Resilience Through Experience
Vladimir Belov’s report about the closing four classical games of the FIDE Women’s World Championship Match
Aleksandra Goryachkina's two mid-championship victories landed her ahead of Ju Wenjun. It poured emotions into the battles as the champion had no other choice but to strike back. Game nine was a turning point of the match. Lady Luck’s favorite was not clear until almost the very end.
Goryachkina was so close to a game and an overall match victory. There is little doubt that with two points to her good and two white games ahead, the Russian player would have never let it go. Being aware of it as well, the runner-up came all out to grind out an equal endgame. Ju punished the opponent’s endgame blunder to take over in the match.
However, we need to give credit to the world champion. Clearly not in her best chess shape, she still went for it and caught up with her luck at the right moment. However, Goryachkina is a real warrior. She did come back in the final game. Having opted for an adventurous opening, she turned the tides in her favor in what was a game full of nerves.
Now, let’s have a closer look into the games.
Ju Wenjun – Goryachkina
Zukertort System A06
1.Nf3 d5 2.b3
An interesting choice. The champion sidesteps the trodden theoretical paths as soon as possible.
3.Bb2 runs into an unpleasant 3…f6!
On looking up my opening database, I found out to my surprise that this very modest advance comes as a recommendation against White's opening choice. Being caught off guard, Ju Wenjun’s opening setup turned out quite harmless.
Note that the position is reminiscent of the Petrosian variation in the Queen's Indian Defense. White is up a tempo, though. Along those lines, 4.Ba3 suggests itself.
4...Nc6 5.d4 Nf6 6.Nbd2 cxd4 7.exd4 g6 8.a3 (8.Be2 Bg7) 8...Bg7
Looking good is 8...Bf5 to stop the opponent’s bishop from showing up on d3.
This bold knight’s sortie could only be rivaled by 9...Bf5. Black doesn’t mind the doubled pawns as providing good outposts for her pieces and central control in return.
White has absolutely nothing to count on if the light-squared bishop is exchanged off after 10.0-0 Nf4.
An aggressive 10...Qb6 was a great choice. To save the pawn, White has to wall up the bishop with 11.c3, and after 11…0-0 12.0-0 Bg4 Black is enjoying superb play.
The Chinese is not after tranquil and comfortable game, attempting to muddy the waters with wild complications. Justified psychologically, the decision is not so clear-but chess-wise.
It is hard to be precise in unfamiliar setups. This is especially so when everything is at stake. Alexandra's decision is both logical and wrong .
Instead, 12...f6 13.Qe2 Qc7 14.f4 fxe5 15.fxe5 (15.Bxe5 Bxe5 16.Qxe5 Qxe5+ 17.fxe5 Bh3) 15...Qb6! should have been preferred. This strong resource lays the groundwork for the black rook to show up on f2 and is a warranty of a full-fledged game.
13.f4 f6 14.Qe2
The e5-pawn does a great job restricting the opponent’s pieces. A cowardly 14.exf6 Nxf6 would have allowed Black to seize the advantage by eventually posting the knight to d5.
14...fxe5 15.fxe5 Bh6 16.0–0–0 Be3 17.Rhf1
The main downside to 12...d4 is that White is now in possession of two vital squares с4 and е4. This attribute renders Black’s position extremely vulnerable.
A mistake that could have cost the game. Black needed to trade the rooks first 17...Rxf1 18.Rxf1, and only then to go for 18…Bh3 19.Re1 b5, with complicated game.
18.Rxf8+ Qxf8 19.Kb1?
Ju Wenjun pardons her opponent. After 19.Be4! a good advice is beyond price for Black. Not only does black threaten to take on b7, but also has 20.Bxd4 Bxd4 21.Qc4+ in mind.
19...b5 20.Nf1 Bg1
This advance touched off a storm with the fans and match commentators. Indeed, destroying your own king’s shelter looks weird. However, the Chinese player reasoned that making the bishop active via the c4-square would outweigh the downsides, overlooking the critical Black’s rejoinder on move 22 in her calculations.
It is, perhaps, this particular move that deserved a question mark, but White’s idea was precisely in this capture, and not in a computer-revealed 22.Nd2! It was the way for White to go about claiming the superiority: 22...Be3 23.Be4 Rc8 24.bxa4.
I think, the world champion was only reckoning with 22...a5? In this case, the white pieces would have decisively joined the battle after 23.Bc4+ Kh8 24.Nd2 Be3 25.Nb3, winning.
Black's idea was at its finest after 23.Nd2? Bg4
23...Kh8 24.e6 Nf6 25.Rxd4?!
White takes no prisoners fighting for the initiative! This is a brave decision and quite reasonable from the human player’s perspective.
25.Bxd4 Bxd4 26.Rxd4 would have produced an equal position. Note that the exposed situation of the white king will take a severe toll on the scope of moves for White: 26...Qc5 27.Qe3 Qb6+ 28.Kc1 Rb8 29.Qb3.
25...Bxd4 26.Bxd4 Qb7+ 27.Ka2?
Not the way to go! Correct is 27.Kc1!, and 27...Qb4 is no longer dangerous in view of (27...Qh1 28.Qd1) 28.Ne3,which could be followed up by something like: 28...Bxe6 29.Bxf6+ exf6 30.Bxe6 Re8 31.Bc4=.
All Aleksandra's previous and subsequent mistakes can be attributed to the complexity and irrationality of the position. Still, here the error stems from the field of psychology, a consequence of high stress. Black, of course, needed to opt for a more logical 27...Qb4!, forcing the opponent to give up a strong bishop with 28.Bxf6+ exf6 29.Bb3. Black has a host of decent moves, and I like the queen centralization 29...Qd4 most as it results in a domination.
Having lost the thread of the game, Goryachkina is marking time with a couple of inert moves.
Now and during the next moves, she needed to take her king into safety and out of the white bishops’ X-ray. 28...Qc6 29.Bb3 h5.
29.Bb3 Qg2? (29...h5!) 30.Qe5
The engine’s winning sequence 30.Qc4!! Qxf1 31.Qc7 Re8 32.Qd7! comes like a bolt out of the blue.
30...Rxb3! 31.cxb3 Qc6 32.Nd2 Bxe6 33.Ka3!
White has surfaced at the better end of the turmoil. What a pity that in the game that followed Alexandra failed to come up with her famous tenacity in defense.
There happened two more critical moments.
33...Kg8 34.Nf3 Qd5 35.Qb8+ Kg7 36.Ne5 Qc5+ 37.Qb4
Not only does it give a smooth ride to White, the move has nothing to write home about, objectively speaking. The white king is now unopposed in marching up the board; therefore, 37...Qc7! should have been preferred.
38.Kxb4 Kf8 39.Nc4 Ne4 40.Bd4 Ke8?
Building up defensive formations without any delays was instrumental for Black’s staying in the game: 40...Nd6 41.Na5 (41.Nd2 Nb7!) 41...Ne4. It allowed Black to get at opponent’s pawns, thus discouraging her king from moving forward.
41.Ka5 Nd6 42.Nd2 Bc8 43.Kb6+–
The far-advanced king renders Black’s chances of staying in the game completely illusory, and the Chinese went on to convert her advantage.
43...Kd8 44.Be5 Kd7 45.Bf4 g5!? 46.Bxg5 e5 47.Be3 Ke6
48.Kc7 Bd7 49.Bc5 Nf5 50.Kb6 Kd5 51.Nb1 e4 52.Nc3+ Ke5 53.Kxa6 e3 54.a5 Nd4 55.b4 Bg4 56.Kb6 e2 57.Bxd4+ Kxd4 58.Nxe2+ Bxe2 59.a6 Bf3 60.a7 h5 61.b5 Kc4 62.h3 Kd5 Black resigns
Goryachkina – Ju Wenjun
Queen’s Gambit D35
1.c4 e6 2.Nc3 d5 3.d4 Nf6 4.cxd5 exd5 5.Bg5 c6 6.e3 Bf5 7.Qf3
This is the reason of Black's unwillingness to develop the bishop to f5 all the time.
7...Bg6 8.Bxf6 Qxf6 9.Qxf6 gxf6
This endgame has served as ground for endless battles for several decades now. It has for long been considered that a compromised pawn structure is not something to enjoy as Black and that White achieves advantage by simple logical means. Then Black managed to come up with good ideas, and the next blow to the variation was delivered by the Carlsen-Kramnik game, in which Magnus uncorked a fresh idea. Goryachkina follows in the footsteps of that game.
10.Nf3 Nd7 11.Nh4
White threatens f2-f4 to exploit the bishop’s precarious placement.
This is the Carlsen’s idea mentioned above. White aims at taking control over the crucial f5-square.
12.f4 does not pay off in view of 12...f5.
The above-mentioned game of two super GMs was developing as follows: 12...Nb6 13.Ng3 Bb4+ 14.Kd1 Na4 15.Ngf5 Kd7 16.Rb1 Ke6 17.Bd3 Rhc8 18.Ke2 Bf8 19.g4±, and White went on to press his huge positional advantage home, Carlsen– Kramnik, Stavanger 2016.
13.g3 Bxh4 14.gxh4
White's structure is compromised as well now. On the other hand, it cost Black his good dark-squared bishop.
14...Nf6 15.Nf4 Nh5 16.Kd2
Running in parallel with this match was a strong festival in Wijk aan Zee, which also had this position in one of the games. After 16.Be2 Nxf4 17.exf4 h5 18.Kd2 Kd7 19.Bd3 Rae8 20.Rhg1 Kd6 21.b4 Re7 22.a4 Rhe8 23.Ra3 b6 White failed to break through the opponent’s defensive formations, as in Ganguly – L'Ami.
16...Nxf4 (16...Kd7!?) 17.exf4
What a picturesque formation of pawns! I have found this and other games in this line very instructive. This is quite a treatment to give to your pawns and a bishop!
17...Ke7 18.Be2 h5 (18...f6) 19.Rae1 Kd6 20.Bd3 Rae8
This is the first critical moment.
I won't claim that 21.Re5 f6 gives White a significant edge, but it indeed promised many more opportunities to take down the fortress:
1) at first glance 22.Rxe8 Bxe8 23.Rg1 looks promising (in the case of 23.Bxf5 Rg8, White has no winning chances despite being up a pawn) 23...Bd7 24.Rg7, but in many lines Black gives up a pawn to bring the rook into the game and get decent counterplay. For example: 24...b6 25.b4 a5 26.bxa5 bxa5 27.Kc3 Re8 28.Rh7 Re1.
2) 22.Re3!? Rxe3 23.fxe3 Ke6. The position is similar to the game with the only difference in that the pawn is on f6. Black's task is more difficult as the black bishop is no longer safe on g6.
21...Rxe3 22.fxe3 a5! 23.a3
The objective evaluation is equality. Frustrated by not converting the opening advantage, Alexandra persists with her adventurous play, offering Black not only a draw, but something more than that...
23...b6 24.b4 axb4 25.axb4 Ra8
When watching online, I was anxiously aware of how much it had become anybody's game by that moment. White is still in control, but the nature of the position is not to Aleksandra’s style. She did want to bounce back after an annoying defeat, and emotions took the better of her.
After 26.Bc2 Ra3 27.Rb1 f6 28.Bb3 c5!? 29.bxc5+ bxc5 30.dxc5+ Kxc5 the active black pieces make up for pawn weaknesses.
26...c5 27.dxc5+ bxc5 28.Rb1 Kc7 29.b6+ Kb7 30.Rb5
The pawn structures of both opponents are hopelessly compromised, and it seems impossible to convert an extra pawn. The engine writes equality to almost any moves from both sides, and this is an objective evaluation.
30...Rc8 31.Be2 f6 32.Ra5 Rc6 33.Ra7+ Kxb6 34.Rd7 Re6 35.Rxd5 Kc6 36.Bf3 Rd6 37.Rd3+
A draw could have been sealed, for example, by 37.Rxd6+ Kxd6 38.Kc3.
37...Kc7 38.Bd5 Be8 39.Kc3 Bb5 40.Rd2 Ra6
The time control is over, and Black's pieces have come into the play. White's desperate persistence is not at all apparent.
41.Bb3 Bd7 42.Rg2 Be6 43.Bxe6 (43.Bc2!?) 43...Rxe6
The easiest path to a draw is via 44.Rg6 Kd6 45.Kc4. With the Black king not reaching e4, making a draw is a simple matter, for example: 45...Re4+ 46.Kd3 Ke6 47.Rh6 (47.Rg8 c4+ 48.Ke2 Kd5 49.Rd8+ Kc5 50.Rc8+ Kb4 51.Rc6=) 47...Ra4 48.Rxh5 Ra3+ 49.Ke2 c4 50.Rh8 Ra2+ 51.Kf3 Rxh2 52.h5 c3 53.Rc8 c2 54.h6=.
44...Kd6 45.Rg8 Kd5 46.Rd8+ Rd6 47.Rc8 Rd7!
Zugzwang. White has to fall back even farther now.
48.Rh8 c4+ 49.Kc3 (49.Ke2!?) 49...Re7 50.Kd2 Ra7 51.Rxh5
Even the king’s proud departure from the theater of action saves the day: 51.Ke2!? Ra2+ 52.Kf3 c3 53.Rc8 c2 54.Rc7=.
51...Ra2+ 52.Kc3 Ra3+
This is a sort of mental blackout. This decision can only be explained by severe psychological fatigue. The cutoff king is an immediate downfall for White.
A draw was highly likely following a normal 53.Kb2. For example: 53...Rb3+ (53...Rxe3 54.Rxf5+) 54.Kc2 Ke4 55.Rh8 Kxe3 (after 55...Rxe3 56.Re8+ Kxf4 57.Rxe3 Kxe3 58.h5 f4 59.h6 f3 60.h7 f2 61.h8Q f1Q 62.Qe8+ Kf3 63.Qa8+ the engine still gives equality, but human players would not stop there, needless to say) 56.Rc8 Ra3 57.h5 Ra2+ 58.Kc3 Rxh2 59.Rh8! Kxf4 60.h6 Kf3 61.Kxc4 f4 62.Kd5 Kf2 63.Ke6 f3 64.Kxf6 Kf1 65.h7 f2 66.Kg7=.
Even a less precise 53.Kc2 would have been a draw after Ke4 54.Rh8 Kxe3 55.h5 Kxf4 56.Rc8 Ra2+ 57.Kd1 Rxh2 58.Rxc4+ Kg5 (58...Kg3 59.Rc3+!) 59.Ke1=.
53...Rb3+ 54.Ka4 Ke4–+ 55.Rh8 Rb7 56.Rc8 Kd3 57.h5 c3 58.h6 c2 59.Ka3 Kd2 60.Rd8+ Kxe3 61.Rc8 Kd2 62.Rd8+ Kc1 White resigns. What an annoying and painful defeat to have to go through!
Ju Wenjun – Goryachkina
Ruy Lopez С67
This game was one of the most tranquil in the match. That the Chinese champion would not take risks was obvious, but many a person were looking forward to aggression from Goryachkina. It brings back the Kramnik-Leko match of 2004, when Vladimir, being in a similar situation, played sharply as Black to put pressure on his opponent, and in the last round, he achieved the desired victory as White and retained the title. Goryachkina chose a different scenario. It was safety first after two annoying defeats.
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6 4.0–0 Nxe4 5.d4 Nd6 6.dxe5
A notorious Berlin endgame arising after 6.Bxc6 dxc6 7.dxe5 Nf5 8.Qxd8+ Kxd8 has fallen out of favor with those playing White.
6...Nxb5 7.a4 Nbd4
7...d6 8.e6 is an alternative line.
8.Nxd4 d5 9.exd6 Nxd4 10.Qxd4 Qxd6 11.Qe3+ Be6 12.Nc3 a6 13.Rd1 Qc6 14.Rd3
It is hard to believe that White can pose real problems this way. Going into the world championship matches, such lines are analyzed to a draw!
The phantom threat of Nb5 and Rc3 baffled Vladimir Kramnik and he misplayed with 14...Rc8?! 15.Ne2! Bc5 16.Qg3 f6 17.Be3 Bd6 18.Bf4 Bxf4 19.Nxf4 0–0 20.Rc3 Qd6 21.Nxe6 Qxe6 22.Rxc7±, as in Andreikin – Kramnik, Nizhniy Novgorod, 2013.
15.Qg3 f6! 16.Bf4 0–0 17.Bxc7 Bf5 18.Rd2 Rf7 19.Bf4 Bb4
The most precise. Thanks to the bishop pair, Black could have continued even down a pawn.
20.Rad1 Bxc3 21.Qxc3 Qxc3 22.bxc3 Rc8 23.Rd8+ Rxd8 24.Rxd8+ Rf8 25.Rxf8+ Kxf8 26.a5
This is a dead draw. To comply with the regulations, the opponents play on until move 40.
26...Kf7 27.Kf1 Bxc2 28.Ke2 Ke6 29.Be3 Kd5 30.Bb6 Kc4 31.Kd2 Be4 32.g3 Bc6 33.f4 h5 34.h4 Kd5 35.Ke3 Ke6 36.Bc7 Kf5 37.Bb6 Bd7 38.Bc7 Ba4 39.Bb6 Kg4 40.Kf2 Bc6 Draw.
Goryachkina – Ju Wenjun
Veresov Opening D00
There are players who do exceptionally well when it comes to must-win situations. They cope with emotions and win “on-demand”. Aleksandra Goryachkina is one of them as her career abounds in medals ground out in last rounds. This game had a world championship title at stake.
1.d4 d5 2.Nc3!
I put an exclamation mark with the outcome of the game in mind! The surprise move paid off in a big way. Taken out of her comfort zone, the champions burned much clock in the opening.
This is an Italian game with colors reversed! I associate this line with Baadur Jobava, who has employed it in dozens or even hundreds of games at any level. The opening suits the creative style of Georgian grandmaster perfectly, but Aleksandra Goryachkina seems to possess other trump cards in her arsenal...
A more accurate 3...a6 has come to the forefront as of lately. It can be followed by 4.e3 e6 5.g4!, plunging headlong into complications...
It comes down to misplacing the black knight on a6.
4...Na6 5.e3 Bb4+?!
I think this shuttle maneuver is ill-advised in this setup. Completing development with 5...Be7 6.Nf3 0-0 is a better plan for Black. I once tried 5...c6 6.Nc3 Nc7?! only to realize that с7 is one of the worst placements for the knight...
6.c3 Be7 7.a4! 0–0 8.Bd3 c6 9.Na3 c5 10.Nf3 Ne4
The hunt of the white bishop could end sadly for Black: 10...Nh5 11.Be5 f6 12.Ng5!
This prophylactic move feels like a loss of time.
Instead, 11.Nb5!? f5 (11...g5 12.Bg3 f5 13.Ne5) 12.0–0 c4 13.Bxe4 (13.Be2!?) 13...fxe4 14.Nd2 Bd7 15.b3 cxb3 16.Qxb3 Be8 17.f3 exf3 18.Nxf3 should have been preferred. This unorthodox position is much to White’s advantage.
A sound 12.0-0 would have put Black up against testing problems. Now, 12...c4 13.Bxe4 fxe4 14.Ne5 Nb8 15.f3 gives White an extra tempo: 15...exf3 16.Qxf3 Nd7 17.Qg3±.
There was no reason to give up the light-squared bishop. It was probably worth considering 13.Be2 instead.
13...fxe4 14.Ne5 Nb8!
The challenger’s cavalry is neutralized. The e5-knight is exchanged off, and a6 drives his fellow to the rim of the board.
15.0–0 a6 16.Na3 Nd7 17.Nc2
I have already mentioned the c7-square. The c2-square for the white knight is no better than that.
17.b3!? should have been preferred.
Upon serious consideration, grandmaster Stockfish suggests bringing the knight back to a3 and then sending it via b1 to d2. Fortunately, Alexandra did not go that deep and carried out a thematic breakthrough in the center instead.
18.f3 Nxe5 19.Bxe5 Bd7
Instead, 19...exf3 20.Rxf3 Rxf3 21.Qxf3 Qg6 22.Ne1 a5! is to Black's advantage.
Here the knight is closer the theater of action.
Black was not obliged to help improve the position of white pieces. 21...a5! was by far stronger, fixing the white pawn on а4 and turning it into a target. Black wins after 22.fxe4? Qxd1 23.Rxf8+ Rxf8 24.Rxd1 dxe4; however, White is not obliged to go for it.
22.Nxf3 Be8 23.Qe1 (23.a5!?) 23...Qg6 24.Bf4 Qe4 25.a5! h6 26.Nd2 Qh7?!
Ju Wenjun succumbs to pressure, producing a series of weak moves. The queen belongs in the thick of things: 26...Qd3 27.e4 dxe4.
The engine offers a mysterious 27...Qg6, intending to plunge into complications after 28.exd5 Rxf4.
28.Be5 (28.Qg3!?) 28...Rc8
Black would have fared better with 28...Rxf1!? 29.Qxf1 e3 30.Nxc4 Bb5 31.b3 Rf8 32.Qe2 Bg5. As opposed to the text, the e3-pawn is a formidable force.
29.Rxf8+ Bxf8 30.Qe2
The champion sends the pawns for slaughter. I assume that Black missed White’s 32.b3. Or, perhaps, something else for that matter. White is slightly for choice now; instead, Black should have retained material balance with 30...Bc6 31.Nxc4 Qg6.
31.Nxc4 Bb5 32.b3 Qe4 33.Rf1+– Qc6 34.Qxe3 Qe8
34...Bxc4 35.bxc4 Qxc4 36.Qf3 lands the queen decisively on f7.
35.Bd6! is an immediate winner.
35...Qg6 36.Rf3 Kh7 37.Qf2 Bc6 38.Rg3 Qf5 39.Qe2 Rd8 40.Ne3 Qf7
White is still winning. Goryachkina brings the game to a desired result.
41...g6 42.Rg4 Bg7 43.Bxg7 Kxg7 44.Nc4 Bb5 45.Qg3 Bxc4 46.bxc4 Rd7 47.Re4 Qf6 48.Qe3 Rd6 49.c5 Rc6 50.Kg1 Qf5 51.Rf4 Qg5 52.h4 Qe7 53.Qe5+ Kg8 54.Rf6 Kh7 55.h5 gxh5 56.Qf4 e5 57.Qxh6+ Kg8 58.Qg6+ Kh8 59.Qxh5+ Kg8 60.Qg5+ Black resigns. A victory in a tough struggle!
Commenting this game, I already know the outcome of the tie-break. Goryachkina was pressing in the classical and rapid parts of the match, but ended up on the losing side of it nonetheless. Resilience and experience mean a lot in a competition of this magnitude. I am confident that this is not the end of the championship road for the Russian player. We also congratulate Ju Wenjun on her third consecutive champion's title!