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Russia Supreme At Women's World Team Championship

Russia Supreme At Women's World Team Championship

The Russian women won the World Team Championship in Khanty-Mansiysk, finishing three match points ahead of the pack.

Gold for Russia. | Photo courtesy of FIDE.

A quick glance on Wikipedia tells us that Khanty-Mansiysk is a flourishing town with some sparkling ambitions; with a chess academy designed to look like a giant big space station and a Norman Foster crystal skyscraper in the pipe works.

It’s clear, in this town, big things are happening. It would also seem that this oil boom town is determined to get all its residents to play chess by craftily hosting as many important chess events in the calendar. This year, it was the turn of the World Team Championship.

Now the biennial World Team Championship has a prestigious billing as a tournament where ten of the top national teams (albeit with some teams representing their continent) play against each other in a nine-round robin to determine which country is the "strongest in the world."  Playing in this competition, in order of seeding, were China, Russia, Georgia, Poland, India, Ukraine, Vietnam, USA, Azerbaijan and Egypt.

On paper, things looked extremely good for the top seed and 2016 Olympic champion China, even without GM Hou Yifan. The team still consisted of four grandmasters and this roll call was mighty impressive: world championship challenger GM Ju Wenjun, Women's World Champion GM Tan Zhongyi, GM Zhao XueLei Tingjei (incidentally the protégée of Grandmaster Li Chao), and IM Guo Qi.

Seeded in second place were the experienced Russians, led by grandmasters Alexandra Kosteniuk, Kateryna Lagno and Valentina Gunina followed by IMs Aleksandra Goryachkina and Olga Girya. It has always been rumored that gold medals in Russia translate into big financial bonuses. However, one thing was absolutely clear: the home team was highly motivated to avenge its disappointing fourth place in the 2016 Olympiad. In fact, the current world team champion Georgia, led by 2017 European champion GM Nana Dzagnidze, were "only" seeded third just ahead of Olympic silver medallists, Poland and upcoming India.

With six of the ten teams having at least one grandmaster it is difficult to judge things just by looking at the numbers on the rating list. In fact, a lot is dependent on good captaincy, positive atmosphere and very importantly good teamwork. With four boards and a reserve, the most crucial things that a team can pull itself together to cover players who are struggling with their form.

A tale of two frontrunners

Surprisingly enough, some of the most critical moments came in the first round when the mighty titans China and Russia butted heads. What followed was completely unexpected - Russia defeated the Chinese juggernauts 3-1, Kosteniuk, Lagno and Gunina defeating Ju, Tan and Zhao respectively. 

nullValentina Gunina after her first round win. | Photo courtesy of FIDE.

In part, it all came down to this shocking moment on move 14, that forced and decided the pace very early in the match.

Despite the deceptively low ratings, and the absence of GM Humpy Koneru, the Indian team of GM Harika Dronavalli, IM Tania Sachdev, IM Eesha Karavade, IM Padmini Rout and IM Vijayalakshmi is really a force to be reckoned with. Indeed in the first round reigning World Team Champion Georgia were lucky to escape with a draw due to this tragicomedy. In fact, with the benefit of hindsight, it was this game that cost India a place on the podium.

Things continued painfully slowly for the Chinese as they were held to a draw in round 2 by a Ukraine, but a Ukraine minus the Muzychuk sisters. Indeed it was only in round five when the Chinese kicked into action with a string of victories against Georgia, USA, Vietnam and Egypt.

Meanwhile, as the Chinese team stalled, the tournament had very much become a two-horse race between Russia and sixth seeds Ukraine. Both teams had after seven rounds raced to an impressive 12/14 points.

The Ukrainian team of GM Anna Ushenina, GM Natalia Zhukova, IM Inna Gaponenko, WGM Nataliya Buksa and WGM Iulija Osmak had given the audience an excellent demonstration of teamwork defeating teams such as USA, India, Vietnam, Azerbaijan, Egypt often with just one game victory. 

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Iulija Osmak, Ukraine. | Photo courtesy of FIDE.

For instance, debutante Iulija Osmak had a very fine win against Jennifer Yu to secure her team that narrow win over the US.

With a three point lead over third-placed China, it looked like everything was building up to a round nine showdown between Ukraine and Russia when suddenly the wheels came off for the Ukrainians in round eight when they were narrowly defeated by Georgia, a 3-1 final round loss to Russia saw the spirited underdogs finish in 3= but 5th in tiebreaks.

The golden Russian powerhouse

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The Russian team with captain Sergey Rublevsky at the closing ceremony. | Photo courtesy of FIDE.

Whilst you could say that most of the teams had some very close calls, nothing of the sort could be said about Russia, who usually defeated their competitors with a very smooth 3-1. Scoring a magnificent 16 out of 18 match points and 25.5 out of 36 game points, the statistics reveal it all this was a classy powerhouse in full operation. 

Individual scores:

Board 1

Kosteniuk

6/8

Board 2

Lagno

5/8

Board 3

Gunina

6/8

Board 4

Goryachkina

4/6

Reserve

Girya

4.5/6

There were also some interesting games - check out this fantastic attack by Kateryna Lagno.

Chinese Silver

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The Chinese team plus captain Yu Shaoteng. | Photo courtesy of FIDE.

Despite winning the silver medal with 13 match points, the reigning Olympic champions will probably be very disappointed with their performance with four of the five players losing rating points, in fact, third board Zhao Xue lost two games and was rested for the remainder of the tournament.

Board 1

Ju Wenjun

4.5/9

Board 2

Tan Zhongyi

5.5/9

Board 3

Zhao Xue

0/2

Board 4

Lei Tingjie

8/9

Reserve

Guo Qi

4/7

Take for example this disaster that befell world champion contender Ju Wenjun.

Of course there was a "silver" (sorry!) lining in the wonderful performance of Lei Tingjie, I particularly liked this impressive game.

 

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GM Lei Tingjei 8/9. | Photo courtesy of FIDE.

The race for bronze

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The Georgian team at the closing ceremony. | Photo courtesy of FIDE.

Until the shock of round 8, the placing on the podium seemed pretty much decided between Russia, Ukraine and China. However, Ukraine's last round losses threw the competition wide open and allowed India and Georgia to join them on 12 match points. However, tiebreaks are tiebreaks and it was 2015 world team champions who made the cut and snatched the medal.

Board 1

Nana Dzagnidze

3.5/8

Board 2

Nino Batsiashvili

5.5/8

Board 3

Lela Javakhishvili

3/7

Board 4

Bela Khotenashvili

5.5/8

Reserve

Salome Melia

4/5

Whilst some of the players were perhaps a tad disappointed by their results. Bela Khotenashvili can be very satisfied with this effort.

World Teams | Women, Final Standings

Place Flag Country 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 MP Pts.
1 Russia 3 3 3 2 3 2 16 25½
2 China 1 2 2 3 3 2 3 13 22
3 Georgia ½ 2 2 3 3 3 4 12 21½
4 India 1 2 2 3 3 12 20
5 Ukraine 1 2 2 3 12 19½
6 Poland ½ 1 2 2 2 9 18½
7 U.S.A. 2 1 1 2 2 2 6 16½
8 Vietnam 1 1 1 2 4 5 16
9 Azerbaijan 2 2 1 1 ½ 2 4 5 15½
10 Egypt ½ 1 0 1 ½ ½ 0 0 0 5


Update: FM Mike Klein asked GM Alexandra Kosteniuk a few questions, and we've now received her answers:

Q: You've accomplished a lot in your career but Russia had never won a Women's World Teams. Was this the last "big one" that you wanted to win?

"Yes, indeed, I have been playing for the national team of Russia from the year 2002 (I also played in the 1998 Olympiad but for the team of Kalmykia - Russia-3), and now I'm very happy to say that I have won all the major team titles with the team. I wanted to win a world team championship very much and am very happy that we managed to win the tournament in Khanty-Mansiysk."

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Alexandra Kosteniuk.

Q: What was your toughest match or game?

"We had a very good tournament, making only 2 team draws and winning other 7 matches. I'm also happy with my personal result - I didn't lose a single game and took 6 out of 8 on the first board with the performance of 2663. I was a bit lucky in the game against Dzagnidze where despite me having an extra pawn, we had a fortress on the board and instead of simply waiting she played 45. h3??, this victory let out team win a very important match against Georgia. I also had 2 very long games against Ju Wenjun (104 moves) and against Monika Socko (95 moves) and I won all of them. There were not very important for the team result but it definitely helps when you win such a roller-coaster."

Q: In your final game, you only needed a drawn match with Ukraine to ensure gold, but your game was crazy! What were your thoughts as the game unfolded?

"Our main goal was to become world champions. So I wasn't very happy when despite having a huge time advantage and promising position, instead of 18. Rc4 I played 18. Kb1? and missed a very strong counter-play connected with 18. ... d5, but I'm quite happy that I stayed calm and managed to play pretty well after that even though the position became very hectic. At the end I understood that I had chances to play for a win (31. gxf3), but decided to secure the title for the team especially since we were doing fine on the other three boards at that moment."

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