Steinitz Memorial: Lagno and Dubov grab the lead

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
5/17/2020 – Russians Kateryna Lagno and Daniil Dubov have taken the lead at the women's and open sections of the FIDE Online Steinitz Memorial respectively. The sensation of the day was Dubov's win over Magnus Carlsen, leapfrogging the world champion atop the standings table. Carlsen kept up the pace with the Russian and is now in sole second place a half point back. | Photos: FIDE

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A fine win over the world champion

When Daniil Dubov won the 2018 World Rapid Championship — shortly after Magnus Carlsen had defended his classical World Championship title against Caruana, with Dubov as a second — the Russian star noted that he had learned from his boss "not to care about what people say". Once again, this attitude came handy for the 24-year-old, as he grabbed the lead by convincingly beating Carlsen in round nine of the Steinitz Memorial.

Dubov was undefeated between rounds seven and twelve, winning his first three games and drawing the rest. The leader did get lucky once — when Peter Svidler hung a rook by playing the wrong pre-move — but also proved he is one of the most dangerous players in the circuit, as his victory over Carlsen was a well-played 53-move game, especially by blitz standards.

In the women's section, current world blitz champion Kateryna Lagno won four out of six games to grab the lead on Saturday. Former sole leader Alexandra Kosteniuk did not have a good day, but is nevertheless a half point behind, sharing second place with Tan Zhongyi and Zhansaya Abdumalik. The latter had a great run, winning five and only losing to Lagno on the second day of action.

Daniil Dubov, Magnus Carlsen

Dubov and Carlsen shortly after the Russian won the 2018 World Rapid Championship | Photo: Maria Emelianova    

Open: Two losses in a row for Carlsen

World champion Magnus Carlsen has not lost a single classical game in over twenty-two months, so to see him losing two games in a row, even in blitz, somehow feels noteworthy. As reported by Tarjei J. Svensen, while talking to the Norwegian press, the world champion expressed first his disappointment and then his desire to keep fighting on day three:

I promised that I would play better today, but I didn't. I don't know what to say. It was so messy that it was terrible. [...] The only thing necessary is to have a good day tomorrow, and it will all be fine.

In round seven, Carlsen got to show a nice final move against Bu Xiangzhi:


Bu resigned after seeing the devastating 32.Rxg6+

The champ continued leading after round eight, as he defeated Jeffery Xiong in a game that featured an exciting finale, with Carlsen infiltrating Xiong's camp with his king in a rook ending. Dubov did not let him run away though, also winning his first two games of the day.

It was the perfect time for Carlsen and Dubov to face each other, with the Russian playing white and getting a better position out of the opening in round nine. On move 35, Carlsen decided to exchange the minor pieces, looking to defend a double-rook endgame:


Black only worsened his situation with 35...Bxc3, and Dubov went on to show good technique to convert his advantage. The former second of Carlsen had taken the lead.

After starting the day with two whites (and two wins) in a row, Carlsen had a second consecutive black in round ten, this time against Svidler. The man from Saint Petersburg also got a good position in the early middlegame, and ended the game with a winning sacrifice similar to the one played by Carlsen in the last encounter of his World Championship match against Sergey Karjakin in 2016: 


Four years ago, Carlsen had given up a queen on h6 while checking Black's king on h7. This time around, Svidler's 48.Rxh6+ prompted the Norwegian's immediate resignation.

Dubov now had a one-point lead, but he only scored a draw in round eleven, while Carlsen defeated Le Quang Liem. Finally, in round twelve, both players drew with black, as Mamedyarov defended an endgame a pawn down against the world champion. 'Shakh' is in sole third place entering the last day of action.

Standings after Round 12 - Open section


All games - Open section


Women's: Lagno and Abdumalik on a roll

The two players that stood out among the women on day two were Kateryna Lagno and Zhansaya Abdumalik. The latter won five out of six games, only losing against Lagno in round eight. Lagno, who won the last two editions of the Women's World Blitz Championships, scored 4½ points, losing the last encounter of the day against Iranian Sarasadat Khademalsharieh.

Alexandra Kosteniuk ended day one leading by 1½ points, but lost her face-off against second-placed Tan Zhongyi in round seven. The Chinese took down tail-ender Deysi Cori in round eight to temporarily take the lead, while Lagno got the better of Abdumalik with the white pieces — Abdumalik will get white in what might turn out to be the decisive match-up of the last round. 

Tan gave up the lead quickly though, blundering out of the opening against Abdumalik in round nine:


Black lost a piece by force after 8...Ng6 9.dxe5 Nxe5 (9...Bxe5 was the lesser of two evils) 10.Nxe5 Bxe5 11.f4. Tan continued playing until move 42, but the result was never in doubt.

At the outset of round ten, Lagno, Tan, Kosteniuk and Marie Sebag were sharing the lead, but the only one to score a full point was Lagno. Kosteniuk's woes continued, as she could not find a mate-in-six against co-leader Sebag:


Black played 47...Qc8, when the natural continuation 47...Rc1+ 48.Kh2 Qh5+ led to mate. The game ended in a draw after 53 moves.

Abdumalik continued her rise in the standings by defeating Kosteniuk in round eleven, while Lagno kept the lead with a win over Elisabeth Paehtz. Luckily for Abdumalik and Kosteniuk, first and second-placed Lagno and Tan lost in round twelve, with the Chinese making another crude mistake out of the opening:


Tan blundered the game away against Lei Tingjie with 14.Qxd3, allowing 14...Qxe1+. White resigned at once.

Standings after Round 12 - Women's section


All games - Women's section



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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