In recent months FIDE has made a remarkable effort to make a new cycle of Women’s World Championship very similar to the open one. Currently, the cornerstone of the 2019-2021 cycle is the Women’s Grand Prix (WGP) series that consists of four round-robin tournaments with all the top players participating.
The two winners of the WGP who score the greatest number of cumulative points qualify for the Candidates Tournament, which is scheduled for 2021. The reigning World Champion and the Challenger in the recent World Championship match Aleksandra Goryachkina also participate in the Grand Prix events but they fight only for the titles and prize money (both already qualified).
In anticipation of the third leg of WGP, which takes place in Lausanne on 1-14 of March, FIDE.com looks back at two events in Skolkovo (Russia) and Monte Carlo.
The first leg of WGP that was held in a luxurious playing hall on the outskirts of Moscow, in Skolkovo, turned into an exciting race of three favorites – Humpy Koneru (India) and two participants of the Women’s World Championship match Ju Wenjun (China) and Aleksandra Goryachkina (Russia).
The World Champion was leading the field up to 9th round in which she suffered her only defeat at the hand of Kateryna Lagno (Russia). Humpy Koneru (India) who triumphantly returned to chess after 18-month hiatus due to family reasons, jumped on this opportunity and forged ahead.
In Round 10 Ju Wenjun had a great chance to catch up with Koneru but failed to convert her huge advantage in a winning endgame against Goryachkina. In the final round, the leaders faced each other. All Humpy needed was a draw and she achieved the desired outcome. Meanwhile, Aleksandra Goryachkina scored an important victory and tied for second place with the Word Champion. Both Goryachkina and the champion did not lose a single game throughout the event.
The participants of the world championship match, which was just about a month away, chose different training schedules. Ju Wenjun opted to skip the leg in Monaco; Goriyachkina, on the contrary, decided to play in this tournament. In addition to Goriyachkina, the list of favorites included the winner of the first leg Humpy Koneru, the debutants of this WGP the Musychuk sisters and in-form Alexandra Kosteniuk who won both European Blitz and Rapid Championships in Monaco right before WGP.
Comparing to the event in Skolkovo, the tournament scenario in Monaco was much more unpredictable. For one thing, none of the participants avoided defeat. Goriyachkina had a slow start, scoring just a half-point in two games; at some point many thought that Koneru would claim clear first place again and secure a slot in the Candidates (the Indian missed the previous one, as she was inactive for the biggest part of the year before the event) but in Round 9 Humpy suffered a surprise loss to Elizabeth Paehtz with white pieces. Meanwhile, Goryachkina reeled off 5.5/6 and grabbed the lead.
Again, the last round saw the leaders' clash. Goryachkina was fine with a draw, but it was not meant to be – Humpy prevailed and caught up with the leader. Somewhat unexpectedly they were joined by Alexandra Kosteniuk who won her two final games. Moreover, the former World Champion took the title thanks to better tiebreaks.
Humpy Koneru and Aleksandra Goryachkina are comfortably sitting at the top of WGP standings. After another triumph at Cairns Cup in Saint Louis, the Indian GM, who basically punched her ticket for the Candidates, skips the competition in Lausanne. Since Goryachkina already qualified for the Candidates, the second slot most certainly will be hotly contested. Ju Wenjun and Aleksandra Goryachkina will meet over the board in Lausanne for the first time since their very close world championship match. It will be the final leg for Alexandra Kosteniuk – in order to qualify for the Candidates she has to take either first or second place.
FIDE.com will be covering the event in Lausanne starting from March 1; there will be Livestream with commentary on FIDE’s YouTube channel as well.