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SANDS: High drama as Ushenina takes women’s world crown in chess

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They packed a maximum of drama into a minimum of games at the finals of the FIDE Women's World Cup last week in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia.

WGM Anna Ushenina of Ukraine, who started the event as the No. 37 seed, is the new FIDE women's world champion, having won the 64-player knockout event by defeating WGM Antoaneta Stefanova of Bulgaria in the finals. Under FIDE's rather strange format, the 27-year-old Kharkiv native, the first Ukrainian woman ever to hold the crown, now must defend her title against her predecessor, GM Hou Yifan of China, in a one-on-one match sometime next year.

The final consisted of just four games played at classical time controls, with the first two games relatively balanced draws. Ushenina broke through in Game 3 with a fine victory with White, only to see Stefanova even the score with a must-win victory to send things into overtime. Ushenina then triumphed in the second rapid games after 94(!) moves to gain the crown.

Match chess rarely provides the setting where so much can rest on a single game, and such contests are to be savored. The quality of the play by the winner in both Games 3 and 4 was very high, although both games carried moments of crisis for both players.

In Game 3, Stefanova, a former women's world champ rated the favorite going into the match, found herself in the worst possible situation — playing a sharp opening line in the QGD Chebanenko Slav in which it was quickly apparent her opponent was better versed. Black's 10. g3 Bg7 11. Bf4 Qd8, retreating her queen to its original square, is an early sign things are not going smoothly.

Black counters sharply in the center to change the dynamic of the game, but the complications favor White on 15. Qb3 e5?! (the more cautious 15...Kh8 has been played here) 16. Ng5 exd4 (Qe7 meets a nice refutation in 17. Bxd5+! cxd5 18. Nxd5 Qd8 19. Nf6+ Kh8 20. Qg8+! Rxg8 21. Nf7 mate) 17. Nxd5! (not a clearly winning sacrifice, but White will get a rook and two pawns for two minor pieces and enjoy a strong positional edge; Black's defensive task over the board is very difficult) cxd5 18. Bxd5+ Kh8 19. Ne6 Qf6 20. Nxf8 Qxf8 21. Bxb7 Rb8 22. c6, and Black's forces are badly tied up.

Precise play by White leads to a decisive material edge on 23. Qb6 Nxb7 24. Qa7! (ruining things would be the hasty 24. cxb7? Bxb7 25. Rc7 Bg2 26. Qxa6 Bxf1 27. Kxf1 f4, and Black is now better) Be5 (Qd6, eyeing tricks such as ...Nxg3, is also answered by 25. c7!) 25. c7, and the Black rook is trapped. Black's desperate attempts to work up some counterplay only hasten her defeat.

Thus: 33. Qd5 Nxg3 34. Qxd6 (fxg3 Qe3+ 35. Rf2 Qxg3+ 36. Qg2 wins, too, but the Ukrainian takes no chances) Nxf1 35. Qxd4! (Black's knight isn't going anywhere) g5 36. Qf6+ Kh5 37. Rc6, and Black must lose her queen after 37...Kh4 (Qg6 38. Qxg6+ hxg6 39. Kxf1 wins easily) 38. Qh6+ Qh5 39. Qg7, followed by 40. Rh6. Stefanova resigned.

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Stefanova showed real grit by rebounding to win what amounted to an elimination game, and here Ushenina's apparent attempt to play for a draw to clinch the title hurt her in the end. White does not rush things, content for small advantage in this QGD Anti-Meran Slav. A moment of carelessness by Black allows her to greatly increase her advantage: 21. Bf1 Rc8?! (Black's queenside is clearly under pressure, but 21...g6 should have been played first) 22. Ndf5! Rc7? (compounding her mistake; 21...Re8, admitting the error, was probably better) 23. Qc3!, when 23...Ned7 loses to 24. Nh6+! gxh6 (Kf8 25. Ngf5) 25. Nf5 Qf8 (if 25...Rc8, to stop 26. Qg3+, then 26. Rxd7! Nxd7 27. Qg7 mate) 26. Qg3+ Kh8 27. Qxc7 and wins.

Black tries 23...Rd7, but White obtains a won game with 24. f4! Rxd1 (Ng6 25. Rxd7! again wins) 25. Rxd1 Ng6 26. Nh6+! gxh6 (Kf8 [Kh8 27. Nxf7+ Kg8 28. Rd8+] 27. Qc5+ Ne7 28. Nhf5 Qc7 29. Nxg7! Kxg7 Qg5+ Ng6 31. Nf5+ Kf8 32. Qxf6) 27. Qxf6 Qf8 28. Nf5, with the nasty threat of 29. Rd7 Bc8 30. Nxh6+ Qxh6 31. Qxf7+ Kh8 32. Rd8+.

But the win almost slips away on 30. Nd6?! (Ng3 Bc2 31. Rd2 Bb1 32. Nh5 is dominating) Rd8 31. Rd2, when Black would have had some real drawing chances on 31. Ba8! 32. Bc4 Qe7! 33. Qxf7+ Qxf7 34. Bxf7+ Kf8 35. Bxg6 hxg6. Instead, White finishes neatly after 31...Bb1? (see diagram) 32. Nxf7! Rxd2 33. Nxh6+, when 33...Qxh6 34. Bc4+ Rd5 35. Bxd5 is mate. Ushenina resigned, only to collect herself in time to capture the playoff.

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The men also have been busy as the winter chess season heats up.

Russian GM Alexander Morozevich and Azeri GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov share a half-point lead with one round to go at the Category 20 FIDE Grand Prix tournament in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, while world champ Viswanathan Anand of India, top-rated Norwegian Magnus Carlsen and U.S. champion Hikaru Nakamura are part of one of the best fields of the year at the fourth London Chess Classic just heating up in the English capital. We'll have play from both events in the coming days.

And congratulations to the underdog Seattle Sluggers for winning their first U.S. Chess League crown, defeating the Philadelphia Inventors 3-1 in the final match Saturday. NMs Roland Feng and Joshua Sinanan provided the wins for the Sluggers in the finale.

Ushenina-Stefanova, Game 3, FIDE Women's World Cup, November 2012

1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. Nc3 a6 5. c5 Nbd7 6. Bf4 Nh5 7. Bd2 Nhf6 8. Rc1 g6 9. h3 Qc7 10. g3 Bg7 11. Bf4 Qd8 12. Bg2 O-O 13. O-O Nh5 14. Bd2 f5 15. Qb3 e5 16. Ng5 exd4 17. Nxd5 cxd5 18. Bxd5+ Kh8 19. Ne6 Qf6 20. Nxf8 Qxf8 21. Bxb7 Rb8 22. c6 Nc5 23. Qb6 Nxb7 24. Qa7 Be5 25. c7 Ra8 26. Qxa8 Qe8 27. Qxa6 Nc5 28. Qa8 Ne4 29. Rc2 Nxd2 30. Rxd2 Kg7 31. Rc2 Kh6 32. b4 Bd6 33. Qd5 Nxg3 34. Qxd6 Nxf1 35. Qxd4 g5 36. Qf6+ Kh5 37. Rc6 Black resigns.

Stefanova-Ushenina, Game 4, FIDE Women's World Cup, November 2012

1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. e3 e6 5. Nf3 Nbd7 6. Qc2 Bd6 7. Bd3 O-O 8. O-O dxc4 9. Bxc4 b5 10. Bd3 Bb7 11. a3 a5 12. e4 e5 13. Rd1 Qc7 14. h3 Rfe8 15. Be3 exd4 16. Nxd4 Bh2+ 17. Kh1 Bf4 18. Bxf4 Qxf4 19. Nce2 Qb8 20. Ng3 Ne5 21. Bf1 Rc8 22. Ndf5 Rc7 23. Qc3 Rd7 24. f4 Rxd1 25. Rxd1 Ng6 26. Nh6+ gxh6 27. Qxf6 Qf8
28. Nf5 c5 29. Bxb5 Bxe4 30. Nd6 Rd8 31. Rd2 Bb1 32. Nxf7 Rxd2 33. Nxh6+ Black resigns.

David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by email at dsands@washingtontimes.com.

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About the Author
David R. Sands

David R. Sands

Raised in Northern Virginia, David R. Sands received an undergraduate degree from the University of Virginia and a master’s degree from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He worked as a reporter for several Washington-area business publications before joining The Washington Times.

At The Times, Mr. Sands has covered numerous beats, including international trade, banking, politics ...

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