Two-time Women's World Team victors, Georgia | photo: Michal Walusza, FIDE
Top seeds Georgia, led by Bella Khotenashvili, won gold at the World Women's Team Championship in Bydgoszcz, Poland, but for much of the tournament the stars were one of the lowest-ranked and youngest teams, Kazakhstan, led by Bibisara Assaubayeva, who greatly outperformed expectations to win Pool A and reach the final. In the battle for bronze, France, led by Deimante Daulyte-Cornette, defeated the USA, though rising prodigy Alice Lee took individual gold.
Replay the final day's live commentary with Keti Tsatsalashvili and Alojzije Jankovic.
The World Women's Team Championship has two stages: a preliminary stage where the 12 teams are split into two pools, and a knockout stage where the top eight teams battle until just one is left standing.
The first stage featured parallel Cinderella-like stories. In Pool A, Kazakhstan―ranked second to last in team average ratings―swept their first four matches and finished in clear first. Their board one, Assaubayeva, led her team of nearly all fellow teenagers to victory, scoring an undefeated 4/5.
Assaubayeva won a tactical slugfest vs. Khotenashvili in Round 5, the first encounter between Kazakhstan and Georgia.
A light-hearted pre-round moment between Kazakhstan's top boards, Bibisara Assaubayeva and Meruert Kamalidenova | photo: Michal Walusza, FIDE
In Pool B, the rapidly improving 13-year-old Alice Lee led the U.S. to the top from Board 1, scoring 3.5/5.
In all three of her victories, she reached equal endings against strong opposition and then simply outplayed them and won. Her fourth-round victory versus Yuxin Song was critical to her team defeating China.
Lee's stellar performance eventually earned her individual gold for Board 1.
Alice Lee, the youngest U.S. team member, was the board-one gold medalist | photo: Michal Walusza, FIDE
When the smoke from the first stage cleared, eight teams advanced to the knockout, increasing the pressure with each team's participation hanging on the line every match.
Kazakhstan continued their incredible run, defeating Germany in the quarterfinals and France in the semifinals. Alua Nurmanova on Board 3 became a lead scorer for her team with several stunning attacking wins. In the quarterfinals, she discovered a shocking tactical idea versus WGM Josefine Heinemann. Can you find it?
Nurmanova was unstoppable in the knockout | photo: David Llada, FIDE
In the pool stage, Nurmanova created one of her most dazzling victories, against Anastasiya Rakhmangulova, by catapulting each of her rooks into the enemy kingside and hunting down the enemy monarch. GM Rafael Leitao's annotations of this wild duel are below.
In the final, Kazakhstan faced the top seeds of the entire event, Georgia. Though Kazakhstan finished ahead of Georgia in the pool stage, with the stakes heightened in the knockout, the Georgian team became enlivened.
In fact, they proved to be nearly invincible. In the 28 games of the elimination stage where they defeated China in the quarterfinals, beat the USA in a blitz playoff in the semifinals, and faced Kazakhstan in the final, the entire Georgia team suffered just two individual losses.
Their two top scorers, Meri Arabidze and Lela Javakhishvili, on boards two and four respectively, were on fire, each scoring an undefeated five out of seven. In the final, Arabidze played in a perceptive and versatile style to defeat Kamalidenova by seamlessly switching gears from positional play to tactical blows.
It was Javakhishvili's fighting spirit that gained her victories. In her game with Kazakhstan's Amina Kairbekova, she held off her opponent's tactical strike and countered dynamically to gain the upper hand as the players traded into an ending.
Khotenashvili and Nino Batsiashvili turned in solid supporting performances, each scoring 4/7, while Salome Melia assisted the team in the pool stage, allowing the other members to stay fresh as the tournament progressed. This is a repeat victory for this same five-player team, who also won the 2015 edition of this event.
The triumphant Georgian team at the closing ceremony | photo: Michal Walusza, FIDE
The young Kazakhstan team earned silver for their marvelous run, starting near the bottom of the rankings, winning their pool, and finishing second overall.
Kazakhstan celebrating their astonishing performance | photo: Michal Walusza, FIDE
In the fight for bronze, France edged out the U.S. Their top scorer, Sophie Milliet, achieved one of the deciding victories vs. Annie Wang.
A cheerful French team receiving bronze | photo: Michal Walusza, FIDE
It was the first time the French women's chess team had won medals in either the World Teams or the Olympiad.