European Women’s Blitz: Kosteniuk, Khadem and Khotenashvili reach the podium

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
1/12/2024 – Alexandra Kosteniuk, Sara Khadem and Bela Khotenashvili all finished the European Women’s Blitz Championship with 10/13 points. Kosteniuk, who entered the final round with a 1-point advantage and lost to Khadem with white, had the best tiebreak score, and thus grabbed the gold medal. The 11-round rapid championship will take place on Saturday and Sunday. | Photos: European Chses Union

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Khadem beats Kosteniuk in the final round

Two weeks after Valentina Gunina obtained a memorable victory at the World Blitz Championship in Samarkand, European players made their way to Monaco to participate in the European Women’s Rapid and Blitz Championship.

(Note that the Russian Chess Federation moved to Asia last year, although “Russian players who live in Europe and do not want to follow the RCF to Asia will be permitted to transfer to the ECU without paying fees to Russia and FIDE”.)

The blitz tournament took place on Saturday, with 13 rounds of games with a time control of 3 minutes plus 2-second increments.

Alexandra Kosteniuk, now representing Switzerland, entered the event as the clear rating favourite. Moreover, the former women’s world champion came from getting second place behind Gunina in Samarkand. After collecting 9 wins, 2 draws and 1 loss in the first 12 rounds of the event, Kosteniuk entered the final round with a full-point advantage over a 5-player chasing group.

European Women's Rapid and Blitz Chess Championship 2023

The playing hall during the blitz championship

The clear leader had the white pieces against Sara Khadem, and came out of the opening with an extra pawn and a visible strategic advantage.

A tactical recourse here justifies the engines’ evaluation of +2, one that the tournament favourite failed to find.

Kosteniuk, an excellent tactical player, would quickly assess that 20.Rxe4 Rxe4 21.Qd3 is good for White under normal circumstances. However, it is likely that fatigue and nerves (at this point of the tournament) prevented her from playing the winning sequence here.

Instead, the game continued with 20.Bd5, looking to simplify the position, as a draw was enough to secure her outright victory.

After 20...Bxd5 21.Rxd5 Nf4, Kosteniuk faltered again with 22.Rf5

22.Rdd1 was the way to go — what Kosteniuk missed was Khadem’s 22...Ne2, forcing 23.Rxe2 Rxe2, gaining an exchange and the initiative.

Kosteniuk began to look for active counterchances with 24.Qd3 Rfe8 25.Rh5, failing to foresee her opponent’s killing blow: 25...Re1+

Black crucially controls the h2-square, the king’s only way to escape the back rank. Kosteniuk resigned since after 26.Nxe1 Rxe1+, White could only keep the game going with 27.Qf1, giving up the queen.

Sara Khadem

Sara Khadem now represents Spain

The next two boards, featuring four players who entered the round with 9 points (a full point behind the leader) saw Bella Khotenashvili beating Marta Garcia with white and Ukrainian compatriots Yuliia Osmak and Anna Ushenina signing a 20-move draw.

Therefore, Kosteniuk, Khadem and Khotenashvili all finished the event with 10 points each. Remarkably, throughout the 13 rounds of play, Kosteniuk and Khotenashvili did not face each other, which meant that the results of the contenders tied for first place could not be used as a tiebreak criterion. The second criterion, though, gave Kosteniuk the gold medal, Khadem the silver medal and Khotenashvili the bronze medal.

This is Kosteniuk’s third victory in this event. Curiously, her triumphs in 2017 and in 2019 were also obtained in Monaco. On those occasions, she scored 10½ and 10 points, respectively.

Khadem, on her part, claimed silver medals at both the Rapid and the Blitz World Championships in 2018.

Final standings

1 Kosteniuk, Alexandra 10 0
2 Khademalsharieh, Sarasadat 10 0
3 Khotenashvili, Bella 10 0
4 Osmak, Yuliia 9,5 0
5 Kulon, Klaudia 9,5 0
6 Ushenina, Anna 9,5 0
7 Stefanova, Antoaneta 9 0
8 Garcia Martin, Marta 9 0
9 Lazarne Vajda, Szidonia 9 0
10 Hejazipour, Mitra 9 0
11 Gvetadze, Sofio 9 0
12 Cramling, Pia 8,5 0
13 Guichard, Pauline 8,5 0
14 Batsiashvili, Nino 8,5 0
15 Sivanandan, Bodhana 8,5 0
16 Schippke, Manon 8 0
17 Daulyte-Cornette, Deimante 8 0
18 Sliwicka, Alicja 8 0
19 Paehtz, Elisabeth 8 0
20 Zhukova, Natalia 8 0
21 Galvan Cipriani, Viviana 8 0
22 Vega Gutierrez, Sabrina 8 0
23 Doluhanova, Evgeniya 8 0
24 Haussernot, Cecile 8 0
25 Salimova, Nurgyul 7,5 0

...105 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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