venerdì 11 maggio 2018

The Waiting Room

A new science of the Women’s World Chess Championship: the shortest ever title

After five games, the first half of the Women’s World Chess Championship match ended in 上海 (Shànghǎi) on May 9. In the meantime the scene moved to the 九龙坡区 (Jiǔlóngpō District) in 重庆 (Chóngqìng), where the second half will start at 15,00 on May 12. The challenger, 居文君 (Jū Wénjūn), leads over the current World Champion 谭中怡 (Tán Zhōngyí) 3½ – 1½.
Waiting for the second half to begin, it may be useful to summarily illustrate, for those who don’t know much about it, both the birth process of the Women’s World Chess Championship and how 居文君 (Jū Wénjūn) qualified to challenge for the crown.
The Women’s World Chess Championship was established by FIDE in 1927 as a single round-robin tournament. The winner of the tournament was also awarded the World Championship title. And so on until in 1952, when FIDE reformed the whole process, turning it from a single tournament into a Zonal-Interzonal-Candidates challenge. And thus it worked, until 2000, when FIDE again felt the need to reform the billboard process: the Zonal-Interzonal-Candidates system was replaced by a 64-player sudden death tournament.
The Knockout Women’s World Chess Championship Tournament was inaugurated by FIDE in 2000. The first of such tournaments was won by 谢军 (Xiè Jūn), and then in chronological order by 诸宸 (Zhū Chén) in 2001, Antoaneta Stefanova in 2004, 许昱华 (Xǔ Yùhuá) in 2006, Alexandra Konstantinovna Kosteniuk in 2008, 侯逸凡 (Hóu Yìfán) in 2010, Anna Yuriyivna Ushenina in 2012, Mariya Olehivna Muzychuk in 2015, and 谭中怡 (Tán Zhōngyí) for a grand total of nine Chess Queens.
In March 2017, the Knockout Women’s World Chess Championship Tournament was held in Tehran, the capital of Iran. 谭中怡 (Tán Zhōngyí) from China defeated Anna Olehivna Muzychuk from Ukraine in the two-game rapid tie-break, thus becoming the 16th Women’ World Champion in chess history and China’s fifth Women’s World Champion after 谢军 (Xiè Jūn), 诸宸 (Zhū Chén), 许昱华 (Xǔ Yùhuá), and 侯逸凡 (Hóu Yìfán).
Beginning from 2010, the Women’s World Chess Championship was held annually in alternating formats. In even years the 64-player knockout tournament, in the odd years a classical match usually featuring the “Women’s Champion” (the knockout’s winner) and the “Challenger” (the Women’s Grand Prix’s winner). In brief, since 2011 there have been only “delayed” Women’s Champions. One year a female player was honoured as Queen in the Women’s World Championship match, the following year she would have forcefully had to “abdicate”.
Then, as a qualification cycle for the World Championship, how does the Women’s Grand Prix works? FIDE established the Women's Grand Prix in 2009 with a biennial series of tournaments. Four series had been held so far. The first three series were divided into six stages. Each of the invited players could take part in four stages, with a final score based on the sum of the three best tournament results. The highest score wins the Grand Prix and the “challenge” for the Women’s World Chess Championship. The fourth Women’s Grand Prix 2015-2016 series marked a difference from the previous ones, as a fifth stage was added in order to replace the Women’s Knockout Championship Tournament. 居文君 (Jū Wénjūn) from China – no doubt a strong player – came out winner by the sum of her three best tournament results, thus becoming the challenger of Women’s World Chess Champion 谭中怡 (Tán Zhōngyí) in a match vis-à-vis.
Of course, many other players are also “dissatisfied” with such a system format. In May 2016, 侯逸凡 (Hóu Yìfán), the then Women’s World Chess Champion, announced her withdrawal from the 2017 World Championship cycle to protest against the “unreasonable” system advocated by FIDE. Winning the title of “Women’s World Champion” through the match and not participating neither in the next Knockout Women’s World Championship Tournament nor in the Grand Prix series, unnaturally just means that the “Women’s World Champion” title will magically expire. On the other hand, the Knockout Women’s World Chess Championship Tournament implies certain differences in terms of level and quality of play. At the same time, each round of the tournament features only two games, plus eventual tie-breaks. That’s too contingent and unpredictable to actually reflect the highest level in the world. This is also the main reason why 侯逸凡 (Hóu Yìfán) refused to further take part in the Women’s Grand Prix series: by protest. It was learned and confirmed that 侯逸凡 (Hóu Yìfán) has repeatedly submitted to FIDE requests and demands for changing the system – and in particular to equate women’s and men’s systems – and put forward three proposals, but FIDE simply answered, “We’re working on it”. Similar previous “systemic” proposals and suggestions are also still under scrutiny.

(Very free translation by Nobody’s Perfect)

居文君 (Jū Wénjūn) (left) and 谭中怡 (Tán Zhōngyí) (right) are friends, teammates, and even possibly opponents. Photo: Sina Sports.

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