Stefanova one step from the final


The first games of the semifinals in the womens' world championships in Khanty Mansysk have been played. Stefanova confidently beat Harika with White. Ushenina weas close to beating Ju Wenjun, but the Chinese managed to defend. 


The ex-world champion from Bulgaria has been exceptionally effective with the white pieces in this tournament, and this is already her fourth win! Her game against Harika followed Mamedyarov - Kazimdzhanov from Tashkent until move 13; the Indian then chose  13...Nfe4 instead of 13...Be6 and soon allowed her opponent to win a pawn. 

On move 23, Black had a choice: to complete development and try to exploit the open position of the white king, or to continue a forced exchanging line. Dronovalli chose 23...d4 and the piece sacrifice 25...Nxf3, beginning to chase the enemy monarch. Outwardly, the white position looked dangerous, but Harika needed to play very accurately, whereas she started playing quickly and superficially.

After 27...Bd7? 28.Rad1! Black had to sound the retreat and continue a whole piece down; instead, with the immediate 27...Be6, the Indian could have created counterplay. Stefanova's king soon managed to hide among the pawn barriers and the game went over to the realisation stage. On move 39, there followed a rook sacrifice which could not be accepted. In this game, Harika was simply blown away!  

The question of where the Indian could have played better remains open. But she is hardly likely to start seeking the answer now. This is her first defeat of the tournament, but like Stefanova, she can place her faith in the white pieces, which so far in Khanty mansysk have brought her 3.5/4. Can Harika take revenge? 


The game Ushenina-Ju Wenjun was no less interesting. The Chinese was clearly caught out by the variation with  6.h3 and 8.g3 in the Classical King's Indian. She went in for the tactical exchange 11...Nf4!?, but after 16.Nb5! it turned out that Ushenina was simply betetr prepared for the variation and Blakc's position started to creak.  

Ju did all she could, offering an exchange sacrifice, but Anna, hoping for more from the position, declined the line 19.Bg5 Bxb5 20.cxb5, where she would have had a major positional advantage and extra material.  And the Chinese managed to save the game surprisingly easily. Ju exchanged a pair of rooks and the dark-squared bishops, after which it became clear that White just had no targets. Ushenina tried to bring her pieces together on the kingside, but this merely led to exchanges and a quick draw. 

In this tournament, Ju has several times found herself in critical positions but each time, she has found a way out, taken the match to a tie-break and won thanks to her cold-bloodedness and ability at rapid chess. 


(Text by Evgeny Atarov)