Stefanova, Harika and Ju in semifinals


Ex-world champion Antoaneta Stefanova went into the semifinals of the womens' world championship in Khanty-Mansysk, with her held held high, after twice equalising against Sebag. Donavalli Harika and Jun Wenjun also qualified, proving stronger than their two Chinese opponents, Zhao Xue and Hoang Qian respectively. The semifinals start tomorrow. 


It is interesting that the players who won through most easily were those who received solid prseents from their opponents yesterday. Stefanova managed to win, after losing the first game, whilst Harika was saved by a miraculous perpetual in a position three pawns down. The knockout system does not tolerate weak moments or give second chances! 

However, Stefanova's success cannot be called indisputable to the end. In the first game, she played a forcing variation and by move 18, had an much better position. After  18...Bg6? she could have sacrificed her queen with 19.dxc5 and obtained two new queens in compensation, but instead, she played a human move, and ended up a whole piece down, with unclear prospects. ... But she did not get upset, continued to create threats, and soon the French lady, in terrible time-trouble, made a fatal mistake. 

The second there was no real battle, alas. Stefanova revived the Spanish variation, in which she had lost to Sebag in the first classical game. The latter failed to achieve anything, and after the striking  20...Ng4 Black took the initiative. Marie obviously overlooked 26...Nb3, after which Antoanetta's win was only a matter of technique. On move 45, the French lady resigned, and ordered her ticket home. 

Zhao Xue was in a complete stupor after the first rapid game. She could hardly have expected that her position would turn so bad within a couple of moves. By move 25, it looked as though she had surrounded and would soon take the d-pawn, yet five moves later, this pawn had transformed from a weakness into a great strength. White concerned herself with material gain, without paying sufficient attention to her opponent's threats. The same thing happened in the fateful 2nd classical game. 

After 31.Qe3 the position still remained unclear, although there was little doubt as to Black's advantage. After  32.Be3?? Black wins at once with  32...Qb3! Could one overlook such a move - well, yesterday, Zhao missed the perpetual check...

Out of inertia, she took on d2 but resigned next move, because of unavoidable mate. And all her attempts to fight back in the second game were fruitless - Harika had no desire at all to continue the battle in the blitz. She did not even want to win the game - having obtained the better position, she did all she could to take the game into a dead-drawn opposite-coloured bishop ending, which continued without any risk for another 40 moves. It is her first appearnce in a semifinal! 

Jun Wenjun, in order to join the quartet in the semifinals, had to play 280 moves in four game against Hoang Qian. After three draws, which had seen Jun enjoy a clear advantage,  she won the second 10-minute game, the only game in which Hoang had a serious advantage! The latter tied her opponent up very well, and by move 21 had her practically in zugzwang, but instead of quietly increasing the threats without resistance, she grabbed material - and her position collapsed. 

The final part of the game was played with rare purpose and strength by Jun. Black's passed pawns decided the game, and Hoang resigned on move 47. 

Thus, the semifinals will see the pairings Stefanova-Harika and Ushenina-Jun Wenjun. They will consist of two games, and the final of four. 


Women's world championship Khanty mansysk, 11.11-2.12.2012. 1/4 finals. Anna Ushenina - Nadezhda Kosintseva 1,5:0,5; Antoaneta Stefanova - Marie Sebag 3:1 (2:0); Jun Wenjun - Hoang Qian 3,5:2,5 (1:1, 1,5:0,5); Dronovalli Harika - Zhao Xue 2,5:1,5 (1,5:0,5). 


(Text by Evgeny Atarov)