Women's World Ch: Lagno will take on Ju Wenjun in the final

by Antonio Pereira
11/17/2018 – The tiebreaks of the semi-final match between Kateryna Lagno and Mariya Muzychuk took place on Saturday in Khanty-Mansiysk. Lagno won both rapid games to take down a visibly exhausted Muzychuk, who came from playing a demanding series of tiebreak games against Zhansaya Abdumalik. The victory for Lagno means she will have a shot at winning her first World Championship in the final — set to take off on Monday — against Ju Wenjun. | Photos: Official site

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After two stressful weeks...

There has been a lot of criticism towards the knock-out format as a means to decide the world champion, both in the open and women's sections. However, there are two things that became clear with the years:

  1. The strongest players generally manage to prove their fortitude (i.e. it is not as random as it was thought) and
  2. The winners certainly need to be physically and mentally capable of bearing a lengthy stressful struggle

The second of these factors was clearly relevant in the match that faced Lagno against Muzychuk. Kateryna, after all, won the only match that went all the way down to Armageddon, while Mariya had just defeated Abdumalik in the most exciting duel seen so far in the event — a taxing six-game tiebreak round with the players trading blows repeatedly. Nonetheless, the weight of tiredness was probably heavier on the Ukrainian, as Lagno did manage to rest on Wednesday after beating Lei Tingjie 2:0 in the previous round. 

Muzychuk's need to rest was probably most evident in the first classical game, when she quickly agreed to massive exchanges while playing with the white pieces. In the second ‘slow’ game, Lagno did try to get something with White, but the battle never left the realms of equality.

The first classical game was a short affair

In the first rapid game, Muzychuk had the black pieces and chose a system used previously by Hungarian GM Viktor Erdos, where, in a 2016 game against Dmitry Svetushkin, White gave up an exchange for a pawn and held a draw rather comfortably. The players probably knew this game and followed the same path, with Lagno getting a passed a-pawn for the exchange:


Black captured with 21...Bxc6 and the game continued 22.Qxc6 a3 23.bxa3 Bxa3 24.Rb1. As the encounter progressed, White gobbled another pawn and had no danger of losing — if anything, she had the upper hand. By move 36, they had entered into an endgame, where Black probably can keep the balance with passive defence:


It was here that Muzychuk's tiredness played a big role. The commentator for the official site, Alexander Morozevich, had been analysing the idea of giving back the exchange on d3, but also stated that you only go for that if you are sure you will get a draw. When Mariya played 36...Rxd3, 'Moro' mentioned exhaustion as a key factor in this decision — adding later half-jokingly that playing so much chess in such a short period of time should not be permitted.

In the ensuing opposite-coloured bishops endgame, Black had drawing continuations but was not able to solve the complexities of the positions with little time on the clock. Eventually, Lagno broke through and got the win after 62 moves.


A shot taken shortly before the first rapid game began

More than once, Muzychuk had returned from a loss in the event, but game two followed Morozevich's prediction, as the fatigued Ukrainian was not alert enough to sense the danger against her king:


Already in a dangerous position, Muzychuk moved another piece away from the defence of her king with 18.Nh2? — Lagno continued with 18...Na4 and the attack against White's king is too much to handle. Muzychuk was blitzing her moves, however, and was quickly overwhelmed by Black's pieces. 


After 25...Bxe5 26.Qxe5, the black rook joined the attack with 26...Rxd3+ and resignation followed two moves later.

A much-deserved prize for the semifinalist

It was a great run for Muzychuk, who nevertheless qualified to the 2019 Candidates Tournament. For Lagno, on the other hand, this is a great chance to win the title for the first time in her career. She will have to face the undefeated Ju Wenjun, who so far managed to rest for a day after every round. 

Kateryna will be able to rest — and prepare — on Sunday, as the four-game final match starts on Monday. 

It is time to go for the crown

All games



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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