Reports | November 19, 2012 21:49

Women World Championship reaches final eight

Playing hall becomes more empty

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.

The playing has become more empty | 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).


The Women World Championship is nearing its end, and with almost all favorites having been knocked out in the second round, the road to the World title is open to anyone. In the third round, giant killers Monika Socko and Natalia Zhukova couldn't follow up their previous successes. In Socko's game with White against former FIDE World Champion Antoaneta Stefanova the Polish woman committed a terrible blunder:

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After this oversight, Socko couldn't repeat the scenario of her match against Hou Yifan and never had realistic chances to reach the tie-breaks, and so Stefanova convincingly went through to the next round.

Zhukova was standing with her back against the wall in the first game against Wenjun Ju and eventually lost a technical rook ending. However, the following day the Ukrainian fought back and finally emerged as the winner of a nerve-racking game. In the tie-breaks the Chinese was a class of her own and secured qualification by repeating moves, a piece up.

The Chinese women are in excellent shape as, besides Wenjun Ju, Huang Qian and Zhao Xue also obtained a seat within the last eight. The latter, who is now the highest rated player left in the tournament, eliminated Mariya Muzychuk. Despite her sister Anna's continued presence and support, the Ukrainian suffered a painful defeat in the second game of the mini-match.

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By far the most interesting clash of the third round was between the Kosintseva sister. Many people expected the classical games to end in a quick repetition of moves, but instead the Russian sisters showed extreme fighting spirit and fought out all their games until the draw could no longer be avoided. In the end the slightly older and higher-rated Nadezhda won the match with 3.5-2.5 and was the last one to qualify.

Full pairings for the quarter finals are:
Stefanova - Sebag
Zhao Xue - Harika
Ushenina - Kosintseva.N and
Wenjun Ju - Huang Qian

The match both sisters didn't want taking place. Nadezhda (right) defeated Tatiana with 3.5-2.5

Wenjun Ju convincingly won the tiebreak against Natalia Zhukova

Anna Muzychuk stayed together with her trainer Emil Sutovsky to support her sister Mariya

During the tie-break games: advice from coach Giorgi Kacheishvili didn't help Irina Krush prolonging her stay in Khanty-Mansiysk. She lost to Huang Qian.

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.


Horst's picture

Very sfeerful report. Thanks

Anonymous's picture

Sebag is playing well, she can make it to the " title "

Septimus's picture

Peter, can you please put up a table with the upcoming matches? Is Pogonina still in it or did she get knocked out?

James's picture

Pogonina got eliminated by Ushenina

Thomas's picture

The quarterfinals are given in the article. Semifinals will be
(Winner of Stefanova-Sebag) - (Winner of the Chinese duel), and
(Winner of Zhao Xue-Harika) - (Winner of Ushenina-Kosintseva).
The final will (obviously) have two players which may come from Europe, Asia or both continents.

Septimus's picture

Thanks. I was not keeping track of all the games. While surprises are nice, I'm not sure this is the best format. Maybe have the top 4 in the rating list punch it out and call it a day?

Anonymous's picture

Sebag won today !

Ch_P's picture

Can someone explain me this women's format? Why Hou Yifan played in this? what if she had won? Played with herself for the title? So now since she has lost, it doesnt matter, whoever wins this one, will challenge her for the title next year? then why did she take away one place of someone else who could have competed?

redivivo's picture

I guess she played because she wants to be World Champion, and now she isn't World Champion any more since she didn't win the World Championship.

Thomas's picture

Indeed Hou Yifan lost her title - and gets a chance to regain it in a match because she won the FIDE Grand Prix, not because she is former world champion.

Male chess has a world champion (still Anand), a #1 (Carlsen) and will have a winner of the GP Series (the first winner was Aronian). Female chess will have a world champion (vacant, eight remaining candidates), does have a GP winner (Hou Yifan), a #1 among those regularly competing against other women (disputed or close call between Hou Yifan and Koneru) and an absolute #1 (Polgar).

The other reason why Hou Yifan participated may simply be that there aren't too many strong women events with opportunities to earn significant prize money.

Chessguy's picture

Sorry to be nit-picking, but there is NO male chess or male champion, only THE absolute open world champion (which could be theoretically as well a woman) and additionally the female world champion. Polgar has competed for open world championship on earlier occasions.

Thomas's picture

Of course you are right - actually (but that's a separate discussion) I wonder about the rationale behind a separate woman world champion. Unlike for physical sports, there is no inherent (genetic) reason) why women should be weaker chess players than men.
On the other hand, I see the reason behind holding separate World Youth and World Senior championships (one just finished, one underway).

Anonymous's picture

no, she would not play herself!! If she had won this, she would play the runner up for the championsip final

Aditya's picture

Well, no doubt the format is quite dubious. But given the conditions, I think Hou played because she winning here meant she would face a known and predictable opponent. She also has quite a psychological advantage over Koneru, as opposed to a new opponent. Also there is no big pressure to win.

Having said that, look at Koneru's options. Her best bet was playing the Championship match against Hou, if either of them won here. Otherwise she has no match. So seems like if there is any opponent she should prepare for, it's Hou. Odd and complicated format.

ff2017's picture

Actually Hou is playing because she wanted to become world champion. This is how it works, if she didn't play, then she loses the title by default to the winner of this event, the event being the Women's World Chess Championship. Another way of looking at it is that the Women's title has a 1 year expiration date and must be defended or it goes to someone else.

jambow's picture

Not impressed in the least with this format, I am however impressed with Sebag's play, her game today was powerful.

Xenyatta's picture

Sebag's play was nice--up until the last match where she imploded against Stefanova.

One of the few virtues of this KO system is that it finally forced the Kosintseva sisters to actually play real games versus each other. After all the times that they have been paired together (when organizers are of a mind to invite one the sisters, they usually have both participate), these are the first contests with real fight.

Perhaps in the future, the tournaments should require that the Kosintseva sisters always play a Knock-out match for the Full point. No more quick draws between them....
Or make them play a Classical length game, but with Armageddon rules to force a decision.

The Kosintsevas have been allowed to be too cute about this, for two long. But when they play each other, they have not been upholding tthe integrity of the game.

Thomas's picture

The Kosintseva sisters played eight short draws against each other, but just two events seem to be invitational ones. Five times both qualified (3* Russian Championship, 2* FIDE Grand Prix), once at the European Championship 2007 they happened to be paired against each other in a Swiss.

Wijk aan Zee, but only Wijk aan Zee has the perfect solution if they want to invite both sisters: in 2007 Tatiana played in the B group, and Nadezhda in the C group. And otherwise, there are few invitational round-robins for women anyway.

Casey Abell's picture

I'll be politically incorrect. I love this format. Quick knockout, put up or shut up, play good right from the start or go home.

Just because you're Hou Yifan or Humpy Koneru or Anna Muzychuk (or, I'm tempted to say, Judit Polgar - I'd like to see her risk her august self in this format) doesn't mean a thing. If you don't bring your A game RIGHT NOW, you're gone. No matter what your name is.

So far Marie Sebag seems to have gotten the hang of things better than anybody else. Not saying she's gonna win, but 6/7 ain't bad.

redivivo's picture

Or, as some people would say, matches like these show that the rating list lies and that Hou and Koneru and Muzychuk in fact are weaker than Ushenina and Huang etc. Length of matches is irrelevant and the system is fair while ratings once again are shown to have no connection to playing strength. Me, I think the knockout format sucks :-)

Thomas's picture

The rating list doesn't lie - it rather accurately reflects long-term average strength. But what matters for any event is strength in the given event under the given format - with different formats requiring somewhat different approaches.

Knockouts are comon in other sports: football has it for the most prestigious events - if Brazil loses against Austria in a knockout match (maybe only in a penalty shootout), that's it, they are out. Tennis has it for almost all events, and most people will know the term tiebreak from tennis.

What would suck IMO is a format that guarantees wins for the higher-rated players, hence why even bother shuffling pieces? Like declaring Carlsen world champion or already giving him a match against Anand without having to qualify first in dedicated events.

Septimus's picture

Comparing team events to an individual even is a non-sequitur. This is not the best format.

Suppose we set the above argument aside for a minute... even in football there are elaborate zonal qualifying matches before the finals (candidates).

Thomas's picture

I don't say that this is the best possible format, but it may be the best realistic one - if one wants to give many players a shot at the title and finish the whole thing within a reasonable period.

If you don't want to compare team and individual events, what about tennis? And even in chess there are elaborate qualifying tournaments (continental championships or zonal events) where most players qualified for the final 64:
These Swiss events may also have somewhat random results - but if you want to become world champion you should be able to finish in the top14 of the European Championship either 2010 or 2011.

RG13's picture

All those who were involved in this knockout could have instead been made to play a Swiss to determine the top 7 or so who would play a double-round robin for the title.

Bartleby's picture

A big Swiss is logistically more difficult, and a big Swiss for qualifying purposes has its own drawbacks. Players have to optimize their efforts to make the cut, which usually means lots of unfought draws.
I think the comparison with tennis or soccer is not so bad in this regard. The problem I see is that in every sport you have to provide enough time for skill to overcome accidents. Only after two players have shown they are nearly equal, a tiebreak makes sense. Over a very short distance, luck plays too big a role. The 2-game chess matches would be like playing tennis sets over only 2 games and then a tiebreak. Or a soccer game over 20 minutes, followed by penalty shoot-out. It is true, on average, the stronger side will win regardless of format, but with very short formats, statistically speaking, the variance will be very high.

valg321's picture

i think that's about right. Blunders in this format, just cost too much.

Thomas's picture

I agree that longer matches would be better, but - let's face it - in terms of rating this event is somewhere between the Wijk aan Zee B and C groups. Hence I wonder if anyone would really be interested in a longer event: the players themselves, organizers and sponsors, spectators and media. From today onwards, the event has to compete for attention with the Tashkent FIDE Grand Prix, and - with the given format - it will finish just before the London Chess Classics.

As to a Swiss event: one with 64 players wouldn't be too difficult logistically. But a Swiss has other inherent drawbacks. One is that 6.5/9 against weaker opposition (coming from behind in the final rounds) is worth more than 6/9 against stronger opponents (always playing on the top boards and losing towards the end). BTW if a player loses two consecutive games (like Koneru against Zhukova) he/she is also out of competition or almost so in a Swiss.
The other drawback is that a Swiss event almost 'begs' for tiebreak criteria or tiebreak matches. How likely is it that the cut between seventh and eighth place coincides with the difference between, say, 6.5/9 and 6/9? As an extreme example, at the 2009 European Championship eleven players shared first place after the final round, and 23 shared 12th to 34th place (22 World Cup qualifying spots).
The only way to avoid such perceived injustices is having more qualifiers than "worthy qualifiers" (with realistic chances to win the title in the next stage). Then a few players will be lucky, but noone can complain about being unlucky.

Xenyatta's picture

The format is rather trifling, frankly. Sure, maybe even the majority of the participants have some practical chances to win. But Harika is the highest rated players of those who have survived to the Semi-Finals, and she is only 2512. Let's just same that the new Women's Lottery winner will lack much in the way of stature.

The new Woman's world champion will be an obscure trivia answer, nothing more.

Xenyatta's picture

The format is rather trifling, frankly. Sure, maybe even the majority of the participants have some practical chances to win. But Harika is the highest rated players of those who have survived to the Semi-Finals, and she is only 2512. Let's just same that the new Women's Lottery winner will lack much in the way of stature.

The new Woman's world champion will be an obscure trivia answer, nothing more.

jambow's picture

Thomas first thanks for achnowleging that longer matches would be an improvement. I think probably the event could be completed in stages and while the women are lower rated as you indicated, these are the best women chess players in the world and so they garner more interest perhaps, to me at least.

I believe there is a real danger of the world championship not taken seriously and that is already happening with Anand to some degree. Also HIStory shows us not many considers Ponomariov or Kasimdzhanov legitimate world chess champions as they were never the best players. No offence to them both are top players neither could be considered the best in their era by any stretch.

As far as the swiss systems advantages and disadvantages well stated Thomas, I agree perhaps we if there is a tie at the final then matches could determine the final winner. Anyway this short match implimentation of sudden death chess leaves tremendous room for improvement imho and I suprised that intelligent people allowed for this and worse yet to continue. FIDE though has a track record that should make me know better.

Thanks for keeping it civil we all love chess or we wouldn't care would we.

redivivo's picture

No one can take an event like this seriously with the four remaining players ranked 14th, 17th, 19th and 38th in the world, a result that is no surprise considering the knockout lottery format. The winner will of course be World Champion, but how meaningful the whole thing is is another question.

Thomas's picture

Yep we need a system where the highest-rated player wins: let's make Judit Polgar Women World Champion even against her will - how much prize money does it take for her to accept the title??

End of irony: The way the "next ones" Hou Yifan and Koneru were eliminated makes it questionable whether they would have prevailed in longer matches. As to those still in the race: Harika is already #10 on the live rating list, and may have further upward potential (as the youngest world-top player but Hou Yifan). Stefanova is now #15, gaining 21 points during the event. Ju Wenjun fell behind as she always needed tiebreaks against nominally weaker opponents (but longer matches might still require tiebreaks).
Ushenina is or was just world #38 but beat three stronger opponents in a row - if that was just pure luck it might be less likely than winning one real-world lottery. She actually is a former top10 player - so in the male chess world it would be comparable to Shirov (currently just #27) finding back his form.

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