Astana GP: Lagno wins fourth game in a row, leads

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
9/28/2022 – Kateryna Lagno grabbed the sole lead at the Women’s Grand Prix in Astana after scoring a fourth win in a row on Tuesday. Lagno defeated Zhu Jiner with the black pieces, while former co-leader Aleksandra Goryachkina signed a quick draw in her game against Zhansaya Abdumalik. Alexandra Kosteniuk and Polina Shuvalova also scored full points in round 9. | Photo: FIDE / Anna Shtourman

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Two clear favourites

Only Kateryna Lagno and Aleksandra Goryachkina have realistic chances of winning the first event of the Women’s Grand Prix series with two rounds to go in Astana — though Alexandra Kosteniuk and Zhu Jiner, who stand two points behind sole leader Lagno, still have outside chances of catching up with the favourites. Coincidentally, Kosteniuk will face Goryachkina and Lagno in the final two rounds, respectively.

Goryachkina topped the standings from rounds 2 to 8, but a streak of four consecutive wins by Lagno left the latter in the sole lead going into the final two days of action.

In round 9, both contenders for first place played with the black pieces. While Goryachkina signed a quick draw in her game against Zhansaya Abdumalik, Lagno went for the win and inflicted Zhu Jiner’s second consecutive loss in a double-edged 32-move encounter.

Aleksandra Goryachkina

Aleksandra Goryachkina during the second round | Photo: FIDE / Anna Shtourman

Playing white against Lagno, Zhu showed great opening preparation out of a Four Knights Sicilian, but failed to make the most of her initiative on move 25. The youngster spent more than 17 minutes before playing 25.Rc4, which was not the most trying move in the position.

 

Instead of lifting the rook, Zhu would have put more pressure on her opponent’s somewhat cramped position either with 25.a4 or 25.f5, forcing Black to make a tough decision amid a tense middlegame. 

After the text, Lagno got an extra tempo to breathe and relieve the pressure with 25...Bxc5 26.Bxc5 Rfc8. Only then Zhu went for 27.f5, when the sharp 27...f6 — which Lagno had foreseen — is the only move that keeps the balance for Black.

 

How to proceed with White? The bishop on c5 is hanging, but after 28.fxe6 Black cannot grab the piece with 28...Rxc5 due to 29.Rxc5 Rxc5 30.exd7, and the black queen is overloaded. In this line, of course, Black is not forced to capture the bishop, as both 28...Rxe6 or 28...dxe6 are playable and keep the battle going.

The line shown above is important insofar it is likely that Zhu was calculating similar variations before playing 28.exf6, grabbing the wrong pawn. In this case, 28...Rxc5 does work for Black, gaining a piece. However, Lagno ‘believed’ her opponent and, fearing a potential attack, replied by 28...Nxf6.

It was time for Zhu to take her bishop out of harm’s way (to e7, a7 or d4), but she doubled down on the attack by playing 29.fxe6, and only then Lagno realized that she could safely grab the piece.

 

29...Rxc5 followed, and Zhu did not take long to resign the game — 30.a4 Qb6 31.a5 Qb5 32.exd7 Rxc4

 

Black is simply a piece to the good. 0-1

Zhu Jiner, Kateryna Lagno

New sole leader Kateryna Lagno facing Chinese rising star Zhu Jiner | Photo: FIDE / Anna Shtourman

Alexandra Kosteniuk has only drawn twice so far in Astana. In round 9, she bounced back from Monday’s loss against Polina Shuvalova by getting the better of Vaishali Rameshbabu. The former women’s world champion got the upper hand in the middlegame and got to play a nice final combination to secure her fourth win of the event.

 

With 35.Nf5, White threatened mate on g7. 35...f6 is bad due to 36.Rxg7+, with mate-in-8, while Vaishali’s 35...Qf6 fails to the good-looking 36.Nh6+ 

 

All the white pieces, except the bishop on f1, contribute to the attack. Vaishali resigned.

Alexandra Kosteniuk, Vaishali Rameshbabu

A Sicilian on the board — Alexandra Kosteniuk vs Vaishali R | Photo: FIDE / Anna Shtourman

Standings after round 9

 

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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