European Women’s Championship: Socko leads with two rounds to go

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
8/30/2022 – Monika Socko remains in the sole lead of the European Women’s Championship after scoring a crucial win over Gunay Mammadzada and drawing Ulviyya Fataliyeva (from a clearly superior position). Mammadzada bounced back from her loss against the leader by beating Maria Gevorgyan and stands a half point behind the Polish grandmaster with two rounds to go. | Photos: Official site

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Mammadzada in sole second place

Since our previous report, three rounds have gone by and the same player remains in the sole lead of the European Women’s Championship. This does not mean there has been a lack of excitement on the last three days of play, though. To the contrary, fighting chess has been the norm on the top boards, and the experienced Polish GM Monika Socko has proven that she can withstand the pressure of having become the clear favourite to win the event.

Meanwhile, IM Gunay Mammadzada has taken a central role in Prague. The 22-year-old from Baku climbed to shared first place after beating top seed Nana Dzagnidze in round 7.

It was a sharp battle, in which White (Mammadzada) gave up an exchange while Dzagnidze pushed her army down the board, fully neglecting the solidity of her pawn structure.

 

The contenders had followed theory until move 20, although, given how much time they spent in the early middlegame, they were not simply repeating their preparation — i.e. they found a number of critical moves over the board!

As time pressure had already become an issue, there followed 22.Kg2 gxf2 23.Qc1 (diagram below), and Dzagnidze faltered by releasing the pressure with 23...Qb5

 

Instead of going back with the queen (anticipating Rxf2), Black needed to be consistent with her plan until this point and continue with the forcing 23...Bh3+ 24.Kg3 f4+!

 

This position is by no means winning for Black, but White will need to find precise defensive resources to deal with the coming threats. Capturing with the pawn on f4 allows 25...Qxe6, while capturing with the king can be responded by 25...Qb5, as in the game, except that the white king is much more exposed in this variation.

After the text, Mammadzada managed to regroup and eventually grabbed the full point by exchanging down into a winning endgame. The remainder of the game was no walk in the park, though.

 

Gunay Mammadzada

Gunay Mammadzada

Following such a remarkable victory over the highest-rated player in the field, Mammadzada had the tough task of facing the leader with the black pieces.

Another sharp, theoretical variation appeared on the board, and Socko demonstrated that she was very well-prepared, as she played a crucial exchange sacrifice in a position with both kings vulnerable to potential attacks.

 

22.Rxc6 keeps the momentum going for White, as the bishop pair is ready to join the attack on the queenside.

The game continued with 22...Qxc6 23.Rc1 Qxb5 24.Bxb5+ Kd8 25.Rc6 (all this had been played in a correspondence chess game back in 2019).

 

Note how the knight is about to get trapped on the queenside. In the aforementioned correspondence game, Black played 25...Nxb2 and went on to draw the game, while Mammadzada’s 25...Rxh2 was a bit too optimistic, albeit not losing immediately.

After 26.b3 Rxg2 (this is a bigger mistake than ...Rxh2; 26...Nc3+ was stronger) 27.bxa4, Black blundered decisively with 27...Rb8

 

Mammadzada was already in trouble, but her move allows mate-in-4: 28.Ba5+ Kd7 29.Rc7+ Kd8 30.Rc2+ and Black resigned.

 

Round 9 saw Mammadzada playing a fourth decisive game in a row (she had beaten Italy’s Marina Brunello in round 6), as the fighting Azerbaijani defeated an in-form Maria Gevorgyan with the white pieces, while Socko drew with black on the top board.

Both Socko and Mammadzada will play with black in the tenth round. Socko will face Azerbaijani IM Gulnar Mammadova, while Mammadzada will play against defending champion Elina Danielian from Armenia.

Lilit Mkrtchian

Armenian IM Lilit Mkrtchian


Standings after round 9

Rk. Name Pts.  TB1 
1 Socko Monika 7,5 0
2 Mammadzada Gunay 7 0
3 Danielian Elina 6,5 0
4 Fataliyeva Ulviyya 6,5 0
5 Mammadova Gulnar 6,5 0
6 Gevorgyan Maria 6,5 0
7 Maltsevskaya Aleksandra 6,5 0
8 Mkrtchian Lilit 6,5 0
9 Gaponenko Inna 6,5 0
10 Ushenina Anna 6 0
11 Tsolakidou Stavroula 6 0
12 Narva Mai 6 0
13 Sargsyan Anna M. 6 0
14 Kiolbasa Oliwia 6 0
15 Babiy Olga 6 0
16 Salimova Nurgyul 6 0
17 Beydullayeva Govhar 6 0
18 Roebers Eline 6 0
19 Balajayeva Khanim 6 0
20 Milliet Sophie 6 0

...123 players


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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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