Super Mariya

Mariya Muzychuk proved too strong for the rest of the field at the Women’s World Championship in Sochi. Here, she poses after receiving-AP

Mariya Muzychuk of the Ukraine was the favourite in the final against Russia’s Natalia Pogonina. The Russian was seeded 31 and her Elo rating of 2456 was some 70 points below Mariya. It was an interesting line-up for the final, in the backdrop of the increasing political tensions between Russia and the Ukraine.

Sochi, a Russian city on the coast of Black Sea, became the focus of global chess, last November, when it hosted the World Championship match between Magnus Carlsen of Norway and India’s Viswanathan Anand. The smooth conduct of the event belied the worries from some people, especially those belonging to Carlsen’s camp.

Barely four months later, Sochi, which was also the host of the 2014 Winter Olympics, cornered the attention of the chess world again, by organising another major event — the Women’s World Championship. It was a big event — featuring 64 players — despite one notable absentee. The reigning champion Hou Yifan of China chose to skip the event.

Her absence, however, made the knock-out event wide open. At the moment, she is too far ahead of her rivals in women’s chess.

Koneru Humpy, the World No. 3, was the top seed, followed by Ju Wenjun of China and the Ukraine’s Anna Muzychuk. For the Indian, this was her best chance to win the World title, an event where she has always disappointed.

Humpy began superbly, winning her first six games in a row and seemed finally to live up to her billing, looking all set to break her World Championship jinx. But, she choked yet again. In the quarterfinals, she came up against Mariya Muzychuk, the eighth seed from the Ukraine, and younger sister of Anna. Humpy lost in the tie-breaker; though she had done well to comeback after losing her first classical game to the Ukrainian.

Mariya’s opponent in the semifinal too was a Telugu-speaking woman: Dronavalli Harika. The 12th-seeded Indian had a good tournament, thus far, exceeding expectations.

The semifinal, too, was decided after a tie-breaker, and again the 22-year-old Mariya prevailed. She was the favourite in the final against Russia’s Natalia Pogonina.

The Russian was seeded 31 and her Elo rating of 2456 was some 70 points below Mariya.

It was an interesting line-up for the final, in the backdrop of the increasing political tensions between Russia and the Ukraine. The final was played over four classical matches, unlike the previous rounds, which had just two games each.

The opening game was a draw. In the second, Mariya won, and just needed to play out two draws.

She got them and was crowned the 15th Women’s World Champion. She is the second Ukrainian to capture the crown; Anna Ushenina was the World Champion in 2012.

Mariya came through six gruelling matches over three weeks, accounting for Yuan Yuanling of Canada, Monika Socko of Poland and former World Champion Antoaneta Stefanova of Bulgaria before ruining Humpy’s prospects.

While another World Championship ended in disappointment for Humpy, Harika faired better, sharing the bronze medal with Swedish veteran Pia Cramling, who lost the other semifinal.

P. K. Ajith Kumar