The 2022 FIDE Women’s Grand Prix Series is underway, with the first of four events being held in Astana, Kazakhstan. 16 women will play three of four events, as each tournament is a 12-player round robin. The top two finishers in the series will qualify for the 2023-24 Women’s Candidates Tournament.
Let’s review the Round 2 game between Zhu Jiner (China) and Dinara Wagner (Germany).
WGM Zhu is currently the top-ranked Girl (female under 20 years old) in the World, but turns 20 in November. She qualified for the Women’s Grand Prix by tying for 2nd-3rd place in the 2021 Women’s Grand Swiss (with IM Elisabeth Pähtz of Germany, who is also competing in Astana).
WGM Wagner is the third-ranked female in Germany, and on her career-high rating. Originally from Kalmykia, she married GM Dennis Wagner earlier this year and was granted a wild card for the Grand Prix series by her adopted country, as Munich will host the second GP event.
Zhu is tied for the tournament lead with Aleksandra Goryachkina (Russia) at 4½/6, while Wagner’s 2½/6 as the lowest seed is sufficient to well outperform her rating.
Zhu is clearly in charge here, but how to break Wagner’s defense?
The FIDE Grand Swiss and Women’s Grand Swiss (organized in partnership with chess.com) concluded this past weekend in Riga, Latvia. The COVID protocols were apparently effective, as we did not hear of any incidents during the event.
Alireza Firouzja (France) won clear first with 8 points out of 11. Fabiano Caruana (USA) and Grigoriy Oparin (Russia) finished in a tie for 2nd place with 7.5 points.
Caruana, the 2018 World Championship Challenger, had the better mathematical tiebreaks, even defeating Firouzja in their individual encounter. As a result, “Fabi” joined “Firo” in the next FIDE Candidates Tournament.
A Note on Tiebreaks
The primary tiebreak used was “Buchholz Cut-1.” Buchholz compares the total scores of tied players’ opposition, the idea being that a player who faced opponents that scored more points had a tougher road to the same final score. The “Cut-1” removes the score of the lowest-scoring opponent, to reduce the impact of an unlucky pairing. Each player therefore had the scores of 10 of their 11 opponents compared to judge who had the best tiebreaks.
Oparin, Yu Yangyi (China), Vincent Keymer (Germany), Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (France), Alexandr Predke (Russia), and Alexei Shirov (Spain) all got seats into the upcoming FIDE Grand Prix Series. This tournament series will have a total of 24 players; and the top two finishers at the end will qualify for the next FIDE Candidates Tournament.
Overall, it seems clear that Firouzja is the leading “young gun” who many fans are already picking to challenge Carlsen in the next World Championship Cycle. I can’t disagree; during this event he was knocking on the door of World #3 (live rating), nearly overtaking Caruana at one point.
Women’s Grand Swiss
Similar to the Open event, one player was in command for most of the Women’s event, but even more so.
Lei Tingjie (China) won with 9 points out of 11, earning the only direct slot into the next Women’s Candidates Tournament. Her pre-tournament rating of 2505 shot up to 2536 afterwards!
I will note that Lei is only 24 years old, younger than her countrywomen Ju Wenjun (30) and Hou Yifan (27), the current and previous Women’s World Champions. She’s just a year older than Aleksandra Goryachkina (Russia), the previous Challenger, who played in the Open event.
The Women’s World Championship cycle should be fascinating! There are several contenders of similar strength vying for the crown, but none seem invincible (unless Hou decides to return).
Finishers 2-4 in the Women’s Grand Swiss earned a spot into the upcoming Women’s Grand Prix Series. They are Elisabeth Pähtz (Germany), Zhu Jiner (China), and Mariya Muzychuk (Ukraine).
Pähtz and Jiner each scored 7.5 points out of 11, and earned GM norms. The 36-year-old from Erfurt, Germany completed her title after a long and distinguished career, and becomes the 40th female to earn the “open” GM title. Zhu is the top Junior Girl in the World.
Muzychuk had the best tiebreaks among the 7 pointers, beating out Harika Dronavalli (India), Lela Javakhishvili (Georgia; she scored a 9-game GM norm), and Olga Badelka (Russia).
Bibisara Assaubayeva (Kazakhstan) also earned a 10-game GM norm.
A Note on Grandmaster (GM) Norms
A norm is a performance level (2600 for GM), in an event that meets other conditions relating to the makeup of a player’s opposition. Norms need to be scored in events totalling 27 or more games. With few exceptions, a player needs to play at least 9 games in an event to earn a GM norm, but the maximum number of games counted for a norm is 13. This is why players usually need three GM norms (plus a 2500 rating) to earn the Grandmaster title. In events longer than 9 rounds a player can disregard any games won, or not count any games played after a norm has been scored. In Assaubayeva’s case, for example, she had a GM norm after Round 10, but lost in the final round. Her performance rating dropped below 2600 after Round 11, so she doesn’t get an 11-game norm but keeps her 10-game norm. There’s little practical difference between a 9-, 10-, or 11-game norm since a player still needs three in any case.
The FIDE World Championship Match starts November 24 in Dubai, UAE.
2022 should be a busy year: we should see the Grand Prix Series and Candidates Tournaments (open and women), as well as the 2022 Moscow Olympiad.
The biannual FIDE World Cup ended last week in Sochi, Russia. For the first time, there was a concurrent Women’s World Cup as well, which ended a couple of days before that.
How Does It Work?
Imagine an elimination bracket of 256 players, sorted strictly by rating from highest to lowest.
They are paired 1 vs. 256, 2 vs. 255, 3 vs. 254, etc. Each pairing plays a two-game match, one contest each on consecutive days, and the loser is eliminated. The third day is a rest day for players who won their matches 2-0 or 1½-½, or tiebreaks (rapid, and if necessary blitz or armageddon) for pairings that ended 1-1.
After the first round, 128 players are left, then 64, 32, 16, 8, 4, and 2 in the final.
The Open World Cup had 206 players instead of 256, where the top 50 players by rating didn’t have an opponent, and got a bye into Round 2.
Similarly, the Women’s World Cup had 103 players: a bracket of 128 players where the top 25 by rating got a free pass into Round 2.
In case you’re wondering, males and females can qualify for and play in the World Cup, while only female players can participate in the Women’s World Cup. This is analogous to other major events that have an Open and Women’s section; e.g.: the Chess Olympiad, the World Championship cycle, and most if not all National Championships.
World Cup in The Pandemic Age
A few players needed to withdraw during the event because of a positive COVID test, and others did so out of caution, including Levon Aronian (Armenia).
As I posted in March 2020, FIDE’s decision to proceed with the Candidates Tournament was risky but in my opinion defensible. Once again, FIDE took serious chances in holding the World Cups, with hundreds of players and officials from around the world converging in one place.
The verdict? In the grand scheme of things, FIDE came out smelling like a rose!
Winners of the FWC and FWWC
Jan-Krzysztof Duda (Poland) won the Open event, defeating Sergey Karjakin (Russia) in the final. Both qualified for the 2022 Candidates Tournament.
JKD, now just outside the Top 10, knocked out World Champion Magnus Carlsen(Norway) in the semi-final, while Karjakin eliminated Vladimir Fedoseev (Russia) in this round as well.
Carlsen beat Fedoseev in the third-place match, held concurrently with the final.
Indeed, Goryachkina mowed down the field … until the final, where she was vanquished by former Women’s World Champion Alexandra Kosteniuk (Russia)!
The “Chess Queen” played out of her mind. After a first-round bye as the 14th seed, Kosteniuk won ALL of her matches in regulation, not needing any tiebreaks, and collected 43 Elo points!
Tan Zhongyi (China) won the third-place match over Anna Muzychuk (Ukraine). Since Goryachkina is already qualified for the next Women’s Candidates Tournament by virtue of playing the last Women’s World Championship Match, I believe Tan joins Kosteniuk in the next Women’s Candidates.
Why I Love the World Cup
So much drama! Two-game mini-matches guarantee excitement and frayed nerves.
Even if the players decide to make two short draws in regulation, the presence of tiebreaks ultimately don’t give them an easy way out.
We typically see the same players doing well in knockouts over the years (remember, they go back to 1997 if we include the FIDE World Champioships held in a similar format). In years past, Mickey Adams, Vishy Anand, Ruslan Ponomariov, Gata Kamsky, and Levon Aronian always seemed to reach the final stages of these events.
I don’t believe that’s a coincidence — great nerves and ability to handle pressure really show in the World Cup. Fun fact: from 2001-02 through 2011, Ponomariov either won the Knockout (2001-02), or lost to the eventual winner!
In recent times, Karjakin has taken on the mantle of “KO King.” He staged an epic comeback in the final against Peter Svidler in the 2015 edition.
On the Women’s side, this is Kosteniuk’s second victory (2008) and third finals appearance (she lost to Zhu Chen way back in 2001!). Those events were Women’s World Championships.
What do you think of the World Cup? Leave a comment!
Mariya Muzychuk was born in Lviv, Ukraine in 1992.
The Ukrainian Women’s Champion of 2012 and 2013 has won a pile of medals in European and World Team Championships, and in Chess Olympiads.
Still, her greatest achievement was becoming Women’s World Chess Champion in 2015! Simultaneously, she earned the International Grandmaster title.
Mariya’s older sister Anna Muzychuk is also one of the top female players in the world.
A Brilliant Finish
Recently, FIDE reinstated a Candidates Tournament as part of the Women’s World Championship. The eight-player double round robin for this past cycle was held May-June 2019 in Kazan, Russia.
Aleksandra Goryachkina clinched the 14-round marathon two rounds early in a dominating performance, earning the right to challenge reigning Champion Ju Wenjun.
However, it was Mariya Muzychuk who ended the tournament with a bang: her crushing victory over the winner was awarded the Brilliancy Prize of the Candidates Tournament! Goryachkina was undefeated in the event until this final round game.
Black is trying to hang on, but White dashes her hopes. How? White to play.
One Round Too Many
In conclusion, just one more thing needs to be said: Happy Women’s Day!
The games are broadcast on chess.com and elsewhere.
The Format of the FIDE Online Nations Cup
The games are played with a time control of 25+10 (25 minutes for the entire game plus an additional 10 seconds per move starting from move 1).
There are six teams in the event with six players each; four male and two female players.
Each match is contested on four boards. On Boards 1,2, and 3 a team chooses three of its four male players to play. On Board 4, a team chooses one of its two female players to play.
2½ points out of 4 are needed to win a match, and all boards count equally.
The team that wins each match gets 2 points and the loser 0. In case of a 2-2 tie, each team receives 1 match point.
It’s a double round-robin team tournament, so each team faces the other five teams twice for a total of 10 rounds. After 10 rounds, the two highest-scoring teams play a final match on May 10. The team with the highest score going into the final gets draw odds; in other words, if the final match is tied 2-2, the team with the highest score in the round-robin phase wins the event.
Every team gets $24,000 for participating. After 10 rounds, the two top scoring teams face off in a final match for the FIDE Nations Cup. The team runner-up gets an additional $12,000 ($36,000 total for the team), and the winner of the Cup gets an additional $24,000 ($48,000 for the team).
Four top nations are invited, and then two other “compilations” of teams were added.
The countries invited were China, India, Russia, and the United States.
The two additional teams were Team Europe and Team Rest of World.
Every team brought most of their top male and female players! The captains were notable too.
The Players and Captains of the FIDE Online Nations Cup
The male players included 2020 CandidatesDing Liren and Wang Hao, plus Wei Yi and Yu Yangyi. Even scarier for the rest of the field were their female players: the return of 3-time Women’s World Champion Hou Yifan, and current Women’s World Champion Ju Wenjun.
Having won two of the last three Olympiads and the last two Women’s Olympiads, China was undoubtedly the favorite. Longtime captain Ye Jiangchuan lead the team here, too.
All the top players from this chess powerhouse came to play as well, including legendary former World Champion Vishy Anand, up-and-coming star Vidit Gujrathi, elite fixture Pentala Harikrishna, plus Adhiban Baskaran.
Their top female players are present as well, including Cairns Cup winner Humpy Koneru and Harika Dronavali. Anand is playing and serving as captain, while former World Champion Vladimir Kramnik is an adviser to the team.
This team is formidable as well, led by Candidates’ co-leader Ian Nepomniachtchi, the rising Vladislav Artemiev, former Challenger Sergey Karjakin, and former Candidate Dmitry Andreikin.
Their female players include recent Women’s World Championship Challenger Aleksandra Goryachkina and current Russian Women’s Champion Olga Girya. Their captain is the experienced Alexander Motylev.
Their “Top 3” are here: 5-time US Champion and former World #2 Hikaru Nakamura, current World #2 and recent Challenger Fabiano Caruana, and perennial Top 10 Wesley So. Also playing for the team is recent arrival Leinier Dominguez.
Two stalwarts of US Women’s Chess, 7-time US Women’s Champion Irina Krush and 4-time US Women’s Champion Anna Zatonskih make their appearance as well. The team is lead by John Donaldson, who has captained US Olympiad teams since the 1980s.
A mix of players from different nations is led by Candidates co-leader Maxime Vachier-Lagrave of France, former World #2 Levon Aronian of Armenia, and former World #3 Anish Giri of the Netherlands, who is playing as a reserve. Board 3 is Poland’s Jan-Krzysztof Duda.
Their female team members are Ukraine’s Anna Muzychuk and Georgia’s Nana Dzagnidze. Oh yeah, I almost forgot: their captain is the greatest player ever, Garry Kasparov!
Team Rest of World
Teimour Radjabov (Azerbaijan) has returned to the top with a bang, and he is joined by young star Alireza Firouzja who has not chosen a country to represent after leaving Iran. Bassem Amin (Egypt) and Jorge Cori (Peru) represent Africa and South America, respectively.
Former Women’s World Champion Mariya Muzychuk (Ukraine) and Dinara Saduakassova (Kazakhstan) round out their lineup. They are captained by FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich, who I had the pleasure of meeting in person at a tournament in 2019.
Round Robin Phase
China dominated the first part of the FIDE Online Nations Cup with 17 match points (+8=1-1). They drew Russia in Round 3, and only lost to USA in Round 10 when they had already clinched the top spot in the final.
The race for the other final spot came down to USA(+6=1-3) and Europe (+5=3-2). Each squad finished with 13 match points, but USA got the spot in the final by scoring 22 game points to Europe’s 21.5!
The other teams — Russia, India, and Team World — fell out of contention early on.
China earned draw odds in the Mother’s Day final match, which I have to agree with. There should be a reward for winning the first, 10-round phase of an event like this. In one match, anything can happen.
Still, it was too much for the USA to overcome. On paper, China had an advantage anyway, especially on Board 4, with the strongest active female on the planet Hou Yifan facing my friend Irina Krush. I had no doubt America’s only female Grandmaster would bring her best, and she held a draw rather comfortably despite being massively out-rated.
To win the match, USA needed two points out of the three remaining games, and it was just not to be. Hikaru Nakamura and Ding Liren drew a very double-edged game on Board 1, while Fabiano Caruana pressed Wei Yi on Board 2 and Yu Yangyi pressed Wesley So on Board 3.
Caruana and Yu both won, which was fitting because they were the two best performers in the entire event. The match was drawn 2-2, and China won the first FIDE Online Nations Cup.
Will this event become a fixture in the future after we (hopefully) defeat COVID-19? I hope so!