FIDE Women's World Championship 2017 (Day 0)
Dear readers, I am happy to be back writing about chess! It's also great that my first blog of 2017 has a lot of current information, is directly tied to my chess and it's about the most important women event of the year - the 2017 FIDE Women’s World Championship. This knock-out event starts tomorrow February 10 and continues until March 5, 2017, with an opening ceremony and the first-round colors will be drawn.
The city of Tehran in Iran will welcome 64 of the strongest female chess players in the world, who will be fighting to become the next Women’s World Champion. The tournament has been highly anticipated by chess enthusiasts due to the knock-out system which is very interesting and also due to some controversies surrounding this event. The tournament has been delayed multiple times and it sparked major controversy in the media when the location of the tournament was announced last year. Several newspapers around the globe have interviewed supporters and non-supporters of the tournament’s location. Additionally, the tournament has also been marked by the absence of some of the top players.
Initially, there will be 64 players who have qualified by zonal and continental tournaments, previous world championships, junior championships, rating, or FIDE wildcards. Participants will play a two-game match with 90 minutes per 40 moves plus 30 minutes for the rest of the game with a 30-second increment per move. If a player loses a match, she will be eliminated and will go home, whereas the winner will advance to the next round. In case of a tied match, a third day will be dedicated for tiebreaks. This will continue for 5 rounds until there are two players left. The two finalists will play a four-game match for the title. There will only be a rest day before the final match. This format can be very exhausting for a player, and so not having to play a tiebreak can be a huge advantage for the next match.
The prize fund for the tournament is 450,000 American dollars. If a player is eliminated in the first round she gets 3750 dollars, if in the second round she gets 5500 dollars, for round three she gets 8000 dollars, for round four 12,000 dollars, round five 20,000 dollars, the silver medalist 30,000 dollars, and the winner 60,000 dollars. This makes this tournament the all-female event with the biggest prize fund in the year.
A player that will be missed in this year's tournament is Cristina-Adela Foisor. The Rumanian was scheduled to compete but unfortunately, passed away on January 22, 2017. We send our deepest condolences to her family.
To understand the Women's World Chess Championship we will start by looking at its evolution. The first official Women's World Championship was established by FIDE in 1927. Back then, the World Championship had been going on for more than forty years and few women played chess at the competitive level. Therefore, initially the Women's World Championship was a round-robin tournament held alongside the Chess Olympiad. Vera Menchik became the first official Women's Chess Champion and she held the title until she died in 1944 during World War II.
Some years after this incident, FIDE decided to introduce a cycle that would produce a challenger for the current world champion, making it more like the current system of the World Championship at the time. As women's participation in chess increased around the globe, Zonal, Inter-zonal and Candidates tournaments were introduced. At this point, the Women's World Championship was an independent event; this and the new system gave the title more credibility. From 1949 to 1999, this system was used, and the cycle produced a new champion about every three years.
Knock-out championships were officially introduced for the Women's World Championship in 2000. This new system would replace the Candidates Tournament for a direct elimination tournament that would start with 64 players. There has been some criticism towards the knockout tournament system. Some argue that this system will not always favor the strongest player since the matches between players are too short.
Perhaps this is the reason why FIDE introduced an alternate system beginning from 2010. In this new format, one year the Women's Champion will be the winner of a 64 player-knock-out tournament, and the next year the title will be decided in a classical match between the current champion and the winner of the Grand-Prix series.
HOU YIFAN NOT PLAYING
The alternating format is the current system that is used, therefore the winner of this year's FIDE Women's World Chess Championship will be challenged by Ju Wenjun in 2018. You might be wondering, where is Hou Yifan? The highest ranked female player decided to drop out of the Women's Grand-Prix (WGP) cycle last year after her petitions for FIDE to reconsider the tournament's format were not clearly answered.
In an interview with Chess News, Yifan argues: "A 64-player knockout event is mostly a lottery: you play two games, and if you lose the first for some reason you have good chances to be eliminated". The current world champion also states that although the winners of previous editions were strong players, in some cases they were not among the strongest.
Additionally, Yifan points out some inconsistencies with the current system such as the current world champion automatically losing her title every other year. A proposal made by Hou Yifan is to make the Women's World Championship just like the men's World Championship. Altogether, it seems that Hou Yifan won’t be participating in the cycle until FIDE makes some changes. On the other hand, FIDE argues that it is impossible to find sponsorship for a tournament that does not produce a World Champion but a Challenger.
On a more cheerful note, I have qualified for the tournament and I look forward to compete representing the USA! I will be playing the first round against GM Pia Cramling from Sweden. Wish me good luck! :)