Muzychuk Leads At Women's World Championship Final Halfway

Muzychuk Leads At Women's World Championship Final Halfway

| 13 | Chess Event Coverage

On Friday IM Mariya Muzychuk grabbed the lead in the Women's World Championship's final. The Ukrainian player defeated WGM Natalija Pogonina with the white pieces after a draw in the first game.

Photo Eteri Kublashvili.

If WGM Natalija Pogonina will be crowned world champion in two or three days from now, she will be the ultimate comeback queen indeed. She needs to win at least one of the remaining two classical games in the final, after losing the second.

But first things first: game one. It was a rather quiet, but tense start of a final that is played over four classical games, and if necessary a playoff on Monday.

A playing hall with one table, two chairs and two players: the final has started! | Photo Nastja Karlovich.

IM Mariya Muzychuk faced 1.d4, Pogonina's regular move, which she used against all opponents except Pia Cramling. In an Anti-Meran Black equalized comfortably, but as long as that c-pawn was still on c6, White could hope for an advantage.

The critical moment was on move 27, when Pogonina could have maneuvered her knight to f5. A knight on f5 is a strong concept known from e.g. the Ruy Lopez, and Pogonina certainly noticed it. “I saw that move but evaluated the resulting position incorrectly,” she said after the game.

Muzychuk: “I was short on time. After 27.Nd4 I planned to play 27...Qd7, but cannot say I studied it deeply, because it was unclear what move Natalia chooses. My idea was to carry out ...Bb6 and ...с5.”

A draw in game one, with one small chance for Pogonina. | Photo Nastja Karlovich.

The second game was truly a fantastic battle between the two ladies. In a Breyer Ruy Lopez, Muzychuk played the sideline 11.a4!? which resulted in a rather normal Breyer middlegame, except that Black's kingside was less weakened with her h-pawn still on h7.

White went for the typical f4-break, which makes the d4-square available but gives up e5 for Black. Normally Black would like to put a knight there, but Pogonina used it for her heavy pieces instead.

Pogonina defended with the Breyer Ruy Lopez. | Photo Nastja Karlovich.

White kept a slight advantage, which became bigger after a risky pawn sacrifice on the queenside by Pogonina. Muzychuk played a strong exchange sacrifice, then won it back and then decided everything with a killing knight sac on h5. 

Great play by Muzychuk in game two. | Photo Nastja Karlovich.

Here's the game annotated by GM Dejan Bojkov:

A fantastic battle between Muzychuk and Pogonina. | Photo Nastja Karlovich.

2015 Women's World Championship | Final

Name vs Name Score Playoff
Muzychuk,M (UKR, 2526) - Pogonina,N (RUS, 2456) 1.5-0.5


The third game of the final will be played on Saturday and, if Muzychuk doesn't win, the fourth on Sunday. If necessary, a playoff follows on Monday.

The Women's World Championship takes place March 17-April 7 in Sochi, Russia. World Champion GM Hou Yifan is not defending her title; she took part in the Hawaii Chess Festival instead.

The total prize fund of the championship is U.S. $450,000. Every player gets $3,750, those who make it to round two get $5,500, for round three it is $8,000, round four $12,000, round five (semifinals) $20,000, the silver medalist $30,000, and the winner $60,000.

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