3 June 2019

Reward for Persistence

Maxim Notkin reviews Rounds 1-3 of the FIDE Women's Candidates Tournament


The events of the third round demonstrated that the schedule had been designed by a very sensible person. I don't think any of the participants can object a rest day. They went from zero decisive games in the first round to all decisive games in the round three, and the average length of games exceeds 50 moves. The pressure skyrocketed to a level at which games are decided by unfortunate errors. The less lucky need time to repair themselves, the more lucky should also be quite happy about an opportunity to rest and rethink the situation.

Nana Dzagnidze and Aleksandra Goryachkina were stronger than others during the starting stage.

Following a relatively quiet draw with Tan Zhongyi, the Georgian player defeated both Muzychuk sisters. 

In the game against Anna, Nana got a good game after the opening, and then seized the initiative after an inaccuracy by her opponent.


A. Muzychuk – N. Dzagnidze


21.Be3. The simplifying 21.Qe3 should be preferred.

21...d4! Underlining awkward arrangement of white pieces.

22.Bxd4 (22.cxd4? Qxb4) 22...Bxd4 23.Qxe4 (23.Rxd4? Qxd4! – back rank motif) 23...Bxf2+ 24.Kh1 Qe3 25.Qc2. The endgame is uncomfortable for White: 25.Qxe3 Bxe3 26.Rc2 (26.Nd5 Bg5!; 26.Rb1 e6!) 26...Rf2 27.Rxf2 Bxf2 28.Nd5 Bc5. The computer holds the balance by 25.Qb7,but this move is not easy to make.



The rook is being transferred to the queenside. An attempt to block it by 26.Nd5 is met by 26...Rxd5! 27.Rxd5 Be1! The brilliant bishop move follows to 26.Rd3 as well. After 26.h3 Rh5 27.Qd3 Qe6 White is worse, but there is still everything to play for. Anna did not manage to overcome her difficulties and ended up under a crushing attack.

26.Nd3 Rg5 27.Qb3+ Kg7 28.Nxf2 Rxg2! (the simple28...Rxf2 wins as well) 29.Qb7 Rxh2+. 29...Rgxf2 30.Re1 Re2 31.Rxe2 Qxc1+ 32.Kg2 Qf1+ 33.Kg3 Qxe2 wins quicker.

30.Kxh2 Rxf2+ 31.Qg2 h5, Black took the queen and gradually won the game.

Mariya Muzychuk was surprised by Nana in the Meran Variation. White made a rare but by no means unknown move 12.Ne2, which had been played dozens of times even at a high level(for instance, Goryachkina lost to it twice, although her losses had nothing to do with the opening), and in response the ex-World Champion gave away a pawn and the bishop pair. Further simplifications followed, the game transposed to an ending, and Dzagnidze slowly but surely converted her advantage.

Aleksandra Goryachkina convincingly won the first half of the short version of the Russian championship. She could have won all three games, but missed a clear goalscoring opportunity against Kosteniuk.


A. Kosteniuk – A. Goryachkina


In a complex ending, the sides fought evenly for quite a while, but then trading a couple of rooks left White with fewer active options. One can certainly understand Kosteniuk's reluctance to devalue her pawn structure by а2-а3 or to make the ugly-looking recapture after 43...a3!, however, after44.b4? cxb4 45.cxb4 Black broke into the White's camp.

Here 45...Rc4 is very strong. After46.Rc1 d4+ 47.Ke2 Ne4 48.b5 Black has a pleasant choice between winning a pawn by 48...Rxc1 49.Nxc1 Bc4+ 50.Ke1 Bxb5 and the more ambitious 48...g4 49.Bg2 Nc5! 

Apparently, Goryachkina wanted to create a passed pawn as soon as possible, so the opted for trading the pawns.

45...d4+ 46.Kxd4 Nb5+ 47.Ke3 Bxa2 48.Ne5.

Here Black once again did not dare to throw her rook to the opponent's side of the board. 48...Rc2would initiate a tactical battle, allowing Black to utilize her main trump.


49.Bc6 Bc4! 50.Nxc4 Rxc4 51.Bxb5? Re4+ 52.Kd2 Rxe1 53.Kxe1 a2;

49.Ra1 Be6 50.Be2 (50.Bc6 Ra2! 51.Rxa2 Bxa2 52.Bxb5? Be6) 50...Nc3 51.Bc4 Bxc4 52.Nxc4 Nb5! 53.Nxa3? Rc3+;

49.Kd3 Rb2 50.Nd7+ Kg6 51.Ne5+ Kg7 52.Ra1 Be6 53.Bc6 Rb3+ 54.Kd2 Nd4 55.Ba4 Rb2+ 56.Kd3 (56.Kc3 Ne2+ 57.Kd3 a2) 56...a2! 57.Kxd4? Rxb4+.

After 48...Be6 49.Bc6 Nd6 50.Kd4 a2 51.Ra1 Ra7 52.b5 White got some counterplay, and the game was drawn on the move 61.


The longest game of the starting three rounds was decided by a brilliant sacrifice of the knight which on multiple occasions could have been removed from the board.


A. Goryachkina – V. Gunina


Aleksandra was better prepared in the opening, but initially it only gave her an advantage on the clock. 

Here Valentina could solve all of her problems by a counterpunch: 26...f5! 27.Ne5 (27.Ne3 is harmless – 27...Bxe3 28.fxe3 Nc5) 27...Bd4, and after the knights are exchanged, the resulting ending with opposite-colored bishops is even.

26...Nd4 gave White clear advantage.

27.Ne3 b5 28.Kg2 Rfe8 29.Rd3 Re5 30.Ba2 Nc6 31.Rxd8 Nxd8 32.Rd1 Ne6.



Now White can utilize the open file for a rook invasion, not fearing a temporary pawn loss: 33.Rd7 Bxe3 34.fxe3 Rxe3 35.Kf2 Re5 36.Rxa7. Considering the difference in piece composition and pawn structures, Black must work hard to survive.

33.Bxe6 fxe6 34.Rd7+ Kg6 35.Kf3 (retreating the knight would give Black an opportunity to become more active) 35...h5? Black needed to copy her opponent's approach! After 35...Bxe3 36.fxe3 a5 the resulting rook ending is equal.

While here after 36.Ng2! (shouldn't we recall the 9th game of the first Karpov-Kasparov match?) Black's situation became highly unpleasant. 

Gunina was forced to stand still. Only after a two dozen moves she managed to activate her forces, and not without material concessions.


The strongest play here is 64...Kg5! Exchanging minor pieces leads to a draw: 65.Rxc5+ Kxh4 66.Rf5 Ra2, on 65.h6 there is an intermediate check 65...Re2+, and after 65.Ng6 f5+ 66.gxf5 Black can choose between the stubborn 66...Re2+ and a book draw after sacrificing a bishop: 66...Rxf5 67.Ne7 Rf4+ 68.Kd3 Kxh5.

64...Re2+ 65.Kf3 Rf2+ 66.Kg3 Rc2 67.Nf5+ Kg5 68.h6.



68...Kg6 69.Ra8 Kh7 gives Black good chances to survive, however, in order to prefer a passive approach one needs to see what is wrong with an active one.

68...Rc3+ 69.Kg2 Kxg4? 70.h7 Rc2+ 71.Kf1 Rh2.


72.Nh4!! The knight sacrifices himself, ensuring the pawn promotion. 72...Rxh4 is met by 73.Ra4+, of course.

The game went on72...Kg3 73.h8Q (White can't be bothered by intricacies such as73.Ra4!? after a lengthy struggle) 73...Rf2+ 74.Ke1 Bb4+ 75.Kd1 Bxa5 76.Ng6, and White won easily.

On a side note, after71...Rf2+ White must not be worried about any discovered checks: 72.Kg1! (after 72.Ke1 Rh2 73.Nh4 does not win due to73...Bb4+ 74.Kd1 Rxh4) 72...Rxf5+ 73.Rxc5 Rxc5 74.h8Q, as old books have proven Black's dreams of building a fortress  unsubstantiated.

On the next day Aleksandra's persistence was rewarded in an even more dramatic fashion.


A. Goryachkina – K. Lagno


White squeezed the most out of a rook ending that occurred on the 25th move. Perhaps Black could have played more accurately here and there, but objectively the diagrammed position is still a draw. However, Kateryna's next error was way more costly.

54...h3? The correct play is54...c3+, although Black must still answer some questions is various lines.

After 55.Ke2 she can play both 55...c2 56.Rg8+ Kh2 57.Rc8 Kg2, and the trickier 55...h3, and the king suddenly switches to a different goal: 56.Rg8+ Kf4 57.Kf2 h2 58.Kg2 Ke3.

The only way to meet 55.Ke1 is 55...h3, while 55...c2? fails to 56.Rc8 h3 57.Kf1 h2 58.Rc3+.

Finally, on 55.Ke3 there is 55...c2 56.Rg8+ Kh2 57.Rc8 (after57.Kd2 h3 58.Kxc2 Kh1 Black goes for self-stalemate)...


...and the king goes backwards with a draw: 57...Kg3 58.Rxc2 h3 59.Rc8 Kg2 60.Rg8+ Kf1.

However, 57...h3?, aiming for a stalemate after 58.Kf3 c1Q 59.Rxc1, is refuted by 58.Kf4! (by the way, this is also why 55.Ke3 must not be met by55...h3? – 56.Rg8+ Kh2 57.Kf4 c2 58.Rc8) 58...Kg1 59.Rxc2 h2 60.Kg3 h1N+ 61.Kf3.

55.Ke3 h2. Or55...Kg2 56.Ke2 Kg3 57.Rg8+ Kf4 58.Kf2, and Black is a tempo short.

56.Rg8+ Kh3 57.Kf2.


57...h1N+ 58.Kf3 Kh2. Now Aleksandra skilfully, although without tablebase perfection, separates the knight away from the king and pushes the former to a back rank.

59.Rh8+ Kg1 60.Rc8 Nf2 61.Rxc4 Nd3 62.Ke3 Ne5 63.Re4, and Black resigned on the 80th move.


Lagno can complain about bad luck, as better positions in the first two games yielded her only a single point. Although her opening play against Gunina was suspect, Valentina made several positional mistakes, and after the first control Kateryna enjoyed an extra pawn and more active pieces.


V. Gunina – K. Lagno


44...Bh6 45.Qh4. Fortunately for White, a disaster on f2 can be averted. After 45...g5 46.Qg3 f4 47.Qg4 Qxf2+ 48.Kh2 Black takes the pawn with a check, but her own king as weak and cannot avoid the perpetual.

45...Kg7. In order to preface this move with 45...Rc2 46.Rb1, one needs to anticipate future or, even better, be a computer.



46.Ra1! Qxa1. If Black does not take the rook, her winning chances are gone.

47.Qe7+ Kg8 48.Qe6+ Kf8 49.Qc8+. With a black rook onс2 this check is impossible, and the king can find a shelter on the queenside. (Naturally, in this case White would have rejected the sacrifice in favor of less spectacular defensive ideas.) Now hiding on the kingside in the only option.

49...Ke7 50.Qc7+ Ke8 51.Qc8+ Ke7 52.Qc7+ Kf6 53.Qxd6+ Kg5 54.Qe7+ Kh5.



55.g3!! The magical quiet move that validates the otherwise desperate rook sacrifice. Facing mating threats, Black has to take a draw.

55...Bg5 56.Qxh7+ Bh6 57.Qe7 Bg5 58.Qh7+ Bh6 59.Qe7 Bg5 60.Qh7+. Draw.


Anna Muzychuk, who is currently on the last place, lost a very disheartening game in the third round. Following the exchange of queens, she initiated a very promising tactical play, but missed a shot after shot. In her defense, the diagrammed exercise has the highest level of difficulty.


Tan Zhongyi – A. Muzychuk



Here Anna agreed to trade the dark-squared bishops. However, after 22...Rxd5! Tan would have to accept a pawn loss (23.Bxh6 Rxc4) in order to avoid getting on a losing end of a masterpiece. 23.cxd5 loses to the mind-blowing23...Rc2!! 24.Bxh6 Bc4! 25.Re4 (25.Nd2 Rxd2 26.Bxd2 Bxd5+ with checkmate) 25...Bxd5 26.Rae1 Bxe4+ 27.Rxe4 Nf2+ and28...Nxe4. 

The next mistake, which decided the game, Anna should live through and forget as soon as possible.


Black just grabbed the d5-pawn. After 29.Bxd5 Rxd5 the game can continue by30.Kg2 Be4+ 31.Kf2 Rxe5 (the computer also suggests31...f5!? hoping for the trusting 32.exf6? Rf5+) 32.Rxb6 Nh3+ 33.Ke3 Bb1+ 34.Kd2 Rxe1 35.Kxe1 Bxa2 with a draw.

Tan tried to take the material under better conditions, and it worked splendidly for her:29.h4? Ne6? 30.Bxd5 Rxd5 31.Rxb6. White got an extra exchange and converted it without much trouble.

The option 29...Ne4! 30.Bxe4 (or30.Rxe4 Bxe4 31.Bxe4 Rxe5) 30...Rxe5 31.Nd2 f5 with a clear advantage to Black remained offscreen.


We shall conclude the report with another decisive game, in which both sides showed particularly poor timing.


V. Gunina – A. Kosteniuk



Black just played f7-f6. If only she made this break a few moves earlier, White would have to fight for equality. 

20.0-0. On one hand, castling on the move 20 must be overdue. On the other hand, there were reasons to prefer 20.Bg4!, forcing Black to either take on е5 without adequate compensation for an exchange, or make a serious positional concession by f6-f5. The20...Ba6 idea does not work without a rook on f1: 21.Bxc8 Bxb5 (21...Rxc8 22.Nxa7) 22.Qc5! Qxc5 (22...Qe8 23.Bb7) 23.Be6+ Kf8 24.Rxc5.

20...fxe5 21.Bg4 Ba6! 22.a4. Now after 22.Bxc8 Bxb5 23.Qc5 Qxc5+ 24.Rxc5 White only has compensation for a pawn: 24...Bxf1 25.Be6+ Kh8 26.Kxf1 Re8 27.f5 gxf5 28.Bxf5 Rf8 29.g4 Rf7.

22...Bxb5. Black stops halfway. After 22...c6! 23.Bxc8 Rxc8 she could play a complex position a minimal material advantage.

23.axb5 Rf8.


24.Qe1! An excellent move that binds white pieces together.

24...Rf7 25.Rc6. An inaccuracy again – it is much better to play 25.Bb4 first, and only after 25...Qe8 go for26.Rc6, threateningBe6. 

25...Rf6 26.Bb4 Qf7 27.Qc1 Rxc6 28.Qxc6 Qe8 29.Qxc7.


In this position Alexandra made her final mistake. Opening a central file for a white rook is just wrong. After 29...e4 Black can look forward a brighter future.

29...exf4? 30.Re1 Qd8 31.Qc6. White forces eventually occupied all dominating heights and secured decisive material gains.