prolonged the fight for a couple of extra moves, but quickly afterward, the black king came under a devastating attack.

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In the second game, Stefanova was well prepared and caught her opponent by surprise with a novelty on move 7. Soon after the centre became locked and White attempted to create an entry on the queenside. The Bulgarian had anticipated the upcoming events and countered with her f-pawn, breaking down White's pawn chain. Black's massive centre clearly outweighed White's extra piece and thus Harika was forced to allow a repetition of moves. And so Stefanova deservedly earned a spot in the final.

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Antoaneta Stefanova convincingly won her match against Dronavalli Harika (1.5-0.5)

In the other semi-final between Wenjun Ju and Anna Ushenina, the winner had to be decided in the tiebreak after the classical games ended relatively quickly in draws. In the first game with the shortened rate of play, Ushenina gave an aggressive interpretation to the Sämisch Variation of the King's Indian. Black didn't find a good antidote, and desperately invested some pieces for active play, but Ushenina stayed calm and convincingly scored the first decisive result in this mini-match.

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Anna Ushenina (right) defeated the last remaining Chinese Wenjun Ju in the tie-break (2.5-1.5)

In an absolute do-or-die situation the Chinese sacrificed the exchange and got excellent play, because of the extra pawns and her more actively placed pieces. Gradually she improved her position and completely outplayed her opponent in the ensuing bishop versus rook ending. Ushenina could have resigned any moment, but wisely decided to keep up the fight and eventually got rewarded for her perseverance when Wenjun Ju let slip away her advantage with 66.e7?

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And so it's the 27-year old Ukrainian woman who obtains the right to play the final (four games) against the ex-FIDE World Champion Antoaneta Stefanova. The winner of that match will be the new FIDE Women's World Champion. She'll play Hou Yifan in a longer match, which is scheduled to take in place in September 2013.

Robert Ris's picture
Author: Robert Ris

Robert Ris is an International Master, professional trainer and teaches in schools, clubs and individually. He is one of the editors of ChessVibes Openings and ChessVibes Training and from time to time also writes book reviews. Other interests: travelling, sports and Greek food.


ff2017's picture

"The winner of that match will be the new FIDE Women's World Champion and earn the right to challenge Hou Yifan in a longer match,"

I would technically say that Hou Yifan, as the winner of the Grand Prix, earns the right to challenge the 2012 Women's World Champion in the match.

Xenyatta's picture

Technically, you are correct. No doubt, Hou Yi-Fan was striving to win this event. Yet, as consolation for her defeat, she can now know that she will be matched up versus a champion who will be a weaker player--at least by the measure of rating-- than the (Qualifying) Candidate (Humpy Koneru) would have been, had Hou successfully defended her Title.

Well, Stefanova is a former Women's Wold Champion, and Ushenina, though barely in the Top half of the draw, has demonstrated a lot of fighting spirit.

Nevertheless, I expect Hou to prevail by a rather lopsided margin in the match against the soon to be crowned champion.

Anonymous's picture

re: "she (Hou Yi-Fan) can now know that she will be matched up versus a champion who will be a weaker player--at least by the measure of rating"

In that case Hou may have somewhat benefited by being knocked out of this event - a rather unfortunate unintended consequence.

R.Mutt's picture

But Hou's score against Humpy is extremely good, so the question if she benefited remains open.

Thomas's picture

The confusion arises from two reasons:
- Cycles overlap, and the challenger was determined before the world champion.
- former world champion Hou Yifan participated in the Grand Prix and the knockout event. She will play a match against her successor NOT because she is former WCh and gets some sort of rematch, but because she won the FIDE GP Series.

As to ratings, they are neither meaningless nor gospel truth. For women, they are derived from a mixture of events, broadly women-only events and mixed ones (Swisses, team events, rarely round robins) with variable relative proportions per player.
One way to gauge or classify Stefanova is considering her peak rating of 2560, not her current Elo 2491. Her peak was July 2010 (world #5) - not that long ago. At the age of 33, is she now past her prime or did she have some sort of extended crisis?

Frits Fritschy's picture

Stefanova's rating goes up and down. She also had 2560 in 2003.
I remember someone (a former trainer?) once writing something like (excuse my failing memory) she had an enormous talent, but not a very serious attitude. I think she has (maybe because of this) a very attractive, sharp style (and, also pardon my irrelevance here, the most beautiful eyes in the world.)

Thomas's picture

I dunno if there is an anti-relationship between serious attitude and attractive playing style - one or both ways? Less serious players have an attractive style and/or players with an attractive style are less serious??
Rather loose from that question, Stefanova might be a female version of Ivanchuk, Morozevich or Shirov - all had rating up and downs fluctuating between top5 and top20 or even less. Would we "accept" if one of those players plays a major role in the WCh cycle, even during a period when his rating and ranking is relatively down?

Xenyatta's picture

Of course, we should accept the fact that Stefanova or Ushenina will become World Champion as a result of this Knockout Tournament format for the World Championship.

Of course, Stefanova may have more talent than her rating may indicate, but I hardly consider her to be the female counterpart to Ivanchuk, Morozevich, or Shirov. For one thing, it's not even clear that Stefanova has the tactical skills to go toe-to-toe with Hou Yi-Fan, Humpy, or A. Muzychuk.

For another, while Stefanova's rating and results do fluctuate more than is typical, from what I've seen of her games, she is neither extraordinary creative, nor somebody whose play has the hallmark quality of being frequently brilliant.

It is just that she is inconsistent, and perhaps not so hard a worker, and so her results go up and down.

Frits Fritschy's picture

There may be a positive relationship between a less serious attitude and an attractive playing style. A free mind is a joy forever.
Ivanchuk, Morozevich or Shirov in a WCh match... I would fear a bit for them, but dreams should be stronger than fears!

Xenyatta's picture

Maybe her fortunes somehow mirror that of her Bulgarian compatriot, V. Topalov?

They both became World Champions around the same time, back in 2004.

I agree that ratings are not the only measure of strength, but even at 2560, Stefanova would be a (rather distinct) cut below an Anna Muzychuk.

Muzychuk had quite an impressive year, and her career vector is clearly going up. A match between Hou Yi-Fan and A. Muychuk would have provided good chances for a dramatic, hard fought spectacle. I believe that even now, Muzychuk would give Hou all that she could handle in a match.

Hou Yi-Fan's easy domination of the Women's Grand Prix series was certainly not the result of a "lottery ticket", or in having better nerves in a Rapid or Blitz chess Tie-Break game.

It is puzzling that FIDE takes the process of determining the the Challenger to the (Women's) World Champion so much more seriously--with respect to time, resources, and most importantly, the rigor of the the format--than it does the process for determining the Champion herself.

Jambow's picture

Xenyatta I think most people recognize this mini match sudden death system leaves a lot to be desired and that serious doubt will be cast upon the victor because the amount of random chance is simply big of a factor. That is not to say that Stefanova & Ushenina didn't perform under the less than ideal circiumstances that they didn't create. I have enjoyed the chess. I will only half heartedly be able to consider the winner a meaningful champion and thats not really fair to them because perhaps they would have survived a more representative system who knows? This is not good for chess when half of the fans can't take the system very seriously. I think mini matches or tournaments done correctly both work, both implimented poorly don't.

Thomas your point about Stefanova peaking much higher is valid it shows more of her true potential to a greater degree and she has been the WWCC before. Morozevic dropped down into the 2600's yet who really thought he couldn't play near his peak elo of 2788 if on form.

The quality of this system goes up starkly as the match length is increased and anybody who understands odds should know that especially FIDE they certainly defy all odds when it comes to making bad decisions a coin toss would out perform them I'm afraid.

Thomas's picture

Comparing top women with top men remains tricky, I will try anyway: Judit Polgar would be the female Carlsen - or rather a future Carlsen who has to remain #1 for another 10 years and increase the gap with the #2 (which may or may not happen). Hou Yifan, Koneru and Muzychuk would be comparable to Radjabov, Caruana and Karjakin - young players whose "career vectors" might still go up. There's no female equivalent of Anand, Kramnik and Aronian - players who were at least top10, mostly top5 for many years. Then Stefanova might be a female Morozevich - closer in age to her than Ivanchuk, and with deeper rating lows (I cannot judge her creativity, tactical skills etc., just referring to her rating history).

As to the format, I would say the winner (and also the loser of the final) has achieved quite something, exactly because the format is what it is: every single game matters, every mistake can be fatal, plus (if needed) rapid and blitz tiebreaks where nerves are as important as playing strength. Comparing it with a coin toss is quite silly IMO: a coin toss would give equal chances to all 64 participants, or at least to the 32 who survived the first round.
Even if Socko and Zhukova were lucky to win against Hou Yifan and Koneru, they were eliminated in the very next round. Ushenina eliminated Muzychuk AND three other higher-rated players, far too much "luck" to be just luck ... .
Anyone can still consider the Khanty-Mansiysk winner just a World Cup winner, with the title being vacant until her match against Hou Yifan. Then we are a bit closer to the overall WCh system, remaining differences are lack of rating spots, no wildcards and no privileges for the defending champion.

jsy's picture

If Carlsen were to participate in the female world cup, there is some fighting chance that he can be eliminated at any point. Don't believe it? - Kosteniuk has defeated Carlsen in blitz and anyone rated 2500 can beat Carlsen two straight in blitz with just a little luck. BTW, in extended match play, no 2500 can be expected to beat Carlsen. And the knock out is a good format to determine the "World Champ"? (Obviously, the knock out is technically not a "coin toss". It is actually a "crap shoot".)

Thomas's picture

Yes, but to win such a match against Carlsen in such a way, Kosteniuk would first need to keep even scores in two classical games, two rapid games and two semi-blitz games (10 minutes is somewhere between rapid and blitz). Also, Carlsen's blitz loss against her was one of many games in a tournament where he may have underestimated the opponent - which he wouldn't if a lot depends on such a blitz game (he did well in several blitz tiebreaks) and earlier games showed that she has to be taken seriously.

To win the open World Cup, Kosteniuk would then need further stunts against, say, Vallejo, Adams and Svidler. Overall, even if we say that some favorites were "wrongly" eliminated, a win by an outsider is deserved.

RG13's picture

Speaking of short matches and the top women, Judit Polgar recently wiped Magnus Carlsen off of the board in a rapid game. He was able to 'tie' the short match by beating her in a blindfold game and then broke the tie by winning two blitz games. It would have been exciting to see them play more rapid games together (I'm sure that Carlsen would have prevailed in an extended rapid match, duh) but it is an indication that GM Polgar maybe still too strong for these women.

[Event "Cuadrangular UNAM 2012"]
[Site "Mexico City/MEX"]
[Date "2012.11.26"]
[Round "7"]
[White "Carlsen, Magnus"]
[Black "Polgar, Judit"]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "E90"]
[WhiteElo "2848"]
[BlackElo "2705"]
[PlyCount "100"]
[EventDate "2012.??.??"]

1. Nf3 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 Bg7 4. e4 d6 5. d4 O-O 6. h3 e5 7. d5 Na6 8. Be3 Qe8
9. g4 Nc5 10. Nd2 a5 11. Be2 c6 12. Rg1 Kh8 13. h4 Ng8 14. Qc2 Bd7 15. O-O-O
cxd5 16. Nxd5 Ne6 17. h5 g5 18. Kb1 Ba4 19. b3 Bc6 20. Nb6 Rd8 21. Qc3 Nf4 22.
Bf1 h6 23. Qxa5 f5 24. gxf5 Qxh5 25. Re1 Nf6 26. Nd5 Ra8 27. Qb4 Rfd8 28. f3
Qh4 29. Rc1 Bxd5 30. cxd5 N4xd5 31. Bxg5 Qxg5 32. Rxg5 Nxb4 33. Rg2 d5 34. exd5
Nfxd5 35. Ne4 Ne3 36. f6 Bf8 37. Rh2 Rac8 38. Bc4 Nxc4 39. bxc4 Kg8 40. Rb2 Rc7
41. c5 Nd3 42. Rd2 Rcd7 43. c6 bxc6 44. Rxc6 Kf7 45. Rb6 Nc5 46. Rxd7+ Rxd7 47.
Nf2 h5 48. Rc6 Rd2 49. Nh3 Ne6 50. a4 Rh2 0-1

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