21 January 2020

Pacific Rim

Dmitry Kryakvin’s report on games 5-8 of the Women's World Championship Match


The second third of the match fully justified the strategy adopted by the Russian runner-up’s headquarters. While in the first four games Aleksandra was pressing, and the champion defending brilliantly and managing to capitalize on the only scoring chance that came her way, the second 4-game segment marked complete domination of Goryachkina. It all comes to will power, talent and pressure of a young girl contesting the world crown, but there is no unmentioning of excellent work of her assistants. As in the Candidates tournament, Aleksandra's most effective opening schemes are in perfect alignment with her athletic style. However, it is too early to celebrate yet as after the rest day Ju Wenjun will have to “wake up” and show her outstanding strong-willed qualities.

While the opponents were on the move from Shanghai to Vladivostok, there happened quite a few noteworthy events. Alas, a sad Iranian hijab story continues to gain momentum as chief arbiter of the match refused to return to her homeland, and they say that most talented Iranians dream of following in Firouzja’s footsteps as well. You will find more about this subject in Eteri Kublashvili’s blog dedicated to the fight for the world title.



Following the shifts in the Russian government, a bunch of various memes appeared on the Internet, and it was not without pleasure I found one dedicated to chess, in which Goryachkina and Ju are playing out a lengthy endgame position, and the legend reads: “Hey, hold out there even if queens are missing.” In a classical interpretation, there was also a line about good mood, and after the first of her victories a usually stern and restrained Goryachkina was literally glowing with happiness at a press conference. She managed to break through the champion's magical defenses!

Goryachkina – Ju Wenjun

Game 5

English Opening

1.c4 Nf6 2.Nc3 e6 3.e4 d5 4.cxd5 exd5 5.e5 Ne4 6.Nf3 Bf5

Introduced by Igor Lysyj and Alexander Riazantsev, this curious move debuted in 2012-2013 as Black aims at immediately solving the bishop problem. First, at Vadim Zvjaginsev's serve, White reacted exclusively with 7.Be2, but the Chinese found the move 7...d4!, which provides Black with decent play.

Looking for improvements, such players as Eljanov, Ponkratov and Kryakvin even resorted to tricky 7.a3 in this position. However, the seventh move with the d-pawn is likely the strongest.

7.d3 Nxc3 8.bxc3 c5 9.d4


White has set up a strong center and, having grabbed space, is dreaming of grabbing even more by setting in motion his f-pawn later in the game. In his turn, Black's play should be very precise and directed against White’s center.


The mainline is 9...Nc6, successfully championed by the young Russian grandmaster Andrey Esipenko. 10.Bd3 Bxd3 11.Qxd3 cxd4 12.Nxd4 (Black has nothing to worry about after 12.cxd4 Bb4+ 13.Bd2 Bxd2+ 14.Qxd2 0–0) 12...Nxd4 13.cxd4 (13.Qxd4 Be7 14.0–0 0–0 15.Rd1 Qc8 16.Be3 Rd8 17.Qd3 Bc5 with equality, as in Grandelius – Esipenko, 2018) 13...Bb4+ 14.Ke2 0–0 15.Rb1 Ba5 16.Ba3 Re8 17.Rxb7. White is up a pawn, but Black is still in his books with 17…Qc8! 18.Rb3 Qg4+ 19.Kf1 Bb6 20.Bb2 Rac8 21.h3 Qe4! 22.Qxe4 dxe4, and the endgame gravitates towards a draw. 23.Ke2 Rc2+ 24.Ke3 Rxe5 25.Rxb6 axb6 26.dxe5 Rxb2 27.Rd1 Kf8 28.Rd2 Rb4 29.a3 Rb3+ 30.Kxe4 Rxa3 31.Rb2 Ra6 32.Kf5 b5 33.Rxb5 Ra2 34.Rb8+, draw, as in Wang Hao – Esipenko, 2019.

It is, of course, unlikely that Goryachkina went for the game without a double check in this direction, and Ju should have remembered exactly all lines from the Novocherkassk master’s preparation. The Chinese made an interesting alternative move, employed by the leader of the Chinese chess Ding Liren.

10.Bd2 Nc6 11.c4

You want to disturb the queen, because after 11.Be2 Be7 12.0–0 0–0 13.a4 Rac8, as in Nakamura – Ding Liren, 2018, White is about to get a worse position.

11...Qd8 12.Qb3 Be4

A reliable 12...Be6 was seen in a recent duel between Nepomniachtchi and Anand, but the Chinese champion quickly made a more ambitious move, tested in a recent game in the Chinese league. Black sacrifices a pawn.

13.Qxb7 Rc8

Here Goryachkina already burned enough time while recalling the nuances of the position. Here the Russian champion played 14.Ng5 Be7 15.Nxe4 dxe4 16.d5 Nxe5 17.Qb5+ Qd7 18.Rb1 Qxb5 19.Rxb5 Kd7 20.Bc3 (20.Rb7+ Kd6 21.Bf4 f6) 20...Bf6 21.Kd2 Ng4 (22.Bxf6 Nxf6 23.Be2 Kd6 24.Rhb1 Rc7 25.Ke3, and got advantage in the endgame, as in Tomashevsky – Chen, 2019; however, suggesting itself is 21...Rb8! 22.Rb3 Rb6 with a solid position.

Ju fell victim of a well-known phenomenon when a substantial number of positions to be committed to memory going into the game often comes with overlooking the most “human” replies. Thus, Vladimir Tukmakov dwells on this in his new book “Play (not) Like a Computer”.

14.Bg5 Be7 15.Bxe7 Nxe7 16.Qb5+

Alexandra’s sequence looks very logical as she traded pieces and brought the queen back into the game, but it turned out that this line either was not or was superficially analyzed by the Chinese headquarters. The engine is optimistic for Black after 16...Rc6 or even 16...Kf8 (ChessPro), but the Chinese wanted to shift the brunt of the battle into the endgame once again.

16…Qd7?! 17.cxd5 Bxd5 18.Qxd7+ Kxd7 19.Bb5+ Ke6?

Black has superb compensation for the pawn after 19...Kc7 20.dxc5 Rhd8, 19...Nc6 20.dxc5 Ke6 or 19...Kd8, and it should be a draw with precise defense. However, keeping in mind 100-move tortures from Goryachkina, Wenjun tried to play as precisely as possible and placed her king in danger instead.

20.Ng5+ Kf5 


Even stronger is 21.f4! Kxf4 22.Nxf7 (ChessPro), and Black is in dire straights; in the game the Chinese player came up with an interesting exchange sacrifice.


The engine votes for 21...Kg6 22.Bd3+ Kh6 (22...Kh5) or 21...Nc6 22.Bd3+ Kf4 23.g3+ Kg4, but a human would think that in case of getting checkmated the endgame would definitely enter all textbooks to come out in the near future.

22.Bd7+ Kxe5 23.Bxc8 Rxc8

White is up an exchange, but Black has a passer and his active pieces.


More precise is 24.Kd2, bringing the king in the center! Now Black has sufficient compensation.

24...Kd6 25.Rfe1 Rc2 26.a3

26.Nxh7 Bxa2 27.Ng5 Nc6 is not safe because with pawns running down the board on opposite flanks, the bishop may prove even more efficient than the rook.


26...Ng6! 27.Rad1 Nf4 was looking great, and White may take on d4 only by giving back the exchange.

27.Ne4+ Bxe4 28.Rxe4 Nc6 29.h5 



Overlooking White's rejoinder, while after 29...Kd5 30.Re8 (there is no time for 30.Rg4 d3) 30...d3 31.Rd1 Rc3 there arises a complex double-edged ending.

30.Rf4! gxh5

With 30...Ke6? failing to 31.Re1+, Black has to agree to have his kingside pawn chain compromised.


Also falling victim to excitement and nerves! In lieu of a prophylactic 31.Rd1 Goryachkina rushed to grab material, giving her opponent an amazing opportunity to save the game.

31...d3 32.Rd1 d2 33.Rf3 Ne5 34.Rf4 


34...Nc4 35.Kf1 Ke5 36.Rh4 Nb2 would have been a draw as White has to give back the exchange: 37.Ke2 Nxd1 38.Kxd1 Ra2 39.Rxh5+ Ke4 40.Rxh6 Rxa3 41.Rd6 Ra1+ 42.Kxd2 Ra2+ 43.Ke1 a5. Black pieces are active, coupled with a remote passer, and White is not in time to set her connected passed pawns in motion.

35.Kf1 Ke5 36.Rf3 Na5 37.Ke2

With the white king having taken the passed pawn under control, the rest is a matter of technique.

37…Nc4 38.Rh3 Ra2 39.Rxh5+ Kd4 40.Rh4+ Kc5 41.Rh3 a5

Alas, Black cannot even take the a3-pawn, while White starts pushing their own pawns toward the queening squares.

42.f4 Kd5 43.Rf3 Ke6 44.g4 a4 45.Rh3 Kd5 46.f5 Ke5 47.Rc3

The black king is unable to defend his knight and stop the passing f-pawn at the same time.

47…Nxa3 48.Rc5+ Kd6 49.f6 Nc2 50.Rc4 Na3 51.Rf4 Black resigns.

The world champion was seemingly discouraged. In a timid attempt to get around the Berlin ending in the following game, the ended up in a worse position as White.

Ju Wenjun – Goryachkina

Game 6

Ruy Lopez

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6 4.0–0 Nxe4 5.Re1 Nd6 6.Nxe5 Be7 7.Bf1 Nxe5 8.Rxe5 0–0 9.d4 Bf6 10.Re1 Re8 11.c3 Rxe1 12.Qxe1 Nf5 13.a4 d5 14.a5 


This is how the runner-up played in 2016, but did not achieve much: 14...c6 15.Nd2 Nd6 16.Nb3 Bf5 17.Bf4 Rc8 18.Nc5 b6 19.axb6 axb6 20.Nd3 h6 21.Be5 Be7 22.b3 Bf8 23.Bf4 c5 24.dxc5 bxc5 25.h3 c4 26.bxc4 Nxc4 27.Ne5 Nxe5 28.Bxe5 Ra8 29.Rxa8, draw, as in Karjakin – Giri, 2019. Having introduced a slight change in the move order, Goryachkina had no problems getting a comfortable position as well.

15.Nd2 Bd6 16.Nf3 Ne7 17.b3 Bf5 18.c4 c6

Here, the champion started misplaying the position somewhat by committing her pawns to the squares of her bishop color, and was already worse in a short while.

19.Bb2 a6 20.Ne5 Qf8 21.Qc3 Rd8 22.Nd3 Ng6 23.g3 Be4 24.Bg2 Bxg2 25.Kxg2 Ne7 26.c5 Bc7 27.Qb4 Rb8 28.Re1 Qd8 29.Bc3 Ng6 30.Qa3 h5 31.f4 Qf6 32.Qb2

Aleksandra was consistently rallying her forces on the kingside, and, to the delight of her fans, chessbomb started displaying a solid plus in her favor. This is when Ju gathered herself and managed to stand her ground.

32…Nh4+ 33.Kh1! 



It is not a rare case for ChessBomb to produce faulty evaluations, which is the case with the recommended 33...Nf3!? 34.Re3 Ng5 35.Nf2 Ne6 36.b4. White is solid, and her position is an extremely hard nut to crack.

34.Qe2 Qg6 35.b4 Rd8 36.Qf3 f6 37.Qe2 Kh7 38.Nf2 Rd7 39.Qd3 Re7 40.Rxe7 Nxe7 41.Qxg6+ Kxg6

Alexandra again subjected the opponent to eternal endgame torture, but the Russian had fewer chances of winning here than in the “knight versus bishop ” finale from the first third of the match. A draw was agreed on move 105.

A few days later, the opponents met in Vladivostok, and here Ju went for the anti-Berlin 4.d3 for the first time, having a last achieved a long-awaited slight edge. Goryachkina once again had a perfect grasp of the positional nuances, and the Chinese could not squeeze anything out of the two white colors in a row, stipulated by the match regulations.


Ju Wenjun – Goryachkina

Game 7

Ruy Lopez

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6 4.d3 Bc5 5.Bxc6 dxc6 6.0–0 Nd7 7.Be3 Qe7 8.Qe1

The move is a novelty and a clear fruit of the Chinese headquarters brainstorm. White is looking to leverage the position with f2-f4, rerouting the queen to the kingside. The latest game in this line saw 8.Nc3 Bd6 9.Nd2 Nf8 10.Nc4 Ne6 11.Nxd6+ Qxd6 12.Ne2 c5 13.f4 exf4 14.Nxf4 Nxf4 15.Bxf4 Qd4+ 16.Kh1 Qxb2 17.Qh5 Qb6 18.Be3 Be6 19.Bxc5 Qc6 20.Qg5 Kd7 21.d4, and White won the game, Adams – Howell, 2019, but the Russian would have unlikely allowed herself such a creative treatment of the opening as Black without even making a castling.



8…0–0 9.Nc3 Re8 10.a3 Bd6 11.Nd2 Nf8 12.f4 exf4 13.Bxf4 Ng6 14.Bg3 Be6 15.Nf3 Rad8 16.Kh1 Bg4

Goryachkina aims at simplifications by exchanging off the minor pieces and then queens.

17.h3 Bxf3 18.Rxf3 Rd7 19.Rf5 b6 20.Ne2 c5 21.b3 Qd8 22.Qf2 Bxg3 23.Qxg3 Qh4 24.Qxh4 Nxh4 25.Rf2 Ng6 26.Nc3 Ne5 27.g3 a5 28.a4 Nc6 29.Kg2 Nb4 30.g4 Re5 31.Nd1 h5 32.Ne3 Nc6 33.Kg3 Nd4 34.Raf1 f6 35.Nd5 Kf7 36.Ne3 Kg8 37.Nf5 hxg4 38.hxg4



White has squeezed the maximum possible as her pawn structure is better, and there is a prospect of getting at her opponent at the kingside. But Goryachkina acts without prejudices and trades the knights, keeping in mind the old Tartakower saying about the drawish tendency of rook endings.

38…Nxf5+ 39.gxf5 g6 40.fxg6 Rg5+ 41.Kf4 Rxg6 42.Ke3 Rf7 43.Kd2 Kf8 44.Kc3 Ke7 45.Kc4 c6 46.Rh1 Rg8!

This is an important move! It stops the white rooks from getting to the b6-pawn, and after 47.Rfh2 Ke6 48.Rh8 Rxh8 49.Rxh8 f5! 50.exf5+ Rxf5 51.Rb8 Rf4+ 52.Kc3 Rb4 the black rook is in time to take care of the queenside. White has no other effective plan, and the breakthrough essayed by Ju led only to mass simplifications.

47.Rh6 Ke6 48.Rh5 Rfg7 49.c3 Rg5 50.Rh6 R5g6 51.Rfh2 f5 52.Rxg6+ Rxg6 53.exf5+ Kxf5 54.d4 cxd4 55.cxd4 Rg1 56.Rh6 Rc1+ 57.Kd3 Rd1+ 58.Kc2 Rxd4 59.Rxc6 Rb4 60.Kc3 Ke5 61.Rc4 Rxc4+ 62.Kxc4 Kd6 63.Kb5 Kc7 64.Ka6 Kc6 65.Ka7 Kc7 66.Ka6 Kc6 67.Ka7 Kc7 Draw.

It is no wonder that Sergey Shipov regularly calls Sasha “Petrosian in a skirt”! The match is very reminiscent of a world match in which Petrosian took the crown from Mikhail Botvinnik. Back then, the champion also scored first, but gradually this limiting, extremely reliable manner of play overwhelmed the champion. Petrosian won one game and then broke ahead by winning yet another one.

For the Vladivostok fans, who are happy to attend the games of the Russian half of the match (I was in the city last summer and know many in person), Goryachkina brings back a female lead from Pacific Rim. There, the Earth invasion is carried out from another world, and the coastline is guarded by huge warbots manufactured by people and controlled by specially trained professionals. There is no unmentioning that present Hollywood action movies no longer do without female leads, not to mention the fact that brave ladies even went as far as doing away with the last edition of the evil terminator. And a brave lady, charging the battle against the invading monsters with unshakable hands and an impassive stare, is associated by the Far Easterners with the runner-up.

Game eight brought a second victory to the Russian. It had everything: subtle plans a la Petrosian style, as well as clear geometry.


Goryachkina – Ju Wenjun

Game 8

Queen’s Gambit

1.c4 e6 2.Nc3 d5 3.d4 Nf6 4.cxd5 exd5 5.Bg5 c6 6.e3 h6 7.Bh4 Be7 8.Bd3 Ne4

The Chinese continues to shuffle openings as Black – half a century ago, the Hungarian chess players, led by Lajos Portisch, used to prefer this line, and then it was for long taken over by other, more popular systems.


There is no simple refutation of Black's idea: 9.Bxe7 Qxe7 10.Bxe4 (or 10.Qc2 Bf5 11.Nge2 Nxc3) 10...dxe4 11.Qc2 f5 12.Nge2 0–0 13.0–0 Na6, and why should White be for choice in this position after all? The bishop retreat was employed by Sergey Karjakin’s second – 9...Bf5 10.Bxe4 Bxe4 (better is 10...dxe4 11.Nge2 Nd7) 11.Nxe4 dxe4 12.Ne2 Bb4+ 13.Nc3 0–0 14.0–0 Qe7 15.a3 Bxc3 16.bxc3 Nd7 17.a4 and White is for choice, as in Khismatullin – Krapivin, 2012. However, Black’s play can be improved.

9...Nxg3 10.hxg3 Nd7 11.Nf3 Nf6 12.Qc2 Be6 13.0–0–0 Qc7

Even castling short was tried in this setup: 13...0–0 14.Kb1 Re8 15.Ne5 Bd6 16.f4 c5 (16...Rc8) – there is no checkmating Black along the h-file, and the Pillsbury ring can be undermined. However, castling long is safer.

14.Kb1 0–0–0 15.Na4 Kb8 16.Nc5 Bxc5

Black has a comfortable position, but the world champion was seemingly not very familiar with its nuances, which accounts for her further inaccuracies. Why not try something as simple as 16...Bc8?

17.dxc5 Bg4

In the case of 17...Rhe8 18.Nd4 the knight occupies the central outpost; therefore, it should be exchanged off.

18.Rc1 Bxf3 19.gxf3 



This pseudo-active move is very committal for Black. Capablanca's legacy says to place pawns to restrict the bishop, i.e. 19...h5 with approximate equality.

20.e4 g5 21.Qd2 Nd7 22.f4 f6

Instead of arranging pawns along the light squares, Ju places them along the black ones, leaving the h6-pawn in a weak state. It remains only to rely on the dynamics afforded by the d4-pawn.

23.Rh5 gxf4 24.gxf4 Nf8 25.f5

White wins a pawn after 25.Bc4 Qe7 26.f3 Ne6 27.Bxe6 Qxe6 28.f5, but it comes at the cost of giving counter play to Black as the d-pawn is no longer blockaded.



Bringing the knight into the game via 25...Nd7! was discussed during the press conference. Goryachkina answered that she would not have gone greedy with 26.Rxh6 Rxh6 27.Qxh6 because of 27…Qa5!, but would have chosen a simple 26.f4. After 26...Rhg8 27.Rxh6 Rg4 28.Rc4 White is for choice, but the black pieces are active and the game is still double-edged.

26.Qf4+ Ka8 27.Qh2! Nd7 28.f4 Qf8?

Even choosing to play along the g-file could have been effective: 28...Rdg8 29.b4 Qg3 30.Bc4, and to avoid a difficult endgame, you must sacrifice the exchange, but it was definitely a way to go! Ju decided to start the queenside counterplay and blundered a simple central breakthrough, which immediately dooms her position.

29.b4 b6? 

30.e5! bxc5 31.Qh1!

White is using all pieces and pressing the opponent’s main weakness, the c6-pawn.

31…Nb8 32.Be4 Rh7 33.Rxc5 Rb7 34.Bxc6 Nxc6 35.Qxc6 d3

Black fires her last bullet, but it turns out to be a blank one.

36.Rb5 Rdb8 37.e6 


37...d2 38.Rh1 helps neither. With Goryachkina eliminating the passed pawn, the game is over.

38.Rh1 d2 39.Rd5 Qc8 40.Qxc8 Rxb4+ 41.Ka1 Rxc8 42.Rxd2 Kb7 43.Rd7+ Kb6 44.e7 Re8 45.Re1 Black resigns.

This loss comes as a severe test for the world champion. To save the match, Ju Wenjun will not make do with a creative opening idea only - she rather needs to go back to her former level of play. However, will the world champion manage to put problems to the challenger who is on an incredible rise in the match of her life? We are in for a tense and exciting finale of the match!

I have to say goodbye to you with my reports as I am leaving for a tournament in Gibraltar. However, this is not the end of it, and I hope that the final news will be dedicated to the challenger’s historic victory! Good luck, Aleksandra!

Photo credit: Eteri Kublashvili