Champion and Contenders
Dmitry Kryakvin’s report about Rounds 4-6 of the FIDE Women’s Grand Prix Leg in Skolkovo
It is usually hard to have the material structured when writing about events taking place in more than one round. But I will do my best. In rounds four and five, the players kept playing solid chess, demonstrating their sound opening preparation and skills in defending slightly worse positions. The only exception to the rule, Valentina Gunina managed to grind out draws in positions that any other player would be more than willing to resign. However, there is no containing the simmering steam indefinitely, and round six gave us as many as five decisive games. However, first things first.
There are draws and draws, as they say.
Stefanova – Paehtz
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Bg5 e6 7.f4 Nbd7 8.Qf3 Qc7 9.0–0–0 b5 10.e5 Bb7 11.Qh3 dxe5 12.Nxe6 fxe6 13.Qxe6+ Be7 14.Bxb5 axb5 15.Nxb5 Qc6 16.Nd6+ Kd8 17.fxe5 Kc7 18.Bxf6 gxf6 19.Qxe7 Rxa2 20.Nxb7 Ra1+ 21.Kd2
21...Qxg2+ 22.Kc3 Qc6+ 23.Kd2 Qg2+ 24.Kc3 Qc6+ 25.Kd2 Qg2+ Draw.
A leader is known to be always on the business end of hardships. Severe challenges were in store for Valentina Gunina as well.
Cramling – Gunina
With two minors against the rook, White only needs to be on the alert for the counterplay connected with the c4-pawn. Black is in dire straits after the obvious 50.Ne7+ Kf7 (or 50...Kh7 51.Rxc4 R8d7 52.Nc8) 51.Nf5.
50.Nf4?! g5! 51.Nh5
A solid and sound 51.Ne2 is a step backward, while 51.Ne6 Re8 52.Nxg5 Rxe4 53.Nxe4 Ra6 was not to Cramling's liking as she was unwilling to give up the a2-pawn. Cramling is trying to weave a mating net around the black king, but Gunina’s rooks are taking care of it.
White's big disappointment is that after 52.Nf6+ Rxf6+ 53.Bxf6 Rf8 54.Re6 Kf7! 55.Be7 (55.Rc6 Kg6) 55...Re8 56.Rxh6 Kxe7 57.Rc6 Rb8 58.Rxc4 Rb2+ 59.Kf3 Rxa2 there arises a rook ending that Tartakower noted for its clearly-pronounced drawish tendencies.
Meanwhile, Gunina tries to clear the way for her passed c-pawn, which, coupled with time trouble, compelled Cramling to think better about taking a bird in the hand.
After 53.Rg7+! Kf8 54.Bb4+ Ke8 it is of importance to realize that 55.Ke2 stops the opponent's army.
54.Rxa7 c3 55.Nf6+ Rxf6+ 56.Bxf6 Rxf6+ 57.Ke2 gains nothing because of 57…Rd6!, cutting off the king, and Cramling had to put up with a draw.
54...Rd3 55.Bg7 Rdd6 56.Bc3 Rd3 57.Bg7 Draw.
However, this adventure was peanuts compared to what happened in the next round.
Gunina – Stefanova
Having been caught off guard, White quickly found herself in a hopeless position. The following Stefanova’s excellent move opens avenues for the major pieces towards the h-file.
21...Kd7! 22.cxd4 Qh8! 23.Qf3
23.Qxh8 Rxh8 24.d5 Rgh6 is obviously bad; therefore, the queens should be left on the board.
23...Bxd4 24.g4 b5 25.Bc2 Ne5 26.Qf4 Bxg4
It looks like a nightmare for White! White is down so many pawns, his king being in grave danger at that. However, this is time for Gunina's magic.
27...Kd8! 28.Nb7+ (28.Bxg6 Bf3+) 28...Kc8 was an immediate winner, but who on earth would refuse from taking a knight and then a rook? White does not have so much material left on the board, after all.
28.Rxe5 Bxd1 29.Qxf7+ Kd8?!
Winning again was 29...Kc8! 30.Re8+ Kb7, and the queen is poisoned: 31.Rxh8 Rg1#.
There are no more easy wins here, and after 30...Qxe5! 31.Qf8+ Kd7 32.Bf5+ Kc6 33.Qxa8+ Kb6 34.Bc8 Ka5! 35.Qxa6+ Kb4 36.Qa3+ Kc4 it is necessary to calculate that the king is not checkmated. However, the text leaves the Russian “only down an exchange”, and her queen keeps haunting Stefanova's king with checks.
30…dxe5? 31.Qd5+ Ke7 32.Qxc5+ Kf6 33.Qc6+ Kg5?!
The engine votes for 33...Kg7!? 34.Qg2 Rd8 35.Bh5+ Kf6 36.Qg6+ Ke7 37.Qf7+ Kd6 38.Bxd1 e4, but there is no ruling out that with two minors vs. a rook Gunina could have even ended up winning the game. This is why Stefanova made up her mind to follow in the footsteps of Cramling by going for a repetition.
34.Qg2+ Kf6 35.Qc6+ Kg5 36.Qg2+ Kf6 37.Qc6+ Kg5 38.Qg2+ Kf6 39.Qc6+ Draw.
Alas, much to the public's grief, its favorite did go down in round six. Besides, this time the wind seemed to blow in Gunina's sails, who proved well prepared in the opening and uncorked a valuable improvement.
Paehtz – Gunina
1.e4 c6 2.Nf3 d5 3.Nc3 Bg4 4.h3 Bxf3 5.Qxf3 Nf6 6.Be2 e6 7.0–0 Bc5
There is a tradition in the Russian women's team that an interesting line in the Caro-Kann will be tried by each girl anyway! The alternative is - 8.Qg3 0–0 9.d3 (9.e5 Nfd7 10.Kh1 f6 11.exf6 Nxf6 12.d3 Nbd7 13.Be3 Qe7, as in Dzagnidze - Gunina, 2019) 9...Nbd7 (9...Bd4 10.Bg5 Nbd7 11.Kh1 Qb6, as in Jones – Riazantsev, 2011) 10.Kh1 Ne8 (10...Bd4 11.Nd1 dxe4 12.Bh6 Ne8 13.dxe4 Kh8, as in Zyuzulkina– Goryachkina, 2012) 11.f4 f5 - as has been lately tried by Girya.
Elisabeth Paehtz is demonstrating good preparation and repeating the frontline idea, tested by famous grandmasters.
A cunning ambush! The queen is eyeballing the d4-bishop, and if challenged by the e6-pawn, it switches to attacking the g7-square.
9…e5 10.Qg3 dxe4
The source game saw 10...0–0 11.d3 Qd6 12.exd5! cxd5 (12...Nxd5 13.Nxd5 cxd5 14.c3 Bb6 15.d4 is worse) 13.Nb5 Qb6 14.Nxd4 exd4 15.c3 Re8 16.Bf3, and the two bishops went on to prove their superiority over the black knights, as in Bacrot - Zelzic, 2018. The question is, why not take the central pawn?
11.d3! exd3 12.Bxd3 Nbd7 13.Ne2
Instead of restoring material balance immediately (13.Qxg7 Rg8 14.Qh6 Qe7), White is aiming at increasing initiative. Black suffered a real disaster in this position at the FIDE Grand Prix in Riga! 13...0–0? 14.Bf5! Nc5 15.Bh6 Nh5 (15...Ne8 16.c3 Qf6 17.cxd4 changes nothing) 16.Qg4 Qd6 (after 16...g6 17.Nxd4 exd4 18.Bxf8 White won the exchange) 17.Qxh5 Qxh6 18.Qxh6 gxh6 19.c3, 1-0, as in Vachier-Lagrave - Navara, 2019.
Nevertheless, Gunina is on alert with the improvement for Black.
13...Bb6! 14.Bf5 g6 15.Bxd7+ Nxd7
How is White supposed to go about the attack now? There is nothing to gain from 16.Nc3 Qe7 17.Ne4 0–0–0, which compelled Paehtz to sacrifice the exchange after a long thought.
16.Rxd7?! Kxd7 17.Bg5 Qc7 18.Rd1+ Kc8 19.Bf6 Re8 20.Nc3 Kb8 21.Ne4 a6! 22.Nd6
Black has been superb until this moment and now only needs to tuck her king away into safety! After 22...Ka7! 23.Bxe5 (23.Nxe8 Rxe8, and Black is up a pawn) 23...Rad8 24.Rd3 Qe7 25.Nxe8 Rxe8 26.Bc3 it is White who suddenly finds herself on the business end of the attack: 26…Qe2 27.Rd2 Qc4 28.b3 Re1+ 29.Kh2 Qf1. A single error enables Paehtz to reach the goal.
22…Re6 23.Bxe5 f6
23...Ka7 24.Nb5+ drops the queen, and after 23...Rxe5 24.Qxe5 Ka7 25.c4 c5 26.a3 Rd8 27.b4 Black is also in bad shape.
24.Bf4 g5 25.Qg4! gxf4
There is no avoiding the bishop take as otherwise the queen drops: 25...Re7 26.Bg3 Ka7 27.Nb5+.
26.Qxe6 f3 27.Ne4 Ka7
The endgame arising after 27...Qf4 28.g3 Qe5 29.Qxe5+ fxe5 30.Rd7 is hopeless.
29.Rxb7+! Kxb7 30.Nd6+ Qxd6
Or 30...Kc7 31.Qe7+ Kb8 32.Qb7#. Black ends up dropping the strongest piece, and the German player goes on to press her edge home with energetic play.
31.Qxd6 Rg8 32.Qd7+ Bc7 33.Qxh7!
Not losing time for things like 33.g3 Rd8.
33...Rxg2+ 34.Kf1 Rh2 35.Ke1
White manages to avoid the checkmate at the cost of all her pawns.
35…Kb8 36.Qf5 Rh1+ 37.Kd2 Rb1 38.Qxf6 a5 39.b3 Kb7 40.a4 Rg1 41.Qxf3, winning shortly after.
Despite Gunina's failure, the Russian cohort has taken a wide step forward.
Kashlinskaya – Dronavalli
White seems to be winning in an unlimited number of ways, but attains the goal most spectacularly.
In the case of 31...Nxh7 32.Rxh7 gxf5 33.gxf5 Bf7 (33...Rd6 34.Nbxd5+! Raxd5 35.Ne4# leads to a checkmate) 34.Nc6 Black is forced to give up the exchange anyway.
32.Kg3 Nxh7 33.Rxh7 Bf7
33...Rd6 is a spectacular checkmate after 34.Nbxd5+ Raxd5 35.Ne4#.
34.Nc6 Re8 35.Nxa5 bxa5 36.Nxa4
The tactical sequence has given White the material preponderance, and the attack is ongoing.
36…Re1 37.Nb6 Rg1+ 38.Kf3 Ke7
Or 38...Rf1+ 39.Ke2 Rf4 40.Nd7+ Ke7 41.Ne5, winning a piece.
39.Nxd5+, and Black could have resigned here and now.
Kateryna Lagno has demonstrated her high endgame technique on two occasions.
Lagno – Cramling
White is a lot more pleasant, but Black was comfortable after 35...f5! 36.g3 (36.h4 f4) 36...Nd7 37.Nf3 Nf6, creating counterplay.
35...a5 36.Nb3 Nc6?
This is typical error; instead, counterplay should have been sought at the kingside. 36...axb4+ 37.Kxb4 g5 38.Kb5 f5.
37.c5+! bxc5 38.b5 Ne5 39.Nxa5 Kd5
Now White has two remote passers. Suggesting itself is 40.Nb7 Nc4 41.a5, but Kashlinskaya opts for another path to victory.
40.Nb3 Nc4 41.a5 Nd6 42.b6 Kc6
Although Black has managed to engineer a sort of blockade, it is doomed.
43...g5 loses to 44.Nc4! Nxc4 45.Kxc4 g4 46.h4 f5 47.b7 Kxb7 48.Kxc5 f4 49.Kd4, and the black king is too far away.
44.Nc4 Nb7 45.Kd3 h4
45...f5 46.h4 is now too late for Black.
46.Ke4 Nxa5 47.Nxa5 Kxb6, and being up a piece is a piece of cake for White.
48.Nc4+ Kb5 49.Kd5 Kb4 50.Nd6 Kc3 51.Ke6 f5 52.Kf6 f4 53.Kxg6 Kd4 54.Kf5 Black resigns.
Stefanova – Lagno
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5 4.Nf3 Bg7 5.cxd5 Nxd5 6.Na4 Bf5 7.Nh4
This is White’s yet another attempt against the invincible Grünfeld, which our young chess leader met as follows: 7...Bd7 8.e4 e5! 9.Nf3 exd4 10.exd5 0–0 11.Be2 d3!, winning back a piece. 12.Qxd3 (12.Bxd3 Qe8+) 12...Bxa4, with a good position for Black, as in Li Chao – Nepomniachtchi, 2016.
Lagno tucks her bishop as far away as possible, which is not a solution to her opening problems though.
7…Bc8?! 8.e4 Nb4 9.Nf3 Bxd4
Black goes for a risky decision to take the central pawn at the cost of castling.
In one of the fresh games Li Chao opted for 10.Bc4 N4c6 11.Bh6, and scored a quick victory oven a Chinese master after 11…a6 12.0–0 b5 13.Bd5 e6 14.Nxd4 exd5 15.exd5 Qxd5 16.Re1+, but Stefanova must have disliked a simple 10...0–0!
10...c5 11.Bc4 N8c6 12.0–0 Be6 13.Bxe6 fxe6 14.a3 Na6 15.Rc1 e5
It is the most opportune moment to take care of the Black's king uncastled position with: 16.Qb3! Qd7 17.Bg7 0–0–0 18.Bxh8 Rxh8 19.Rfd1 with a slight material superiority and good position. Stefanova rushes to cash in.
16.Nxd4?! Qxd4 17.Nxc5 Qxd1 18.Rfxd1 Nxc5 19.Rxc5 Kf7 20.f4
The endgame is equal, which is seen, for example, after 20.f3 Rhd8 21.Rdd5; however, regretting a missed opening edge, the Bulgarian GM starts lashing out with pseudoactive moves.
20...Rhd8 21.Rcd5 Rxd5 22.exd5 Rd8 23.b4?
Taking the last step into the abyss. 23.Kf2 should have been played instead.
23...Nd4 24.fxe5 Rxd5 25.Kf2 Ke6 26.Bf4 Nc2!
The white pawns are weak, and Lagno has an easy time collecting a large harvest.
The trade of rooks gives White an extremely grim-looking endgame.
Black has the penultimate rank taken care of - 28.Rc7 Rd7.
28...Nb5 29.g4 Rd4 30.Kg3 Rxb4 31.Rh8 Nc3 32.Bh6 a5 33.Rxh7 a4
The passed pawn rushes towards the queening square, while the doomed e5-pawn does a poor job of standing in the way of own bishop.
34.Rh8 a3 35.Ra8 a2 36.Bd2 Ne4+ fails to help White either.
34...a3 35.Bg5 Nd5 36.Rh8 Ra4 White resigns.
A spectacular victory was scored by the world title challenger, who showed her deep insight into the Benoni-type of positions as White.
Goryachkina – Dronavalli
22.e5! dxe5 23.Nc4 e4?
This is giving White a free hand for the queenside operations. Anyone familiar with the legacy of Pavel Ponkratov and Vugar Gashimov will be at ease with sacrificing the exchange: 23...exf4! 24.Bxf4 Bd4+ 25.Kh1 Qd8 26.Bxb8 Qxb8 27.Qb6 Nf6, not allowing the opponent to seize the initiative.
More precise is 24.Qb6! Qxb6 25.Nxb6 to deprive the opponent of а cute resource 24...Qc6 25.Na4 (25.Rfd1 Be6) 25...Bd4 26.Ne5 Be6!, and Black is still in the game.
24...Qd8? 25.Bxc5 Be6 26.Rad1 Nf6 27.Bb6 Qd7 28.Bc7 Ra8
White has infiltrated the black camp with all his pieces, and the routine trade of queens results in destroying the Indian player’s position.
29.Qa4! Qxa4 30.Nxa4 Nd5 31.Nc5 Nxc7 32.dxc7 Rae8
There is no retaining the passed pawn any longer: 32...Bc8 33.Nb6 Ra7 34.Bc4.
33.Nb6 Bc8 34.Nxc8 Rxc8 35.Rd7 Bxb2 36.Bc4 Ba3
Either 37.Nxb7 or 37.Ne6 is winning, but Goryachkina opts for a long and forced line that gives her an extra knight.
37.Bxf7+ Rxf7 38.Rd8+ Rf8 39.Ne6 Bc5+ 40.Kh1 Be7 41.Rfd1 e3
41...Kf7 42.Rxf8+ Bxf8 43.Rd8 is absolutely hopeless, compelling Black to send her last hope into the battle.
42.Nxf8 e2 43.Nxg6+!
This is a final touch as the knight runs away with checks.
43…Kf7 44.Re1 Bxd8 45.cxd8Q Rxd8 46.Ne5+ Kg7 47.Kg1, and Dronavalli stopped the clock.
It's a pity that Alexandra Kosteniuk failed to bring her strategic masterpiece to a logical conclusion, walking into the last-minute trap set by her stubborn opponent.
Kosteniuk – Koneru
White is up two pawns, but Black is active. Meanwhile, White should be on the alert for many a drawn positions lurking behind the corner. The Russian player's reasoning of trading her passed pawn for the opponent’s rook pawn was correct, but the idea’s execution failed her. This said, 45.Rb5? Rxg2+! is an immediate draw.
45.b5? Kg5 46.Kg3
46.b6+ Kh4 47.Ra6 Rb4 48.g3+ Kg5 brings nothing.
46...Rb3+ 47.Kh2 h4 48.Kg1 Kf4 49.b6 Rxb6 50.Rh5 Rb4!
How cunning – 51.Rхh4 Kg3 52.Rхb4 results in a stalemate!
51.Kh2 Ke3, and the game ended in a draw.
Much stronger was 45.Ra6! Rxb4 (or 45...Kg5 46.Rb6, improving the rook's position) 46.g3+ Kg5 47.h4+ Kf5 48.Rh6 Kg4 49.Rg6+ Kf3 50.Rg5 Rb2+ 51.Kh3 Rb1 52.Rf5+, doing away with the proud h5-pawn.
Aleksandra Goryachkina and Kateryna Lagno are sharing second with Humpy Koneru (with 4 out of 6), while Valentina Gunina is in the share of fifth with her offender Elisabeth Paehtz. However, the reigning world champion is not in the idle mode - Ju Wenjun has won two more games and is now in the clear first place with 4.5.
Ju Wenjun – Kashlinskaya
1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e5 Ne7 5.a3 Bxc3+ 6.bxc3 c5 7.Qg4 Kf8 8.h4 Qa5 9.Bd2 Qa4 10.h5 h6 11.Rh3 Nbc6 12.Qf4 b6 13.Rf3 Nd8
And here a strange thing happened as everyone, including one of Alina’s coaches Lev Psakhis, had opted for the exchange of queens. 14...Qxf4 15.Rxf4 bxc5 16.Be3 (16.c4 Ndc6 17.Nf3 g5 18.hxg6 Nxg6 19.Rg4 Ncxe5 20.Nxe5 Nxe5 21.Rh4 h5 22.Be2 Ba6 23.cxd5 Bxe2 24.Kxe2 exd5 25.Rah1 Re8 with equality, as in Dominguez - Pogorelov, 2001 )16...c4 17.Rb1 (17.Nf3 Ke8 18.Kd2 Ndc6 19.Rg4 Nf5 20.Bc5 Rb8 21.a4 Bd7, as in Kulaots - Sumets, 2003, and Black had no problems standing his ground) 17...Ndc6 18.Nf3 g5! 19.hxg6 Nxg6 20.Rg4 Kg7 21.Nh4 Bd7 22.Nxg6 fxg6 23.Rb7 Rhd8 24.Be2 Rab8 25.Rc7 Rbc8 26.Rb7 Rb8=, as in Atlas - Psakhis, 1992.
As opposed to it, Alina went for it by capturing the c2-pawn.
14…Qxc2 15.Bd3 Qb2 16.Rb1 Qxa3 17.cxb6 axb6 18.Rxb6?!
“White needs to complete his development, and then the h8-rook is going to be Black's undoing (S.Shipov). 18.Ne2 fits this wise thought of the main commentator more than anything else.
Missing a brilliant opportunity 18...Ra4! 19.Rb4 Qa1+ to put up fight to yet underdeveloped army of White.
19.Rb1 Qa2 20.Ne2 Ba6
20...Ra4 is now late because of 21.Nd4.
An interesting practical opportunity - the Russian is going to sac the queen. After 21...Qa5 22.c4 Qc7 23.Bb4 dxc4 24.Be4 the misplaced h8-rook, mentioned by Shipov, has no say against the increasing White’s offensive.
22.Nxa2 Bxb1 23.Nb4 Be4 24.Rg3 Nf5 25.Rg4 Kg8
25...Ra1+ 26.Ke2 gives nothing to Black.
With White having a substantial superiority at the critical part of the board, the world champion launches an attack without delay.
27.Qh2! Kh7 28.Rf4 Ra1 29.Kf2 Ba2 30.g4 Ne7 31.Qh4 Re8 32.g5 Nf5
32...Bc4 33.gxh6 is no better than that, and Ju Wenjun sacrifices the exchange to carry out a decisive breakthrough.
33.Rxf5! exf5 34.gxh6 Bc4
Also, grim-looking is 34...gxh6 35.Qf6.
This is a resignation, although the alternative 35...Ne6 36.Qf6 Kg8 37.h6 is no better than that.
36.Qxd8 Re2+ 37.Kg3 Kxg7 38.Bg5 Re6 39.h6+ Kh7 40.Qf8 Rg1+ 41.Kf4 Black resigns.
Is there any Russian player to stop the unbeatable Chinese? I am looking forward to it! The next round has the world champion pitted against Valentina Gunina. There is yet a lot of fight ahead of us with only half a tournament behind!