After the nervous wreck that was game two, with errors and mistakes belying the nonchalant face both players displayed, game three was a different beast altogether. The two finalists duked it out in a Semi-Slav, sidestepping the Meran for less chaotic waters, and succeeding to a degree. It would go down as an uneventful game, were it not for one move.
Final – game three
While not everyone went to Sochi to follow the games in person, the media has been very present
Although the official novelty appeared on move 12, both sides played engine perfection until move 19 suggesting that White had anticipated the new move. After a quick melee, the position transformed into a middlegame with a piece up for White, and three pawns for Black. White’s piece seemed to present the better prospects, but a mistake allowed the pawn to become a veritable nuisance after which White was playing to survive. If she failed, the match was over.
The players get ready for battle. Natalia seems unaware that Mariya is staring her down. Or is she?
Muzychuk tried hard to keep the position alive, and did an excellent job, even avoiding a position that would have let her opponent have an easier time defending, but the draw was always on the board until …
1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.c3 f6 4.e3 e6 5.f3 bd7 6.c2 d6 7.d3 0-0 8.0-0 dxc4 9.xc4 b5 10.e2 a6 11.g5 c7 12.e4 xh2+ A novelty, and surprisingly one that only appeared now, considering the engines like it. 12…h6 13.e5 hxg5 14.exd6 xd6 15.xg5 xd4 16.h4 b7 17.ad1 c5 18.d2 b4 19.a4 a5 20.b3 c5 21.h5 c4 22.e3 e5 23.xe5 xe5 24.b6 c3 25.xa8 xa8 26.xf6 gxf6 27.f4 c6 28.d7 a5 29.fd1 g7 30.c7 d5 31.f2 d8 32.f3 f5 33.e3 d6 34.xd5 exd5 35.c5 e6+ 36.d3 c6 37.xd5 h6 38.h1 f6 39.g3 e7 40.d7 a5 41.h2 e1 42.c4 e6 43.b5 c6 44.d1 g7 45.h6+ h8 46.h7 1-0 (46) Nepomniachtchi,I (2714)-Korobov,A (2687) Jerusalem 2015 13.h1 c5 14.e5 cxd4 This is the point. The knight is pinned, ensuring Black will not walk away down material. 15.exf6 xf6 16.f4 One thing is clear, Pogonina was not caught off-guard here. g3 17.d3 dxc3 18.xg3 h6 19.h3 e4?! Black is the first to deviate from the computer suggestion. Was her preparation short, or did she forget? 19…b7 is the only good move according to Komodo 8. 20.e1 b7 21.f3 cxb2 22.xb2 c2 23.xe4 xe4 24.f2 d3 25.h2 White is up a piece, but down three pawns. Since the pawns are not yet pulling their weight in the position, White can be said to have the advantage as the pieces should be able to put some pressure. fd8 26.c1 ac8 27.xc8 xc8 28.a3 d5 29.d2 29.f5 was needed. Not only because it creates a bit of unpleasantness but because it frees the f4 square to bring in the knight. 29…g6 30.e5 f6 31.e3 c4 32.f2 f5 33.c3 a4 34.d2? The first real mistake, and one that could have given White a lot of trouble. 34.c5 was necessary to not allow the pawns any breathing room. 34…a5! 35.c5 d3 36.c1 c4 37.xc4 xc4 38.b2 b4 39.axb4 xb4 40.c3 b5 41.d2 a4 42.b2 b3 43.f5 a3 44.d4 b4 45.f4 a2 46.xd5 xd4 47.xf6+ gxf6 48.xa2 e5 Black wants to avoid 48…exf5 since it would almost certainly lead to an easy draw. The rook and f- and h-pawns against king and rook alone are not hard to defend if you know the method, and Black is betting White knows it. 49.a8+ f7 50.a7+ e8 51.a6 e7 52.a7+ d7 53.a6 f7 54.g3??
It was no doubt a huge relief for Pogonina’s supporters and fans, whose heart must have skipped a beat when the engines began posting large scores in favor of Black. To be fair to Muzychuk, it was a single window of opportunity, and the move didn’t exactly scream “play me” when the chance appeared.
A win or a draw are all Mariya Muzychuk needs to become the new Women World Champion
With a point ahead prior to the fourth game, Natalia Pogonina will need to pull of one more comeback if she is to push the match into the tiebreaks. If she fails, Mariya Muzychuk will be crowned the new Women World Champion.
Report by Albert Silver and Eteri Kublashvili
Photos by Eteri Kublashvili, Anastasia Karlovich, and Vladimir Barsky