Women's Candidates: Four winners, all with White

by Antonio Pereira
6/3/2019 – All four games favoured White in round three of the Women's Candidates Tournament in Kazan. Both co-leaders — Nana Dzagnidze and Aleksandra Goryachkina — were among the winners, which leaves them on top of the standings with a remarkable 2½/3 score before the first rest day of the event. Meanwhile, Valentina Gunina bounced back from her round two loss and Tan Zhongyi got her first win of the tournament. | Photo: Eteri Kublashvili

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Excitement galore

The Candidates Tournament in Kazan has been all but entertaining. With the players most likely eyeing almost exclusively to get first place, the fact that two points separate first from last place only increases the expectations for the rest of the competition. For example, someone as ambitious as Anna Muzychuk — who is now in the cellar on ½/3 — will surely try to get back into contention, which means we can expect more fighting chess in the coming weeks...

Results of Round 3


From May 31 to June 17, follow the live action starting at 12 Noon UTC (14:00 CEST / 8 AM EDT) with video commentary

Standings after Round 3


In round four, to be played on Tuesday, Nana Dzagnidze will have the white pieces against Valentina Gunina, while Aleksandra Goryachkina will face a wounded Anna Muzychuk with Black. The other two match-ups are Alexandra Kosteniuk v Tan Zhongyi and Mariya Muzychuk v Kateryna Lagno.

Kateryna Lagno

Kateryna Lagno inspected before the round | Photo: Anastasiya Karlovich

Goryachkina 1:0 Lagno: An endgame blunder

Out of a Grünfeld Defence, the players went into a rook endgame with five pawns per side already on move 24. White had a small edge thanks to her active rook and the fact that Black's c-pawn was a clear target. Goryachkina started making progress, pushing Lagno to find difficult defensive resources to keep the balance. When the time control was reached, White was a pawn up:


The a-pawn began its advance with 41.a4 and eventually provoked Black to give up her rook on a8. However, Black had two passed pawns on the c and h-files and an active king on f3 to boot. The computer kept showing a 0.00 evaluation until Lagno blundered by allowing White to activate her monarch on the kingside:


Lagno needed to play 54...c3+ keeping White's king away from the kingside. She played 54...h3 instead, and Goryachkina correctly decided on 55.e3, looking to create mating threats against the opposite king. The game continued 55...h2 56.g8+ h3 57.f2:


Of course, 57...h1♛ would lose the promoted pawn and the game, while 57...h1♞+ — the move played by Lagno — only delayed White's victory. Goryachkina needed twenty-three more moves to prove she knows how to win with rook v knight, thus maintaining her place atop the standings.

Aleksandra Goryachkina

20-year-old Aleksandra Goryachkina | Photo: Eteri Kublashvili

Dzagnidze 1:0 M. Muzychuk: A pawn and the bishop pair

The players explored the Meran System of the Semi-Slav Defence and only left theory on move 12, when Muzychuk gave up a pawn by advancing her c-pawn — a move that had never been tried before in this position:


Mariya invested twenty-four minutes before playing 12...c5, a move that is actually approved by the computers. After 13.Bxb5, however, Muzychuk made the dubious decision of giving up the bishop pair with 13...xf3

When the queens were exchanged, Dzagnidze was still a pawn up and had the bishop pair to boot. She converted her strategical advantage patiently from the following position, in which Muzychuk gave up her dark-squared bishop turning the game into a two bishops v two knights endgame:


After 25...xc5 26.xc5 h6 White slowly but surely made progress until getting a 60-move win.

Mariya Muzychuk, Nana Dzagnidze

Nana Dzagnidze goes for a walk while Mariya Muzychuk awaits the start of the game | Photo: Eteri Kublashvili

Post-game interview with Mariya Muzychuk

Gunina 1:0 Kosteniuk: A successful Scotch 

The ever-entertaining Gunina played the Scotch against Kosteniuk, and the Russian contenders stayed in theory until move 13 — despite having gone into a previously explored line, though, Gunina spent almost an hour between moves 10 and 13. White got the initiative in a sharp middlegame, with Black's king stuck in a rather fragile position:


White is a pawn down but has much better coordinated pieces, with Black's knight particularly badly placed on b6. After 35.d6 Kosteniuk gave up the exchange by opting for 35...f8 — 35...♜a8 or 35...♜d8 are not possible due to 36.♖e8+ ♜xe8 37.♕xe8+ ♝f8, and Black is busted.

White gained three pawns in the next nine moves, increasing her material advantage and getting a winning position. Former Women's World Champion Kosteniuk did not give up hastily, though, and kept on looking for a miraculous save until move 58, when White's passer on the a-file was about to promote. Gunina's win left her on 50% after her loss from round two, while Kosteniuk is now on '-1' before the first rest day.

Valentina Gunina, Alexandra Kosteniuk

Valentina Gunina v Alexandra Kosteniuk | Photo: Anastasiya Karlovich

Post-game interview with Alexandra Kosteniuk

Tan Zhongyi 1:0 A. Muzychuk: A missed chance

A typical Grünfeld struggle saw White getting space in the centre and Black trying to undermine it with piece play. Muzychuk's efforts bore fruit as she had the better pawn structure, while White could not get anything tangible from her initiative. On move 29, however, the Ukrainian failed to find a trick that would have left her with an advantageous position:


Muzychuk gave up an exchange with 29...e6 30.xd5 xd5. With her clock dangerously ticking down, she did not find 29...♞e4 — if White takes the material with 30.♗xe4, Black has 30...♜xe5, and 31.♘d2 does not work due to 31...f5.

In the game, Tan Zhongyi used her pair of rooks effectively on the queenside's open files. Muzychuk resigned when White's a-pawn had reached the sixth file:


Tan Zhongyi is now in sole third place, a half point behind the co-leaders, while Anna Muzychuk will try to bounce back from a disappointing start in the upcoming eleven (!) rounds. 

Tan Zhongyi

Tan Zhongyi will face Alexandra Kosteniuk in round four | Photo: Anastasiya Karlovich

Post-game interview with Anna Muzychuk

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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