Natalija Pogonina, Mariya Muzychuk Reach Women's World Championship Final

Natalija Pogonina, Mariya Muzychuk Reach Women's World Championship Final

| 43 | Chess Event Coverage

A thrilling playoff on Tuesday decided that the final of the Women's World Championship in Sochi will be played between WGM Natalija Pogonina and IM Mariya Muzychuk.

Photo Eteri Kublashvili.

If we follow their titles, GM Harika Dronavalli and GM Pia Cramling should have been the favorites to reach the finals. But, as the saying goes, anything can happen in a playoff, and the non-grandmasters won.

“Comeback queen” WGM Natalija Pogonina was the first to reach the final. She started with a draw as Black against Cramling, who deviated from their first classical game — the one she won in a rook ending.

Concentration before the start of the playoff. | Photo Eteri Kublashvili.

In the second game, Cramling went for another Sicilian, but not the risky 2...a6 like yesterday. It was a Taimanov this time, which turned into a typical Hedgehog position. White had a slight edge for a long time, but nothing serious.

But then the clock started to play a role: around move 40 Cramling had about four minutes left against eight for Pogonina. The Swedish GM went for a risky pawn push on the queenside, and barely survived the resulting complications.

Cramling fighting for her life in the ending. | Photo Nastja Karlovich.

Pogonina failed to finish the game immediately, and an ending with rooks and opposite-colored bishops appeared on the board where she had two pawns, and Cramling none. The Swedish lady fought for her life, but couldn't save herself.

A fantastic result for Pogonina, who is playing the tournament of her life. Cramling (51), who already reached the third place in a world championship cycle in the 1980s, can look back at a splendid result considering her age!

Pogonina right after the game, not yet believing she's in a world championship final. | Photo Nastja Karlovich.

The other mini-match was a real thriller. In the rapid games both GM Harika Dronavalli and IM Mariya Muzychuk exchanged wins. The latter was the first to score with the black pieces from a Leningrad Dutch.

The Ukrainian player followed a piece of advice recently given by GM Hikaru Nakamura about that opening: “If you can't push ...e7-e5 as Black, go for ...b7-b5.”

White was better nonetheless, and in fact it was her push e3-e4 on move 22 that started the fireworks. A few moves later things became extremely sharp, each side delivering below after blow. Harika missed some chances, and finally blundered.

Harika's typical (shoeless!) pose for the ultimate concentration. | Photo Nastja Karlovich.

Having to win the next, Harika chose the Hippopotamus Defense, in which Black doesn't go beyond the third rank in the opening. Muzychuk wasn't impressed, played healthy chess and reached a close-to-winning position.

On move 23 there are better options for White, but Muzychuk missed Black's nasty ...Qd7-e8! and, out of the blue, Harika could start very strong counterplay. In no time she had all her pieces activated, including a strong bishop pair. Unsurprisingly, Muzychuk couldn't avoid further mistakes.

A comeback for Harika in game two. | Photo Nastja Karlovich.

And so the players went to the next stage: two games with 10 minutes + 10 seconds increment. After a new drawing of lots, Harika got White again in the first and this time she chose the Botvinnik setup against the Dutch.

After a long struggle the players reached a queen ending, and Harika slowly built up a winning advantage. She was two pawns up, and her h-pawn was about to queen... when she suddenly feared a perpetual and offered a queen trade.

It happened at the worst possible moment as Black immediately won back one pawn, and the resulting 2-vs-1 pawn ending turned out to be a draw! A huge disappointment for the Indian grandmaster.

Anna Muzychuk standing by her sister Mariya in the playing hall. | Photo Eteri Kublashvili.

In the next game Harika never came close to equalizing, let alone scoring the necessary win. Her ...Nf6-e8 was too passive, and Muzychuk had no mercy this time. Her older sister Anna, who was eliminated in the quarterfinals, quickly embraced and congratulated her.

Harika resigns... | Photo Nastja Karlovich.
...and realizes how close she was to reaching the final. | Photo Nastja Karlovich.
Then Mariya receives a well-deserved hug. Photos Nastja Karlovich.

2015 Women's World Championship | Results Semifinals

Name vs Name Score Playoff
Muzychuk,M (UKR, 2526) - Harika,D (IND, 2492) 1-1 2.5-1.5
Cramling,P (SWE, 2495) - Pogonina,N (RUS, 2456) 1-1 0.5-1.5

Note that tomorrow is a rest day. The final starts on Thursday. 

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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