The knockout format for the Women’s World Championship ongoing in Tehran, proved to be the final straw that convinced reigning champion Hou Yifan of China to abdicate her world title and boycott women-only events for mixed events. The format from Fide may well have been an issue for some, but proving even more controversial for the governing body was their decision to stage the event in a geopolitically sensitive location such as Iran in the first place.
Not only is Hou missing, but also sitting this one out is Humpy Koneru of India, the women’s world number four; Mariya Muzychuk, ex-champion and the women’s number six; and as well as those top players, there’s also the U.S. top-two, Irina Krush and Nazi Paikidze - and all boycotting because of a combination of format, controversial location, and the even more controversial forced wearing of the hijab for all competitors, with no exceptions.
But the show goes on, and the 'lottery' element to the knockout format also saw top seed Ju Wenjun of China and ex-world champion Aleksandra Kosteniuk of Russia respectively crashing out in the quarterfinals and semifinals of the contest, with the finalists being Anna Muzychuk of Ukraine and Zhongyi Tan of China.
Fide also has the Sharjah Grand Prix running in parallel in the UAE. After surviving an epic struggle with Hikaru Nakamura in round seven, and then beating joint-leader Shakhriyar Mamedyarov in round eight, Alexander Grischuk of Russia made a late bid for the title by joining the leaders at the top - and indeed, in the final round, Grischuk, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Mamedyarov ended tied for first place on 5.5/9, with the Russian taking the title on tiebreak.
Despite losing to title-winner Grischuk in the penultimate round, Mamedyarov quickly hit back by easily demolishing Hou Yifan in the final round, as she discovers the obvious difficulty of the transition to mixed events - there's no hiding place, and every round is difficult.
Round 9 final standings:
1-3. Alexander Grischuk* (Russia), Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (France), Shakhryiar Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan) 5.5/9; 4-8. Hikaru Nakamura (USA), Ding Liren (China), Michael Adams (England), Ian Nepomniachtchi (Russia), Dmitry Jakovenko (Russia) 5; 9-12. Pavel Eljanov (Ukraine), Li Chao (China), Francisco Vallejo Pons (Spain), Richard Rapport (Hungary) 4.5; 13-14. Levon Aronian (Armenia), Hou Yifan (China) 4; 15-17. Evgeny Tomashevsky (Russia), Saleh Salem (UAE), Jon Ludvig Hammer (Norway) 3.5; 18. Alexander Riazantsev (Russia) 3.
GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov - GM Hou Yifan
Sharjah FIDE Grand Prix, (9)
Nimzo-Indian Defence, Kmoch Variation
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.f3 The Kmoch variation is a close cousin to the Samisch variation, but the big difference is that White dos not play a3, and this seems to confuse Hou a little. 4...c5 The more solid option here is 4...d5. 5.d5 0-0 Hou looks as if she's been taken by surprise with the 'automatic' castling here, as this is what would happen in the Samisch - but this is not the Samisch! You have to react actively to stop White setting up a solid pawn centre in the Kmoch, and a good option here is the immediate 5...b5, as Sergey Karjakin played against Mamedyarov in the 2014 FIDE Candidates Tournament that ended in a spirited draw. Also another interesting idea here that cuts across 4.f3 is 5...Nh5!? with the plan of playing for a quick ...Qh4+. Play can then get a bit 'adventerous', with both knights on the rim after 6.Nh3!? Qh4+ 7.Nf2 Qxc4 8.e4 Bxc3+ 9.bxc3 Qxc3+ 10.Bd2 Qf6 (Not 10...Qa3?! 11.g4! Nf6 12.g5 Ng8 13.Rg1! and suddenly, the big threat of the rook lift with Rg3 and f4 trapping Black's queen is hard to meet.) 11.Qc1 and White has good compensation for the two pawns. 6.e4 b5 Immediately hitting at the centre is the best solution. And here, it also transposes back to the aforementioned Mamedyarov-Karjakin game. 7.e5 Ne8 8.f4 d6?! Things now get very difficult, very quickly for Hou after this. Instead, she had to follow Karjakin's plan with 8...exd5 9.cxd5 d6! and sacrificing a pawn to open the game up for her pieces. 9.Nf3 exd5 10.cxd5 Nc7 11.a4 Bb7 12.Bd3! If that's not a statement of intent from Mamedyarov, then I don't know what is! He intends to bludgeon his way through to Hou's king, which now doesn't have any defence apart from the pawns. 12...h6 13.0-0 Bxc3 14.bxc3 dxe5 15.axb5! Mamedyarov now has a big advantage with all those open lines and his pieces starting to take aim at Hou's king. 15...e4 The alternative was no better: 15...Qxd5 16.c4! Qd7 17.Be3 e4 18.Ne5 Qe7 19.Bc2 and despite being a pawn up here, Black is in a bad way with big pawn weaknesses on a7, c5 and e4 - and that kingside attack isn't going to go away. 16.Bxe4 Bxd5 17.Bb1! The queen and bishop battery with Qc2, aiming at h7, is going to be heard to meet. 17...Nd7 18.c4 Bb7 Taking full advantage that Black can't play 18...Bxc4?? as 19.Qc2 wins quickly. 19.Ra3! A deadly rook lift, as it threatens to head to d3 to dominate the d-file or, even more dangerous, heading to g3 or h3 to continue the assault on Hou's king. 19...Ne6 20.Qc2 Hou's fate is sealed now - it's only going to be a matter of time before something has to give on her vulnerable kingside. 20...Nf6 21.Bb2 Ne4 22.Rd3 Qc7 23.f5! Ready or not, here it comes! 23...Nd4 24.Nxd4 cxd4 25.Bxd4 a6 26.b6 Qc6 Hou's only hope here is to pray that Mamedyarov get's confused with having so many ways to win. 27.f6! There's no chance of Mamedyarov getting confused, as he's gone straight for the jugular. 27...Rfd8 The game is basically already over here, but Hou obviously didn't fancy 27...g6 28.c5 Rfe8 29.Ba2 Rad8 30.Bb3! Ng5 31.Re3!! with White set to crash through for mate with the spectacular Qxg6+! 28.fxg7 Rd6 29.c5! Attacking the rook is the least of Hou's worries here, as the c-pawn opens up a new line of attack for Mamedyarov's bishop, with the focus shifting now to f7. 29...Rg6 30.Ba2 Ng5 31.Rg3 Prophylaxis. This not only hits down the g-file, but it also defends g2 at the same time, and will allow White to play Qf5 to continue the onslaught on f7 without worrying about a mishap mate. 31...Nh3+ 32.Kh1 1-0