Asia Takes Podium In Women’s Grand Prix

Asia Takes Podium In Women’s Grand Prix
By Arvind Aaron

Asian players made a podium sweep in the FIDE Women’s Grand Prix that took place from Feb 10-24, 2016 in Teheran. China’s Ju Wenjun won the title with 7.5/11 beating main rival and top rated Koneru Humpy mid-way through the 12-player tournament.

Host player, International Master Sarasadat Khademalsharieh of Iran remained undefeated till the penultimate round. She and Ju Wenjun started the final round on seven points. In a low scoring final day, Ju Wenjun drew Harika for the title while the Iranian suffered her only defeat to Zhukova to finish second. Zhao Xue took third place with a final round draw against Valentina Gunina (Rus).

This Grand Prix is the second of four series event during 2015-2016 announced by FIDE. The first one took place in Monaco in October 2015. The next two are scheduled for May 2016 at Tbilisi and July 2016 at Chengdu.  Harika is selected on the basis of her being the Semi-finalist in the World Women’s Championship. Humpy is selected as second in ratings behind Hou Yifan.

If the tournament had ended in nine rounds, Nana Dzagnidze and China’s Zhao Xue would have won with 6.5/9. They lost to immediate rivals Ju Wenjun and Khademalsharieh with the white pieces in the tenth and penultimate round. Analysing the white wins and black wins in this contest, it was equal. So in women’s chess, playing white may not be a significant advantage.

Koneru Humpy lost two games, won three to finish in the middle with 6/11. She drew team-mate Harika, lost to Ju Wenjun and Pogonina in the important games. Despite an adverse pairing of six blacks to five whites, Humpy started with a win over Zhao Xue with the black pieces. Having played one big event every month at Doha in December and at Gibraltar in January-February, Harika was perhaps tired for this one. She scored only 4.5/11 losing three and winning a solo game against former world women’s champion Stefanova.

Final placings: 1 GM Ju Wenjun (Chn) 7.5/11; 2-3. IM Sarasadat Khademalsharieh (Iri), GM Zhao Xue (Chn) 7 each; 4-5. WGM Natalia Pogonina (Rus), GM Nana Dzagnidze (Geo) 6.5 each; 6 GM Koneru Humpy (Ind) 6; 7 GM Natalia Zhukova (Ukr) 5.5; 8-9. GM Valentina Gunina (Rus), GM Dronavalli Harika (Ind) 4.5 each; 10 GM Pia Cramling (Swe) 4; 11-12. GM Antoaneta Stefanova (Bul), IM Nino Batsiashvili (Geo) 3.5 each.