Muzychuk Cruises To Final, Tan Zhongyi Wins Armageddon
The two ways Anna Muzychuk and Tan Zhongyi reached the final of the Women's World Championship couldn't be more different. Whereas Muzychuk beat Alexandra Kosteniuk 2-0 in classical games, Tan had the strongest nerves and defeated Harika Dronavalli eventually in the Armageddon game.
The last four: Survival of the fittest
In my last article, I rather cheekily complained about the lack of drama in the quarter-finals. Things for the winners had seemed just so efficient.
Well, well, well, the grueling reality of this event all came spilling out in the semi-finals… by the bucket load! The semi-finals had it all—miraculous escapes, epic collapses, nervous blunders and a heart-stopping Armageddon game.
Remaining in the competition were three GMs and 1 WGM. World Rapid and Blitz champion, GM Anna Muzychuk (UKR), 2008 former women’s world champion GM Alexandra Kosteniuk (RUS), GM Harika Dronavalli and finally WGM Tan Zhongyi (CHN).
Pairings and Results:
Match 1: Anna Muzychuk 2-0 Alexandra Kosteniuk
I was especially intrigued to see how this match would pan out. Not only are both women known for their excellent preparation but both have a very tough, uncompromising style. These are women who are not afraid to play aggressively.
Things had panned out comparatively easily for second seed Muzychuk, who came to her matches focused and well prepared and consequently won with relative ease.
A focused Muzychuk about to pull off a miraculous escape. | Photo David Llada.
Kosteniuk’s ride to the semi-finals had been a little tougher having had to play two tiebreaks in rounds 2 and 3. However, she is a very keen long distance runner so I was sure marathon chess events would not phase her. As the prize drew closer and closer, it would boil down to two things: preparation and endurance.
Game 1: “Contrariwise, if it was so, it might be and if it were so, it would be but as it isn’t, it ain't. That’s logic”
Game 1 started on move one with a surprise. Muzychuk playing with the black pieces opened with the French Defence. Checking through the database, I saw that Muzychuk had had a handful of games playing the French opening, but it seemed to be a weapon to use against her sister Mariya when one of them needed to win!
Playing a new opening can on occasion be nothing more than a leap in the dark. It may work if the opponent falls into your preparation but without the experience of knowing where your pieces go and what your plans are…. Well, things might not work so well!
Muzychuk learnt this lesson when she quickly got a losing position straight out of the opening, but as Kosteniuk found out the path to the point sometimes never did run smoothly!
There are some losses that leave you howling in pain and frustration. Not only is that initial pain so overwhelming and distressing… but these losses, see fit to come back and haunt you with the thoughts of things that "would be."
However, as the quote from the twins Tweedledum and Tweedledee in Alice in Wonderland "what it would be isn’t, it ain't” and the task in hand is to move on and do it as quickly as possible.
A determined Kosteniuk trying to find that win in game one. | Photo David Llada.
Game two saw a determined Kosteniuk enter the arena but alas, as too often happens when things go wrong they get worse and Kosteniuk exited the tournament in the saddest of ways.
Match 2: Tan Zhongyi 5-4 Harika Dronavalli. W-I-L-L P-O-W-E-R
A touching moment with Harika Dronavalli deriving comfort and her support from her grandmother. | Photo David Llada.
Readers, I have to confess that when it came to the final conclusion of this epic match, not only was I riveted to the computer but I had my heart in my mouth with nerves. This chess battle had everything one could ask for in the drama stakes. If this were a show, I would give both players a standing ovation because both these women won me over with their sheer determination to overcome the odds however insurmountable they seemed.
When a Facebook friend asked me for my predictions as to who would win this match, I answered that I thought Tan would probably edge Harika out simply because Harika had gone 15 days playing highly charged, stress filled chess. That schedule is draining. It was a sign of things to come.
Game 1: The attack
Both players had faced each other before and the score had been roughly 5-2 in Tan's favor. After the opening phase, had finished I thought things were settling into a short draw...
The Chinese WGM Tan Zhongyi is a little bit of an enigma - of course everyone has heard of her and knows that she is part of the amazing gold medal 2016 Chinese Olympic team but beyond that… she is a mystery.
This game (and tournament) has however shown her to be one of the most composed players and a vicious attacker! Instead, of accepting the repetition Tan manages to generate a beautifully efficient attack from nothing at all.
Game 2: The “monstrous” game
Winning on demand is one of the most difficult things to do, in particular if it’s your dream, countries expectations on the line. Although this game was, if truth be told a little bit scrappy, at least it will go in the books as being the longest game ever to be played in a world championship!
The Tiebreaks: 25+10
Game 3: Harika means business!
Game two had been the longest game ever in the world championship but in a story of extremes, Harika blew Tan off the board in what could be the shortest game in the tournament. Yes, I admit to thinking the Indian lady had it all in the bag and thought her win with white strategy was really reaping the dividends!
Game 4: Knights in shining armor
These looked as though they were following the standard pattern, Harika would win the tie break game with white and then cruise into the next round… until this fascinating knight ending happened.
A joyful Tan Zhongyi cannot stop beaming after her victory. | Photo David Llada.
Tiebreak 2: 10+10: The howlers
After the endgame win, the momentum passed into Tan Zhongyi’s favor—things continued to be flow her direction after game five saw Harika spoil a very promising position playing black in the Queen’s Gambit Declined.
Then real tragedy of the whole round came in game six when needing to win Harika, playing white made the following catastrophic decision:
Tan Zhongyi discussing the strategy with her trainer. | Photo David Llada.
Harika's near miss: After the debacle of the previous game, the big challenge for Tan was to maintain her composure. I am sure, the majority of us would left of the playing hall, livid with anger and would have lost the tiebreak without too much fight. Tan looked like she was falling off the edge when with some help from Harika she pulled it back from the brink..
A solid draw in game 8 meant that everything lined up for the Armageddon match.
Arbiter Anastasia Sorokina in the choosing of the colors. | Photo David Llada.
Well, in a game that seemed symbiotic of the whole match, the game went to the extremes, with the players missing mutual opportunities to win or draw the game. It feels somehow so wrong to have the fate of something so important be decided by something so chaotic and scrambled. In the words of Harika, it was a “painful exit."
A dramatic exit for Harika. | Photo David Llada.
The final between Ukranian Anna Muzychuk and Chinese Tan Zhongyi will resume on February 27th after the two participants finally get to enjoy an official rest day! The two have only played each other twice before (two draws) which will make it an even more fascinating match.
Will Anna Muzychuk do the triple? Or will the crown stay in China? Well we won't have long to find out.