Ju Wenjun Wins Tehran FIDE Women's Grand Prix

Ju Wenjun Wins Tehran FIDE Women's Grand Prix

The final rounds in the Tehran FIDE Women's Grand Prix featured a war of attrition as upsets flipped the leaderboard in every round.

Emerging from the rubble was GM Ju Wenjun, whose consistent play brought victory. Ju finished undefeated on a score of 7.5/11 with four wins and seven draws.

This was Ju's second Women's Grand Prix victory after Sharjah, UAE in 2014.

Just behind Ju in second place was her countrywoman GM Zhao Xue and hometown hero, Iranian IM Sarasadat Khademalsharieh. Each tallied 7.0/11.

Ju Wenjun, Sarasadat Khademalsharieh, and Zhao Xue from left to right at the prize ceremonies. All photos from Alina l'Ami via the official site.

When we left the tournament after round seven, WGM Natalia Pogonina and GM Nana Dzagnidze held a half-point lead over Ju and Zhao.

Dzagnidze stayed on track in round eight with a confident win against GM Dronavalli Harika, but Pogonina faltered to a very nice endgame squeeze by GM Antoeneta Stefanova.

This gave Dzagnidze an impressive full-point lead with only three rounds to go in the tournament. The outlook for her could not have been brighter.

Sadly, things immediately went wrong for Dzagnidze as she lost in round nine to GM Pia Cramling who exploited her piece activity resulting from an isolated d-pawn very instructively.

Cramling improved a disappointing tournament with a fine win against the tournament leader.

Dzagnidze's misfortune was Zhao's good fortune as she escalated into a tie for first place with a muddy win in the Leningrad Dutch against Pogonina. Sadly, Pogonina's previously excellent form seemed to have departed temporarily in her time of need.

Analysis by GM Dejan Bojkov

Also in round nine, Khademalsharieh attained her first GM norm with a victory against Stefanova who was magnanimous and congratulatory in defeat.

The players and organizers prior to Khademalsharieh's round-nine GM norm.

Whether it was playing in her home country or sheer chess improvement, Khademalsharieh seemed to have clearly broken through to another chess plane and was having the tournament of her life.

Round 10 was a spectacular and turbulent affair. Dzagnidze and Zhao began as co-leaders. Meanwhile, Ju and Khademalsharieh were half a point back in shared third place, but the trailing pair both won in individual match-ups against the co-leaders.

Thus, Ju and Khademalsharieh leapfrogged Dzagnidze and Zhao and claimed shared first place for themselves.

Khademalsharieh kicked off the pair of upsets by racking up a fine win in a sharp battle against Zhao.

Ju followed with a victory over Dzagnidze. Her victory was a more positional, yet still complex and rich, fight. Ju graciously analyzed her game for Chess.com.

Analysis by GM Ju Wenjun

GM Natalia Zhukova added to Pogonina's misfortunes and created a pleasing puzzle for our readers to solve.

The stakes could not have been higher entering the last round. A win for Ju or Khademalsharieh would clinch a share of first.

Ju held some advantage against GM Harika Dronavalli. However, she was never particularly close to a win, and the players agreed a draw on move 50.

Khademalsharieh's final round was far more turbulent. After a 75-move struggle against Zhukova, the draw was confirmed by the tablebase, but it was just at this point that Khademalsharieh resigned as she could not see any salvation!

The computer-assisted spectators were baffled, but the explanation was really quite simple.

GM Evgenij Mirschnichenko telling Khademalsharieh that the final position was drawn.

Even with tablebases, the methods are not obvious.

This created an opportunity for Zhao and Dzagnidze to re-enter the tie for first with a victory. Once again, however, it was a battle of attrition as the previous co-leader, Pogonina, upended Dzagnidze.

That left Zhao to move into a tie with Khademalsharieh for third place after a comfortable draw.

Final Standings — Tehran FIDE Women's Grand Prix

# Title Player 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 Score
1 GM Ju Wenjun ½ ½ ½ 1 1 ½ ½ ½ 1 1 ½ 7.5
2 IM Khademalsharieh, Sara ½ 1 ½ ½ ½ 0 ½ 1 ½ 1 1 7
3 GM Zhao Xue ½ 0 1 ½ 0 1 1 ½ 1 ½ 1 7
4 WGM Pogonina, Natalia ½ ½ 0 1 1 0 1 ½ 1 0 1 6.5
5 GM Dzagnidze, Nana 0 ½ ½ 0 ½ 1 1 1 0 1 1 6.5
6 GM Koneru Humpy 0 ½ 1 0 ½ ½ ½ 1 ½ 1 ½ 6
7 GM Zhukova, Natalia ½ 1 0 1 0 ½ ½ 1 0 ½ ½ 5.5
8 GM Dronavalli Harika ½ ½ 0 0 0 ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 ½ 4.5
9 GM Gunina, Valentina ½ 0 ½ ½ 0 0 0 ½ 1 ½ 1 4.5
10 GM Cramling, Pia 0 ½ 0 0 1 ½ 1 ½ 0 ½ 0 4
11 GM Stefanova, Antoaneta 0 0 ½ 1 0 0 ½ 0 ½ ½ ½ 3.5
12 IM Batsiashvili, Nino ½ 0 0 0 0 ½ ½ ½ 0 1 ½ 3.5

Ju's victory and a middle-of-the-field finish for women's world number two, GM Humpy Koneru, closed much of the rating gap between these two players. Koneru currently stands at 2574.9 while Ju is just behind at 2567.9.

Ju's first place earned her €10,000 (11,019 USD) and 160 Grand Prix points. Zhao and Khademalsharieh each earned €7,500 (8,266 USD) and 120 Grand Prix points.

Currently, Koneru leads the Women's Grand Prix with 190 cumulative points in the 2015-2016 cycle. Two events remain: Tblisi, Georgia in May 2016 and Chengdu, China for which the dates are TBD.

The cycle's winner will earn the right to challenge for the Women's World Championship in 2017. Full standings are available here.

Much mention of the hospitality and skill of the Iranian hosts and the beauty of Iran was made in the tournament reports. The players toured many amazing landmarks on the available rest days.

The Shah-Abdol-Azim shrine, which the players toured on their final rest day.

However, the Iranian venue was not without controversy as many chess fans were indignant that the players were required to wear hijabs throughout the tournament.

FIDE's right to compel certain attire is arguably enumerated in the players' contracts which state "The players may be required to wear clothes or apparel with special branding from sponsors when specifically approved by the FIDE President."

When asked her opinion about the hijab and whether it affected her play, Tehran champion Ju Wenjun was practical, "I pick a light scarf, so I think it's fine for me... well, my fourth time in Iran. Getting used to it ".

Adding further fuel to the controversy was the disconcerting report that Valentina Gunina was accosted in a local park while out for a walk.

The always-smiling Gunina before the final round.

Iran's record regarding women's rights is quite poor as documented by Human Rights Watch. Regarding sports, Iranian women must wear a hijab when competing if men are present. Iranian women are also not allowed to attend most sporting events.

The issue has even been depicted in film by the acclaimed and currently imprisoned Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi in the movie Offside which is about a group of female soccer fans trying to attend a World Cup qualifier.

The counterpoint to those concerned by FIDE's decision to hold women's tournaments in countries which place such restrictions on women may be that chess is a universal game which brings nations and cultures together.

Opportunities to grow chess should rarely be declined, and the unmitigated success of Sarasadat Khademalsharieh is a major coup for Iranian sportswomen.

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