Women's World Chess Championship 2017: Off-colour Harika Dronavalli, tenacious Padmini Rout advance
The Indian challenge at the event is represented by grandmaster Harika Dronavalli and international master Padmini Rout. Both the players won their first round.
The Women's World Championship in Tehran kicked off on 11 February 2017. It is a 64-player knockout event and the winner would be crowned as the women's world champion. The Indian challenge at the event is represented by grandmaster Harika Dronavalli and international master Padmini Rout. Both the players won their first round and advanced to the round of 32.
Each round consists of two games of classical chess. In case it ends in a tie, there would be two rapid games followed by two blitz encounters. An Armageddon at the end would have to be played if the scores are tied even after the blitz games.
When the first round pairings were out, it was assumed that Harika would have an easy day at the office. Her opponent from Bangladesh was rated almost 470 Elo points below her. However, the India number two experienced quite a few difficulties in the first game itself. Shamima Akhtar Liza made no real mistakes and Harika had to settle for a draw. In the second game, Harika won a pawn and was cruising towards victory. But she didn't seem to be herself.
Indecisiveness was seen at almost every other move, as she let her Bangladeshi opponent take over the advantage. It seemed as if it would be a long and tiring task to draw the game for Harika, but her opponent just let her off the hook by repeating the position thrice and accepting the draw. This was a huge mistake by Shamima. When you are in a better position against a player like Harika, it is imperative that you take your chances, especially because the Indian is so strong in rapid play. The classical period of the match ended in a draw and the battle went into rapid play. In the rapid format (25 minutes + 10 second increment) Harika struck the first blood as she defeated Shamima with white pieces. With black she ensured that there were no real mistakes, drew her game, and with a score of 2.5:1.5 qualified to the second round.
Padmini had a much shorter route to the round of 32. She defeated Armenian Elina Danielian in the classical time control with a score of 1.5:0.5. But the match wasn't without its ups and downs. In the first game, Padmini, who had the black pieces, got a comfortable position out of the opening. But in the endgame she started to go wrong. A relatively equal position was soon converted into a completely lost one for the Indian. However, tenacity is one of Padmini's greatest assets. With a never-say-die spirit and some mistakes by Elina, she managed to miraculously save the endgame and draw the first encounter.
In the second game the girl from Orrisa was just flawless. She opened the game with 1.e4 and completely decimated her opponent's Caro Kann. The game was over in just 29 moves as Rout swooped her rook to f6.
Usually when you have a difficult first round and in the end progress to the second one, you become much more alert. You have already gone through a tough phase early in the tournament and you know that being complacent or careless is not an option. Hence, we could have expected Harika to show her A-game in the second round.
However, it turned out that she has not yet struck her best form. Harika drew her game with the white pieces in just 15 moves against Kazakh Dinara Saduakassova. And the last position was quite a pleasant one for the Indian. It was a very surprising decision that she decided to split the point. But these top players are often quite pragmatic.
They usually call it a day if they are not too comfortable with the position on the board. That might have been the case with Harika. However, she now has the unenviable task of playing with the black pieces in game two.
Padmini was facing a much higher-rated opponent in the form of Chinese Zhao Xue. She got a comfortable position out of the opening. But her move 12... cxd4 was a clear error. In just one stroke she lost all the dynamic possibilities.
However, Rout dug deep and managed to draw the game. This is an excellent result as she will now have the white pieces in game two. It will be interesting to see how long can two of our top players survive in this extremely tough tournament. Harika was a favourite before the tournament began, but has shown a clear lack of form. On the other hand, the pundits expected a first round exit for Padmini, but the girl has shown great character at the event.
Sagar Shah is an International Master and CEO of ChessBase India.
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