15 November 2018

One Match at the Prize of Three

Maxim Notkin reviews quarterfinals of the Women's World Championship

Participants returned to the second round’s pattern: the outcomes of two games were determined in the regular time, while the other two went into tie-breaks. The time for sensations was over – only famous players whose chess strength had long been known, qualified for semi-finals. 


The best player of the round was Lagno who had shut out Lei Tingjie. In the first game, the Chinese was unprepared for a rare scheme in the Petroff Defense that Grischuk had recently employed in a couple of his blitz games. She relinquished space and obtained passive position; exchange of the queens served only to add to her problems. The Russian player was building her pressure smoothly, and when her rooks invaded the 7thrank, Black’s position became critical. White’s only inaccuracy on the move 40 allowed her opponent to prolong resistance, but not for long. 

In the second game, Lagno played actively during transition from opening to middle game and, by launching her pawn assault on the left area of the board, gained quite a good play. After opening of the center, tactical complications began, where Lei was unable to retain material balance.


Lei Tingjie - K. Lagno


29.Rc1? White cannot play 29.Rxc2 immediately because of 29...Re8 (but not 29...Bxe2 30.Bc5); however, she was able to eliminate that annoying pawn through 29.Bc3!, planning to meet 29...f4 with unexpected retort 30.Qa7!, and Black would have to be distracted with defense of the g7-square.

29...Re8. Stronger is 29...Rb3!, and after 30.Qf2 (if 30.Bc3 Qxd2, then Black is left with an extra knight) 30...Rxb2! 31.Bc3 Qxd2 32.Bxd2 Rxd2 33.Qe1 Rd1 34.Rxd1 cxd1Q 35.Qxd1 Rxe2, pieces are stronger than queen. 

30.Ba7. And here White should have changed routes for her queen and bishop! After 30.Qc3 Bxe2 31.Ba7, she regains both the exchange and the c2-pawn with roughly equal chances.

30...Qb4! 31.Qd4. Relatively better is 31.Qc3 Qxc3 32.Nxc3 Rb7 33.Bc5 Bb3 with an unpleasant position despite material equality on the board. 

31...Rxe2. Also wins 31...Rbd8 32.Qxd8 Rxd8 33.Rxd8+ Kh7 – both the knight and the b2-pawn hang, and 34.Rxc2 runs into 34...Qe1#. 

32.Rxe2 Bxe2 33.Qd5+ Kh7 34.Bxb8. 


34...Qb6+! A splendid maneuver! Every other move throws away the advantage.

35.Kh1 Qe3!?A quicker and more elegant way to finish the matter is 35...Bd1!, and only then Qe3.

36.Bf4. After 36.Rxc2 Bd3!, weakness of the last rank leaves its mark.

36...Qxf4 37.Rxc2 Qxa4!The last touch. 

38.Rc1 Qf4 39.Re1 Bb5. Combinational storm calmed down, and Black won easily. 


On the second day, it seemed that the reigning Champion of the World would be the first to qualify for semifinals. The day before, Tokhirjonova held out with Black rather confidently; however, while playing with White in the opposite castled position, she gave up the initiative quickly. 


G. Tokhirjonova – Ju Wenjun


Black is already a pawn up, and her precisely calculated combinational maneuver allows her to magnify her material advantage considerably. 

17...Nd5!18.Bxe6, stressing shakiness of the “bishop-on-f5+knight-on-h4” construction.  If 18.g3 Bxh4 19.Bxe6 Bg5 20.f4 Rxe6 21.fxg5 Qxg5, then White is two pawns down in a cheerless endgame; 18.Rxe6 would be met with the text thrust.

18...Bg5! 19.f4. After 19.Be3 Nxe3 20.fxe3 Bxh4, both bishop and rook are under fire. 

19...Bxf4 20.Bxf7+ Kxf7 21.Ref1 Re1+!A powerful blow, after which some sensitive persons would have resigned on the spot. 

22.Rxe1 Bxd2+ 23.Kxd2 Qg5+ 24.Kd1. Now the toughest move was 24...c5, but Ju was late with it, and the inventive Uzbek girl went for complications by sacrificing the bishop that her opponent had neglected to eliminate in time. The World Champion failed to cope with this reversal of the situation immediately and threw away almost all her advantage. However, on the technical stage she was able to “re-win” the game. First, she had gained a knight for her passed pawn, then coordinated her forces by exploiting the opponent’s inaccuracies and managed to keep the only remaining Black pawn alive.  


In the regular games, both Kosteniuk and A. Muzychuk demonstrated their excellent opening preparation and made two academic draws. 

In the first 25-minute tiebreaker, the discussion in the Chelyabinsk Variation continued. Having obtained a favorable change of the pawn structure, the former Champion of the World got carried away with the idea of an attack on the kingside, and lost coordination of her pieces. Her threats to the king had dwindled away to nothing, and Black’s central passed pawn was more than adequate compensation for the one she had given up. However, at this moment, Muzychuk made two bad moves in a raw, and her main trump was eliminated. 

Kosteniuk attempted to benefit from her achievements immediately and gave the opponent a chance to escape. 


А. Kosteniuk – A. Muzychuk

39...Be7! 40.Qxe7 Rcxf2?The previous move would be justified by another capture: 40...Rfxf2! 41.Rxf2 Rxf2. If 42.Rg3, then Black sacrifices her rook to boot and gives perpetual check: 42...Qb1+ 43.Kxf2 Qc2+ 44.Kf3 Qd1+ 45.Ke3 Qxb3+ – the king has nowhere to hide. Attempts at successfully combining offense with defense fail, for example, 42.Qd8+ Kh7 43.Rg3 Rd2, and it is already White who has to force a draw with 44.Rxg7+ Kxg7 45.Qe7+. 

And in the game there followed 41.Qxf8+! Rxf8 42.Rxf8+ Kh7 43.Rf1, and Kosteniuk cashed in on her material advantage. 

In the return game, her reaction to the Dutch Defense Reversed employed by her Ukrainian opponent was far from perfect, so Kosteniuk found herself in a highly unpleasant situation. Undaunted, the former Champion of the World kept searching for resources to continue the struggle. After mutual inaccuracies, the opponents came to an endgame where White completely dominated in spite of the lack of a pawn. Kosteniuk managed to find the best practical chance: she gave up her knight that kept brooding hopelessly on the edge of the board, and activated the rest of her pieces. Muzychuk lost the thread of the game and parted with both her second-to-last pawn and her hopes for a win. In the ending, the Russian had opportunities to realize her extra pawn but was content with a draw that was her pass to semifinals. 


In the duel M. Muzychuk vs. Abdumalik, there were more games played than in all other matches combined. 

In the first regular game, the former World Champion emerged from the opening with an initiative but, after Black had sacrificed a pawn for the sake of opening files, she started missing combinational blows. 


M. Muzychuk - Z. Abdumalik


27.Qb5?!The strongest continuation is 27.Qd4 Rxc5+ 28.Qxc5 Qa1+ 29.Kc2 Qa4+, and here the engine still hopes for an advantage after 30.Kd2 Nf6 31.Re1 Rd8+ 32.Ke2, transferring her king from one flank to another under hostile fire. 

27...Rf5! Cross-pins always look so captivating!

28.Bf2. The only defense. 

28...Qe6 29.Rd3?The only guarantee against material losses is 29.Rd2. 

29...Rfxc5+ 30.Bxc5 Qe1+ 31.Kc2. Or 31.Rd1 Qe3+ with similar outcome. 

31...Qf2+ 32.Kb3 Qxc5 33.Qxc5 Rxc5, and Abdumalik, who had an extra piece, proceeded to win easily.


The struggle in the second game was also complex, and the Kazakhstani player managed to win the exchange. However, Black’s bishop pair was an adequate compensation for this and, after Abdumalik’s rook got tangled in the enemy back ranks during her attempt to prevent her opponent’s counterplay on the queenside, Muzychuk restored material equality and accurately utilized her positional plusses. 


In the first 25-minute game, she again showed both her skill and her self-possession in a complicated endgame. When the crunch came, Abdumalik failed to find an interesting defensive idea. 


Z. Abdumalik - M. Muzychuk

After 48.f5 Bxb4, White was left a pawn down and lost the game. However, after cool-headed 48.Re1!, Black has no improving continuations, and in the variation 48...Bxb4 49.Re5+ c5 50.dxc5 f6!? (both 50...Bxc5 51.Rxc5+ and 50...Bxd2  51.c6+ lead to material losses, while 50...Ra3+ 51.Kb2 does not promise any advantage) 51.Re4! (after 51.Rxh5?, the continuation 51...Bxd2 52.c6+ f5 already works) 51...Ra3+ 52.Kb2 Bxc5 53.Rxe6, the material balance is retained. 


Muzychuk was unable to hold her lead. There were many adventures in the game that continued for 90 moves. After the opening, the Ukrainian’s position was dubious, so she opted for a piece sacrifice in order to create pawn center.  At the proper moment, Abdumalik carried out an exchange combination and obtained a clear edge with her two pieces for a rook; but later she gave counter-chances to her opponent, and it was already White who had her reasons to play for a win in the endgame with an outside passed pawn. However, Muzychuk allowed the exchange of her main trump, and Black once again turned to be a stronger side in the position with pawns on the same flank. She carried out a carefully prepared advance of her edge pawn and, after White’s error that followed immediately, eliminated the main obstacle on its path to a queening square with her dynamic rook maneuver. 

The first 10-minute tiebreaker is sure to make a place for it both in the books on chess curiosities and in textbooks for chess arbiters. The quality of play was high enough with an exception of a mutual slipup in the opening, when an artless attack against black bishop could have run into quite an obvious sacrifice that would leave her with considerable advantage. After long maneuvers typical for hedgehog structures, Abdumalik carried out a breakthrough in the center; however, this allowed Muzychuk to gain a long-lasting edge in the endgame. Eventually, everything boiled down to a theoretically drawn rook-and-knight-versus-rook ending, but tension and tiredness made their presence felt here. Black made a fateful error, and her king got into mating net. It was then that Abdumalik missed her final and rather absurd chance. 


M. Muzychuk - Z. Abdumalik

Mate is inevitable, so the Kazakhstani player resigned. However, after 135...Rf1 136.Re8+, there is still no mate on the board but check only, and White’s latest capture has happened on the move 86. Thus, adrawbythe50-moverule!


And even after such a defeat, the younger chess player managed to bounce back once again. In the second 10-minute tiebreaker, Muzychuk made a strategic error in the level middle game position, which led to an appearance of a backward pawn in her camp. An attempt at improving this positional defect resulted in a deadly pin on the black rook.


Both players’ nerves were frayed, and in the first blitz game Muzychuk promptly lost a pawn with White; Abdumalik returned the favor by overlooking a standard blow. Black’s king that was stuck in the center found itself in a pretty pickle, and she was left a piece down.  

The former Champion of the World obtained a comfortable play with Black and, in spite of her couple of inaccuracies, generally remained in control. In a position was that already clearly better, she first destroyed the enemy king’s cover with her rook sacrifice and then forced a draw that was equal to a victory for her.