Women's Candidates: Gunina saves a half point

by Antonio Pereira
6/1/2019 – The 2019 Women's Candidates Tournament started on Friday in Kazan. All four games of round one were drawn, but a couple of them could have easily finished decisively. Valentina Gunina faltered in time trouble against Kateryna Lagno, but later showed great resourcefulness to save the half point, while Aleksandra Goryachkina missed a couple of chances against Alexandra Kosteniuk. | Photo: Anastasya Karlovich

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Looking for a challenger

The new FIDE administration has decided to partially mimic the open World Championship cycle in the women's circuit. Despite having left the cycle alleging it was unfair to have different formats in the open circuit and the women's circuit, Hou Yifan rejected the invitation to take part in the Candidates — this surely has to do with the fact that she is now studying at Oxford with a Rhodes Scholarship. Nonetheless, the eight players in Kazan are now fighting for the opportunity to challenge the current Women's World Champion, Ju Wenjun.

Four representatives from Russia, two from Ukraine, one from Georgia and one from China are taking part in the double round robin, which will run until June 17th. In order to avoid any sort of collusion, the regulations stipulate players from the same country must play against each other in the very first rounds both at the beginning of the tourney and after half-time, i.e. rounds one, two, eight and nine. Therefore, on Friday, we saw two all-Russian match-ups and the Muzychuk sisters paired up against each other.

Results from Round 1

 

Anna and Mariya Muzychuk did not get in each other's way at the start of the event and blitzed out moves until reaching a triple repetition out of a Sicilian Defence. Meanwhile, Tan Zhongyi surprised Nana Dzagnidze by playing the Petroff Defence with the black pieces — the players reached a draw by repetition after 32 moves, with symmetrical pawn structures and not many chances to create imbalances.

Nana Dzagnidze, Tan Zhongyi, Anna Muzychuk, Mariya Muzychuk

Nana Dzagnidze v Tan Zhongyi and Mariya Muzychuk v Anna Muzychuk right before kick-off | Photo: Eteri Kublashvili

Gunina ½:½ Lagno: A narrow escape

After taking a long hiatus from chess, Kateryna Lagno was the runner-up in last year's World Championship knock-out event and then went on to win the World Blitz Championship in Saint Petersburg. Her opponent, Valentina Gunina, has also been doing well lately, as she recently won the inaugural Cairns Cup in Saint Louis. The two Russians are definitely capable of getting the ticket to face Ju Wenjun in the next match for the World Championship.

They played a Ruy Lopez. Gunina was the one with the initiative out of the opening, but Lagno reacted successfully and managed to keep things under control during the middlegame. When the time control was approaching, however, Kateryna took advantage of her opponent's overly ambitious play:

 

White was putting all her hopes on her active pieces working against the rather loose black king, but Black was actually capable of defending against all the threats, while at the same time gaining a pawn on the queenside — the game continued 36...b2 37.h6 g7 38.f4 axa2.

Lagno had a considerable advantage, but Gunina's resourcefulness came to the fore on move 46 — the player from Murmansk gave up a rook in order to look for a perpetual check:

 

After 46.a1, Lagno spent two minutes before deciding on the capture with 46...xa1. Kateryna later confessed that she thought there was an escape route for her king via h5 and g5, but White actually kept on giving checks endlessly, until the draw was signed after 60 moves.

In the post-game interview, both players complained about music being heard on the playing hall. In such tense struggles, such distracting inputs can easily have a real effect on the results of the games.

Anastasya Karlovich, Valentina Gunina

Anastasya Karlovich interviewing Kateryna Lagno and Valentina Gunina | Photo: Eteri Kublashvili


Post-game interview with Gunina and Lagno


Kosteniuk ½:½ Goryachkina: Black is better

Right from the get go, Aleksandra Goryachkina was the one with the more comfortable position, despite having the black pieces. Slowly but surely, the youngster gained space on the queenside, but Alexandra Kosteniuk seemed to be ready to shuffle her pieces passively until letting Black's edge fritter away. On move 44, however, the former Women's World Champion opened up the queenside, giving her opponent a chance to make something out of his positional trumps:

 

Later in the game, Kosteniuk's main problem was Black's passed a-pawn (her pawn on a2 was captured on move 47)...but she could have eliminated the invader when it got to a3, i.e. instead of her 44.b4, taking the pawn with 44...bxa3 was called for. In the ensuing position, the computers found some lines that would have given Black a bigger advantage, but Goryachkina could not find them. We cannot blame her, though, as some very precise manoeuvring was necessary.

Alexandra Kosteniuk

Former Women's World Champion Alexandra Kosteniuk during her game against Aleksandra Goryachkina | Photo: Eteri Kublashvili


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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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