Batsiashvili Leads Khanty-Mansiysk Women's GP At Half-Time

Batsiashvili Leads Khanty-Mansiysk Women's GP At Half-Time

IM Nino Batsiashvili of Georgia leads the Khanty-Mansiysk Women's Grand Prix after six rounds. This final grand prix will determine who will play the winner of the 2017 FIDE knockout championship in a match. Here's the story from our special women's chess correspondent IM Jovanka Houska.

A funny thing about the chess community is that we are familiar with some of the most obscure places. Ask a random person on the street about the city Khanty-Mansiysk and most people would stare at you blankly. Not so a chess player. They might mention olympiads, the world cup, the women’s world championship and, of course, mammoths!

After four tournaments in Monte Carlo, Tehran, Batumi and Chengdu, it is in the sub-arctic city of Khanty-Mansiysk that the fifth and final leg of the 2015-16 Women’s Grand Prix takes place The winner of the overall grand prix earns the right to challenge the new 2017 Women’s World Champion. (Please note: That will not be the current champion Hou Yifan as she has confirmed she will not be playing in the 2017 Knockout World Championship.)

A group photo of the participants and officials in Khanty-Mansiysk. | Photo courtesy FIDE.

For those more financially inclined, the prize fund is very impressive—The winner of each individual leg will win 10,000 euros. However, it is those who finish in the top four in the overall series who have the juiciest prizes to look forward to:

Placement Prize
1st 25,000€
2nd 20,000€
3rd 15,000€
4th 10,000€

Yes, here, it’s really the winners who take it all.

Let’s check the current standings:

Player Fed Points
Humpy Koneru 335
Ju Wenjun 253 ⅓
Zhao Xue 250
Anna Muzychuk 223 ⅓
Mariya Muzychuk 220
Valentina Gunina 205
Nana Dzagnidze 205
Alexandra Kosteniuk 195
Harika Dronavalli 190

First place nets 160 points (120+40 bonus points), second place 130 (110+20), third place 110 (100+10), and fourth place 90 points.

Only those highlighted in bold are playing in Khanty-Mansiysk which means there are only four players, Ju Wenjun, Gunina, Kosteniuk and Dronavalli, that can possibly overtake Humpy Koneru’s grand prix score of 335. The heavy favorite both to win the tournament and the grand prix has to be Ju Wenjun. At 2580, she is the second highest-rated female in the world.

Ju Wenjun is doing well in the cycle—Will we have an official and an unofficial
world champion from China at some point? | Photo courtesy FIDE.

For Ju Wenjun, simply finishing second is enough to guarantee her the grand prix victory. Third place may be sufficient but only on the condition that Gunina doesn’t snatch the top prize in Khanty-Mansiysk. Fourth place would be enough for Ju Wenjun to scrape past the required 335 points, but she would then need the other three leaders to finish outside of the top two places. A dangerous scenario!

Realistically, only first place in Khanty is sufficient for Valentina Gunina, Alexandra Kosteniuk and Harika Dronavalli to even have a shot to be the challenger.

Of course, this is just theory because in practice there are eight other highly motivated and tough competitors in our challengers’ way.

Player Rating Points
GM Ju Wenjun 2580 253 ⅓
GM Alexandra Kosteniuk 2555 195
GM Harika Dronavalli 2543 190
GM Valentina Gunina 2525 205
IM Natalia Pogonina 2492 170
IM Nino Batsiashvili 2489 115
IM Lela Javakhishvili 2461 75
IM Almira Skripchenko 2455 100
IM Olga Girya 2450 75
GM Natalia Zhukova 2448 90
IM Sarasadat Khademalsharieh 2435 130
GM Bela Khotenashvili 2426 70

Light the blue touch paper and stand well back!

With such high stakes, it was only natural that we could expect some fireworks over the chess board. I anticipated aggressive direct chess combined with nerves and tension.   

After six rounds, it is the “lucky newcomer” (so called because it is her first visit to Khanty!) Nino Batsiashvili who has seized the lead with 4.5 out of 6.

Khanty-Mansiysk Women GP | Round 6 Standings

Rank SNo. Fed Title Name Rtg 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 Pts
1 4 IM Batsiashvili, Nino 2489 0 ½ 1 1 1 1
2 1 GM Gunina, Valentina 2525 1 0 0 ½ 1 1
3 3 IM Khademalsharieh, Sarasadat 2435 ½ 1 ½ ½ ½ ½
4 8 WGM Girya, Olga 2450 ½ ½ ½ 1 0 1
5 11 GM Kosteniuk, Alexandra 2555 0 ½ 1 ½ 1 ½
6 10 GM Harika Dronavalli 2543 0 ½ ½ ½ 1 ½ 3
7 7 GM Ju Wenjun 2580 ½ 0 ½ ½ ½ 1 3
8 6 GM Zhukova, Natalia 2448 1 ½ ½ 0 ½ ½ 3
9 5 WGM Pogonina, Natalija 2492 ½ 0 0 ½ 1 ½
10 9 GM Khotenashvili, Bela 2426 0 1 ½ ½ 0 ½
11 2 IM Skripchenko, Almira 2455 0 0 ½ ½ ½ ½ 2
12 12 IM Javakhishvili, Lela 2461 0 ½ 0 0 ½ ½

Despite a painful loss in the fourth round to Gunina, Batsiashvili effortlessly dispatched of Skripchenko’s Old Indian Defense with some fantastic opening preparation. Batsiashvili and her compatriot Khotenashvili visited an ice hockey match in the evening of the rest day—It was clearly an inspired move! 

Things have gone a little bit slowly for our other potential grand prix winners. In joint second place with 3.5 points are Gunina and Kosteniuk. Things were going well for Gunina until she blundered in round six to lose to Zhukova. It looked like she might pull of one of her trademark miracle saves, but such was not to be.

Round six, on the other hand, went well for Kosteniuk, and an important victory over Ju Wenjun meant she joined the group on +1 inching forward to the coveted top spot.

Kosteniuk, the 2016 Superfinal winner, again plays for the top prizes. | Photo courtesy FIDE.

However, there have been some rather chair-gripping moments:

The King Hunt:

The wandering King is a rare creature; usually there is something comical about this bold piece stumbling around for freedom whilst his own forces desperately scramble to provide cover! It's something we are all taught with glee during childhood so naturally I was drawn to this example:

Intimidation Tactics:

After an important loss in the sixth round to rival Alexandra Kosteniuk, Ju Wenjun is languishing on 3.0/6. At the start of the event, she confessed to feeling the pressure of being the favorite. Although she may feel a little frustrated, she can take hope from how she strong-armed Georgian Lela Javakhishvili into passive play.

Harika Dronavalli has been playing some impressive chess of late. She won the Chengdu leg of the grand prix. In addition, her excellent performance at the recent Chess.com Isle of Man International earmarks her as a very dangerous opponent. Her game against Natalia Zhukova showed she is definitely one to watch.

Harika Dronavalli. | Photo courtesy FIDE.
More from IM JovankaHouska
Women's World Chess Championship: Ju Wenjun, Lagno, Kosteniuk, Muzychuk Through

Women's World Chess Championship: Ju Wenjun, Lagno, Kosteniuk, Muzychuk Through

Women's World Chess Championship: Tokhirjonova, Abdumalik Shine; Lagno Wins In Armageddon

Women's World Chess Championship: Tokhirjonova, Abdumalik Shine; Lagno Wins In Armageddon