Rubinstein Would Be Proud

The Women’s World Cup is closer and closer to the finish. We already know the names of those who qualified for the Candidates’ Tournament: Aleksandra Goryachkina (who already qualified as the winner of the last Candidates’) and Alexandra Kosteniuk from Russia, Anna Muzychuk from Ukraine and Tan Zhongyi from China. Still, it’s very interesting to know who will actually win the trophy!
Despite the great importance of the matches and the sides being evenly matched, both battles ended after just two games. The tiredness of the players is probably a major factor. In the first game between Tan Zhongyi and Alexandra Kosteniuk, the 2008 women’s world champion built a great pawn wall and calmly made a draw, and in the second one, she broke through the solid structures of the Petroff Defense.

A. Kosteniuk – Tan Zhongyi

Petroff Defense

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nxe5 d6 4.Nf3 Nxe4 5.c4!?
A tricky move. The main line is 5.d4.
A worthy reply. If you like opening traps, you should know the following theoretical line: 5...Be7 6.d4 0–0 7.Bd3 Ng5 8.Nc3. It seems that Black can pin the f3 knight with 8...Bg4 and use it to her advantage, but a series of tactical blows suddenly follows: 9.Bxg5 Bxg5 10.Bxh7+!! Kxh7 11.h4. And it turns out that Black has to give back the extra piece. 11...Bh6 12.Ng5+ Qxg5 13.hxg5 Bxd1 14.Rxd1. This idea occurred in the game Nepomniachtchi – Sjugirov, Sochi 2016.
6.d3! Nf6 7.d4 Be7
Also interesting was 7...d5 8.c5 g6 with complicated play.
8.d5 Ne5 9.Be2 Nxf3+ 10.Bxf3

Black is all right after any reasonable move (10...0–0!?, 10...Nd7!?, 10...Bf5!?), but the Chinese player made a gross strategic mistake due to tiredness.
Now the g5 square is weakened forever, and the h5 pawn constantly requires defense.
11.h3 Bf5 12.Nc3 Qd7 13.Be3 a6 14.a4 c5 15.dxc6 bxc6 16.a5 Rb8 17.0–0!
A strong pawn sacrifice.
Black reasonably declines the sacrifice. After the greedy 17...Rxb2, White gets a very strong initiative: 18.Na4 Rb8 19.Nb6 Qc7 20.Bf4.
18.Na4 d5 19.Nb6 Qd6 20.Rc1
More accurate was 20.cxd5 cxd5 21.Ra4, covering the b4 square.
Tan uses her chance.
21.Bd4! dxc4
A mistake that has a direct tactical refutation.
After 21...Qxa5, White regains the pawn with interest – 22.Ra1 Qb4 23.Ra4 Qd6 24.Rxa6, but still, Black manages to simplify the position.
Return courtesy. 22.Rxc4 won immediately, since after 22...Qxa5, White traps the queen: 23.Ra4 Qb5 24.Be2.

White’s position is obviously better, but she still has to find some strong moves to achieve success.
23.Rxe6! fxe6 24.Qe2 Rf7
The computer points out 24...Kh8 as the best defense, but it’s hard to find and correctly evaluate such a move at the board.
Stronger and simpler was 25.Qxe6 Qd6 26.Qxc4.
The decisive mistake that quickly ends the game. Black could still put up some resistance with 25...Bc5 26.Be5 Rd8, and the position is not that clear.
26.Bxh5 Rbf8 27.Qxe6

Black suffers the decisive material loss. The rest is simple.
27...Nf4 28.Bxf7+ Rxf7 29.Qg4 Bc5 30.Be3 Bxe3 31.fxe3 Qc5 32.b4 Qa7 33.Rf1 Nd3 34.Rd1 Ne5 35.Rd8+ Rf8 36.Rxf8+ Kxf8 37.Qf4+ Nf7 38.Ne5 Black resigned, since White forces a transposition into a won pawn endgame. A brilliant game, very consistently played by Alexandra Kosteniuk!
The battle between the vice-world champion Aleksandra Goryachkina and Anna Muzychuk was very interesting. It seemed at times that the opponents played a thematic match, competing for the title of the best successor of the great grandmaster Akiba Rubinstein in the art of rook endgame play.

A. Muzychuk – A. Goryachkina

Ruy Lopez

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6 4.d3 Bc5 5.c3 d5 6.exd5 Qxd5 7.Bc4 Qd6 8.b4 Bb6 9.Nbd2 0–0 10.0–0

A fashionable line of the modern Anti-Berlin variation. Black is thought to be all right after 10...Bf5, but Aleksandra plays an inaccurate move.
10...Bg4 11.a4!
Now it’s hard for Black to defend against b5.
The gambit move 11...e4 was quite interesting. After12.Nxe4 Nxe4 13.dxe4 Qf6, Black has decent compensation for the sacrificed pawn. The cautious 11...a6 also was not bad.
12.b5 e4
The Russian player still sacrifices the pawn, but in a less beneficial situation.
13.Nxe4 Nxe4 14.dxe4 Bxf3
Another inaccuracy. After 14...Qxd1 15.Rxd1 Ne5 16.Be2, White retains the extra pawn, but black pieces are more active.
15.Qxd6 cxd6 16.gxf3 Ne5 17.Bd5
17.Be2 wasn’t bad either.
17...Rac8 18.f4 Nd3

I would have preferred to minimize Black’s potential counterplay with 19.Bd2.
19...Rxc3 20.Bd2 Rc2 21.Be3 Bxe3 22.fxe3 Rb8 23.Bc6 Kf8 24.Rfd1 Rc3 25.Bd5 Ke7 26.Rd2 Nb4 27.Kf2 Rbc8 28.Rb1 Ra3
Goryachkina defends very tenaciously, and Muzychuk makes an inaccurate move.
White should have played the solid 29.Bb3 Rc3 30.Bd1, and the b-pawn is very strong.
Return courtesy. Black should have attacked the b-pawn: 29...Rb8 30.b7 Rxa4, and Black is all right because of the threat to capture on d5.

Anna misses a real winning chance. 30.e5 dxe5 (after 30...Nxd5 31.Rxd5, Black’s position is rather difficult) 31.b7 Rb8 32.Bf3 posed great problems for Black, and it’s obvious that the strong pawn on b7 and light-squared bishop on f3 give White great chances.
30...Rb8 31.Rd4 Nxd5!
A pretty little tactic.
32.Rxa4 Nc3=.
Stronger was 32...Rb4 33.Rxb4 axb4 34.Rb5 Kd7 35.Rxb4 Kc7, and the game goes to a drawn pawn ending.
33.Rxa5 Kd7 34.Rf5 f6 35.Rfb5 Kc7 36.Rc1+ Kd7 37.h4 g6 38.Rb6 f5 39.h5
The Ukrainian player still creates problems.

The vice-world champion makes a mistake under heavy pressure, and it could become very costly. She could simply play 39...gxh5, showing concrete approach to the position.
A logical, natural-looking move that spoils the win. The time-control move saw so many mistakes…
White could win with the immediate 40.Rc8 Re8 (40...Rxc8 41.Rxd6+ Kc7 42.bxc8=Q+ Kxc8 43.hxg6 hxg6 44.Rxg6) 41.Rxe8 Kxe8, and the king march decides matters: 42.Kg3 Ke7 43.Kh4 (the fact that the pawn trade didn’t happen yet is very important – we’ll see the difference in the game) 43...Kf7 44.Kg5 h6+ 45.Kh4 gxh5 46.Kxh5 – White is gradually winning.
40...hxg6 41.Rc8 Re8
After 41...Rxc8, there’s a Zwischenschach 42.Rxd6+ Kc7 43.bxc8=Q+ Kxc8 44.Rxg6, and the resulting endgame is completely hopeless for Black.
42.Rxe8 Kxe8 43.Kg3 Ke7

White accepts the draw. Now we can see the difference. After 44.Kh4, Black now has the strong reply 44...Rh8+, and the naive 45.Kg5 even loses due to 45...Kf7 with inevitable mate. Now it’s clear why it was so important to leave the h-file closed.
Black’s fortress is unimpregnable.
45.Kf3 Kd7 46.Kg3 Draw.
In the second game, the Russian player’s rook ending was impeccable.

A. Goryachkina – A. Muzychuk

Grunfeld Defense

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.e4 Nxc3 6.bxc3 Bg7 7.Bc4 c5 8.Ne2 cxd4 9.cxd4 Nc6 10.Be3 Qa5+ 11.Bd2 Qa3
This position was never popular in the modern opening theory; still, it previously occurred in the games Gukesh – Dubov and Tan Zhongyi – Lagno at this World Cup.
12.Rb1 0–0 13.0–0 Bg4 14.f3 Be6!
A very concrete continuation.
15.Bc1 Qa5 16.Bxe6 fxe6 17.a4

Black’s opening play was creative, and after 17...Rfd8, she would have been all right, but Anna thought she could play a typical tactic here.
17...Nxd4 18.Nxd4 Rfd8
Now this move is a mistake, even though it’s quite hard to spot.
It’s always difficult to choose the correct position for the rooks, but here, she had to play her queen’s rook, so that after 18...Rad8 19.Be3 Qc3 20.Rb3 Qc4 21.e5 Bxe5 22.Rd3, she had a strong reply 22...Bf4!
19.Be3 Qc3 20.Rb3 Qc4

Aleksandra misses a simple win, but because of that, she treated us to another example of her impeccable endgame technique!
21.e5! (of course, not 21.Rd3 e5) immediately ended the game: 21…Bxe5 22.Rd3, and White is simply a piece up.
21...Bxd4 22.Bxd4 Rxd4
The computer recommends a very extravagant 22...Kf7!?
23.Qc1 Qe2
Stronger was 23...Qxa4 24.Rxe7 Re8, going for further simplifications.
24.Re1 Rc4 25.Rxe2 Rxc1+ 26.Kf2
A rook endgame is on the board. The white rooks are active, and Black’s pawn structure is quite bad; nevertheless, the evaluation of this position is still ambiguous.
26...Kf7 27.Rd2 a5 28.Rdd7 Re8 29.Ra7 Rc2+ 30.Kg3

Logical, but too passive. Black had to get rid of the ballast and strengthen her kingside: 30...g5 31.Rxa5 h6, and, despite White’s obvious progress, Black still has resources to resist.
Now Goryachkina trades her opponent’s active rook and, thanks to her strong rook, good king position and better pawn structure, wins the game confidently.
31...Rxc7 32.Rxc7 Ra8 33.Rc5 h6 34.Kf4 g5+ 35.Kg4
Creating a second weakness on the kingside is always beneficial.
35...Kf6 36.h4 e5
The decisive mistake. 36...gxh4 still gave Black some chances to hold, even though it’s obvious that White still slowly wins here.
37.Rc6+ e6

Fixating the weakness on h6.
38...Rb8 39.Rc5 Ra8 40.Kg3!
It’s important to “un-stalemate” the opposing king. 40.Rc7 doesn’t work because of the cunning 40...Ra7, and capturing the rook leads to a stalemate!
40...Ra7 41.Rb5 Ra8 42.Rb7
And now it’s time!
42...g4 43.Kxg4 Black resigned. Akiba Kivelevich would have been proud!
Therefore, the fate of the first place and hefty prize money will be decided in a match between two Sashas – Kosteniuk and Goryachkina. So now we can surely say that a Russian player will win the Women’s World Cup. But it’s interesting what will prevail – youth or experience? Anna Muzychuk will face Tan Zhongyi in the third place play-off. Let’s see whom Caissa smiles upon at the closing stage of this chess marathon!