Nicosia GP: Six (out of six) decisive results

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
5/17/2023 – The fourth and final stage of the Women’s Grand Prix series kicked off in Cyprus. All six round-1 games finished decisively. The biggest shocker was Dinara Wagner’s victory over Aleksandra Goryachkina — the latter entered the tournament in second place in the series’ overall ranking, only behind Zhu Jiner, who is not playing in Nicosia. Kateryna Lagno, Tan Zhongyi, Nana Dzagnidze, Harika Dronavalli and Gunay Mammadzada also scored full points. | Photo: FIDE / Mark Livshitz

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Wagner shocks Goryachkina

It all comes down to the fourth and final leg of the 2022–23 Women’s Grand Prix series. Two spots in the next edition of the Women’s Candidates are up for grabs, and 3 out of the 12 participants in Nicosia have the best chances to clinch them: Aleksandra Goryachkina, Alexandra Kosteniuk and Kateryna Lagno, the winners from the previous events of the series.

In a first round that saw all six games ending decisively, two out of the three aforementioned players started the tournament with a loss. Goryachkina and Kosteniuk lost to Dinara Wagner and Tan Zhongyi respectively, while Lagno got the upper hand in the race for the Candidates’ spots by beating Polina Shuvalova.

The losses suffered by Goryachkina and Kosteniuk also favoured two players who still have outside chances to finish in the series’ top-two — i.e. Nana Dzagnidze and Harika Dronavalli, who defeated Bella Khotenashvili and Bibisara Assaubayeva, respectively.

The current leader in the overall standings, in fact, is Chinese rising star Zhu Jiner, who already played three tournaments in the series. Thus, Zhu will be rooting for the underdogs to beat the series’ frontrunners throughout the event.

Kateryna Lagno

Kateryna Lagno | Photo: FIDE / Mark Livshitz

Certainly the most surprising result was Wagner’s win over Goryachkina, in a case of the lowest-rated player in the field beating the favourite by rating (perhaps one for Robert Ris’ latest show, albeit the rating difference in this one might not be spectacular enough).

Out of a Catalan, Wagner was up to speed theory-wise relative to her famed opponent. The German representative, in fact, got the upper hand in the early middlegame.

A sharp battle ensued, where Goryachkina managed to balance things out but never quite stabilized the position fully. Eventually, an ending with queens and bishops of opposite colours was reached. Wagner was in the driver’s seat, and saw her opponent faltering on move 65.

Engines give White less than a pawn’s worth advantage after 65...Bf2, but it was never going to be easy to defend this position for a human with the h-file passer ready to advance and Black lacking counterchances.

Nonetheless, Goryachkina’s 65...Kg7 only made matters worse. After a series of checks, White grabbed the pawns on c7 and f7. The game continued until move 81, but there was little doubt about how the game would end for quite a while.

Resignation came after 81.Qxf5+, with mate-in-7 on the board. White does not even need to promote her c-pawn — the queen and bishop will corner the black king with a series of checks.

Aleksandra Goryachkina

Aleksandra Goryachkina | Photo: FIDE / Mark Livshitz

Much like in Wagner’s victory, Tan defeated Kosteniuk — now representing Switzerland — by coordinating her queen and light-squared bishop.

Kosteniuk’s 47.Qe7 was overly optimistic, as 47.Ne6 was the more circumspect alternative in the position. Giving Tan the chance to grab the initiative at once led to a rather quick defeat.

47...Qg1+ 48.Ke2 Bd5 49.Qe8+ Kh4 50.Ng6+ Kg5 51.Ne7 Qg2+ followed.

The white king is caught in a mating net. Kosteniuk resigned three moves later.

Tan Zhongyi

Tan Zhongyi | Photo: FIDE / Mark Livshitz

Results - Round 1

Standings - Round 1

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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.