The favourites fall


Who would have believed that after just two rounds of the women's world championship knockout, the top three seeds would be out of the tournament: double world champion Hou Yifan, her recent match opponent Humpy Koneru and also Anna Muzychuk. 


However, if the loss by the Indian was unexpected, but nonetheless explicable, what happened to the young Chinese is impossible to explain. Hou Yifan confidently went ahead with Black in the first game against Monica Socko, after which...she easily lost game 2 with White! Even so, it seemed the world champion would show who was boss in the rapid, but she lost her second game in a row, and how! 

After a quiet opening and middlegame, in which White did not show any advantage, the game went into an equal endgame, and here Hou Yifan started to make mistakes on virtually every move. Thus, after 30.exd5? she crippled her own knight, and in order to get it out, she decided to sacrifice a pawn and give her opponent two connected passed pawns! It was a case where the cure - 32.c3?? - was worse than the disease. Socko had her opponent in zugzwang in a few moves and, capitalising on the complete helplessness of the white army, she decided the game at move 47... 

In the second game, Hou Yifan tried to equalise the score as Black, but she already suffered from too great a morale handicap, and Monika was having none of it. The Chinese succeeded in winning a pawn and even organised an attack on the king, but the latest lapse 28...Ng5?? reduced all her efforts to naught. Socko found the nice blow 29.Nf4!, and should have immediately received her opponent's capitulation. However, instead of settling for a simple extra piece, Monica sacrificed the exchange to give perpetual check. A draw?! No - Hou found a way to go wrong yet again, resigning on move 43, and surrendering her world championship title. 

The older Muzychuk also started the tie-break with a defeat, against her former Ukrainian team-mate. Anna Ushenina tied her up in a positional net and forced her at move 22 to go in for a dubious piece sacrifice, and then to commit harakiri with 26...h5?, which a move later, resulted in the Slovenian resigning the game. 

In game 2, playing unusually sharply, Muzychuk forced her opponent to find only moves. After 23.Be6+ it seemed that her defeat was not far away, but even getting a large advantage is not the same as winning the game. Anna did not find a way to strengthen her position, clearly went too far in seeking the initiative, and stopped the clocks at move 57, facing unstoppable mate. 

However, the number four seed Zhao Xue played both games confidently and strongly against Khurtsidze. First she exploited Nino's one-move oversight in game one (24.Qf3??), and then she did not give her opponent the slightest chance of revenge in game 2...

Irina Krush was also very convincing, winning 2-0 over Pia Cramling. The Swedish player made an inexplicable slip in game 1 (21...Bf6?), blundering the exchange in one move. She had no realistic chances of winning in game 2, and then missed mate in one. 

Mkrtchian and Kosintseva traded wins: Lilit's cinvincing win in game 1 was matched by Nadezhda's in game 2. And Zatonskih drew twice with Xue Wenjun, despite problems with both colours...


(Text by Evgeny Atarov)