Women’s Candidates: A 98-move draw

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
12/6/2022 – The match to decide who will face Lei Tingjie in the final of the Women’s Candidates Tournament kicked off on Tuesday in Khiva. Aleksandra Goryachkina had the white pieces, found herself in a slightly inferior position, and in the end managed to get a draw against Tan Zhongyi. | Photo: Timur Sattarov

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Strategic nuances

The current women’s world champion, Ju Wenjun, has retained the crown since May 2018. She first grabbed the title by beating Tan Zhongyi in a 10-game match played in Shanghai. The same year, in November, she kept the title by winning a 64-player knockout tournament in Khanty-Mansiysk. Then, shortly before the pandemic hit, Ju defeated Aleksandra Goryachkina in a 12-game match, which again was organized in Shanghai.

Tan and Goryachkina, the two players who failed to take down the champ in matchplay, are now battling it out for the right to face Lei Tingjie in the final of the Women’s Candidates. 

Aleksandra Goryachkina, Tan Zhongyi

Game on — Aleksandra Goryachkina got the white pieces first in the semifinal match against Tan Zhongyi | Photo: Timur Sattarov

In the first game of the 4-game match, Goryachkina got the white pieces, and the contenders entered a nuanced strategic struggle. White had doubled pawns on the f-file, while Black had a restricted light-squared bishop on the long diagonal.

 

The last pair of rooks left the board here — 30...Rxc1+ 31.Nxc1. Goryachkina made a somewhat questionable decision a few moves later, after 31...a5 32.Kg2 Nb2 33.Qc3 Nc4

 

A 5-minute reflection by the Russian was followed by the forcing 34.Nxc4 dxc4, opening up the long diagonal for the potentially strong black bishop.

In the ensuing struggle, engines considered that Black had, at times, a considerable advantage — some of the lines given, however, are typical of computers, with very subtle details tipping the evaluation in Black’s favour only at the end of long variations. From a human point of view, things did not look simple at all. In fact, Goryachkina never felt like she was in real trouble of losing. The Russian explained:

All in all, I didn’t think that my position was that challenging. We were just moving back and forth, and I don’t recall having any major problems.

It was, nonetheless, a lengthy struggle, with the draw being agreed only after White played her 98th move. The players will get a rest day after Wednesday’s game 2, with the final two classical encounters set to take place on Friday and Saturday. If necessary, a rapid tiebreaker will be played on Sunday.

All games - Pool B

 
 

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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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