Women's World Chess Championship: Ju Wenjun, Lagno, Kosteniuk, Muzychuk Through

Women's World Chess Championship: Ju Wenjun, Lagno, Kosteniuk, Muzychuk Through

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The semifinals of the women's world championship will be played between Ju Wenjun, Lagno, Kosteniuk, Mariya Muzychuk.

There is no denying it: quarterfinals are a big deal. Everything is magnified, from the tension and suspense to the thrill that something really momentous is happening. For three of the four winners, there would be places into the semifinals and spots in the new women's candidates' tournament. For the losers, the bittersweet feeling of being so near and yet so far, or as the Russians say: Your elbow is close, yet you can't bite it.


Ju Wenjun (CHN) 1½-½ Tokhirjonova Gulrukhbegim (UZB)
Muzychuk Mariya (UKR) 4½-3½ Abdumalik Zhansaya (KAZ)
Lagno Kateryna (RUS) 2-0 Lei Tingjie (CHN)
Kosteniuk Alexandra (RUS) 2½-1½ Muzychuk Anna (UKR)

Ju Wenjun vs Gulrukhbegim Tokhirjonova 1.5-0.5

Women's world champion Ju Wenjun has been in exceptional form, winning all her matches with professional ease. Her performance was so impressive that Russian commentator GM Evgeniy Najer couldn't imagine anyone defeating her. "She plays very good chess and has excellent nerves," he said.  

Facing off against the women's world champion was WGM Gulrukhbegim Tokhirjonova from Uzbekistan, one of the biggest tournament revelations. Having already notched victories against Alina Kashlinskaya, 2017 women's world champion Tan Zhongyi and Valentina Gunina, Tokhirjonova was becoming a real crowd pleaser. 

Things started well for the young Tokhirjonova in the first game when she found some impressive defensive resources to secure a very important draw as Black.

nullWGM Gulrukhbegim Tokhirjonova impressed many with her strong performance. | Photo: Ugra Chess.

The brilliancy that never was...

With the first game ending in a draw and everything potentially hinging on a decisive result of the second game, what strategy would the players adopt? Tokhirjonova had played all her matches in a very bold style not shrinking away from complications, an approach that had brought her tremendous success. The question was could Ju Wenjun turn this strength, Akido style, into a weakness?


"Who says that there will be a new world champion?" Not Ju Wenjun, who thus far has managed to avoid playing tie-breaks. | Ugra Chess.

Kateryna Lagno vs Lei Tingjie: 2-0

On paper this was going to be an entertaining match, the big battle between two great chess nations Russia and China, with third seed GM Kateryna Lagno (RUS) playing the highly underrated GM Lei Tingjie. However the biggest surprise came in how very one-sided in Lagno's favor the match was. After the gruelling nine-game marathon against Natalija Pogonina in the third round, this quarterfinal seemed a walk in the park for Lagno.

The first game was a bad day at the office for Lei Tingjie. 

nullThe most expressive player to watch GM Ling Tingjie.  Photo: Ugra Chess.

Things didn't get better on the second day either.


GM Kateryna Lagno had a very smooth performance in the quarterfinals. | Photo: Ugra Chess.

Alexandra Kosteniuk vs Anna Muzychuk: 2.5-1.5

Perfection in chess can mean producing a fantastic brilliancy but more often than not perfection usually means a technical game full of subtleties. Good for the theory books, of course, but not for the audience, for as GM Pavel Tregubov said "more mistakes...mean more drama!"

The first two classical games between tournament heavyweights GM Alexandra Kosteniuk (RUS) and GM Anna Muzychuk (UKR) were very technical draws. Both players reserved all the excitement for the highly anticipated tie-breaks.

Game 1 tie-break

Kosteniuk later said that her match strategy had been to play openings that might not necessarily get the biggest advantage but were easier to play. It seemed even with this sensible approach, even the Russian lady herself could not have predicted  what would happen next.

nullThe tension is felt with GM Anna Muzychuk fighting for survival against Alexandra Kosteniuk. | Photo: Ugra Chess.

The second game got even more dramatic and emotional.

nullAn emotional Kosteniuk is filled with relief and happiness after winning the tie-break match against Anna Muzychuk. | Photo: Ugra Chess.

Mariya Muzychuk vs Zhansaya Abdumalik: 4.5-3.5

The final match in the quarterfinals was between Mariya Muzychuk (UKR) and Zhansaya Abdumalik (KAZ) and was longest match of the round with a staggering seven decisive games.  It was a match in a continuous state of flux; Abdumalik landed the first punch:

nullZhansaya was a "hidden favourite", young and highly dangerous. | Photo credit:Ugra Chess

 In the second game, Muzychuk managed to weave her lucky magic, this time due to Abdumalik's horrific blunder on move 34. A blunder that is bound to cause some sleepless nights:


If the spectators thought that the match would steer into calmer waters, they were in for a rude awakening; the devils dwell in quiet lagoons. In the first game of the rapid tie-breaks, Muzychuk abandoned her trusted Sicilian defence in favor of the more solid and reliable Caro-Kann. It was a shrewd move on Muzychuk's part, as Abdumalik lost her way in a very typical Caro-Kann ending and lost. Undeterred by the result in the first game Abdumalik struck back convincingly to level the score. 

The importance of the number 50.

Things then took a turn for the bizarre in game five. Muzychuk had been pushing and pushing for a win in a rook and knight versus rook ending since move 86.

The two players reached the following position on move 133 where Abdumalik has stumbled into a mating net. Now the question is can Black survive for three more moves without white making a capture? Well, the answer is yes!

Without realizing that she could claim a draw, Abdumalik resigned and once again Caissa smiled widely upon Muzychuk.

Not one for moping, Abdumalik hit back with an opportune attack, causing Muzychuk to remark "two times I won the first game and then couldn't even make a draw in the second ones." Not an easy match at all.

null"Alga" translates into "Go forward" in Kazakh, Abdumalik's supporters cheer her on. | Photo: Ugra Chess.

Things looked very uncertain between the pair until this decisive mistake in game seven.

 Game eight was a very much one-sided affair and Muzychuk found an especially nice way to force a perpetual check, clinching a well-deserved victory.

nullShe can't believe it! Once again Mariya Muzychuk (next to her second and her sister Anna) survives to play another day. | Photo:Ugra Chess.


Kosteniuk Alexandra (RUS) Ju Wenjun (CHN)
Muzychuk Mariya (UKR) Lagno Kateryna (RUS)

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