Advantage Humpy at the Women's Grand Prix

by Macauley Peterson
9/21/2019 – Women's World Champion Ju Wenjun faced her World Championship rival Aleksandra Goryachkina today in Skolkovo at the FIDE Women's Grand Prix. A long battle ended in a draw, leaving Humpy Koneru alone at the top of the standings heading into Sunday's final round. But Ju has her fate in her hands as she's Humpy's opponent in what could be a thrilling finale. | Photo: David Llada / FIDE

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Ju must win with Black on Sunday

The top four players in Skolkovo are also the four highest rated, with Humpy Koneru out in front following an impressive four-game winning streak. World champion Ju Wenjun still has a chance to take first, however — as Caissa would have it, she faces Humpy in the potentially dramatic final round. In the penultimate round, Humpy drew quickly against Kateryna Lagno, while Ju pressed her pawn advantage in rook endgame against Aleksandra Goryachkina for hours before yielding a draw, leaving the standings unchanged.


Current standings

 

A few years ago, Humpy Koneru was not only the best Indian chess player, but also a serious candidate to challenge for the world title. She was already a Grandmaster as a 15-year-old in 2002 — the youngest female player in history to achieve the title. And in 2007, with a 2606 Elo rating, she was the second woman after Judit Polger to pass the 2600 mark. After marrying in 2014 she took a competitive break from chess, but now seems to have the drive to attack the World Championship goal once again.

Paehtz vs Humpy

Paehtz vs Koneru

In round eight the resurgent Indian player met Elisabeth Paehtz who suffered her first defeat in this tournament.

 

White stands worse here. Black continued 39...c4, traded on e3, won the pawn on c5 and gained a passed pawn on the b-file, against which there was no respite.

In the same round Ju, defending a narrow lead, beat former World Champion Alexandra Kosteniuk.

Ju vs Kosteniuk

In a balanced rook ending the World Champion gained the upper hand:

 

Ju

Ju Wenjun has one more chance

The balance shifted in the ninth round, when Ju suffered a devastating loss in just 36 moves against Kateryna Lagno from a Petroff. Lagno steered the game down a path Ju travelled earlier this year with Black against David Paravyan in the Prague Challengers. After exchanging off Ju's dark-squared bishop, Lagno expoited the weak dark squares around Ju's king to launch a mating attack.

 

34.f4! The pawn cannot be captured due to the threat of Rg5+ so Ju desperately tried to get the queens off with 34...b7 but the game came to a swift conclusion as Lagno found 35.f6 f7 36.d8+ and mate to follow. 1-0

Meanwhile, Humpy capped the aforementioned four-game winning streak by beating Valentina Gunina in fine style:

 

Gunina defends her f3-knight indirectly since ♔xf3 would be met by Rf8+ and an invasion on f2. But she overlooked White's tempo-gaining manoeuvre 28.a4 a7 29.c5! when Black's position suddenly collapses, leaving Humpy with strong passed a and b-pawns.

Humpy

Humpy hurtles to the top of the standings | Photo: David Llada

Humpy is now a draw away from winning the first leg of the FIDE Women's Grand Prix, but she faces a tough challenge — Ju Wenjun must win to finish first. Because the leaders are paired, no other player has a chance. Goryachkina will be looking for second as she has good chances to defeat the struggling Pia Cramling, who's in dead last place.


Pairings of Round 11

Bo. No. Rtg   Name Result   Name Rtg No.
1 6 2560 GM Koneru Humpy   GM Ju Wenjun 2576 12
2 7 2503 GM Harika Dronavalli   GM Lagno Kateryna 2545 5
3 8 2450 GM Sebag Marie   GM Gunina Valentina 2502 4
4 9 2487 IM Kashlinskaya Alina   IM Paehtz Elisabeth 2479 3
5 10 2495 GM Kosteniuk Alexandra   GM Stefanova Antoaneta 2491 2
6 11 2564 GM Goryachkina Aleksandra   GM Cramling Pia 2487 1

All games and commentary

 

Andre Schulz contributed reporting

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Macauley is Editor in Chief of ChessBase News in Hamburg, Germany, and producer of The Full English Breakfast chess podcast. He was an Associate Producer of the 2016 feature documentary, Magnus.
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Rambus Rambus 9/22/2019 04:55
Poor Ju blundered horribly with 57. Kg4 which achieves nothing & throws away the 1 tempo needed to win.
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