Superfinals: Alekseenko and Gunina in the lead

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
10/12/2021 – After three rounds, the Superfinals in Russia have two sole leaders — Kirill Alekseenko in the open section, and Valentina Gunina in the women’s tournament. Both of them have scored two wins and a draw so far in Ufa. Aleksandra Goryachkina, who is playing in the open event, drew Pavel Ponkratov, beat Alexander Motylev and was defeated by Alekseenko. | Photo: Eteri Kublashvili

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Goryachkina scores in round 2

For the first time in a Russian Superfinal, a woman is playing in the open section. At 23, Aleksandra Goryachkina qualified to the national event via the Russian Higher League, where she finished third in a tournament that included 13 players rated 2600 or above. 

The 23-year-old from Orsk is ranked number two in the world, only behind Hou Yifan. In January last year, the Russian lost the Women’s World Championship match to Ju Wenjun in the rapid tiebreak that followed her game-12 victory in a must-win situation. A year later, Goryachkina is rated over 40 points above Ju, and catching Hou in the ratings list is by no means a distant dream.

At the Superfinal, Goryachkina is the clear underdog rating-wise in a field that includes five players rated 2700 or above. Nonetheless, she obtained a superior position (which she could not convert) in the first round against Pavel Ponkratov, and defeated former European champion Alexander Motylev in round 2.

 

Surprisingly, the experienced Motylev had spent a lot of time in the opening, and by this point he was already on the back foot. Although there is no direct shot for White, it is not easy to find a way to play actively with black — for example, after 20...Rxd1+ 21.Rxd1, Black will have trouble dealing with the threats on the back rank.

Motylev defended his rook with the passive 20...Qf8, and two moves later pushed his f-pawn, allowing Goryachkina to capture en passant. Black’s kingside had been permanently weakened. On move 36, Goryachkina created a second front on the queenside.

 

After 36.a5 bxa5 37.Qxc5, the game lasted only four more moves before Black resigned.

Aleksandra Goryachkina

Aleksandra Goryachkina | Photo: Eteri Kublashvili

While Goryachkina’s presence in the open tournament is certainly a highlight of the whole event, it is Kirill Alekseenko who is currently leading the standings table. The player from Vyborg, who lives in Saint Petersburg since he was a child, beat Alexandr Predke in the first round, drew Vladimir Fedoseev in the second, and defeated Goryachkina in the third.

 

Playing white, Alekseenko got a strategic advantage out of the opening. Here, Goryachkina decided to play 25...Nxf4, to which White quickly responded with 26.Qxc5. In hindsight, it would have been a better idea for Black to keep her bishop with 25...Bd6 or 25...Bf8, as she will nevertheless lose the d5-pawn, but will probably get better chances to hold a draw in the endgame with her bishop still on the board.

This was the position nine moves later.

 

Black was in deep trouble, and thus decided to give up an exchange with 35...Rxc3. Alekseenko was not going to let this opportunity pass, though, and he went on to further dominate the position and win the game shortly after.

Kirill Alekseenko, Aleksandra Goryachkina

Kirill Alekseenko beat Aleksandra Goryachkina | Photo: Eteri Kublashvili

Standings after round 3

 

All games

 

Meanwhile, in the women’s section, 3-time Russian champion Valentina Gunina is leading the standings after three rounds. After drawing Olga Girya in round 1, she obtained back-to-back wins over Marina Guseva and Alina Kashlinskaya.

 

Facing Kashlinskaya with black, Gunina played as aggressively as ever, entering a double-edged position from the get go and pushing her opponent to make difficult decisions at every turn. On move 27, Kashlinskaya blundered by capturing a pawn with 27.Rxb5, allowing 27...Rxe3 (White needed to prevent this line with 27.Re1).

White now cannot play a move like 28.Bb1 due to 28...Qd7, while Kashlinskaya’s 28.Rb7, attacking the f7-pawn, fails to 28...Qd3+ 29.Kg1 Re1+ 30.Kh2 Qe4

 

31.Bxf7+ is only a check, as White needs to defend against the entrance of the rook on h1. After 31...Kh8 32.Bd5, Gunina forced her opponent’s resignation with 32...Rh1+ 33.Kg3 Qf4+.

Valentina Gunina

Valentina Gunina during the first round | Photo: Eteri Kublashvili

Standings after round 3

 

All games

 

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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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