Team USA Tops Group Stage, Quarterfinals Begin Saturday

After five rounds of the group stage, Team USA has qualified for the quarterfinals of the 2023 FIDE World Women's Team Championship. Actually, the top-seeded U.S. team qualified with a round to spare, and ended up still earning a top seed in the quarterfinals despite a last-round upset at the hands of host nation Poland. 

Pairings for the quarterfinals, which begin Saturday, September 9, are below.




The format of the group stage consisted of two six-team Round Robins, where the top four scores from each group would advance to the knockout stage. The top finishers of one group are paired against the bottom qualifiers of the other, so there is incentive to finish atop the group standings, as well. 


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Anna Zatonskih (you know, from the September cover of Chess Life) was instrumental in several of the group stage matches (courtesy Michal Walusza/FIDE)


After defeating Germany 2½–1½ in the first round thanks to IM Anna Zatonskih's gutsy win, the Americans concluded the first day of action with a 4–0 sweep of Bulgaria! Zatonskih sat out this round, and here are key moments from all four victories.






Day two saw the Americans held to an upset 2–2 tie by FIDE Americas, which consisted of players from Cuba, Peru, Paraguay, Argentina, and Colombia. The result was particularly surprising as FIDE Americas ended up not qualifying for the quarterfinals, despite this result.

Indeed, the result could have been far worse for Team USA, with Zatonskih rescuing a draw from one of the many intense time scrambles from the group stages.



Alice Lee also contributed one of her several fine endgame victories in this round. Often lower on time than her opponent, she has been managing to maintain playable, objectively equal positions on the top board against much older and often higher-rated opponents.


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Many of Alice Lee's games have come down to tense endgames with seconds on the clock for each side. Oliwia Kiolbasa finally got the better of her in their fifth round encouter (courtesy Michal Walusza/FIDE)


More than that, she's been giving them particularly difficult problems to solve, as exemplified in both of her games from Thursday:




The latter result ended up helping the team bounce back with a 2½–1½ victory over China, thanks both to Lee's win and to the most entertaining game of the day:



With IM Annie Wang's victory, the U.S. officially clinched a spot in the quarterfinals before their final-round pairing with Poland. 


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All eyes were on Annie Wang in the last game to finish of the fourth round match against China (courtesy Michal Walusza/FIDE)


This was probably for the best, as Poland won the match 2½–1½ with wins on the top two boards. For both Zatonskih and Lee, their opponents had them on the ropes in endgames that would be difficult to defend even in a classical game. Both positions are instructive:




WGM Tatev Abrahamyan managed to win her game on the third board, keeping hope of a tie alive, when her opponent surprisingly declined an opportunity to force a draw via perpetual check:



Unfortunately, with Wang only managing a draw on board four, Poland was able to catch Team USA atop the group stage with a 7/10 score after five rounds. With better tiebreaks, though, the Americans still boast the "top seed" and an ostensibly easier pairing, but nothing can be taken for granted in this event, especially with the rapid time controls in effect. 

Will we see any 3+2 blitz playoffs tomorrow? Live commentary can be followed here, with games broadcast on when play resumes Saturday, September 9, at 8:00 a.m. CDT.



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