Ju Wenjun Leads 1st Leg As FIDE Women's Grand Prix Begins
Ju Wenjun is doing well so far in Skolkovo. Photo: David Llada/FIDE.

Ju Wenjun Leads 1st Leg As FIDE Women's Grand Prix Begins

PeterDoggers
PeterDoggers
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27 | Chess Event Coverage

Women's world champion Ju Wenjun leads the first Women's Grand Prix of 2019 with three rounds to go. The event is the first of four GP legs and is being held in Skolkovo, Russia.

The current women's world championship cycle is in its final stage: Aleksandra Goryachkina sensationally won the Women's Candidates' Tournament earlier this year to meetJu Wenjun in a title match, tentatively scheduled for January 2020.

Meanwhile, the new cycle has started with the first of four Grand Prix tournaments:

  1. Sept. 10-23: Skolkovo, Russia
  2. Dec. 1-20: Monaco
  3. March 1-14: Lausanne, Switzerland
  4. May 20-June 10: Sardinia, Italy

A total of 16 players compete in these four tournaments, but each woman plays in just three tournaments. Unlike the general FIDE Grand Prix, the women's tournaments did not transform into knockouts, but are instead 12-player round robins. The prize fund in each Grand Prix is 80,000 euros, with 15,000 euros and 160 Grand Prix points for the winner.

Eventually the winner (based on the cumulative points earned in all three tournaments she played) and the runner-up qualify to the Women's Candidates' Tournament to be held in the first half of 2021.

Both Goryachkina and Ju are playing in this first Grand Prix, together with Pia Cramling (Sweden), Harika Dronavalli (India), Valentina Gunina (Russia), Alina Kashlinskaya (Russia), Humpy Koneru (India), Alexandra Kosteniuk (Russia), Kateryna Lagno (Russia), Elisabeth Paehtz (Germany), Marie Sebag (France) and Antoaneta Stefanova (Bulgaria). 

The four players who are also in the 2019-2020 Women's Grand Prix but not present in Skolkovo (i.e. playing in the remaining three events) are Nana Dzagnidze (Georgia), Anna Muzychuk and Mariya Muzychuk (Ukraine) and Zhao Xue (China).

The choice for Skolkovo, an area in western Moscow that was transformed into an innovation and business hub over the last decade, is easy to understand. FIDE president Arkady Dvorkovich happens to be the co-chairman of the Skolkovo Foundation—the agency responsible for this scientific and technological center—and could obviously pull some strings here.

The Skolkovo Business Center feel like a television studio. | Photo: David Llada/FIDE.
The playing hall in the Skolkovo Business Center feels like a television studio. | Photo: David Llada/FIDE.

Ju won the world title last year in a match with Tan Zhongyi and later defended it successfully in what was the last knockout world championship—before the new FIDE leadership aligned the women's cycle more to the general one. In Skolkovo, the Chinese player is proving her status as the world number-one while her compatriot Hou Yifan is still inactive as she's studying at Oxford.

After eight rounds, Ju is leading with 6.5 points. It's far from decided yet as world number-four Humpy is only half a point behind, and the two still need to play each other—that will happen in the final round, while Ju plays Goryachkina, now in third place, in the penultimate round.

Ju won an interesting game against Kashlinskaya in round six, where the Russian player, who won the top ladies' prize in Isle of Man last year, tried a positional queen sacrifice:

Ju Wenjun Kashlinskaya 2019 FIDE Women Grand Prix Skolkovo
Ju Wenjun playing Kashlinskaya. Photo: David Llada/FIDE.

The world champ is also showing her versatility as a player. Besides sharp battles she won even more games in the endgame, such as on Thursday against a former world champion. The analysis of the endgame revealed that, if Kosteniuk had played more tenaciously, Ju would have had to find a study-like win:

Alexandra Kosteniuk 2019 FIDE Women Grand Prix Skolkovo
Alexandra Kosteniuk. Photo: David Llada/FIDE.

Like Ju, Humpy scored her quickest win as White against Kashlinskaya as she found a crushing tactic:

Humpy Koneru  2019 FIDE Women Grand Prix Skolkovo
Humpy Koneru. Photo: David Llada/FIDE.

Gunina had been leading from the start, and was tied with Ju after five rounds. Then she suffered a painful loss to IM Paehtz, whose 50 percent after eight rounds is not bad. Before Gunina got the chance to get the position she likes (with the initiative!) it was the German player who started to sacrifice:

Elisabeth Paehtz 2019 FIDE Women Grand Prix Skolkovo
Elisabeth Paehtz. Photo: David Llada/FIDE.

2019 Skolkovo Women Grand Prix | Round 8 Standings

# Fed Name Rtg Perf 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1 2 Pts SB
1 Ju Wenjun 2576 2741 1 ½ ½ 1 ½ 1 1 1 6.5/8
2 Koneru,Humpy 2560 2685 ½ 1 ½ ½ 1 ½ 1 1 6.0/8
3 Goryachkina,Aleksandra 2564 2590 ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 1 ½ ½ 5.0/8
4 Gunina,Valentina 2502 2559 0 ½ 1 0 1 ½ 1 ½ 4.5/8 15.5
5 Lagno,Kateryna 2545 2539 ½ 0 ½ ½ 1 ½ ½ 1 4.5/8 13.75
6 Paehtz,Elisabeth 2479 2527 ½ 0 ½ 1 ½ ½ ½ ½ 4.0/8 16.75
7 Harika,Dronavalli 2503 2513 ½ ½ 0 ½ ½ 1 0 1 4.0/8 14.25
8 Kosteniuk,Alexandra 2495 2470 0 ½ 0 ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 3.5/8
9 Stefanova,Antoaneta 2491 2391 ½ 0 0 ½ 0 ½ ½ ½ 2.5/8 10.75
10 Sebag,Marie 2450 2391 0 ½ ½ ½ 0 ½ ½ 0 2.5/8 10.75
11 Kashlinskaya,Alina 2487 2388 0 0 ½ 0 ½ 1 0 ½ 2.5/8 10
12 Cramling,Pia 2487 2377 0 0 ½ 0 ½ 0 ½ 1 2.5/8 8


All games for replay 

Elisabeth Paehtz Antoaneta Stefanova 2019 FIDE Women Grand Prix Skolkovo
Elisabeth Paehtz and Antoaneta Stefanova at the opening ceremony. Photo: David Llada/FIDE.
Valentina Gunina 2019 FIDE Women Grand Prix Skolkovo
Valentina Gunina after one of her games. Photo: David Llada/FIDE.
Kateryna Lagno 2019 FIDE Women Grand Prix Skolkovo
Kateryna Lagno. Photo: David Llada/FIDE.
2019 FIDE Women Grand Prix Skolkovo
The playing hall is spacious and stylish... Photo: David Llada/FIDE.
2019 FIDE Women Grand Prix Skolkovo
...with its logo shining on the tables. Photo: David Llada/FIDE.
Children 2019 FIDE Women Grand Prix Skolkovo
Children attending the tournament... Photo: David Llada/FIDE.
Children 2019 FIDE Women Grand Prix Skolkovo
...and participating in a simul. Photo: David Llada/FIDE.

Ju Wenjun sleeping
Ju Wenjun taking a nap (just like Pia Cramling behind her) on her way to the playing hall. She'll face Goryachkina and Humpy in the last two rounds. Photo: David Llada/FIDE.
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