Women’s Candidates: Muzychuk and Koneru go to tiebreaks

by Albert Silver
10/30/2022 – The Petroff has never had a reputation for decisive games, so deliberately entering into one in a must-win situation would seem not a little mad, yet for Ana Muzychuk at least her persistence paid off when she broke her higher rated opponent's resistance with a brilliant exchange sacrifice. Here sister was not so fortunate and Lei Tingjie won their match. | Photo: Michal Walusza

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When the Petroff only draws

In their first bout using the opening, Mariya Muzychuk had never really been able to rock the boat in any significant way, so the question was what she had up her sleeve to change that. Perhaps she was also counting on some nerves from her opponent after the near loss the day before. But if that was the case, it is a risky gambit since many also feel reinvigorated by such a save.

It was not the outcome Mariya had hoped for | Photo: Michal Walusza

Although Muzychuk was the first to deviate and play a fairly innocuous novelty, she was unable to break the hallmark symmetry that defines the opening. After 18. Rfe8 the result was not in doubt.

 

In a nutshell, the pawn structure is not only symmetrical, but there is no way to create a break on either side. White played it until move 43 out of principle, but there seems no doubt she saw the writing on the wall long before they shook hands.

A powerful display by the Chinese player though not without some rocky moments. | Photo: Michal Walusza

Winning with the Petroff

If Lei Tingjie had to be quite happy to repeat the opening of round two, the same should not have been the case for Humpy Koneru. The reason is that this Petroff had resulted in a rich fighting position with all the pieces on the board, exactly what Ana Muzychuk had to be hoping for in a game where she needed every opportunity to be able to create winning chances.

 

Even if neither side can lay claim to any advantage, it is the very nature of the situation on the board that is desirable for White and not for Black, and White was able to make it count when the times began to erode.

This isn't the face of someone who is about to enter a must-win game to hope to save a match. | Photo: Michal Walusza

By move 22, things went from dodgy to bad after Black's nerves began to betray her and she blundered.

 

The situation is already looking quite dangerous for Black, whose willingness to enter a complicated double-edged position had to be causing deep regrets, but after 22... c4? 23. bxc4! Rac8 24. Rb1 Rxc4 25. Rxb6 the reins were firmly in White's hands.

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Things nearly went deeply wrong for White when in mutual time trouble she chose the wrong piece to penetrate on f6.

 

Muzychuk understood perfectly that f6 was a magic square for a piece to enter, but mistakenly chose the bishop for this task with 33. Bg5?? and saw her advantage evaporate. Instead the correct move was 33. Rf4! followed by 34. Rf6. Fortunately for her sanity and sleep at night, she was afforded a chance to redeem herself just a couple of moves later.

 

With just a few minutes left on the clock she correctly and bravely sacrificed her rook with 35. Rexd4! followed by 35...Bxd4 36. Rxd4 Qa2 37. Rd7 she was winning once more.

By move 42, there was no longer any doubt as to the outcome.

 

The vulnerable king and fatally weak back rank left Black with no chances and on move 58, Koneru threw in the towel.

A dramatic end to the classical games, promising more exciting chess in the tiebreaks | Photo: Michal Walusza

There will be a tiebreak on Sunday to decide the fate of both players with rapid games at first, and if that does not resolve it, then an infinite number of blitz game pairs until a winner emerges.  

Two women playing chess by Alphonse Mucha MJ

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Born in the US, he grew up in Paris, France, where he completed his Baccalaureat, and after college moved to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He had a peak rating of 2240 FIDE, and was a key designer of Chess Assistant 6. In 2010 he joined the ChessBase family as an editor and writer at ChessBase News. He is also a passionate photographer with work appearing in numerous publications, and the content creator of the YouTube channel, Chess & Tech.
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