Gibraltar GP: Lagno qualifies to the Candidates

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
6/3/2021 – A draw with Mariya Muzychuk in the last round of the Gibraltar Women’s Grand Prix was enough for Kateryna Lagno to secure a spot in the next edition of the Women’s Candidates Tournament. The one scenario in which the Russian would have failed to qualify was not so far from happening, as Muzychuk did not go for the most trying continuation nearing the end of the game while Nana Dzagnidze had a superior position against Valentina Gunina at some point in their lengthy encounter. | Photo: John Saunders

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Gunina’s first draw

Zhansaya AbdumalikIt was a delight to finally see the twice-postponed fourth leg of the Women’s Grand Prix series taking place at the chess-loving British overseas territory of Gibraltar. For a second day in a row, a power outage left the players in the dark for a while, but that did not take away from the fact that the tournament was excellently organized.

The main story was Zhansaya Abdumalik’s [pictured, photo by John Saunders] great performance. The 21-year-old won the tournament with a round to spare after becoming Kazakhstan’s first female player to get the grandmaster title. 

Meanwhile, Kateryna Lagno, Nana Dzagnidze and Anna Muzychuk were fighting to reach the Candidates. Lagno was the strongest of the trio from the get go, as she gained a full-point advantage over Dzagnidze and Muzychuk early in the tournament, only to see her chances jeopardized by a loss against 20-year-old Gunay Mammadzada in round 8.

Lagno bounced back from the defeat by beating Irina Bulmaga the very next day, and two draws in the final rounds were enough to secure a spot in the next edition of the Women’s Candidates Tournament.

Dzagnidze finished a half point behind. The Georgian could have leapfrogged Lagno in the standings had the latter lost against Mariya Muzychuk and she had beaten Valentina Gunina from a superior position with the white pieces. In fact, Dzagnidze continued trying to confuse Gunina until move 135! By then, a drawn knight endgame had been reached, though.

Curiously, this was Gunina’s first draw of the event. The ever-fighting Russian confessed in a recent interview with FIDE how difficult it is for her to control her emotions while playing chess. Luckily, she also explained that this does not take away from the enjoyment she gets from playing the game!

Valentina Gunina, Ana Srebrnič

Valentina Gunina with Slovene WGM Ana Srebrnič | Photo: John Saunders

Mariya Muzychuk finished the event in second place after drawing Lagno in the last round. The Russian could have gone for more on move 25.

 

Playing black, the younger of the Muzychuk sisters understandably offered a queen trade, as her king is the more vulnerable of the two and White has the bishop pair. Here, Lagno could have rejected the swap with 25.Qe3 and she would still have chances to look for a win. Given her situation in the Grand Prix series, however, she understandably went for 25.Qxh5 Nxh5.

Five moves later, it was Muzychuk who took the safe route.

 

A draw was agreed after 30...Nxc3 31.Bxc3 Rxc3 as White can capture on a6 and the position is equal. Muzychuk, however, could have opted for 30...Rxa4, when after 31.c4 she would be forced to give up the exchange with 31...Rcxc4 32.Bxc4 Rxc4 — Black would get two extra passed pawns on the queenside and, according to the computer, it is White who needs to fight for a draw with her extra exchange and the bishop pair. 

 

Kateryna Lagno, Mariya Muzychuk

Kateryna Lagno v Mariya Muzychuk | Photo: David Llada

The last game of the tournament to end saw Gunina once again showing great fighting spirit to survive a worse position until reaching a 135-move draw! Dzagnidze would have kept more chances of getting a win had she not offered a bishop trade on move 35.

 

Black is a pawn up, has the safer king and the initiative, so she considered that after 35...Bc6 36.Bxc6 Rxc6 she should still have enough of an advantage to get a full point. As was shown in the game, though, it would have been better to keep more pieces on the board, as Gunina kept creating problems for her opponent in a long game which came after ten rounds of gruelling battles in Gibraltar.

 

Cathy Popham, Valentina Gunina, Nana Dzagnidze

Cathy Popham from the Caleta Hotel makes the first move in Valentina Gunina v Nana Dzagnidze | Photo: John Saunders


Final standings

 

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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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