Women's World Chess Championship: Ju Wenjun, Lagno In The Final
Ju Wenjun might be the first women's world champion to defend her title successfully in a knockout tournament. | Photo: Ugra Chess.

Women's World Chess Championship: Ju Wenjun, Lagno In The Final

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The final of the women's world championship will be played between Ju Wenjun of China and Kateryna Lagno of Russia. Ju will be defending her crown in a match over four classical games.

"A fight is not won by one punch or kick, so either learn to endure or hire a bodyguard" was something Bruce Lee might have told our semi-finalists of the women's knockout world championship in Khanty-Mansiysk. As there is no bodyguard substitute for the game of chess, enduring was all our semi-finalists could do.

For grandmasters Kateryna Lagno, Alexandra Kosteniuk and Mariya Muzychuk, after playing a mammoth 16 games (17 for Lagno) in over a fortnight, chess had become a long, hard grind.  Not wanting to miss out on the opportunity of getting chess into the Olympics, Ju Wenjun, made a brilliant case for chess to enter as another sport altogether


Beauty in chess, Ju Wenjun and chief arbiter Igor Bolotinsky in a moment of pure synchronicity. Image source: Ugra Chess Instagram

World Champions, past, present and… future?

Kosteniuk, Alexandra (RUS) ½-1½ Ju Wenjun (CHN)
Muzychuk, Mariya (UKR) 1-3 Lagno, Kateryna (RUS)

Match 1: Alexandra Kosteniuk vs Ju Wenjun

Who can forget the last moments of the 2018 Olympiad in Batumi? Two players from Russia and China, alone in the hall locking horns to determine whose country would win Olympic gold. 

Those two players? GMs Ju and Kosteniuk. On that particular occasion, Ju had emerged as the golden victor whilst Kosteniuk was left the heartbroken loser. And so it was in Khanty that there was to be the great November rematch. 

So what were the odds? Well, Women's World Champion Ju had been playing some impressive chess, breezing through the opposition, appearing in full control. Ju's current game plan had been very simple--she would play risk-averse strategically sound chess. A plan that ended up being so deceptively cunning that in the immortal words of Blackadder, you could put a tail on it and call it a weasel.

The ride to the semifinals had been a bit more bumpy for seventh seed Kosteniuk. Not only had she not had a rest since her first match, but she had just defeated Anna Muzychuk in an emotionally draining battle. Could the adrenalin sustain her now?

Game one provided all the answers.


Alexandra Kosteniuk getting in the zone, ready for game one. | Photo: Ugra Chess


Women's world champion Ju Wenjun sticking to that winning formula. | Photo: Ugra Chess

Things seemed to be jinxed for Kosteniuk in the second game when the dynamic imbalance she hoped for completely failed to materialise and it was Ju controlling the pace of the game. In the end, as commentator Alexander Morozevich joked, it simply became a "tradeshow" as Ju was the tradesperson in charge of all the trades.


Ju and Kosteniuk focusing before the fight. | Photo: Ugra chess


Bronze medallist Alexandra Kosteniuk with husband Pavel Tregubov. | Photo: Ugra chess

Match 2: Mariya Muzychuk vs Kateryna Lagno

If anyone had to predict which games would contain the most drama and tension, they would not be far wrong putting their money on this match. Both participants had been through some absolute thrillers.

Ukrainian GM Mariya Muzychuk had teetered on the brink so many times she had won the admiration and respect of many. Meanwhile, Russia's Kateryna Lagno had defeated compatriot Natalija Pognonina in such a tense Armageddon game it had left the audience either spellbound or aghast.

There was one big difference though. Lagno had not needed to play a tiebreak in the fourth round., whilst Muzychuk had played eight games of tiebreaks. Small things can have big consequences.   

Game one was a very dry affair.

nullKateryna Lagno. | Photo: Ugra Chess 
nullMariya Muzychuk waiting for the round to begin. | Photo: Ugra Chess

If Muzychuk had given Lagno a free pass in their first game expecting something similar in kind, Lagno did not oblige and instead made Muzychuk grovel for a draw in a highly unpleasant ending.

nullLittle does Muzychuk (right) know that Lagno (left) will make her suffer for that half-point. | Photo: Ugra Chess

Tiebreaks (naturally!)

The tiebreaks, as expected between these two dynamic players, was a melodramatic affair with Lagno starting game one with a dangerous attack. By move 36 it looked as though Muzychuk had successfully navigated through troubled waters. In an inexplicable moment the pressure of the event simply got too much and she cracked in a very tragic way.

nullLagno kept her cool to play a very fine opposite-colored bishop ending. | Photo: Ugra Chess 

When your opponent is tired, attack!  It was this little nugget of wisdom that ensured Lagno a spot into the final.


Mariya Muzychuk with her bronze medal can console herself with a spot in the 2019 Candidates' tournament. | Photo: Ugra Chess

Open Letter Controversy

While it is universally acknowledged that knockout championships make for fabulously gory entertainment, there had been mutterings that the frequency of the event and the format was too much of a lottery to adequately decide a world champion. It was for some of these reasons that new FIDE president Arkady Dvorkovich announced some significant changes to the format of the women's world championship cycle. You can read about it in this press conference here. 

Although these changes have been mostly positively received, one of the knockout participants, Georgian IM Lela Javakhishvili, published an open letter on her Facebook page questioning the clarity of the decision and what will happen to the championship qualifiers from the European Individual Championships 2018.


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