Women's Candidates: Still fighting

by Antonio Pereira
6/17/2019 – The penultimate round of the 2019 Women's Candidates Tournament was played on Sunday in Kazan. Aleksandra Goryachkina had already secured first place on Friday, but the rest of the players showed they are still in the mood to fight for the remaining prizes. Anna Muzychuk defeated Valentina Gunina and practically secured second place, while Aleksandra Kosteniuk got a third win with White in the tournament, over Mariya Muzychuk. | Photo: Eteri Kublashvili

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An undefeated champion

The only player not to have lost a single game in the Women's Candidates is Aleksandra Goryachkina. After her round thirteen draw with Nana Dzagnidze — the players reached a triple repetition as early as move twenty — the Russian will only need to avoid losing against Mariya Muzychuk on Monday to finish her breakthrough performance without a single defeat in fourteen rounds.

This year, the FIDE administration decided to step up their support for women's chess by, among other measures, increasing the prize fund in the cycle for the Women's World Championship. Aleksandra Goryachkina will take home 50,000 Euros, while there is a big difference between finishing second (40,000 Euros) and finishing eighth (8,000 Euros), thus the players have enough of an incentive to keep on fighting until the end. 

Results of Round 13

Anna Muzychuk all but secured the second prize with her win over Valentina Gunina, while Alexandra Kosteniuk left the cellar after beating Anna's sister Mariya — Kosteniuk, Mariya and Gunina now share 5th-8th place.

Aleksandra Goryachkina

World Championship challenger Aleksandra Goryachkina | Photo: Eteri Kublashvili

Gunina 0:1 A. Muzychuk: Yet another long game

Spending eighteen days playing a tournament that might change the course of one's career cannot be but a draining task. Most players have mentioned this fact during their interviews, but the one participant that has talked about the matter with the most insistence has been Valentina Gunina. Incidentally, the 30-year-old Russian has played the longest game of the day for three rounds in a row.

In the game (against Anna Muzychuk), the players followed a Popov v Moskalenko encounter from last year until move 12. By then, White had gained an exchange but had also left her bishop trapped behind enemy lines. On move 13, Gunina played a novelty that left her on the defensive for the rest of the game:


White offered a queen swap with 13.f3, an offer that was gladly accepted by Black — not only did Black got to ruin White's pawn structure, but also had the always dangerous pair of bishops to boot. In the predecessor game, Ivan Popov had played the computer's suggestion, 13.♕e2, and the game had ended in a draw after 74 moves.

Anna Muzychuk continued showing good form — as she has done in the second half of the tournament — and slowly built up her advantage. Gunina was on the back foot all along, but defended until move 67, when the black king was about to capture her knight:


Black will play 68...♚f7 next and the knight has nowhere to go.

Anna Muzychuk, Sergey Shipov

Anna Muzychuk with Russian commentator Sergey Shipov | Photo: Eteri Kublashvili

Kosteniuk 1:0 M. Muzychuk: Beating a French structure

Alexandra Kosteniuk did not expect to face Mariya Muzychuk's 2...f6 after 1.e4 c5 2.f3, so she decided to look for a way to transpose into a structure that she did prepare by going 3.e5 d5 4.c3. The players followed theory until move 13, when Mariya surprisingly decided to close the position in the centre:


Since White's idea is to attack on the kingside, Black's 13...d5 came as a surprise for Kosteniuk. The structure started to resemble more and more one that would come out of a French Defence, with White looking for active opportunities against the opposite king while Black tries to get to an endgame that might be favourable for her. 

Kosteniuk was pushing all along, but Muzychuk kept finding defensive resources. During time trouble, however, it was demonstrated once again that it is easier to play under time pressure when you are the one creating problems for your opponent:


Mariya had blundered with 37...c2, as it allowed White to go 38.c5, bringing the last piece to the attack with deciding effect. Muzychuk resigned only four moves later.

Alexandra Kosteniuk

Alexandra Kosteniuk is on 5½ out of 13 | Photo: Eteri Kublashvili

Game analysis by Alexandra Kosteniuk and Evgeny Miroshnichenko

Lagno ½:½ Tan Zhongyi: "Too optimistic"

Kateryna Lagno has been the most steady player in Kazan, as she has drawn the biggest amount of games among the eight candidates (she drew nine times) — coincidentally, she also is the only one on 50%. She had White against Tan Zhongyi on Sunday and went for the 5.Re1 variation of the Berlin Defence. White did not get much out of the opening and, according to Lagno herself, was too optimistic when deciding to expand on the queenside:


The computers do not think Lagno's 23.b4 was a mistake, but certainly, in the battle that ensued, the Russian found herself needing to be careful in order not to give her opponent a considerable edge. 

Tan Zhongyi gained a pawn, but in the endgame with queens and knights that followed White's queen was active enough to eventually find a perpetual check:


The draw was signed after 49.e8+ h6, as there is no way to escape the checks. Lagno mentioned that more often than not Tan Zhongyi plays quickly when she has an active position — as she did on Sunday — and that "sometimes, yes, you should think more time".  

Tan Zhongyi

Tan Zhongyi was in the driver's seat against Kateryna Lagno | Photo: Eteri Kublashvili 

Post-game interview with Kateryna Lagno

Standings after Round 13


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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