International Chess Federation
Sunday, 26 Mar 2023 10:49
Women's Grand Prix in Delhi starts after delays

Following a day of discussions between FIDE and the players regarding playing arrangements, the first round of the third leg of the Women's Grand Prix kicked off in New Delhi. Grandmasters Zhansaya Abdumalik and Elisabeth Paehtz decided to withdraw.

Following the decision of Zhansaya Abdumalik (Kazakhstan) to withdraw before the start of the event, 11 players instead of 12 were due to take part in the tournament. However, less than an hour before the first round was due to start, Grandmaster Elisabeth Paehtz sent a letter to FIDE announcing her decision to withdraw from the tournament. Paehtz noted that she had been strongly affected by the events that took place in the last two days and that she didn't feel she could perform well.

The tournament kicked off at 3 PM New Delhi time, as planned, with several exciting matchups between top-ranked players.

On board one, Polina Shuvalova is playing as White against Kateryna Lagno, who – after a convincing victory in the first leg of the Grand Prix in Astana at the end of 2022 – is one of the favourites of the event. With 160 points and just one Grand Prix tournament in this cycle, Lagno has 160 points and is currently third in the overall standings.

The eyes of the local audience are focused on the second board where India's top two women players, Humpy Koneru and Harika Dronavalli, are playing one another. Koneru has 130 points from the second leg in Munich and currently shares 5-6th place in the overall standings, while Harika is tenth, with 90 points.

The biggest derby of the first round is taking place on board three, where Zhu Jiner is playing as White against Aleksandra Goryachkina. Zhu is currently second in the overall standings with 165 points. While Zhu won third place in Astana (and 110 points), she underperformed in Munich, netting only 65 points. As Zhu has already played two tournaments in this cycle, New Delhi is her last chance for the top spot. On the other hand, Goryackhina has 130 points from Astana (where she was second), and this is her second tournament, which makes her one of the top contenders for first place. The two have previously met in the first leg of this Grand Prix cycle in Astana, where Goryachkina won as Black.

Another match of compatriots is taking place on the fourth board, where Nana Dzagnidze is playing Nino Batsiashvili, who was brought in as one of the replacements for the Muzychuk sisters following their decision not to play in the Grand Prix. Dzagnidze has 110 points from Munich, and this is her second tournament in this Grand Prix cycle.

On board five, Germany's Elisabeth Paehtz was due to face the third Indian player in this event, IM Vaishali Rameshbabu, who joined the event as a replacement for one of the Muzychuk sisters. Paehtz has 95 points from both Astana and Munich and had no chance to qualify for the top two spots in the Women's Grand Prix.

Kazakhstan's Bibisara Assaubayeva, the reigning women's world Blitz Champion, has a free day.

The challenges leading up to the start of the event

Despite the best intentions, plans and hopes, the path to the first round of the tournament in New Delhi was difficult.

Due to issues surrounding the arrival of players, regarding the pick up from the airport and reception at the hotel, Zhansaya Abdumalik decided to leave the tournament on the 24th of March. Other players also expressed their dissatisfaction with the way the organisation had been handled and, at one point, suggested the postponement of the event. They also noted issues which took place in previous top women's events.

Following the complaints, FIDE organised a meeting via video link with all of the players taking part in the tournament in New Delhi. An open discussion took place between FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich and the participants. Apart from the problems upon arrival, the players also highlighted issues they are facing in other women's events, including – the shifting of the events calendar, organisational and technical challenges in previous top women's tournaments as well as the gap in the prize funds between Open and Women's events. FIDE President apologised to the players for the issues and took on board their comments and suggestions. Following the call, Dvorkovich published a letter issuing an apology to the players for the problems they have faced.

Apart from Bharat Singh Chauhan, the Chair of FIDE President's Advisory Board and one of the key organisers of the highly successful Chennai Olympiad in 2022, who is already in New Delhi, FIDE is sending a coordinator to help improve the communication between local organisers and the players and to provide additional reassurance to everyone involved.

Concerning women's chess events and the broader issues raised, FIDE has committed to the following:

  1. To conduct a thorough review of the guidelines and standards for organising women's tournaments and make sure to strengthen the connection with players, as well as further improve the proficiency of the events organising team.
  2. To ensure that the cooperation between local organisers and FIDE functions significantly better, to reflect the standards of events.
  3. To Improve and sharpen the mechanism of selecting the host cities and venues for the tournaments, thus improving the planning of the FIDE calendar.
  4. To continue to work on closing the prize gap between Open and Women events.

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