Kateryna Lagno wins Astana Women’s Grand Prix

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
9/30/2022 – Kateryna Lagno won the first stage of the Women’s Grand Prix series with an undefeated 8/11 score. Lagno finished a half point ahead of Aleksandra Goryachkina (pictured, left), who scraped a half point in the final round after Vaishali Rameshbabu failed to convert a winning rook endgame. Chinese youngster Zhu Jiner grabbed third place. Zhansaya Abdumalik and Dinara Wagner scored full points on the last day of action. | Photo: FIDE / Anna Shtourman

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A 2659 rating performance

Kateryna Lagno won five games and drew six on her way to victory at the Women’s Grand Prix in Astana. The Russian drew four out of her first five encounters, but then scored four wins in a row to grab the sole lead with two rounds to go. Aleksandra Goryachkina, who had been leading the standings throughout, could not catch up with Lagno in the final stages of the event, and ended up a half point behind the eventual winner, also with an undefeated score.

Thanks to her efforts in the Kazakh capital, Lagno gained 15.5 rating points, which allowed her to leapfrog women’s world champion Ju Wenjun in the live ratings list.

In Thursday’s eleventh round, both Lagno and Goryachkina had the black pieces. Lagno repeated 21 moves of theory to draw with Alexandra Kosteniuk in a variation of the Scotch Opening in which White gives up material to get a perpetual check almost by force. To the contrary, Goryachkina had to work hard, as she faced an inspired Vaishali, who outplayed her famed opponent but could not convert a superior rook endgame with two extra pawns.

 

Rook endgames are tough — here Vaishali’s 57.b4 in fact leads to a drawn position, when a manoeuvre like 57.Rb4, planning to place the rook behind the d-pawn is clearly winning for White. Goryachkina took her chance and eventually saved a half point, thus ending the tournament undefeated.

19-year-old Zhu Jiner got sole third place after signing a 30-move draw with Bibisara Assaubayeva in the final round. The Chinese rising star has gained 20.4 rating points in this month — besides her strong showing in Astana, she recently defeated Hou Yifan, the highest-rated woman player in the world, in round 7 of the Chinese League.

Zhu Jiner

Focused — Zhu Jiner | Photo: FIDE / Anna Shtourman

Abdumalik and Wagner end with wins

Local hero Zhansaya Abdumalik finished fifth with a 5½/11 score. In her final game of the event, she got the better of an out-of-form Alina Kashlinskaya, who faltered decisively on move 34.

 

Black has the bishop pair, but White has both a space advantage and the initiative. Due to the threat of fxe6-Qg6, Kashlinskaya’s best alternative here was 34...Qe8, while her 34...Bc6 allowed Abdumalik to enter a sequence that would leave her with a clearly superior endgame — 35.fxe6 fxe6 36.Qg6 Qf8+ and now White found the crucial 37.Nf5

 

The knight needs to be captured, since there is no way for Black to successfully defend the dark-squared bishop. The best option, as played by Kashlinskaya, is to go for 37...Qxf5+ 38.Qxf5 exf5 39.Rxe7, but in the ensuing position with opposite-coloured bishops White is clearly in the driver’s seat.

 

These positions are all about the initiative. Abdumalik ably converted her advantage to end the event with a 48-move win.

Zhansaya Abdumalik

Zhansaya Abdumalik | Photo: FIDE / Anna Shtourman

Dinara Wagner was the clear underdog in the field, but she more than justified having received a wildcard spot — granted to Germany, since a stage of the series will be played in Munich — as she scored a respectable 5/11 and managed to defeat Kosteniuk, Kashlinskaya and Polina Shuvalova.

Much like in the aforementioned game, a knight on f5 played a crucial role in Wagner’s victory over Shuvalova.

 

Black is in serious trouble. Shuvalova, understandably, spent over half an hour thinking here, but her decision to continue with 24...Kf8 was still a grave mistake (24...exf4 was best). 

White replied by 25.fxe5, opening up the f-file, and went on to make the most of Black’s weakened dark squares with her well-coordinated pieces. Shuvalova resigned on move 35.

Wagner’s strong performance granted her an IM norm.

Dinara Wagner

Dinara Wagner | Photo: FIDE / Anna Shtourman

Final standings

 

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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