Marie Sebag takes a step forward!


The favourites continue to suffer a sad fate in the womens' world championship in Khanty Mansysk. The moment one picks out one as favourite, she loses, almost as a punishment. In the first game of the quarterfiunals, this happened to ex-world champion Antoaneta Stefanova, who fell to the "Spanish torture" of Marie Sebag. The other three games were all long hard battles, that ended in draws. 


Sebag chose not the most dangerous variation of the closedSpanish, but a poisonous one all the same, and gradually built up unpleasant threats. Even so, Black defended well until move 27, but then Stefanova seeme to start playing for the initiative. With the timely 28.e5, White broke through in the centre and won a pawn, and after the dubious manoeuvre Nf6-e7-g6, she cemented her advantage with 36.Ne5!

The black position was difficult but still far from hopeless. The ex-champion tried to force matters - she took a pawn with 36...Rxa5?, only to lose the exchange a move later. Sebag immediately found the reply 37.Nxf7! and then gave her opponent no chance at all. Stefanova resigned at move 45. 

This was the Bulgarian's first defeat and the fourth win in a row for the French lady! Of those left standing in Khanty Mansysk, she has the second-highest rating. 

The top-rated player, Zhao Xue, was unable to outplay the Indian harika as White. In a well-known line of the Nimzoindian, the Chinese girl obtained the endgame advantage promised by theory, but could make anything real out of the position. Dronovali's play left no room for doubt, that she knew the position right down to the clear draw, and the players finally smoked the pipe of peace at move 35, with most of the pieces having been exchanged off. 

The game between Jun Wenjun and Hoang Qian had more content. A sharp opening variation, a tactical episode in the transition to the middlegame, an unexpected exchange sacrifice by White...Black had to play accurately move by move, although the obligations Jun had taken on hwerself were greater, of course. 

Alas, despite keeping an extra pawn, Hoang did not even think about playing the endgame; from move 25, she followed a strict course of excxhanges and heading for a draw. Yet with queens and opposite-coloured bishops, she had quite good chances to catch her opponent out. 

The game continued to move 62, at which point it made no sense to play on any further, but the draw couyld have been agreed at move 30, when the tension went out of the position. It seems as though Hoang is somewhat afraid of her opponent, but will continue to the end if necessary. Much depends on tomorrow's game, where Huang has White. 


Kosintseva-Ushenina was an interesting game, full of mistakes by both players. The Ukrainian demonstrated good preparation: Anna obtained good Siclian play, and then seized the initiative itself. At move 29, Black could have posed her opponent unpleasant problems with 29...Nb6 30.Qxa6 Na4, but instead of this, she played 29...Qb7. But within a few moves, after the exchange of queens, and in a relatively quiet position, she placed her position on the edge of defeat. But then a piece of mutual blindness occurred. 

In playing 35...f6??, Ushenina missed the elementary 36.gxf6+ Bxf6+ 37.Rxf6 Kxf6 38.Rxd6+ with an easily winning position for White. But Kosintseva missed it too! In slight time-trouble, she almost immediately moved her king off the long diagonal, passing over the fleeting chance. 

White still seemed to have a certain optical advantage, as the blakc king was unsafe, but neither in time-trouble nor afterwards, when she had time to think, did Nadezhda find any way to convert this into something real. On move 43, the game was drawn by threefold repetition. Tomorrow Ushenina will have White... 


(Text by Evgeny Atarov)