Women's Candidates: The Muzychuk sisters end on a high note

by Antonio Pereira
6/18/2019 – The 2019 Women's Candidates Tournament in Kazan concluded with two decisive results in round fourteen — Mariya Muzychuk inflicted a first loss on Aleksandra Goryachkina, while Tan Zhogyi defeated Valentina Gunina to finish with a 7 out of 14 score. As expected, Anna Muzychuk secured second place by splitting the point with Alexandra Kosteniuk. Third place was shared between Kateryna Lagno and Tan Zhongyi. | Photo: Eteri Kublashvili

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Plenty of fight

After the first round finished with all four games drawn, we did not see a single day of action without at least a decisive result in Kazan. Out of the 56 games played, 30 ended up with someone getting a full point (54%). All of this despite the fact that the stakes were very high, with a large prize fund (if we compare it to previous women's events) and the chance to get a ticket to face Ju Wenjun in the next World Championship match. 

Aleksandra Goryachkina

Aleksandra Goryachkina was smiling despite having lost in the last round — she was still the champion in Kazan | Photo: Eteri Kublashvili

The organizers noticed this phenomenon and asked for the players' opinions in this regard. Alexandra Kosteniuk and Kateryna Lagno attributed it to a larger amount of mistakes, while both Muychuk sisters, Nana Dzagnidze and commentator Elisabeth Paehtz think women simply have a stronger will to win, showing a more competitive attitude with both colours. Some of them mentioned that emotions play a bigger role amongst women, while Valentina Gunina was the one who responded more straight-forwardly:

I want to fight (laughs). I think it's boring that men do a lot of draws, so I say to myself to just play — sometimes it's bad, sometimes it's good, but it's always [fun] I think.

A compilation of the responses

In round fourteen, Aleksandra Goryachkina's Caro-Kann Defence was finally taken down, by Mariya Muzychuk, which meant no player finished undefeated in Kazan. Tan Zhongyi also had a good closing performance, as she defeated Valentina Gunina with the white pieces. Anna Muzychuk secured second place by quickly signing a 25-move draw in her game against Alexandra Kosteniuk. And, finally, Kateryna Lagno managed to equalize with the black pieces out of the opening and safely drew her encounter against Nana Dzagnidze.

Results of Round 14


Anna Muzychuk, Mariya Muzychuk, Pavel Eljanov

Anna and Mariya Muzychuk with Ukrainian grandmaster Pavel Eljanov in the background | Photo: Eteri Kublashvili

In the standings table, Goryachkina finished one and a half points ahead of Anna Muzychuk, despite, understandably, having played it safe from round eleven onwards. Anna, the older of the Muzychuk sisters, took home the 40,000 Euros allocated for second place (Goryachkina received 50,000 Euros), while Tan Zhongyi and Lagno collected 27,500 Euros each, after sharing third place. 

Final standings


In their interviews throughout the event, the players praised the fact that an effort is being made to increase the prize funds in women's events, although there also were some small concerns regarding the specific playing conditions in Kazan — when the tournament had just begun, there were issues regarding music being heard in the playing hall, while Dzagnidze mentioned that the food was not 100% satisfactory for the participants. 

Anna Muzychuk, Alexandra Kosteniuk

Anna Muzychuk and former women's world champion Alexandra Kosteniuk drew their round fourteen encounter | Photo: Eteri Kublashvili

Two decisive results in Round 14

Mariya Muzychuk broke Goryachkina's undefeated streak in a line of the Caro-Kann Defence in which White gives up the Poisoned Pawn on b2. 


Black accepted the challenge by taking with 8...xb2 and the queens were exchanged after 9.e1 cxd4 10.xd4 xd4 11.xd4 b4 12.b1 xc3 13.xb2 xe1 14.xe1 (you can try your own variations on the diagram above).

Aleksandra Goryachkina, Mariya Muzychuk

World Championship challenger Aleksandra Goryachkina captured the infamous b2-pawn | Photo: Eteri Kublashvili

Goryachkina was a pawn up in a queenless middlegame, but White's initiative and Black's lack of development gave Muzychuk a considerable edge. On move 24, Mariya got to show a pretty manoeuvre:


24.a7 allows White to get the other rook to the seventh rank — in case of 24...♜xa7 White has 25.♖b8+ ♚e7 26.♘c6+ ♚d7 and then comes the devastating discovered check with 27.♘xa7+.

After the text, Goryachkina was under too much pressure and played on until move 39 before resigning the game. The main goal had been achieved two rounds ago, nonetheless.

Game analysis by Mariya Muzychuk and Evgeny Miroshnichenko

Meanwhile, Tan Zhongyi's final win over Gunina was reached after the Chinese had the more active pieces in an endgame with a queen, a rook and five pawns per side. Already in a difficult position, Valentina further restricted her queen's mobility shortly after the time control had been reached:


Gunina played 43...f6 and left her queen rather restrained on the kingside. Tan Zhongyi responded with 44.c8 and the threat of doubling on the back rank forced Black to make more concessions. A few moves later, White simplified into a winning rook endgame, which she duly converted into a 74-move victory.

Tan Zhongyi, Valentina Gunina

Tan Zhongyi versus Valentina Gunina | Photo: Eteri Kublashvili

Commentary webcast

Commentary provided by GMs Evgeny Miroshnichenko and Vladislav Tkachiev

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Antonio is a freelance writer and a philologist. He is mainly interested in the links between chess and culture, primarily literature. In chess games, he skews towards endgames and positional play.
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malfa malfa 6/20/2019 07:56
@Thomas Richter,
definitely not: top female players should obviously be compared to top male players, not to generic open tournament players.
Thomas Richter Thomas Richter 6/19/2019 11:17
@malfa: The "male equivalents" of these female players aren't world-top players, not even extended world top (say, the likes of Wojtaszek or Navara), but male players of comparable ratings. You do see similar chess in Swiss opens or events like Tata Steel B.
There are uncompromising male players like Jobava, Rapport or Naiditsch - but they don't make it to the very top. For example, Nakamura became much more pragmatic as a world-top players
Lilloso Lilloso 6/19/2019 08:45
@KevinC So ! A long game is a fighting game ! I'm very impressed by your unruffled and self-assured logic. I will gladly defer.
KevinC KevinC 6/19/2019 02:25
@Lilloso, Your argument is SO bad. Draws do not equate to no fighting spirit. That equates to having a very good opponent at that level. The original argument was about why they have decisive games, and those two women proposed that the women have more fighting spirit because they have decisive games. No, they just have MUCH weaker opponents.

The number of moves were 115!!! (as black), 49 (white), 49, 34 (white), 34, 80 (white), 40 (white), 38, 56 (white), 54, 55 (white), and 31. He averaged 52.3 moves per game as white, and 53.5 as black. Yeah, no fighting at all there....right.
Lilloso Lilloso 6/19/2019 07:34
@KevinC Sure, he won ! And as you point up, we saw "how much of a fighting spirit Carlsen has".
KevinC KevinC 6/18/2019 11:32
@Lilloso Silly comment. You play to win given the rules that are given you. He won.
Lilloso Lilloso 6/18/2019 07:03
Congratulations to all these ladies !
@KevinC We've all noticed M. Carlsen's fighting spirit against F. Caruana: 12 draws in a world championship !
KevinC KevinC 6/18/2019 01:10
"Nana Dzagnidze and commentator Elisabeth Paehtz think women simply have a stronger will to win."
"I want to fight (laughs). I think it's boring that men do a lot of draws, so I say to myself to just play — sometimes it's bad, sometimes it's good, but it's always [fun] I think."-Gunina.

LOL! Paehtz is clueless as she showed with her little hissy fit to her federation recently. No, Sweetie (Gunina- meant to be condescending since her answer was), is it just that beating guys close to 2800 or above is MUCH harder than beating 2550's. They make FAR fewer mistakes. "You can't get blood from a stone": If there is no advantage, there is no advantage. Alexandra Kosteniuk and Kateryna Lagno were dead on right.

I would love to see how much of a fighting spirit Carlsen has if he played a 6-game match versus Gunina. A 6-0 fighting spirit?
Mordisco58 Mordisco58 6/18/2019 12:44
Wrong diagram in game Tan Zhongyi vs. Gunina.
malfa malfa 6/18/2019 11:38

that on average even the strongest female chess players are rated at least 200 points less than their male equivalents bears neither scandal not any feminist or antifeminist speculation, since they simply spend a lot of their activity playing against female opponents, which surely does not help them to improve as much as they could if female-only events were simply abolished, as I have been wishing for years. That said, it is also true that women tend to play like there were no tomorrow, knife between teeth, without any compromises, to a much higher extent than their male equivalents, but such an attitued requires a lot of energy and tends to provoke more mistakes. However this approach is so entertaining that, from this point of view, I recommend instead that female-only top events be preserved and appropriately promoted ;-)
chessgod0 chessgod0 6/18/2019 08:31
Congratulations to these women on a great tournament! I'm really happy for Goryachkina---she's young and energetic and, to my impression, has a lot more upside than the other female players. She is fully capable of beating Ju Wenjun and I'm rooting for her.

Great fighting chess from these women--was a pleasure to follow this tournament. Original or uncommon or unbalanced positions very early on in many of the games made it almost as exciting and tense to follow as to play.

The post-game interviews were excellent as well! Gunina's somewhat sheepish but playful and often deprecating style, Lagno's frank & straightforward assessments, and the magnificent feminine charisma of Kosteniuk added real human personality and womanly charm to this tournament.

Again, it was a pleasure to follow this tournament and I'm looking forward to the Ju - Goryachkina match. And congratulations to FIDE as well--about time they did something right for a change.
chessgod0 chessgod0 6/18/2019 08:09
Of course, Kostenuik and Lagno are correct---the Womens' Candidates had many more decisive games because the leading female players make more errors than the leading male players. This is because they are, on average, rated some 200+ points below the leading male players. Comparing the leading female players to the leading male players is not a like-like comparison and everyone knows it.

This why we have ELO ratings--to enable a like-like comparison. If you compared this Womens' Tournament to a closed invitational of similarly rated men, you would also find a similarly high rate of decisive results. Everyone knows this, we see it all the time.

It's ridiculous to ignore what is in front of one's nose for the sake of political correctness but that is increasingly where we are headed. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised to see a feminist push to adulterate the ELO ratings within a decades time. I hope for the sake of the game the ELO ratings are left alone and not politicized, but I fear this is where things are headed.