Half-time at the Women's Grand Prix

by André Schulz
9/17/2019 – Women's world champion Ju Wenjun is the sole leader of the Skolkovo Grand Prix after six rounds. A three-player chasing group is close behind though, with Kateryna Lagno, Humpy Koneru and World Championship challenger Aleksandra Goryachkina all standing at a half-point distance. The twelve participants are having a rest day, before the final five rounds take place through next Monday. | Photo: David Llada / FIDE

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Ju Wenjun leads

The four highest-rated players in Skolkovo are atop the standings, with world champion Ju Wenjun leading by a half point over Aleksandra Goryachkina, Humpy Koneru and Kateryna Lagno. All four players and Elisabeth Paehtz — who is trailing the chasing pack another half point back — are undefeteadet in Moscow. 

Five rounds are still left to go, and a couple of exciting pairings are in store for Wednesday: Ju Wenjun plays Black against early leader Valentina Gunina and Kateryna Lagno will have the white pieces against Elisabeth Paehtz.

Women's Grand Prix Skolkovo 2019

The playing hall | Photo: David Llada

Gunina gets off to a good start

Valentina Gunina is a very enterprising player who is always looking to get full points. This often works for her, but it also backfires from time to time. A more pragmatic approach would certainly improve her rating, but it would also be less entertaining for the Russian. At the Grand Prix in Skolkovo, Gunina both had fun and collected full points in the first two rounds.

On day one, Gunina exploited a moment of inattention by Antoaneta Stefanova to kick off with a win. In round two, against Alexandra Kosteniuk, she refused an implicit draw offer by repetition out of a Caro-Kann, as she waited for her opponent to make a mistake. And the error came almost immediately.


White could relocate her knight on c5 starting with 31.♘a4, getting an equal position; or, if Kosteniuk was more in the mood to complicate, she could have gone for 31.c4. Instead, the former world champion chose the mysterious 31.e1 and was already worse after the logical 31...b4 — how to prevent the invasion on c2?

Kosteniuk did not stop looking for defensive resources, but ended up losing after 56 moves nonetheless. This meant Gunina had started the tournament "knocking over" two former world champions.

Valentina Gunina

Enterprising chess is guaranteed when Valentina Gunina is in the mix | Photo: David Llada 

The world champion sets the pace

Ju Wenjun defeated Pia Cramling in round one and Marie Sebag in round four — both rather clear wins "from start to finish". Before the sixth round, she was sharing first place with Gunina and had three players trailing closely. All three members of the chasing pack won, while Gunina fell prey to a devastating attack by Paehtz, but the Chinese star did not lose the lead, as she also won, against Alina Kashlinskaya.

Kashlinskaya was playing Black and gave up her queen for a rook and a minor piece out of a difficult French Winawer. Ju Wenjun was in the driver's seat and did not waste her chance to invade with the queen:


Black has a strong knight blocking the position on f5. Naturally, 33.xf5 comes to mind — and that is what White played. After 33...exf5 34.gxh6 White's queen penetrated the opposite camp with decisive effect.

Ju Wenjun

Women's world champion Ju Wenjun | Photo: David Llada

Paehtz hunts down Gunina's king

German IM Elisabeth Paehtz drew her first five games and was facing the in-form Gunina with White in round six. The Russian played a fashionable line of the Caro-Kann, and the contenders delved into a line in which White gives up a pawn for the initiative, recently used by Maxime Vachier-Lagrave to take down David Navara at the FIDE Grand Prix in Riga. Paehtz and Gunina deviated from that predecessor game on move 13 — when Navara castled short — and reached the following position two moves later:


Paehtz did not hesitate to give up an exchange in order to keep the king in the centre: 16.xd7 xd7 (16...♛xd7 is bad due to 17.♕xe5+, as the h8-rook would be hanging).

Valentina Gunina did not put up the most stubborn defences and quickly found herself in a desperate situation:


White continued with 29.xb7 xb7 30.d6+ and Black gave up her queen in order to prevent mate. Gunina defended against White's queen with her rook and bishop for a while, but could not even save a half point.

Elisabeth Paehtz

Elisabeth Paehtz scored a fine attacking victory | Photo: David Llada

Those atop the standings have shown why they are considered to be the favourites. The eleven-round event continues on Wednesday. The games start at 15:00 local time (14:00 CEST).

Pairings of Round 7

Name Result Name
Gunina Valentina   Ju Wenjun
Lagno Kateryna   Paehtz Elisabeth
Koneru Humpy   Stefanova Antoaneta
Harika Dronavalli   Cramling Pia
Sebag Marie   Goryachkina Aleksandra
Kashlinskaya Alina   Kosteniuk Alexandra

Current standings


All games


Translation from German and additional reporting: Carlos Colodro


André Schulz started working for ChessBase in 1991 and is an editor of ChessBase News.


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