Saturday, August 18, 2007

Blast from the Past - Zhu Beats Kosteniuk, Wins Women's Title

In this New York Times article, GM Robert Byrne gently reminds us that the old chestnut about women not playing "aggressive" chess is a lot of hooey. Chess; China's Zhu Beats a Russian To Win the Women's Title By ROBERT BYRNE Published: January 6, 2002 The old prejudice that women play timid chess was again exploded in the Women's World Championship, which ended Dec. 20 in Moscow. There wasn't one draw in the final confrontation. They kept on beating each other in a rhythmic tattoo until the winner, Zhu Chen, 25, of China, put two victories together and won the tiebreaker and the championship against Alexandra Kosteniuk, 17, a new star from Russia. The score in the four regulation games was 2-2. In the tiebreaker, Zhu forged a 3-1 triumph. The previous champion, Xie Jun of China, chose not to defend her title. Rumor has it that she wishes to follow Judit Polgar's road and enter only open competitions, against men. In the decisive game 8, Zhu showcased her power in attack. The Najdorf Variation of the Sicilian Defense, introduced by 5 . . . a6, the favorite of two world champions, Bobby Fischer and Garry Kasparov, is played more often than all the other Sicilian variations put together nowadays. Black plans to thrust . . . e5, but wishes to exclude 5 . . . e5 6 Bb5 Bd7 7 Bd7 Qd7 8 Nde2 Qc6 9 Ng3 h6 10 O-O g6 11 f4 Nbd7 12 Qf3 Bg7 13 f5 with superior play for White. The advance 9 . . . h5 is typical of today's union of tactics and strategy. Black loosens her kingside pawn formation to prevent the opponent from thrusting g4 with the idea of continuing with g5, cramping the defender and thus an attack. Black knows that she has diminished the chance to make a safe place for her king on the kingside. She is willing to make that choice. It's not clear why Kosteniuk substituted 10 Be2?! for the usual 10 O-O-O, after which 10 . . . Nbd7 11 Nd5 Bd5 12 ed Rc8 13 Kb1 Nb6 14 Qa5 would yield her a slight superiority. In thrusting 13 . . . h4, Zhu went over from defense to attack. The white king position is not as secure as may appear. Zhu's 17 . . . f4!? leaves a hole at e4 and commits her to a mating attack. In the long run, a white knight would be sitting pretty at e4, but it takes three moves to get there, and a black knight could still challenge it. Kosteniuk's 19 c5!? is based on positional values: after 19 . . . dc 20 d6, she has a strong passed pawn at d6 and the diagonal a2/g8 becomes open for her king bishop. But maybe she should first have interpolated 19 g3!? to deny her foe the chance to exchange the dark-square bishops with 20 . . . Bh4! After 24 . . . Kf8, Kosteniuk should have tried 25 Be6 to make use of this piece. Her 25 Re2? was a terrible oversight in light of Zhu's smashing breakthrough with 25 . . . e4! 26 fe Ne5! The two threats were 27 . . . Nf3 and 27 . . . Nc4. After 27 Qc3 Ne4 28 Qc2, Zhu stormed through with 28 . . . Nf3! 29 Kf1 (29 Kh1 plunges into 29 . . . Ng3! 30 hg hg 31 Kg2 32 Qg3 33 Kf1 Qg1mate) Nh2 30 Ke1 Nf3 31 Kd1 hg 32 Qe4 g1/Q 33 Kc2 Nd4 34 Nd4 Qd4. With only a bishop for a queen, Kosteniuk staggered onward with 35 Rf1 Qe4 36 Re4, but after 36 . . . Qg2, she had to lose a rook, so she called it quits.

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