13-year-old Alice Lee will lead the USA team
The FIDE World Women's Team Championship will kick off on September 6th in Bydgoszcz (Poland), with Georgia setting its eyes on increasing even further its impressive track record of victories in women's competitions. The Georgians, top the starting list well ahead of its main competitors, USA and China, although they will be playing without their leader Nana Dzagnidze, substituted by Meri Arabidze at the last moment. The event also marks the return of China to the international arena after its absence in the last Olympiad, but they do so with a weakened team: the World Champion Ju Wenjun, the runner-up Lei Tingjie, and the Candidate's finalist Tan Zhongyi will all be missing from the team.
The competition will follow a similar format to the previous edition, held in Sitges (Spain) in 2021, with all games played under a Rapid time control of 45 minutes for the whole game, with an increment of 10 seconds per move starting from move 1. The twelve teams of four players (plus two reserves) are divided into two pools of approximate strength according to the team's average rating. Georgia and India, and USA and China, are the top-seeded teams in pools A and B, respectively.
FIDE Americas (2279)
*Average rating of the team according to the September 1st FIDE Rapid Rating list.
The matches are decided by team points, with 2 points for the winning team and 1 each in case of a draw. Four teams will be eliminated at the pool stage, with the best eight teams advancing to a double-round knockout stage.
The fact that some of the usual favourites, like China, Ukraine, or the USA, are missing some key players in their levels the field, making the competition more exciting and giving an opportunity to some young up-and-coming talents to be in the spotlight and show what there are capable of.
Georgia will come to Bydgoszcz with their stellar line-up (with the only absence of Meri Arabidze), but nevertheless, they will have to show their A-game to come ahead of India, headed by Harika Dronavalli (pictured below) and Padmini Rout. It is significant that the last board of the Indian team, 17-year-old Divya Deshmukh, has just won the Tata Steel Chess Rapid event despite being by far the lowest-rated player in the field. In fact, she entered the tournament as a last-minute replacement!
Photo: David Llada
Ukraine will have Anna Ushenina defending the first board while the veteran Natalia Zhukova makes a return to the national team. The two-time European Champion hasn't been very active in recent times, and his last rapid event was the World Rapid and Blitz 2021 in Poland, but her experience and ambition make her a formidable leader in a team event.
France will feature Sophie Millet on the top board. Despite missing its top-rated player, Marie Sebag, the squad is reinforced with the incorporation of Mitra Hejazipour, who just won the French championship in brilliant fashion a few days ago.
Kazakhstan would have been a serious contender for victory in this World Women's Team Championship if they had managed to get their three aces in the team. However, with Abdumalik and Saduakassova not taking part in the event, the young Bibisara Assaubayeva will not only have to score the points but also take over her shoulders the role of team leader, showing the way to her much less-experienced colleagues.
Photo: Mark Livshitz
Egypt, the strongest African team, will feature Shrook Wafa and Mona Khaled on the top boards.
One of the sensations of the competition is that the USA team will be led by 13-year-old Alice Lee (pictured below), the youngest American female player to achieve the IM title and the third ever youngest internationally, only behind Judit Polgar and Kateryna Lagno. A three-time World Youth Champion, Lee became this year the second-rated female player in the American continent. Her debut on the first board should compensate for the absence of a household name in US chess, Irina Krush, who has had a packed schedule this summer after playing consecutively in Dubai, Baku, and the recently concluded Tata Steel Chess tournament in India. The second main novelty in the USA team is the debut of 25-year-old Atousa Pourkashiyan, who changed federations only a few months ago.
Photo: St Louis Chess Club / Bryan Adams
China may be missing its top guns, but such a strong chess country has plenty of worthy replacements, and the team they have put together for this event is still very competitive: with Yang Shen (2369) on the first board, plus Qi Guo (2451), Yiyi Xiao (2240) and Kaiyu Ning (2279), the Chinese are still the third-seeded squad, and will surely be able to put up a fight against anyone. Even without the World Champion, they cannot be ruled out as potential winners.
Germany will be headed once again by Elisabeth Paehtz and Dinara Wagner, with Josefine Heinemann and Hanna Marie Klek completing the starting quartet.
The home team, Poland, is seventh in the starting list (fourth in their pool). The fans have every reason to be excited, as their team is one of the youngest in the field and strong enough to have serious aspirations. Once again, Poland will be led by the eight-time national Champion Monika Socko (pictured below), the only remaining member of the Polish team that won a Silver medal at the Baku Chess Olympiad in 2016. But let's look at the age of other team members: Oliwia Kiołbasa (23), Aleksandra Maltsevskaya (21), Michalina Rudzińska (21), and Julia Antolak (23). They make Klaudia Kulon (31) look like a veteran!
Photo: Anna Shtourman
The team "FIDE Americas" features players from five different countries in the continent (Peru, Cuba, Argentina, Paraguay and Colombia) that otherwise would not have the chance to compete internationally. The three-time American Continental women's champion (and twice world junior champion) Deysi Cori will play on the first board, with the Cuban Lisandra Ordaz, a strong rapid player, on the second board.
The group is completed with Bulgaria, where Antoaneta Stefanova will regain the first board in the absence of Nurgyul Salimova, who decided to skip this competition after her successful run at the FIDE World Cup. Other than that, the line-up is very similar to the one that got the 9th place at the Chennai Chess Olympiad. The former World Champion surely has what it takes to successfully replace the drive and ambition of Salimova, but one wonders what Bulgaria could have achieved had they both been on the team.
Photo: David Llada
Round 1 of the Pools stage starts on Wednesday, September 6th, at 15:00 CEST. Live coverage, as well as full information about the event, can be found on the official website: worldwomenteams.fide.com
Located in northern Poland, less than 200km from the capital, Warsaw, Bydgoszcz sits at the junction of the rivers Vistula and Brda. With 350,000 inhabitants, it is served by its own domestic airport. An architecturally rich city, Bydgoszcz is home to a number of universities, like the Casimir the Great University, the University of Technology and Life Sciences and a conservatory. With a thriving cultural life, it also hosts the Pomeranian Philharmonic concert hall and the Opera Nova opera house.
More information: www.bydgoszcz.pl