FIDE Women’s World Team Championship final: Russia wins gold in victory over India

Russia beat India 2.5-1.5 and 3-1 to confidently triumph in both rounds of the Women’s World Team Championship final which ended in Sitges, Spain. While the semi-rapid event can be seen as a historical continuation, this victory is Russia’s second in the championship after its previous victory in 2017.

For the first time in the event, India wins a medal, a silver medal, a commendable award for the team’s good run in the tournament to the final. India had lost just one game in the entire tournament until the final, again against Russia when they met in Pool A in the fourth round of the league phase.

The early difficulties on the boards with the black pieces cost India dearly in both rounds, as they put pressure on the players on the other boards to score, and the team could not recover. GM Kateryna Lagno gave Russia an exceptional performance by winning both rounds, demonstrating much-needed reliability in a team event. GM Dronavalli Harika with the black pieces beat GM Aleksandra Goryachkina in the first table in the first round which was the only bright spot for India in the final.

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FIDE Women’s World Championship matches are available here.

Live coverage of the first round. Watch all the live coverage at youtube.com/chess.


GM Sergei Rublevsky and GM Abhijit Kunte, captains of Russia and India at the Women's World Team Championship
As traditional as it may be during the pandemic, GM Captains Sergei Rublevsky and GM Abhijit Kunte start the match with a punch. Photo: Niki Riga / FIDE.

Russia started the final as the favorites, with three grandmasters in their ranks and a top Elo ranking across the board. However, as in most sports, the sum of the individual strengths of a team’s players does not always equal its total, and India could be optimistic as its players have shown fighting spirit and resourcefulness to the point of reaching the final.

Round 1: Russia beats India 2.5-1.5

Just as the games entered the early to mid-game, the first round of the final started to look balanced for both teams. Russia had an advantage on the third board thanks to Lagno who seemed to have developed a good initiative from the opening against IM Bhakti Kulkarni, starting from a fashionable variant of the defense of Caro Kann. At the fourth board, WGM Mary Ann Gomes appeared to have developed a good positional advantage over IM Alina Kashlinskaya from a slow open from Reti.

The other two games seemed balanced. On the upper chessboard, Goryachkina was surprised by a variation of pawn sacrifice by GM Dronavalli Harika. WGM Vaishali versus GM Alexandra Kosteniuk seemed to be on a level playing field. So there were both happy and worrying boards for both teams!

Final underway at the Women's World Team Championship
A moment of tension from the first round of the final. Photo: Niki Riga / FIDE.

When there were no computers to teach chess opening theory, some openings had been called “unhealthy” by chess experts, mainly because of the pawn structures that emerged from early middlegames. The variant of the Caro-Kann Defense employed by Kulkarni against Lagno — 4 … Nf6 5.Nxf6 exf6 — had been condemned as “bad” until the 1980s. But the variation was improved and presented as playable over the years. years, thanks in large part to extensive preparation with chess engines, although still viewed with a tinge of skepticism. But it was no real surprise that Kulkarni adopted it for this game, as many top Indian players have used it.

Also, in team championships, when stronger teams (in terms of Elo or otherwise) wish to outsmart the opposition without taking too many risks, the tendency is to “stay in control” and keep it simple: play solid, ring the openings with the two colors and adhere to the principle “Win with white pieces and shoot with black pieces”. Using the reverse logic, lower-rated opponents tend to play sharper openings – even if they’re not entirely healthy – to entice “stronger” players to play more tactically and sharply. to create chances.

Kulkarni tried actively playing with black pieces, but his opening play quickly turned against him. As the game progressed, it was evident that Lagno had developed a serious advantage: Black’s pawn advances on the kingwing seemed premature:

This match quickly turned out to be difficult for India, Gomes seemed the best bet for an equalizer victory, to strengthen their advantage early in the game and to try to secure the victory against Kashlinskaya:

IM Alina Kashlinskaya from Russia at the Women's World Championship
Kashlinskaya, a fiery defense from a difficult position. Photo: Niki Riga / FIDE.

At this point, Vaishali’s game seemed to be heading for a draw, as the ending did not seem to present any particular danger to Whites. But she blundered with a tactical oversight:

Oddly enough, at the league stage, Vaishali also missed an end with turns and a minor play and lost to Kosteniuk.

With Kosteniuk’s game being the first to end, Russia’s victory seemed inevitable as Lagno held a huge advantage against Kulkarni. But Harika’s fighting spirit brought a laudable victory over Goryachkina.

Harika is the mainstay of this Indian women’s team, being the only Grandmaster and top of the line Elo. Fresh off her excellent performance at the Online Olympics just a few weeks ago, she has been the main anchor for the Indian squad in the absence of GM Koneru Humpy. Her match against Goryachkina appeared to be an even match, as Harika used a sharp opening variation:

One can only speculate that fatigue was the reason for Goryachkina’s collapse in the game with the format requiring players to play more than a dozen matches in just six days.

Grandmaster Harika of India at the Women's World Team Championship
Harika, a reliable hand for India in the team tournaments. Photo: Niki Riga / FIDE.

Round 2: Russia beats India 3-1

With India desperate to win the second round to force a tiebreaker, things didn’t start well for them. Opening picks with black pieces seemed to be a recurring problem for the team, as MI Polina Shuvalova at the fourth board quickly exhibited difficulties in Gomes’ Kan variant of the Sicilian defense. Again, just like with Kulkarni in the first round, the difficult position Gomes faced at the start of the round put pressure on her other teammates:

Russian IM Polina Shuvalova at the Women's World Team Championship
Polina Shuvalova, a crucial start for the team in the second round. Photo: Niki Riga / FIDE.

Even before Shuvalova’s victory was won, Kosteniuk-Vaishali had finished in a relatively quick draw. On the top board, in a reversal of fortune, Harika survived anxious moments throughout the game:

With the gold medal for the team nearly in sight, Lagno played steadily in the event’s long and final match and even punished MI Tania Sachdev for pushing too hard in a quest to win for the sake of the team:

All Matches – Finals

The 2021 FIDE Women’s World Team Championship was a 12-team event featuring teams representing chess nations from around the world. The event ran from September 27 to October 2 and was broadcast on Chess.com.


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