Women's Candidates: Kosteniuk defeats Gunina

by Antonio Pereira
6/12/2019 – Round ten of the Women's Candidates Tournaments in Kazan finished with three draws and a single decisive game — Alexandra Kosteniuk took down Valentina Gunina with the white pieces. Meanwhile, in the crucial duel of the day, Kateryna Lagno could not overcome clear leader Aleksandra Goryachkina, which means the youngster kept her 2½-point lead over her compatriot with only four rounds to go. | Photo: Anastasiya Karlovich

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Inching closer to the title

Aleksandra Goryachkina leapfrogged Nana Dzagnidze atop the standings in round five and went on to defeat the Georgian the very next day, thus consolidating her leading position. Since then, the 20-year-old has not looked back, getting two more wins in an incredible run that has added no less than 31.5 points to her rating. She is now third in the live ratings list, behind Hou Yifan, who is not taking part in the cycle, and Ju Wenjun, who is the current world champion. Thus, she will (most likely) become a suitable challenger for the crown.

Results of Round 10

The only winner on Wednesday was Alexandra Kosteniuk, who came from a bad four-game run, which prompted her to declare more than once that she did not feel good with her play. The former women's world champion defeated Valentina Gunina, who is also having a tough time in Kazan, as she is now in sole last place with 3½ points out of 10. 

Kateryna Lagno, Aleksandra Goryachkina

Only Kateryna Lagno and Aleksandra Goryachkina have 'plus scores' in Kazan | Photo: Anastasiya Karlovich

Kosteniuk 1:0 Gunina: Attacks on both flanks

The game seemed destined to be an interesting one when Valentina Gunina spent over twenty-two minutes on move four. When Anastasiya Karlovich asked Valentina about the critical points in the game, she quickly replied "4.d4", explaining that she had not prepared this line. Perhaps this early hesitation pushed Kosteniuk to confidently go for a direct attack on the kingside — by move 16, Alexandra had a clear initiative on that flank:


Kosteniuk's 17.0-0-0 was not approved by the engines, as it gave Black a chance to counter-attack on the queenside — i.e. White could have kept all the positional trumps safely by castling short later on. However, Gunina's attempts to create an attack against the king backfired in the ensuing struggle:


Valentina played 18...a4, taking her knight closer to the opposite king but also leaving the e5-pawn a bit more vulnerable. Kosteniuk, in turn, found the way to punish this over-confident manoeuvre: 19.d4 fxe5 20.xf5 xf5 21.xd5 and White is both a pawn up and has the more coordinated setup.

Gunina put her bishop on f6 and went all-in for the attack, but Kosteniuk, with more time on the clock, kept things under control and consolidated her advantage. Valentina resigned on move 41.

Valentina Gunina

Valentina Gunina declared she has been feeling tired | Photo: Anastasiya Karlovich

Game analysis by Alexandra Kosteniuk and Elisabeth Paehtz

Lagno ½:½ Goryachkina: A key game

Given Goryachkina's lead in the standings table and the fact that getting first place is particularly relevant in a Candidates tournament, this seemed like a do-or-die game for Kateryna Lagno. Against Lagno's 1.e4, the leader responded with the Caro-Kann for a second game in a row. The players started taking their time at around move 10, but they were actually following theory until move 19. By then, they had both castled queenside and White was the one with chances to push for an edge.

On move 22, Kateryna could have gone for a sharper continuation:


Instead of 23.dxc5, which leads to some simplifications — 23...xc5 24.xd8+ xd8 — White could have immediately gone for 23.♘e5 (Lagno put her knight on e5 on move 25), keeping alive more chances to muddy the waters. After the text, Goryachkina kept her cool and prevented White from getting much out of her small initiative. The draw was signed on move 42, with a completely drawn rook endgame on the board.

This result means Goryachkina is not only having a great tournament, but a very orderly one at that — so far in Kazan, she has interspersed one draw and two wins in a perfect sequence. 

Aleksandra Goryachkina

Aleksandra Goryachkina will very likely get a ticket to challenge Ju Wenjun | Photo: Anastasiya Karlovich

M. Muzychuk ½:½ Dzagnidze: Always fighting...

Georgia's number one Nana Dzagnidze has been suffering for her fight-at-all-costs attitude in Kazan, as she lost four of the last six games without turning to a safer strategy at any point. In her tenth round game against Mariya Muzychuk, she was on the back foot after having advanced her kingside pawns in the early middlegame:


Black's knight on f7 is pinned, so playing 19...c4 would prevent White from capturing on g5. However, Nana did not want to give up the dark squares and played 19...ad8 instead. Naturally, Mariya responded with 20.xg5, as after 20...c4 White can ignore the fact that her queen is threatened and play 21.xf7 — due to 21...cxb3 22.Nh6#.  After the text, Muzychuk opted for 21...xf7 and White was in the driver's seat.

The game continued 22.b6 f3:


Muzychuk played 23.e3, when 23.♖e3 was a better alternative — the rook threatens to join a possible kingside attack and White's queen is ready to capture on a5 soon. In the game, a series of simplifications followed and the draw was signed shortly afterwards.

Mariya Muzychuk

Mariya Muzychuk | Photo: Anastasiya Karlovich

Post-game interview with Nana Dzagnidze

A. Muzychuk ½:½ Tan Zhongyi: Synchronized swimming

When Anastasiya Karlovich asked Anna Muzychuk to describe her game against Tan Zhongyi, the Ukrainian gave a clear assessment:

It has been a rather boring game, because she surprised me with this move 9...h8. [...] It was really uneventful.

Karlovich also raised a good point during the interview, as both Muzychuk sisters drew with White in the shortest games of the round, once again having a similar result (they both won in rounds six and nine). The interviewer mentioned how this reminded her of synchronized swimming and Anna replied to this statement by clarifying that this is the first time this phenomenon takes place in their careers.

Anna Muzychuk, Tan Zhongyi

Anna Muzychuk and Tan Zhongyi signed a 30-move draw | Photo: Anastasiya Karlovich

Post-game interview with Anna Muzychuk

Standings after Round 10


Commentary webcast

Commentary provided by GM Evgeny Miroshnichenko and IM Elisabeth Paehtz

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Antonio is a freelance writer and a philologist. He is mainly interested in the links between chess and culture, primarily literature. In chess games, he skews towards endgames and positional play.


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