Tata Steel Chess India Women’s Rapid: Divya Deshmukh Triumphs

Tata Steel Chess India Women's Rapid: Divya Deshmukh Triumphs


The Tata Steel Chess India Women’s Rapid saw a nerve-wracking final round where title chances alternatively swung in favor of WGM Divya Deshmukh and Women’s World Champion GM Ju Wenjun before the former emerged as the winner by a half-a-point margin in a dramatic finish.

Though starting the middlegame with an apparently mild setback, Ju smoothly built a dominating attacking position against GM Anna Ushenina and thus looked like the favorite to win the title. But fortunes turned in favor of Divya when her opponent GM Humpy Koneru over-reached while attempting to win a dynamically-equal position, only to be outfoxed in the final minutes of the game by her younger rival in a spirited fightback. Divya finished on seven points, half a point more than Ju.

IM Polina Shuvalova continued her steady play to have another unbeaten day, and finished clear third on 5.5 points.

The Women’s Blitz begins on September 3 at 5:30 a.m. ET / 11:30 CEST / 15:00 IST.

The final day was expected to be a two-horse race between Divya and Ju—the question was if the former’s lead of 1.5 points at the end of the sixth round could hold a possible surge from the world champion on the final day. Divya was scheduled to play Ushenina, Shuvalova, and Humpy, while Ju had GM Nino Batsiashvili, WIM Savitha Shri B, and Ushenina as her opponents for the day.

“I felt (the pressure). I was very nervous before the first game. It affected my quality of play today,” confessed Divya after the end of the tournament. The nervousness did not show much in her game against Ushenina in the seventh round, which ended in an uneventful draw.

Meanwhile, Ju began her game in characteristic style: playing fluently in the opening, maintaining pressure in the middlegame, and entering into a slightly better endgame. Once again in this tournament, her impressive conversion in the final stages of the game enabled Ju to score an easy win, handing Batsiashvili her fifth straight loss of the tournament.

After this win, Ju reached five points from seven rounds, while Divya still led the tournament with six points.  

It was in the second game of the day that Divya’s nerves gave way. It was ironic that in the crucial penultimate round, Divya had to face Shuvalova, with whom she has an intriguing pre-history. Divya and Shuvalova were involved in a controversial game at the FIDE Online Chess Olympiad 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the crucial final match between India and Russia, Divya’s time had run out due to an internet connectivity breakdown even though she had a promising position, and the gold medal was shared between Russia and India, a controversial incident at that time.

At a crucial middlegame position, Divya seemed to be losing the thread of the game, prompting commentator Hess to observe, “I am starting to like Polina’s position, I like Polina’s clock… I am starting to fear for White, (her) king is a bit open, and Polina’s every move is natural, and she is (ahead on the clock) by 10 minutes.” The whole game could be understood only by gauging White’s state of mind when playing the game.

An unfortunate game by Divya, where her play seemed to be completely dominated by her nervous state of mind. She later admitted her difficulty in coming to terms with this loss and mentioned the help of her father, whose encouraging words and presence helped her to settle down.

Meanwhile, Ju won a fluent game against Savitha Shri, where she once again capitalized on her opponent’s pawn blunder in the middlegame with a calm conversion in the endgame.

World Champion Ju gave an endgame masterclass. Photo: Vivek Sohani/Tata Steel Chess India.

Thus, after the eighth and penultimate round, Ju had caught up with Divya in the lead on six points. In the fight for third place, Shuvalova followed the leaders with five points, followed by Humpy and GM Harika Dronavalli with four points.

As the tense last round began, it was impossible not to notice Ju’s comparative pairing advantage over Divya on paper: while Ju was to face Ushenina with the white pieces, Divya’s task looked especially tough, as she was playing a resurgent Humpy who was coming into the last round with three wins in a row, against Batsiashvili, Savitha Shri, and Ushenina.

Humpy’s eighth-round win was especially commendable, as she sacrificed a piece and unleashed an attack on Ushenina’s king, even though she had only about half a minute on her clock.

The end of the game indeed presents a picturesque position.

Humpy’s comeback can be appreciated fully when one remembers that she scored just two draws from her first five games, and had renewed her fighting spirit to come to a position where she was fighting for third place by the last round.

Humpy made a determined comeback. Photo: Vivek Sohani/Tata Steel Chess India.

Thus, a dramatic last round began in the venue, with the stage set for an exciting finish.

Divya’s title chances were not looking too upbeat as the middlegame began.

It was obvious that Black had equalized, but White’s position was without any weaknesses. At this juncture, Ju’s position looked much more upbeat.

In a typical middlegame setup, White seemed to have a clear advantage, as she was poised to unleash a kingside attack. Uncharacteristically for Ju throughout this tournament, she was showing her dynamic prowess.

A moment arose in the middlegame of Divya’s game when Humpy had to decide if she would take up the gauntlet and press for an advantage.

Both players had repeated moves with 21…Kf7 22.Ne5+ Kg8 23.Nf3 Kf7, with Divya having less than a minute on her clock, and now another repetition would have led to a draw. But, true to her will to fight, Humpy thought for more than a minute and uncorked 24.h4!?

By now, Ju had built up a clear advantage with a kingside attack, and seemed to be on the brink of victory.

White has a clear path to victory with 23.Bd3! Ne4 24.Bxe4 dxe4 25.Qxh6 Qh7 26.Rxg7! Qxg7 27.Rg1 and Black’s kingside is a shambles.

Meanwhile, Divya’s strong side of her personality came to the fore after Humpy decided to press for a win, and this exciting game is our Game Of The Day, annotated by GM Rafael Leitao.

Humpy vs. Divya—a dramatic clash. Photo: Vivek Sohani/Tata Steel Chess India.

Ju’s game went through many twists and turns and finally ended in a draw, with Ju thus missing out on catching Divya on seven points to force a tiebreak for the tournament title.

Divya was anxiously watching Ju’s game and got teary-eyed when it ended in a draw. “She deserves this moment!” exclaimed commentator Soumya. An emotional Divya appeared in the live commentary room and admitted, “I am still in tears! I am trying so hard not to cry.” She revealed that this game, which ended in such a dramatic win, was her first encounter with Humpy.

It was a career-defining moment for Divya, but not the end in Kolkata, as she now plays 18 rounds of blitz on Sunday and Monday.

Round 1 Pairings: Women’s Blitz

All Games: Day 3

Women’s Rapid Final Standings

The 2023 Tata Steel Chess India Men’s and Women’s Rapid and Blitz are two of India’s most prestigious rapid chess events. The Women’s event takes place before the Men’s. Players compete in a 10-player round-robin in three days of rapid games with a 25+10 time control, followed by two days of blitz games played at a 3+2 time control. 

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