Women's Candidates: The Muzychuk sisters end on a high note

by Antonio Pereira
6/18/2019 – The 2019 Women's Candidates Tournament in Kazan concluded with two decisive results in round fourteen — Mariya Muzychuk inflicted a first loss on Aleksandra Goryachkina, while Tan Zhogyi defeated Valentina Gunina to finish with a 7 out of 14 score. As expected, Anna Muzychuk secured second place by splitting the point with Alexandra Kosteniuk. Third place was shared between Kateryna Lagno and Tan Zhongyi. | Photo: Eteri Kublashvili

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Plenty of fight

After the first round finished with all four games drawn, we did not see a single day of action without at least a decisive result in Kazan. Out of the 56 games played, 30 ended up with someone getting a full point (54%). All of this despite the fact that the stakes were very high, with a large prize fund (if we compare it to previous women's events) and the chance to get a ticket to face Ju Wenjun in the next World Championship match. 

Aleksandra Goryachkina

Aleksandra Goryachkina was smiling despite having lost in the last round — she was still the champion in Kazan | Photo: Eteri Kublashvili

The organizers noticed this phenomenon and asked for the players' opinions in this regard. Alexandra Kosteniuk and Kateryna Lagno attributed it to a larger amount of mistakes, while both Muychuk sisters, Nana Dzagnidze and commentator Elisabeth Paehtz think women simply have a stronger will to win, showing a more competitive attitude with both colours. Some of them mentioned that emotions play a bigger role amongst women, while Valentina Gunina was the one who responded more straight-forwardly:

I want to fight (laughs). I think it's boring that men do a lot of draws, so I say to myself to just play — sometimes it's bad, sometimes it's good, but it's always [fun] I think.


A compilation of the responses


In round fourteen, Aleksandra Goryachkina's Caro-Kann Defence was finally taken down, by Mariya Muzychuk, which meant no player finished undefeated in Kazan. Tan Zhongyi also had a good closing performance, as she defeated Valentina Gunina with the white pieces. Anna Muzychuk secured second place by quickly signing a 25-move draw in her game against Alexandra Kosteniuk. And, finally, Kateryna Lagno managed to equalize with the black pieces out of the opening and safely drew her encounter against Nana Dzagnidze.

Results of Round 14

 

Anna Muzychuk, Mariya Muzychuk, Pavel Eljanov

Anna and Mariya Muzychuk with Ukrainian grandmaster Pavel Eljanov in the background | Photo: Eteri Kublashvili

In the standings table, Goryachkina finished one and a half points ahead of Anna Muzychuk, despite, understandably, having played it safe from round eleven onwards. Anna, the older of the Muzychuk sisters, took home the 40,000 Euros allocated for second place (Goryachkina received 50,000 Euros), while Tan Zhongyi and Lagno collected 27,500 Euros each, after sharing third place. 

Final standings

 

In their interviews throughout the event, the players praised the fact that an effort is being made to increase the prize funds in women's events, although there also were some small concerns regarding the specific playing conditions in Kazan — when the tournament had just begun, there were issues regarding music being heard in the playing hall, while Dzagnidze mentioned that the food was not 100% satisfactory for the participants. 

Anna Muzychuk, Alexandra Kosteniuk

Anna Muzychuk and former women's world champion Alexandra Kosteniuk drew their round fourteen encounter | Photo: Eteri Kublashvili

Two decisive results in Round 14

Mariya Muzychuk broke Goryachkina's undefeated streak in a line of the Caro-Kann Defence in which White gives up the Poisoned Pawn on b2. 

 

Black accepted the challenge by taking with 8...xb2 and the queens were exchanged after 9.e1 cxd4 10.xd4 xd4 11.xd4 b4 12.b1 xc3 13.xb2 xe1 14.xe1 (you can try your own variations on the diagram above).

Aleksandra Goryachkina, Mariya Muzychuk

World Championship challenger Aleksandra Goryachkina captured the infamous b2-pawn | Photo: Eteri Kublashvili

Goryachkina was a pawn up in a queenless middlegame, but White's initiative and Black's lack of development gave Muzychuk a considerable edge. On move 24, Mariya got to show a pretty manoeuvre:

 

24.a7 allows White to get the other rook to the seventh rank — in case of 24...♜xa7 White has 25.♖b8+ ♚e7 26.♘c6+ ♚d7 and then comes the devastating discovered check with 27.♘xa7+.

After the text, Goryachkina was under too much pressure and played on until move 39 before resigning the game. The main goal had been achieved two rounds ago, nonetheless.


Game analysis by Mariya Muzychuk and Evgeny Miroshnichenko


Meanwhile, Tan Zhongyi's final win over Gunina was reached after the Chinese had the more active pieces in an endgame with a queen, a rook and five pawns per side. Already in a difficult position, Valentina further restricted her queen's mobility shortly after the time control had been reached:

 

Gunina played 43...f6 and left her queen rather restrained on the kingside. Tan Zhongyi responded with 44.c8 and the threat of doubling on the back rank forced Black to make more concessions. A few moves later, White simplified into a winning rook endgame, which she duly converted into a 74-move victory.

Tan Zhongyi, Valentina Gunina

Tan Zhongyi versus Valentina Gunina | Photo: Eteri Kublashvili


Commentary webcast

Commentary provided by GMs Evgeny Miroshnichenko and Vladislav Tkachiev


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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.