Acrobats & Pandas: Alisa's World Team Photo Tour

After five rounds of the Women's World Team Championships, the team finally got some much-needed rest. We had all played 11 arduous rounds of the U.S. Women's Championships preceding the team event, and had tiring transcontinental journeys to reach Chengdu, China. Coach Shulman and Captain Melik likewise juggled preparing four players each day. As with most demanding tournaments where one round a day is played, the routine is fixed: preparation between meals, the five-hour game, analysis, repeat next day. The one positive of facebook and gmail being blocked in China is that there was less to distract us from the chess. The free day didn't provide us with too much time to relax, however. The organizers arranged for more cultural activities consuming the entire day. In the morning all players were treated to a visit to the famous Chengdu Panda Sanctuary. The city did live up to its motto as the "home of the giant panda." 1 PandaBasescultpure 2 GiantPanda
3 free-day-tour-guide The group listening to our tour guide, Photo: A. Karlovich
4 Alisa-and-Kosteniuk FM Alisa Melekhina and GM Alexandra Kosteniuk
The perfect environment for pandas and selfies. The perfect environment for pandas and selfies.
The sanctuary also houses the smaller "red panda." Although actually part of the raccoon family, they were the original "panda." The sanctuary also houses the smaller "red panda." Although actually part of the raccoon family, they were the original "panda."
7 team-photo-steps---free-day 8 TeamPandas After a post-lunch nap (or post-lunch drafting of chess articles), we were taken to the popular Kuan Zhai Alley to try out how spicy Chengdu's food actually is. The spiciness was confirmed, to the detriment of some our taste buds. More importantly, the free day gave us a chance to interact with some of the other teams. For most of the event, the teams traveled in packs.
Dining with Team Ukraine Dining with Team Ukraine
The Alley is lined with souvenir shops. The Alley is lined with souvenir shops.
11 alisa380 Too soon, it was time to begin preparing for the next day. We were paired with Georgia, who would eventually win the entire tournament. I made a quick draw in a Benko that happened to go my way against IM Nino Batsiashvili. Despite drawing this game with white, she ended up winning the bronze medal for board 4. In the final position, if either of us press we risk ending up worse. If she tried to avoid the perpetual by protecting the c3 knight and the a2 pawn indirectly with Ndb1, I can break through with c4. If I don't go for the repetition, then after a4 white has already consolidated.
[White "Batsiashvili, Nino"]
[Black "Melekhina, Alisa"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[ECO "A58"]
[WhiteElo "2475"]
[BlackElo "2235"]
[PlyCount "59"]
[EventDate "2015.04.19"]
[EventType "team-tourn"]
[EventRounds "9"]
[EventCountry "CHN"]
[Source "Chessbase"]
[SourceDate "2015.04.30"]
[WhiteTeam "Georgia (W)"]
[BlackTeam "United States (W)"]
[WhiteTeamCountry "GEO"]
[BlackTeamCountry "USA"]

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 c5 3. d5 b5 4. cxb5 a6 5. bxa6 g6 6. Nc3 Bxa6 7. g3 d6 8. Bg2
Bg7 9. Nf3 Nbd7 10. Rb1 O-O 11. O-O Qa5 12. Bd2 Bb7 13. Qc2 Qa6 14. e4 Ng4 15.
Rfd1 Rfc8 16. Bh3 h5 17. Bf1 Qb6 18. Bg5 Kf8 19. h3 Nge5 20. Nd2 Ba6 21. Be3
Bxf1 22. Rxf1 Qa6 23. b3 Qd3 24. Rbc1 Qxc2 25. Rxc2 Nd3 26. a4 Nb4 27. Rcc1 Nd3
28. Rc2 Nb4 29. Rcc1 Nd3 30. Rc2 1/2-1/2[/pgn]
Nemcova held solid with black as usual with her fifth consecutive draw. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough, and we lost the round losing on the other two boards. We rebounded the next day with a draw against team Armenia. The result doesn't tell the whole story, as we were the ones pushing in the match. For example, I was able to win a clean pawn against WGM Maria Kursova after she made a series of inaccurate exchanges in time trouble. Similar to my draw against IM Inna Gaponenko from Ukraine in round 3, I tried to cash in on the pawn too quickly and released the tension. My teammates who were following the game on the live broadcast, were chanting for 58...Rf1? This would have allowed a bridge with Rf6. Alas, she found the proper drawing mismatch to save the round.
[White "Melekhina, Alisa"]
[Black "Kursova, Maria"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[ECO "B40"]
[WhiteElo "2235"]
[BlackElo "2290"]
[PlyCount "134"]
[EventDate "2015.04.19"]
[EventType "team-tourn"]
[EventRounds "9"]
[EventCountry "CHN"]
[Source "Chessbase"]
[SourceDate "2015.04.30"]
[WhiteTeam "United States (W)"]
[BlackTeam "Armenia (W)"]
[WhiteTeamCountry "USA"]
[BlackTeamCountry "ARM"]

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 e6 3. c3 d5 4. exd5 exd5 5. d4 Nf6 6. Be3 cxd4 7. Nxd4 Be7 8.
Bd3 O-O 9. Nf5 Bxf5 10. Bxf5 Nc6 11. O-O Ne5 12. Bd4 Nc6 13. Be3 Qc7 14. Nd2
Rad8 15. Nf3 g6 16. Bc2 Ng4 17. Bd4 Nf6 18. Re1 Nxd4 19. Qxd4 Kg7 20. b4 Bd6
21. Bb3 Qb6 22. Qxb6 axb6 23. Rad1 Rd7 24. g3 Rc8 25. Re3 Bf8 26. h3 Rdc7 27.
Rdd3 Ne4 28. Bxd5 Nxc3 29. a3 Nxd5 30. Rxd5 Rc3 31. Rdd3 Rxd3 32. Rxd3 Rc7 33.
Ne5 Be7 34. Kg2 Bf6 35. Nd7 Rc6 36. Nxf6 Kxf6 37. Rd7 Ke6 38. Rxb7 h5 39. h4 f6
40. a4 Ke5 41. a5 bxa5 42. bxa5 Ra6 43. f4+ Kf5 44. Rb5+ Kg4 45. Kf2 Ra8 46.
Rb6 Rxa5 47. Rxf6 Ra2+ 48. Ke3 Kxg3 49. Rxg6+ Kxh4 50. f5 Ra1 51. Kf4 Rf1+ 52.
Ke5 Re1+ 53. Kd6 Kh3 54. f6 Rd1+ 55. Ke7 Re1+ 56. Kf8 h4 57. Kg7 Kh2 58. f7 Re7
59. Kf6 Rxf7+ 60. Kxf7 h3 61. Kf6 Kh1 62. Kg5 h2 63. Kg4 Kg2 64. Kf4+ Kf1 65.
Rh6 Kg2 66. Ke3 h1=Q 67. Rxh1 Kxh1 1/2-1/2[/pgn]
We had our work cut out for us in the final two rounds. We were paired with China and Russia, both in fierce competition for medals. I may have had chances for an individual medal earlier in the tournament, but drawing even higher opposition severely hurt my chances. Since each team has a reserve, players do not consistently play on the same board. Therefore, the medals are calculated based on the percentage of points, not the total points scored, so long as a player participates in a minimum of 60% of the matches (or 50% for the reserve). Thus, someone who scored 5/6 will rank higher than someone who scored 5.5/9. To show how severe the system is, Nemcova had a performance rating of 2416 but because she drew 7/8 games she finished 8th for individual board 2 standings behind those with a lower performance rating. I was still playing for WGM and IM norms. We had to make an interesting decision between whether I should play the next round as black against China and keep my IM norm chances alive, or maximize my chances for a WGM norm by sitting out and playing the final round with White against Russia. I most likely would have played WGM Olga Girya, who was having an amazing tournament and finished with a gold medal for board 5 with a 2695 performance rating. I was confident with my blacks this tournament. I had also beaten two of China's players with black at the 2009 World Team Championships where I won the gold medal. Back then, China had the privilege of sending two teams to the event as the host country. One of the players I beat then was my opponent this tournament, WGM Ding Yixin. Unfortunately, history did not repeat itself as I got a quick and sudden losing position in my first opening slip-up of the tournament. The rest of the team did not fare well; Sabina was our only non-loss that round. I thought her game would have been a draw earlier, but it was one of the last to finish.
Photo of Sabina from round 5, Credit: Liu Yupeng Photo of Sabina from round 5, Credit: Liu Yupeng
The game is a perfect example of how determined the Chinese team is. After Sabina played 31. g4 instead of g3, creating dark-squared weaknesses, her opponent immediately saw the chance to pounce where others may have lazily acquiesced to a draw. It didn't matter that the bishops were opposite-colored or that a rook ending was on the horizon. The ability to keep playing as if you're winning, whether the position is a dead draw or even a loss, is an admirable quality that I noticed in our USA-China match in July of 2013.
[White "Foisor, Sabina Francesca"]
[Black "Lei, Tingjie"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[ECO "D85"]
[WhiteElo "2276"]
[BlackElo "2444"]
[PlyCount "136"]
[EventDate "2015.04.19"]
[EventType "team-tourn"]
[EventRounds "9"]
[EventCountry "CHN"]
[Source "Chessbase"]
[SourceDate "2015.04.30"]
[WhiteTeam "United States (W)"]
[BlackTeam "China (W)"]
[WhiteTeamCountry "USA"]
[BlackTeamCountry "CHN"]

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 d5 4. cxd5 Nxd5 5. e4 Nxc3 6. bxc3 Bg7 7. Be3 c5 8.
Nf3 Bg4 9. Rc1 O-O 10. Be2 Qa5 11. O-O Qxa2 12. Ra1 Qe6 13. Qb1 Qc8 14. h3 Bxf3
15. Bxf3 Rd8 16. Rd1 Qc7 17. Ra3 Nd7 18. dxc5 Nxc5 19. Rxd8+ Rxd8 20. Rxa7 Bxc3
21. Qb5 Rc8 22. Bxc5 Rd8 23. Be3 Rc8 24. Bc5 Qxc5 25. Qxc5 Rxc5 26. Rxb7 Be5
27. Rb1 Rc2 28. Re1 Bd4 29. Re2 Rc1+ 30. Kh2 Rf1 31. g4 g5 32. Rd2 Bb6 33. Rb2
Bc7+ 34. Kg2 Rc1 35. Be2 Kg7 36. Rb5 Bf4 37. Rb2 Kf6 38. Rb5 e6 39. Rb2 Bd6 40.
Rd2 Ke5 41. Rd1 Rc2 42. Kf3 h6 43. Rd3 f6 44. Bd1 Rc4 45. Re3 Bc5 46. Re2 Rc3+
47. Kg2 Rc1 48. Rc2 Rxd1 49. Rxc5+ Kxe4 50. Rc6 Ke5 51. Rc8 f5 52. Rh8 fxg4 53.
hxg4 Kf4 54. Rxh6 Re1 55. Rf6+ Kxg4 56. f3+ Kh5 57. Kg3 Re2 58. Kh3 Re3 59. Kg2
g4 60. fxg4+ Kxg4 61. Kf2 Re4 62. Rg6+ Kf5 63. Rg3 Ra4 64. Ke2 e5 65. Rf3+ Ke6
66. Rb3 Rh4 67. Rg3 Re4+ 68. Kd3 Rh4 1/2-1/2[/pgn]
The round 8 loss killed my norm chances. It was not the note I wanted to finish my month of chess with, but I had a good run and was finally ready for a break. I sat out the final round. Finally catching up on the sleep I missed at the start of the tournament due to travel issues, I woke up at noon the following day. It was the most relaxed I had been all month! I checked out the live games and was pleasantly surprised to find all boards pressing against Russia. Their coaches were anxiously pacing. In particular, Tatev opened with a Blumenfeld Gambit against GM Valentina Gunina and had a 40-minute time advantage by around move 15. However, White untangled before Black could utilize the extra pawn. In the end, the Russian team proved their strength and we again lost 3.5 - 0.5.
[White "Gunina, Valentina"]
[Black "Abrahamyan, Tatev"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "E10"]
[WhiteElo "2528"]
[BlackElo "2322"]
[PlyCount "65"]
[EventDate "2015.04.19"]
[EventType "team-tourn"]
[EventRounds "9"]
[EventCountry "CHN"]
[Source "Chessbase"]
[SourceDate "2015.05.08"]
[WhiteTeam "Russia (W)"]
[BlackTeam "United States (W)"]
[WhiteTeamCountry "RUS"]
[BlackTeamCountry "USA"]1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 c5 4. d5 b5 5. Bg5 b4 6. e4 d6 7. a3 h6 8. Bxf6 Qxf6
9. axb4 Qxb2 10. Na3 Qxb4+ 11. Nd2 Qb6 12. e5 Be7 13. Be2 Na6 14. Bf3 Rb8 15.
Ne4 dxe5 16. d6 Bd8 17. O-O O-O 18. Nc3 e4 19. Nxe4 Bb7 20. Nb5 f5 21. Nec3
Bxf3 22. Qxf3 Bf6 23. Rab1 Bxc3 24. Qxc3 Nb4 25. Qe5 Rfe8 26. Rfd1 Nc6 27. Qe1
Rf8 28. Nc7 Nb4 29. Qxe6+ Kh8 30. Nd5 Qa5 31. d7 Nxd5 32. Rxb8 Rxb8 33. Qe8+
Russia clinched the silver medal with China coming in third thanks to the formidability of their tail boards.
The event winners, team Georgia, were put on the spot by being asked to sing their national anthem while on-stage. Credit: Liu Yupeng The event winners, team Georgia, were put on the spot by being asked to sing their national anthem while on-stage. Credit: Liu Yupeng
Ukraine may have finished outside the medals, but the reigning Women's World Champion, Maria Muzychuk brought home the bronze for board 2. Credit: Liu Yupeng Ukraine may have finished outside the medals, but the reigning Women's World Champion, Maria Muzychuk brought home the bronze for board 2. Credit: Liu Yupeng
Photo of Chinese acrobat performer Photo of Chinese acrobat performer
Captain Melik joked that we were equally fair to both China and Russia by losing with the same amount of points. On a serious note, he said that he was overall proud with the team's play and camaraderie. There were certainly missed chances along the way, but we also made the other teams (and their captains) sweat to earn their points. Indeed, although we started out ranked ninth and likewise finished in the bottom half, our final result doesn't tell the whole story. It doesn't tell of the quality of our preparation or the fighting chess each and every round by all players. Overall, I'm proud of my play in the event, and even more proud to be part of such a supportive team. 16 team-shirts 17 Tatev-and-Alisa-selfie 18 closing-dresses Photos by Alisa Melekhina unless otherwise noted. FM Alisa Melekhina is a contributor to Chess Life and US Chess News, among a variety of chess publications. She took time off from her legal practice in NYC at Debevoise & Plimpton LLP to compete in the Women's U.S. and World Team Championships in April.