11 June 2019

Getting into a Rhythm

Maxim Notkin analyzes Rounds 7-9 of the FIDE Women's Candidates Tournament 

Seven players fight each other with varying success, and they all lose to Goryachkina. No wonder that under such circumstances the leader keeps running away.


Prior to the third rest day, the candidates came very close to making a drawless round again, however, the longest game of the day ended peacefully, thus breaking a pleasant tradition. However, another tradition remains – Aleksandra keeps printing her norm of 2.5/3.


In the 7th round, playing against Mariya Muzychuk, she was forced to spend several hours defending. Having lost a central pawn in the middlegame, Goryachkina missed a chance to create problems for the opponent and transposed to an ending with compensation in form of an active rook. However, a slight inaccuracy of the leader allowed Black to free her pieces and keep an extra pawn.


A. Goryachkina – M. Muzychuk


White can regain a pawn by 31.Rc7, but it allows Black to activate her rook. After 31...Rd8 32.Rxa7 Rd1 33.Rxa6 Rxc1 an equal rook ending arises. 31.a4 deprives Black's bishop of the b5-square. 31.a3, which happened in the game, is lacking any of the benefits mentioned above.

31...c5 32.Ke3?! c4 33.b4. If White had a pawn onа4, the text move would keep her the initiative. Now Black is able to rearrange her pieces. 

33...Bb5 34.Rb7 Bc6. It is better to keep the с4-pawn, as it supports rook invasion on d3. Say,34...a6 35.Ne2 Rc8 (more accurate than35...Rd8 36.Nd4) 36.Nc3(36.Nd4? c3!) 36...Bc6 37.Rb6 Bxg2 38.Rxa6 Rd8 leads to a double-edged game on both flanks, in which a bishop is superior to a knight.

35.Rc7 Bxg2 36.Rxc4 Bf1 37.Rc7 a5 38.Kf2.



38…axb4!? 39.Kxf1 bxa3 40.Rc2 is likely to be stronger objectively, and if 40...Rb8, then 41.Nd3, but it is a difficult decision to make in the time trouble.

After 39.axb4 Bb5 the struggle continued with the material intact. A few moves later Mariya made a mistake by trading the minor pieces. In the resulting took ending Aleksandra advanced her passed pawn, supported in with the king and secured a draw.


In the next two games, Goryachkina defeated her compatriots.


Against Kosteniuk, she utilized barely noticeable inaccuracies of the ex-World champion, gaining spatial advantage and better pieces.


A. Goryachkina – A. Kosteniuk


24...f6?! White's excellent reply will underscore the disadvantages of this move. Black should try to hold without altering the structure. After 24...Bb6 25.e5 (25.Bxb6 Nxb6 26.e5 Bc6 gives black pieces more elbow room) 25...Bxd4 26.Rxd4 Black has an active option of 26...Qc5. The most principled 27.Rxd7 Bxd7 28.Qd3 g6 29.Qxd7 leads to a much sharper game: 29...Rd8 30.Qa4 Qxe5 (30...Rd4!?; but not 30...Rd2? in view of 31.Qf4).

25.Ba2 Bf7 26.e5! fxe5. 26...f5 is too depressing, but now the e6-pawn becomes a permanent weakness.

27.Bxe5 Nxe5 28.Qxe5.


After 28...b5 29.Ne4 the knight is rampaging. The e6-pawn was soon destroyed, and Goryachkina scored a deserved victory.

Why Kosteniuk did not retreat the bishop? After 28...Bd8 White rearranges the rooks and keeps pushing. 28...Bb6 is clearly bad because of 29.Nd5!, and 28...Bc7 seems to fail for the same reason. However, this is where it gets complicated, as 29.Nd5 is met by the saving trick 29...Qd6. Yet, after 30.Qxd6 Bxd6 31.Rxc8+ Rxc8 32.Nf6+ gxf6 33.Rxd6 Black has to suffer in the endgame. The pawn ending after 33...Rc6 34.Rxc6 bxc6 35.b4 e5 36.Bb1 Bg6 37.Bxg6 hxg6 38.h4! is lost, the bishop ending looks highly unpleasant, so perhaps the best option is to give up a pawn at once by 33...е5and try to survive with the rooks.

And as for the diagrammed position, the most patient defenders may consider trading on c3 twice followed by Rd8.


V. Gunina – A. Goryachkina


In a rare variation of the Caro-Kann, White weakened her base without creating serious problems for her opponent. Valentina, being true to her style, continued to advance on all fronts.

15.b4. Now the black queen swiftly transfers to another side of the board.

15...Qd8 16.Bb3 Qh4+. Giving up theg4-pawn is the lesser of evils, and 17.Kf1 is a better option as well.

After17.Kd1? the game could have ended very quickly, if Aleksandra played 17...0-0-0! 18.Bd2


18...Nxe5! 19.fxe5 (19.Qxe5 Qf2 20.Qe2 Rxd2+ 21.Qxd2 Rd8 is no different) 19...Rxd2+ 20.Qxd2 (20.Kxd2 Rd8+ 21.Kc1 Qg5+ 22.Kb2 Rd2+) 20...Rd8.The rooks got stuck on the initial squares and cannot help other defenders.

However, the reserved 17...Rd8 18.Bd2 h5 19.f5 exf5 20.e6 Nf6 21.exf7+ Kf8 did not make White's king's life any easier. 

The Muzychuk sisters managed to get a plus score during this stretch, thanks to their victories prior to the rest day.


Anna received a gift from Nana Dzagnidze.


N. Dzagnidze – A. Muzychuk


In this complicated and very non-standard position Black is better mobilized, but White has sufficient resources to hold the balance.

A semi-forced variation 19.Bf7 Rf8 20.Nd5 Bd6 21.Ne3 Bg6 (21...Be4 22.f5) 22.Bxg6 hxg6 23.Rxg6 exf4 24.Rxd6 fxe3 25.Bxe3 Rf3 26.Re1 Re8 27.Rd3 Ne5 (27...Rh3) 28.Rc3 Ng4 29.Bd2 leads to a complete exhaustion of forces.

Nana reasoned that she should also complete the development, and her activity will compensate for a pawn.

19.Bd2?! exf4 20.Rf1 Be5! A very important intermediate move. After 20...Rf8 21.Bxf4 Bxf4 22.Rxf4 Bc2+ 23.Kxc2 Rxf4 24.Nb5 Black's central pieces are immobilized, and White has good compensation for an exchange. If the rook leaves the 7th rank, then after 21.Rg5 Rf8 22.Bxf4? (accepting a pawn loss is the only way to keep fighting) 22...Bxf4 23.Rxf4 Bc2+ 24.Kxc2 Rxf4 Black is in time to retreat the knight and parry all threats.

The variations shown above were probably the reason why Dzagnidze went for 21.Rf7?, but the planned 21...Rf8 22.Bxf4 never happened, as Muzychuk replied by 21...Bg6!, trapping the rook.



White's desperate resistance was fruitless.


The following disastrous game played the day before is an even better indication that something went horribly wrong for the Georgian after an excellent start.


Tan Zhongyi – N. Dzagnidze


The queen sacrifice was unforced, perhaps even dubious, but it created practical chances, partly thanks to the opponent's cooperation. The outcome after 29...Rb4 30.Rxc4 Rxb5 is absolutely unclear. However, Black decided to grab the pawn at once.

29...Rxb5? 30.Rxg6+! fxg6 31.Qxc4+ Bd5 32.Qxb5 Bxa2 33.Nd3, and defending against a queen and a knight with such an exposed king is hopeless. Now we can see why the computer disliked g7-g6 three moves back, suggesting Bf8 instead!

The Chinese lost two other games during the stretch, and the opponent's light-squared bishop played the key role in both of them.


M. Muzychuk – Tan Zhongyi



After 18.Bc4 Tan missed a good moment for a typical simplification: 18...Bxc4 19.Nxc4 d5 20.Ncxe5 (20.exd5 Qxd5 с идеей 21.e4 Nxe4!) 20...Nxe5 21.Nxe5 Qd6 – Black defends against the fork and will soon regain the e4-pawn.

18...Nd7? 19.Bb5! The bishop survives and is going to bring Black a lot of trouble.

19...Ndb8?! The game structure could be achieved with more active pieces by 19...Rc7 20.d4 bxc3 21.bxc3 cxd4 22.cxd4 exd4 23.exd4 d5 24.e5 Nb6.

20.d4 bxc3 21.bxc3 cxd4 22.exd4 exd4 23.Nxd4 Nxd4 24.cxd4 d5 25.e5 f6 26.Qe3 Raf7.


27.Nf3. Mariya weakens her grip. Coming from another direction is a lot more dangerous: 27.Nb3 Nd7 28.Rac1, also aiming at the a5-pawn.

27...Nd7 28.exf6 Rxf6 29.Ng5 Bf5. Tan, in turn, fails to utilize another simplifying option: 29...Rxf1+ 30.Bxf1 (30.Rxf1 Rxf1+ 31.Kxf1 Bf7) 30...Bf5.

30.Rae1 Rg6. The endgame after 30...h6 31.Rxf5 Rxf5 32.Ne6 Qe7 33.Nxf8 Qxe3+ 34.Rxe3 Nxf8 35.g3 is unattractive, however, an attempt to improve the idea backfires.

31.h4 h6 32.Rxf5! Rxf5 33.Bd3 Rfxg5. White dominates after 33...Rff6 34.Bxg6 Rxg6 35.Qe8+ Qxe8 36.Rxe8+ Nf8 37.Nf3.

34.hxg5 Rd6. The Chinese was probably too late to notice that 34...Rxg5 runs into the crushing 35.Qe6+! Kf8 (35...Kh8 36.Qe8+) 36.Qd6+.

35.Qe8+ Nf8 36.Qxd8 Rxd8 37.g6!



The nail on g6 is demoralizing. Black missed her only chance to keep fighting by 37...Nd7 38.Re6 Nf6 and lost quickly.


V. Gunina – Tan Zhongyi



There were ups and downs in the earlier game, but all in all the initiative belonged to White. In the diagrammed position, Black, despite being a pawn up, still needs to worry about survival. 

37...Na4?! After 37...Na6! 38.Rf7+ Ke8 39.Rxg7 Nb4 the knight gets closer to the action.

38.Bb3 Nb2. 38...Nb6 is bad, as White wins a bishop after 39.Rb7 Nc8 40.Rb8. 

39.Rf7+ Ke8 40.Rxg7 h5 41.Rh7 (41.Ke4!?) 41...Rh3 42.Kf3 Rh2. The rook was in danger: 42...Nd3? 43.Bf7+ (not 43.Kg2? Nxf4+) 43...Kf8 44.Kg2.

43.Ke4 Rh3 44.Be6!? Gunina gives up last but one pawn and activates her pieces to the max.

44...Rxg3 45.Kf5 Rf3. Preventing a capture on f6.




46...Rf1? Black fails to realize that White switched the target. There was hope after 46...Ra3 47.Kxf6 Kd8 48.Be6 Rd3 49.f5 Na4, and the knight finally comes back into play. 

47.Ke6! Kd8 (47...Kf8 48.f5) 48.Kd6 Re1 49.Rb7. This move wins even without a knight and pawns, and here it forced an immediate resignation.

To conclude the story let us examine a draw with an unusual fighting pattern.


A. Kosteniuk – A. Muzychuk



The former World Champion tried to revive an old opening discussion with an exchange sacrifice, but it did not bring her fruit. 

27...Rf5! Black attacked on е5 once more, and after 28.Qxb7 she is ready to take it together with a knight. The meager28.Re1 fails to impress – Anna could continue in her style by 28...Qf2 29.Re2 Qf4+, transposing to an endgame, while the engines suggest a more subtle regrouping – 28...Qa5 29.Re3 Nc5 30.Qxc4 Nxa4 31.Nxa4 Rxe5 32.Qc7 Rf8.

Alexandra's reply is actually a successful bluff.

28.Nd5?! Nxd6? The unperturbed 28...Rdf8! forces White to part with a pawn, ending up in a hopeless position. The text move implies that Black only expected 29.exd6 Rxd5. 



The queen is immune, the pawn is indirectly protected as well: 29...Rxe5? 30.Ng6+! hxg6 31.Qh4+; 29...Qxe5+? 30.Qxe5 Rxe5 31.Nc6. However, the exchange of crafty jabs is not over yet.

29...Qc7!? 30.Qh4! Falling into a discovered check is too dangerous: 30.exd6? Rxd6 31.Qa8+ Rd8+.

30...Nf7 31.Ng6+. That was the right time to simplify things: 31.Rxd8+ Nxd8 32.Nxf5 exf5 33.Kh1 with a play similar to the game. The text gives Black a chance. 

31...Kg8 32.Ne7+ Kh8 33.Ng6+ Kg8 34.Ne7+ Kf8 35.Rxd8+ Nxd8 36.Ng6+.



36...Kg8. After 36...Kf7! 37.Qxh7 Rg5 38.Nh8+ Ke7 39.Ng6+ Rxg6 40.Qxg6 Qxe5+ Black keeps an extra pawn, and her king is secure. 

37.Ne7+ Kf8 38.Ng6+ Kg8 39.Ne7+ Kf7 40.Nxf5 exf5 41.Kh1.

White's activity compensates for a missing pawn, and after some consideration Anna played 41...Qxe5, forcing a draw by 42.Qxd8 Qe1+ 43.Kh2 Qe5+.