Women’s Candidates R3: Vaishali beats Salimova

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
4/7/2024 – Much like in the open section, the Women’s Candidates had one decisive game in Saturday’s third round. Vaishali R made it 2 out of 2 for the brother-sister duo in Toronto (Pragg defeated Vidit in the open) by beating Nurgyul Salimova with the white pieces. Vaishali thus bounced back from her round-2 loss against Tan Zhongyi. Tan held Humpy Koneru to a draw with the black pieces to remain as the sole leader. | Photo: FIDE / Michal Walusza

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A strong brother-sister duo in Toronto

Vaishali R qualified to the Women’s Candidates by winning the Women’s Grand Swiss in November 2023. Soon after, the humble 22-year-old made headlines, as she and her brother Praggnanandhaa had just become the first-ever brother-sister grandmaster duo — Vaishali surpassed the required 2500 rating mark at the El Llobregat Open in Barcelona.

The strong year the siblings had in 2023 also granted both of them spots at the Candidates. Now in Toronto, Vaishali and Pragg have started with the exact same three results in the first rounds of their respective events: a draw, a loss and a win. After the family had a tough day in the second round (with painful losses against Gukesh D and Tan Zhongyi), both Vaishali and Pragg bounced back with remarkable wins on Saturday.

Vaishali got the better of Nurgyul Salimova in a confrontation between the two youngest and the two lowest-rated participants in the event. Like her brother, Vaishali got an advantage on the clock, as she soon proved to be well-prepared in the position arising from a Petroff Defence that appeared on the board. Salimova faltered decisively on move 16, and Vaishali showcased her tactical ability to get a 33-move win.

Round 3 also saw sole leader Tan Zhongyi signing her first draw of the tournament, as she and Humpy Koneru signed the peace treaty after reaching a completely equal rook endgame.

The remaining two games also finished drawn, but not without excitement:

  • Lei Tingjie tried the Evans Gambit against Aleksandra Goryachkina. The Chinese GM got an edge on the clock, but Goryachkina found the right plan to keep the balance throughout the 45-move encounter.
  • Kateryna Lagno faltered in a major-piece endgame against Anna Muzychuk. However, the Ukrainian star failed to find the continuation that would have allowed her to successfully hunt down her colleague’s king.

Saturday’s results left Tan atop the standings with 2½ points to her name. Goryachkina stands in sole second place a half point back.

Results - Round 3

Lei Tingjie

Lei Tingjie played the Evans Gambit against Aleksandra Goryachkina, one of the favourites to take the title! | Photo: FIDE / Michal Walusza

Vaishali 1 - 0 Salimova

Out of a Petroff Defence, Vaishali employed a rather strange move order by playing 10.Bd4, a manoeuvre that had Salimova thinking for 25 minutes before replying by 10...Bd7. The Bulgarian IM did not falter decisively in the early stages of the game, but Vaishali surely had the psychological upper hand thanks to her clever opening play.

Moreover, the Indian’s 14.Nxf7 — which was not the only playable move in the position — further improved her standing in the game.

Engines evaluate the position as balanced here, but it is always easier to play with the initiative, especially in high-pressure events.

After 14...Kxf7 15.Bc4 Kf8 16.Qd3, Salimova erred by playing the hasty 16...Bg5+

16...Bf6 was the correct way to defend the kingside. After the text, White’s best continuation is 17.hxg5 Qxg5+ 18.Kb1, keeping the advantage with the strong pair of bishops facing a rather vulnerable king.

Vaishali went for 17.Kb1 instead, giving Salimova a second chance to play 17...Bf6.

However, the game’s continuation with 17...Ne5 18.Bxe5 Bf6 (it is too late now) 19.Bxd6+ gave White a winning advantage.

By capturing on d6, White further opens up the position around the black king, and there is no good way for Black to prevent her rival from regaining the piece (with interest) shortly after.

Once the dust had settled, Vaishali found herself four pawns up in an endgame with rooks and bishops of opposite colours.

Salimova continued playing until move 33, when she admitted defeat in what was her first loss of the tournament. The lowest-rated player in the field had safely held draws against Muzychuk and Lei in the first two rounds.

Nurgyul Salimova

Nurgyul Salimova | Photo: FIDE / Michal Walusza

Expert analysis by WIM Svitlana Demchenko

Muzychuk ½ - ½ Lagno

After showing good preparation out of a Ruy Lopez, these two experienced GMs simplified into a major-piece endgame with five pawns per side.

Lagno, playing black, suddenly faltered with 31...Qb5, to which Muzychuk replied with the correct idea — i.e. 32.Qf5+ Kh8 33.Qc8+ Kh7 34.Rd1 e4 35.Rd8 (doubling on the eighth rank) Rxa5 36.Rh8+ Kg6

White has two alternatives here: 37.Qg4+ and 37.Qe8+. With the clock ticking down dangerously, Muzychuk repeated the position twice by giving checks from g4 and d7, but once the time control had passed (and she received 30 extra minutes), the Ukrainian still failed to notice that 41.Qe8+ was winning for White — she played 41.Rg8 and a draw was soon agreed.

After 41.Qe8+, both 41...Kg5 or 41...Kf5 are losing for Black, e.g.:

  • 41.Qe8+ Kg5 42.Qf7 g6 43.h4+ Kh5 44.Qxf6 Qe5 45.g4+ (diagram 1)
  • 41.Qe8+ Kf5 42.Qh5+ Ke6 43.Re8+ Kd6 44.Qd1+ Kc5 45.Rd8 (diagram 2)

In both cases, Black can only escape checkmate by making huge material concessions. A big miss by Muzychuk, who had been defeated by Goryachkina in round 2.

Kateryna Lagno

Kateryna Lagno | Photo: FIDE / Michal Walusza

Standings after round 3

All games

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The Dabeli, the cycle, the victory — round 2 through the eyes of Sagar

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Carlos Colodro is a Hispanic Philologist from Bolivia. He works as a freelance translator and writer since 2012. A lot of his work is done in chess-related texts, as the game is one of his biggest interests, along with literature and music.
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