Three Weeks in Mongolia (for NIC)

We work with Ety since October 2009. My contract obligations included the tournaments from the Women Grand Prix series. These tournaments were created only a couple of years ago in attempt to lift the image of the women chess all over the world. The initial idea was that they are rapid events, but later it grew in something more substantial. The stakes in this circuit are high. The overall winner of the event receives the right to play a match against the World Champion who must be defined at the end of this year in Turkey. Therefore almost all the best women players take part in the event. In the strength of the players the tournaments can be compared to the super male round-robins, such as Linares and Wijk an Zee. A fact that was not seen lately in the women chess world. It is not a secret that most of the ladies compete in usual opens, and the one in Gibraltar for example brings together the cream of the female elite with the attractive prize fund and the opportunity to win prices in both men and women sections.
The Grand Prix series consist of six tournaments (Istanbul (Turkey), Nanjing (China), Nalchik (Russia), Jermuk (Armenia), Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia) and Santiago (Chile), and each player can compete in maximum four of them. The best three are counted for the overall standings. Each host country has the right of a participant in the series.
Speaking of the world championship system we never have clearance. Of lately the Russian chess federation came with a new proposal that adds two more players in the fight for the title-the current World Champion Alexandra Kosteniuk and the last spot is left free for the top rated female player.
In my personal opinion the Mongolian Grand Prix was the strongest of them all. Four former World Champions took part in the event, as well as the top three rated players (we if of course exclude J. Polgar).
The further expansion of the chess popularity is very welcomed. Mongolia is relatively new destination on the chess map, although as a former communist country largely influenced by USSR our sport is very popular there. We lived in the closed area Ikh Tenger which is the president’s complex.
In the day of the opening ceremony the new Chess Academy was opened by Kirsan Ilymzhinov himself. The FIDE president had a very busy schedule due to his elections campaign but nevertheless found time to open the tournament, just like he did in Jermuk. In the center of the town, in front of the monument of Mongolian’s most famous personality-Chingiz Khan the ladies picked their numbers in alphabetical order of names. Curiously, those who started first were picking up the small numbers and the more white pieces.
The ladies play the way with the Sofia rules and they cannot agree short draws. This probably is not needed as they all are proved fighters and like to play till the end. The chief adviser for the draw offers in the event was the legendary Nana Aleksandria from Georgia and her opponent for the World Championship in 1981 Maia Chiburdanidze was participating in the competition.
The initial rounds define the roles in a tournament, and show who will play the role of an underdog, and who will compete for the top places.
Ety started with two draws, and the second one was especially unpleasant as she spoiled huge advantage in her time trouble against Maia Chiburdanidze. In the next eight rounds though, she would take no prisoners, scoring six wins against two losses.
As the tournament equator was reaching the column was led by the Chinese Zhao Xue. Her wins though were not very impressive; one could find many twists in her games, and decisive changes in the evaluation of the positions. Her game against Zhu Chen was especially significant in that sense. First White was completely winning, and then came a huge blunder and it was Black who was winning. Finally the game reached the position on the diagram:
Zhu Chen - Zhao Xue
Ulaanbaatar GP Mongolia

Without spending more than a second on her next move the former women champion played: 64.Kb8?? Instead the precise [64.Ka8!= would save the day- 64...Qe8+ 65.Kb7 Qe4+ 66.Kb8 Qb1+ 67.Ka7 Qa2+ 68.Kb8 Qh2 69.Ka8] and resigned after: 64...Kc5 65.Ka8 Qd7 66.Kb8 Kb6 0–1

The logic of the events was telling that Zhao should not keep the lead. Indeed in the very next round she was technically outplayed by Tatiana Kosintseva. The Russian player had no other alternative in this tournament but first place, as due to the engagements with her Russian club for ECC in Ohrid 2009 she could play only three Grand Prix tournaments. Tatiana was playing in her usual solid manner, but in the very next round she was stopped by Ety.
This was a period when the leaders were constantly changing their places and none could really predict the overall winner. Ety was replaced in the lead by top seed Humpy Koneru, then the Indian lost to Zhao, and this finally gave a chance to Hou Yifan to grab the lead after her postponed win against Zhu Chen. The young Chinese had a critical moment in round eight when she had to visit the hospital due to health problems. Luckily for her this round was the one before the second free day, and her opponent generously agreed for a postponement. How Hou won this important game you can see with her own notes.
Most of the participants had problems with the food throughout the whole event. I do not why it was happening like that-normally it was delicious, and I cannot call it exotic, but it was obviously the overall change that mattered.
As in a good movie the tournament winner had to be decided in the final round. Hou Yifan was leading with a half point advance in front of Ety, but we had the white pieces. An unpleasant change in the program spoilt a bit the tournament finish when the players were asked to play at 10.00 a.m. The organizers insisted on this hour as it would give them a chance for a comfortable closing ceremony at the theater, and as there were public speeches scheduled for later in the evening, the closing should take place at five p.m. in fact the organizer’s second proposal was that the games start at 9.00 a.m...For an owl like Ety such a change had a huge psychological impact. We tried to protest, taking on the account the fact that for such a change there should be the signature of the FIDE president, but the FIDE official could not contact him. There was only one critical moment in the game, but it could have changed the name of the winner.
Stefanova,A (2560) - Hou Yifan (2577) [A14]
5th FIDE GP w Ulaanbaatar MGL (11), 11.08.2010

After a stubborn and careful defense Hou Yifan decided to activate her knight with:28...Nb5? But this moves blunders a whole pawn. However Ety also missed the chance- 29.e4? The simple: [29.Bxf6 wins a pawn as the line 29…Rxf6? 30.Rc2 loses even more material. Now the position is balanced again and draw was agreed after sixty moves.] 1/2
Thus the young Chinese remained the only undefeated player, and deservedly won the tournament. The tradition that in each tournament from the series there is a new winner was kept. Stefanova finished clear second, and there was a tie for the third place with Kosintseva, Zhao and Koneru to finish in this order.
We arrived a couple days before the start of the event, and had some time to visit the local attractions- the Gandantegchenling Monastery and the Migjed Janraisig, the Bodhisattva of Compassion, the symbols of the Mongolians-the bell tents (called yurts) in some of which there are still people living. That was all the fun as during the tournament I lived like a hermit and worked in the hotel. The first free day could be a change as there were meetings with the sponsors organized, but the door-knob of my room decided to take a day off, and I was left locked inside for some hours. The previous day I asked Ety if she would like to go to these meetings or she would rather prefer to stay and have some rest to which she replied: “We are all complaining for the lack of sponsors, but when a time comes for a single sign of respect everyone tries to cover himself. I have my obligations to these people, and I need to go.” However when in the second free day the organizers made a large entertaining program with museums, horse riding and archering she preferred to skip the attractions and have some rest for the decisive rounds.
A quick look at the overall standings of the Grand Prix events reveals that the leader now is Hou Yifan with one first, one second, and one shared second places or total of 410 points. However, she already accomplished her tournaments and has to wait and see if some of her two closest rivals Nana Dzagnidze or Humpy Koneru might catch up with her. The final stage is scheduled in Chile, but the earthquakes might hinder the organizational process. There are rumours already that the tournament will be postponed, or even cancelled.
In any case for the good of the women chess I hope that these Grand Prix series will continue in the future.

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