15 June 2019

Three Draws Equal to Big Victory

Maxim Notkin reviews Rounds 10-12 of the FIDE Women's Candidates Tournament

The chasing pack, slowed down by internal conflicts, was unable to catch up with the leader. Goryachkina has finally reduced her pace, however, three draws in a row made her unreachable with two rounds to go – an outstanding success!


Having White against Anna Muzychuk, Aleksandra employed a purely restricting strategy. In her two Black games, she successfully defended the Caro-Kann. Lagno went for a classical setup, only without h4-h5, but she delayed the typical knight jump to e5, allowing Black to equalize comfortably.


Tan Zhongyi's play was more ambitious, but she chose a conceptually wrong direction at the critical moment.


Tan Zhongyi - Goryachkina



Black just traded her dark-squared bishop for the c5-knight and played h7-h5. The resulting weakness of the dark squares, delayed castling, and White's bishop pair could all be utilized by the typical break – 19.f5!, which is not especially out of the box. There are many branching variations, but they are all very similar and lead to a very difficult position for Black: 19...Bh7 (19...exf5 20.gxh5 Bh7 21.Bd6 Ne7 22.c4) 20.c4 hxg4 (20...d4 21.Bd6) 21.fxe6 fxe6 22.Bxg4.

Tan opted for 19.g5 Ne7, which gave Black light squares for the minor pieces and provided her king some safety. White maintained the initiative, successfully challenged Black's stronghold on d5, even won a pawn, but she was unable to neutralize the opponent's counterplay.

For Tan, it was time to limit her ambition and accept a draw. She failed, and saved half a point only because the draw secured Aleksandra's the tournament victory.



52...Qh1! 53.Ke3 (the h2-pawn needs protection) 53...Qe4+ 54.Kf2, and now after 54...Qg2+ 55.Ke3 Qe4+ a draw was agreed. Black wins beautifully by 54...Bg4! 55.bxa6 d4! (blocking the king) 56.Bxd4 Qg2+ 57.Ke1 (57.Ke3 Qf3#) 57...Qh1+ 58.Kf2 Qxh2+ 59.Ke1 Qxd2+ 60.Kxd2 h2, and the pawn queens.


Anna Muzychuk and Kateryna Lagno switched places in the tournament table after the Round 12 – the Ukrainian won their individual game and advanced to second place.


A. Muzychuk - Lagno


Black took strategic risks in the Jaenisch Gambit and completely refused to compete for the light squares. 18...b5 19.Bb3 e4 was the last chance to wake up her pieces. After 18...Rae8? 19.Qe4 it transpired that Black is completely helpless against the threats on theb1-h7-diagonal.

19...Nd8 20.Bd3 Bf6 21.Nh5 c6, and Anna didn't even bother to play the deciding Qg6 at once, taking care of the pawn outpost on d5 first.


One can't help noticing striking similarities with their first half game, in which the Russian missed a chance to carry out a similar attack on the weakened kingside light squares.

Alexandra Kosteniuk made the same serious mistake.


Tan Zhongyi - Kosteniuk



14...Ncxe5 15.Bxh7+ Kh8 is the best continuation for Black and leads to a sharp game. Kosteniuk wants to grab the pawn with comfort.

14...g6 15.Bf4! The opposition on the h2-b8-diagonal favors White.15...Kg7 and15...f5 are met by16.Qd2, threateningh3. If15...Nf6, then16.Bh6 wins an exchange, and even without the dark-squared bishop White will continue dominating on the dark squares.

The typical reply that followed in the game is refuted tactically.

15...f6 16.Bxg6! f5 17.Bh5 Nf6 18.exf6 Qxf4 19.Qd3 Rfd8 20.Be8!


After missing the blow ong6, Black is lost. The Chinese came close to winning the best game of the tournament, however, her next moves were far less energetic.

20...Kf8 (not 20...Rxe8 due to21.Qxd7, threatening Qg7# and f7+) 21.f7. After 21.Ne5! Kxe8 22.Qd6! the only defense against23.f7 is22...Qxe5 23.Rxe5. And if21...Nxe5, then22.Qd6+ Kg8 23.f7+ Nxf7 24.Bxf7+ Kxf7 25.Qxf4 wins a queen.


21...Ba8 22.Rxb8 Nxb8 23.Ne5 d6 24.Qh3 Qg5.


And now 25.Nf3 (instead of25.Nd3with the idea25...e5 26.f4 exf4 27.Nxf4! Qxf4 28.Qxh7) gave Black a chance to finally come back by25...Bxf3 26.Qxf3 Nd7. However, Alexandra missed her chance again.


There is no question that exhaustion affects the play of all participants. In many games they failed to reach a logical conclusion more than once.


Gunina - Dzagnidze



After the opening White ended up with hanging pawns of questionable value. She went for a break, but received no compensation for the ruined center.

In the diagrammed position, Dzagnidze came up with clever tactics: 19...Nc3!, aiming at simplifications. The game could end quickly in her favor when Gunina rejected 20.Bxc3 Qxg5 21.g3 and went for 20.Rde1? Nxe2+ 21.Qxe2. Now the obvious21...Rc2 wins a piece (22.Rd1 Qxg5). Dzagnidze played 21...Re8, maintaining the material balance. In the subsequent game, Gunina gradually created kingside play, utilizing the opponent's inaccuracies. Black put all her money on the most advanced passed pawn, giving away other pawns in process, and it led to an endgame with a rook and three pawns vs. a rook and a knight, which deserves an article on its own.


This is the last chance to make a draw – 87...Re1. If88.Rd7, Black coordinates: 88...Nf5+ 89.Kg4 Ne3+ 90.Kg5 Rg1+ 91.Kf6 (91.Kh6 Nf5#) 91...Ng4+ 92.Ke6 Re1+ etc, and the critical 88.f5 is met by the brilliant 88...Re7! 89.Rf6 Kg7.


All games of the three-way tournament Gunina-Dzagnidze-Kosteniuk were decisive, but the winner could not be determined, as the players who lost in the first half retaliated in the second half.


Kosteniuk - Gunina


In situations with opposite castlings success often comes to those who control the center better. Black can obtain an advantage by 18...Bc5! After 19.exf6 Rxf6 tactics favor Black: 20.Ne5 (20.Bg5 Re6) 20...Bxc2+ 21.Kc1 (21.Kxc2 Qf5+ 22.Kc1 Rxh6) 21...Qe7. After19.Bf4 Qa4 20.Ne1 fxe5 21.Bxe5 Bxf2! Black wins material, and in a more complicated variation 19.Be3 Qa4! 20.Bxc5 Qxc2+ 21.Ka1 c3! 22.Ba3 Na4! 23.Rb1 Qxe2the attack against the king also nets a pawn.

Instead of that, Gunina goes for the tempting, but not very well thought-out knight leap.

18…Na4? 19.Nd4! Neutralizing Black's activity, creating unpleasant threats, and bringing the light-squared bishop back to life – an excellent multi-purpose move.

19...fxe5. 19...Bc5 is loo slow – 20.Bh5 g6 21.Nxf5 Qxf5 22.Bg4 Qxe5 23.Qxe5 fxe5 24.Be6 (24.Rxd5!).

20.Nxf5 Qxf5 21.Rxd5.


21...Bf6. The weakening of the с4-pawn tells after 21...Qxf2 22.Qxf2 Rxf2 23.Bxc4 or 21...Qe6 22.Bxc4 Qxh6 23.Rd7.

22.Bg4 Qg6 23.Be3 Re7 24.Rhd1. The situation has stabilized – White has a clear advantage. Alexandra proceeded to win the game.


Dzagnidze - Kosteniuk



White played with more determination in the Hedgehog. Her position is more harmonious, and there is a clear plan of developing the initiative on the queenside by а4-а5. Black carries out a typical break, but she is poorly prepared for it.

26...d5 27.cxd5 exd5 28.Rxd5. An interesting positional idea, but there was a stronger, nearly deciding move 28.Bxa6!, intending to meet28...Qxa6 with 29.b5.

28...Rc2 29.Rd4! Forced, as after 29.Rd2 Rxd2 30.Nxd2 Bxb2 or30.Bxd2 Qc2 White loses both material and harmony. The exchange sacrifice allows her to remain on top.

29...Bxd4 (there is no use in 29...Qc3 30.Nd1) 30.Nxd4 Rc3. 30...Rc7 can be met by31.Nf5, too, but there are alternatives:31.Qf1 Bb7 32.Nc4.

31.Nf5 Rc2.


32.Nc4! Qc7 (32...Rxc4 33.Nd6) 33.Ncd6 Rf8. 33...Nde5 is relatively better, planning to put the rook more actively – on d8.On 34.Bxb6 there is 34...Rxe2.

34.Qf1 Rc6 35.Rd1 f6 36.Bxa6, and White got an overwhelming advantage.


Mariya Muzychuk collected only a point in the latest three-game stretch, however, with some luck and determination she could get as many as 2.5.


M. Muzychuk - Gunina



Black tries to undermine the powerful enemy knight.

28...f6 29.Qg4 fxe5 30.Bxe5. 30.Rxc5 with the idea to regain an exchange after 30...Qxc5 31.Qxe6+ Kh8 32.Nf7+ (or, even better, 32.Bxe5 Rxd6 33.Qe7 Rg8 34.Bxd6 Qxc4) Black simply plays 30...Qxd6! 

30...h5? Black distracts thequeen from the e6-pawn and hopes to win material with a knight leap:31.Qxh5? Nd3. The same goal can be achieved by 30...Bf5 31.Nxf5 (31.Qg3?! Nd3) 31...exf5 32.Qxf5 Nd3, but this leads “only” to simplifications and equality.

31.Qg5! White avoids the trap and develops powerful kingside initiative, which will unfortunately evaporate because of the mistake on the next move. Now 31...Nd3 is bad in view of 32.Bxg7. The threat of taking on g7 is very strong.



Mariya made a solid-looking move32.Bg3?, which takes the attack off g7. After32...b6White was forced to part with an exchange –33.Rxc5 Qxc5 34.Qxc5 bxc5, and Valentina slowly converted her advantage.

The strongest 32.Re3! leads to very exciting variations. The intended 32...Nd3 can be met by 33.Rg3 Nxe5 34.Qxe5, as 34...Qxd6? fails to 35.Rxg7+.

However, the computer notices much stronger tactical ideas.



After33...Rb8 34.Nf7! Nxe5 35.Nxe5 Black ends up an exchange down and in a hopeless position. After33...Nxe5 34.Rxf8+ Kxf8 35.Ra8+ she simply gets mated, and the magical nature of the game of chess is revealed in the following variation:33...Rxf3 34.Ra8+ Rf8 35.Rxf8+ Kxf8 36.Bxg7+!! Rxg7 37.Qd8+.