Dzagnidze, Pogonina Lead Tehran FIDE Women's Grand Prix

Dzagnidze, Pogonina Lead Tehran FIDE Women's Grand Prix

SamCopeland
NM SamCopeland
Feb 18, 2016, 11:43 PM |
45 | Chess Event Coverage

GM Nana Dzagnidze and WGM Natalija Pogonina have taken the lead in the hotly contested FIDE Women's Grand Prix held in Tehran, Iran.

Each has scored an undefeated four wins and three draws and sits at 5.5/7 with a narrow half-point lead over the Chinese competitors GM Zhao Xue and GM Ju Wenjun who have 5.0/7.

The winner of the FIDE Women's Grand Prix cycle will earn the right to challenge for the Women's World Championship in 2017

GM Hou Yifan won the first leg of the Grind Prix cycle in Monaco; After Tehran, the final two tournaments will be held in Tblisi, Georgia and Chengdu, China later this year.

Round one began on February 10 with enthusiasm and aggression as four of the six games were decisive.

A ceremonial first move to officially begin the tournament. All photos from Alina l'Ami via the official site.

One of the players who could be most happy with her start was former prodigy and current women's world number two, GM Humpy Koneru.

Koneru delivered a crisp and clean attacking performance against Zhao Xue — exactly the sort of game every player would love to begin with.

The appealing victory drew the eye of another former prodigy and current super-GM.

Koneru adjusting her pieces.

Despite not being among the four victors in round one, Dzagnidze delivered a statement win in round two as she outplayed Gunina in the theoretical Vienna variation of the Queen's Gambit.

Analysis by GM Dejan Bojkov

Win or lose, Gunina is invariably in excellent spirits.

Even without Hou Yifan in attendance, the Chinese federation is well represented in Tehran. Zhao Xue achieved a smooth win in round three when IM Nino Batsiashvilli could not defuse a theoretical piece sacrifice.

Fate was not kind to Batsiashvilli as after her difficult game against Zhao; she was immediately paired against the tournament leader in round four.

Batsiashvilli played aggressively with 12.g4?!, but Poginina replied by sacrificing to open lines in the center, and Batsiashvilli would soon have liked to recall her g-pawn.

Pogonina's concentration is quite intimidating.

In the same round, Zhao Xue escaped from a bad position against Zhukova with the following appealing puzzle finish.

Zhukova looked well on her way to victory, but Zhao was too slippery.

Two of the tournament favorites came together in round five and delivered an exhilarating slugfest for the spectators.

Both players played creative and challenging chess, but the win was Dzagnidze's for the taking had she found the critical computer line.

Ju Wenjun is currently the third-highest-rated female player in the world behind only Hou Yifan and Humpy Koneru, but she has not generally achieved the recognition due those players.

In round six, she made a strong case for the world number-two ranking as she landed several shots against Koneru's centralized king and was winning by move 15!

Soon to be women's world number two? Ju is now only five points behind Koneru in the live standings.

In a surprising case of the rich getting richer, all four of the tournament leaders won in round seven!

Perhaps the most fortunate was Ju Wenjun, who executed a combination that won the game, but would have lost it had Stefanova found a lurking refutation.

Can you find it?

Special note should be made of the hometown hero's performance. Iran's own IM Sarasadat Khademalsharieh is in clear fifth place with a point-and-a-half lead over her pursuers.

She produced a pleasant puzzle move to claim a win in round seven.

While Iran is not known as a center of chess today, Iran's chess history is rich. As the former center of the Sasanian Empire, Iran was critical to the diffusion of ancient chess beyond India's borders, and chess thrived in Iran in those times.

Chess was further diffused when Iran was absorbed into the expanding Islamic empire. The oldest game in recorded memory was played in the remnants of the Sasanian empire. 

This predates the oldest recorded game played in Europe with modern rules by more than 400 years.

Perhaps with new talents like IM Khademalsharieh and top tournaments like the FIDE Women's Grand Prix, Iran will again be a vibrant center for chess.

Tehran sits in the shadow of the Alborz mountains, a part of the larger Himalayan-Caucasus system that sits just below the Caspian Sea.

Chess being played into the late hours in Tehran.

Round Seven Standings — Tehran FIDE Women's Grand Prix

Rank Title Player Rating 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 Score
1 GM Dzagnidze, Nana 2529 ½ ½ ½ 1 1 1 1 5.5
2 WGM Pogonina, Natalia 2454 ½ ½ 1 1 ½ 1 1 5.5
3 GM Ju Wenjun 2558 ½ ½ 1 ½ 1 ½ 1 5
4 GM Zhao Xue 2506 ½ 0 1 1 ½ 1 1 5
5 IM Khademalsharieh, Sarasadat 2403 ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 1 ½ 4.5
6 GM Koneru Humpy 2583 ½ 0 0 1 ½ ½ ½ 3
7 GM Dronavalli Harika 2511 0 0 ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 3
8 GM Zhukova, Natalia 2484 0 0 ½ ½ 1 ½ ½ 3
9 GM Gunina, Valentina 2496 0 ½ ½ 0 ½ 0 1 2.5
10 GM Stefanova, Antoaneta 2509 0 0 ½ 0 ½ ½ ½ 2
11 IM Batsiashvili, Nino 2485 0 0 ½ 0 0 ½ ½ 1.5
12 GM Cramling, Pia 2521 0 0 0 ½ ½ 0 ½ 1.5

The Tehran FIDE Women's Grand Prix is a 12-round tournament taking place from February 10 through February 4. Round eight continues Friday at  3 p.m. Tehran time/3:30 a.m. PST.

Correction: This report initially stated that the winner of the Grand Prix cycle will earn the right to challenge Mariya Muzychuk for the World Championship in 2017. In fact, the winner will earn the right to challenge whoever holds the title in 2017.

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