Safety and Control

The decisive battles for the Candidates’ Tournament spots have begun in the FIDE Women’s World Cup. The stakes were very high, which made the fact that there was only one tie-break match all the more surprising.
Alexandra Goryachkina bulldozes through the tournament. She got nothing with White in the first game, but then the vice-world champion crushed her opponent with Black.

D. Saduakassova – A. Goryachkina

London System

1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Bf4 c5 4.e3 Nc6 5.Nbd2 cxd4 6.exd4 Bf5 7.Bb5 e6 8.Ne5 Qb6 9.c4 dxc4 10.a4 Bb4
Goryachkina improves upon her game against Anton Demchenko from the 2020 Russian Team Championship. There followed 10...Qxd4 11.Nxc6 Qxf4 12.g3 Qc7 13.Nd4+ Nd7 14.Nxf5 exf5 15.Qe2+ Be7 16.0–0, and Black was still in some trouble.
11.0–0 0–0 12.Bxc6
Perhaps more practical was 12.Ndxc4, transposing into an equal endgame after 12...Qxd4 13.Nxc6 Qxd1 14.Rfxd1 bxc6 15.Bxc6. Dinara declines this opportunity and gets into trouble.
12...bxc6 13.Ndxc4 Qa6 14.Ne3
More precise was 14.Bd2 Be7 15.Rc1, maintaining the balance.
14...Nd5 15.Bg3 f6 16.Nxf5 exf5 17.Nd3 Rfe8 18.Rc1 Re4 19.Nxb4 Nxb4 20.f3 Re2 21.Qb3+ Nd5

White’s position is slightly worse, but still quite solid. However, Saduakassova makes a horrible blunder.
After the correct 22.Rfe1 Rae8 23.Rxe2 Rxe2 24.h4, nothing too bad happens yet.
White resigned here because of the simple 23.Qxc2 Qxf1+ (perhaps White was only counting on 23...Ne3 24.Qb3+ from afar) 24.Kxf1 Ne3+.
A similar story happened in the match between Lagno and Tan Zhongyi. The Chinese player couldn’t convert the first-move advantage in the first game, even though she played a rook ending with two pawns versus one for 30 moves, but then unexpectedly won with Black. The Hungarian grandmaster Andras Adorjan and his Black is OK book series immediately comes to mind. However, to be fair, we must point out that Black was worse for a long time.

K. Lagno – Tan Zhongyi

Sicilian Defense

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.g3 d5 4.exd5 exd5 5.d4 cxd4
A fresh approach. Black usually plays 5...Nc6 6.Bg2 Nf6 7.0–0 Be7 8.Nc3 0–0 9.dxc5 Bxc5.
6.Nxd4 Nc6 7.Bg2 Bc5! 8.Nb3 Qe7+!
The point of Black’s idea.
9.Qe2 Bg4
Too rash. The correct move was 9...Bb6, as played in Adams – Vidit, Tornelo 2021. Black has good development, and it’s bad to take the pawn 10.Bxd5 due to 10...Qxe2+ 11.Kxe2 Nb4.
10.Qxe7+ Bxe7 11.c3
Inaccuracy – the pawn now takes the c3 square from the knight. After 11.Nc3 Nf6 12.Be3, White has a very comfortable play against the isolated pawn.
Meeting the danger face to face! I would have preferred 11...Nf6, to castle short.
12.h3 Be6 13.0–0 h5 14.N1d2

Played under the motto: everybody, forward! Nevertheless, the move is a mistake, since it leads to a serious weakening of Black’s kingside. 14...h4 15.g4 f5 was more in the spirit of the position, leading to a complicated play.
Not bad, but even better was 15.Re1, with the idea to meet 15...g4 with 16.h4.
Now the Chinese player gets some counterplay.
16.hxg4 Bxg4 17.Nbd4 Bf6 18.Bf4
Inaccuracy that spills some advantage for White. The correct move was 18.Re1 Nge7 19.Bg5 Bxg5 20.Nxg5, implementing the same idea as in the game, but with an extra tempo.
18...Nge7 19.Rfe1 Ng6 20.Bg5 Bxg5 21.Nxg5 Rd7 22.f3 Nxd4 23.cxd4 Bf5 24.Rac1+ Kb8 25.Kf2 f6 26.Bh3 Ne7 27.Bxf5 Nxf5 28.Ne6 Rg8
Tan Zhongyi defends very well, creating her own threats in the meantime.

A mistake that was most probably caused by overestimating the position. After 29.Rg1 Rd6 30.Nf4, White kept a stable plus.
29...Nxg3 30.Rc5 b6
The immediate 30...h4 was perhaps even stronger.
After 31.Rxd5 Rh7, Black is all right as well.

After the natural 32.Rf6, the position is equal. The Russian player tries to play for a win, but overlooks a terrible blow
32.Ree6? h3! 33.Nxh3 Rh7
Now black rooks invade the second rank. The rest is simple.
34.Nf4 Nf5 35.Ne2 Rh2+ 36.Kf1 Rgg2 37.Re8+ Kb7 38.Rce6 Nh4 39.R6e7+ Ka6 40.Ke1 Nf5 41.Kd1 Nxe7 42.Rxe7 Kb5 43.Re3 Rxe2 44.Rxe2 Rxe2 45.Kxe2 Kc4 46.Ke3 b5 47.Ke2 Kxd4 48.Kd2 f5 49.Ke2 Ke5 50.Ke3 d4+ White resigned.
The all-Russian battle between Alexandra Kosteniuk and Valentina Gunina was the most eventful. The outcome of the match was largely decided by the dramatic ending of the first game.

A. Kosteniuk – V. Gunina

Caro-Kann Defense

1.e4 c6 2.Nc3 d5 3.Nf3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Nf6 5.Qe2
The latest opening trend (instead of the usual 5.Nxf6+ exf6).
5...Nxe4 6.Qxe4 Nd7 7.Bc4 Nf6 8.Ne5 e6

A very rare continuation. The main theoretical battles commence after 9.Qe2 b5! 10.Bb3 (it’s very dangerous to grab the pawn with 10.Nxc6 Qc7 11.Bd3 – 11.Bxb5 a6 12.Ba4 Bd7 loses immediately – 11...a6, and Black has a huge compensation for the sacrificed material) 10...Qc7 11.d4 Bd6 12.0–0 0–0.
9...b5 10.Be2 Bd6 11.d4 0–0 12.Qg3! Ne4! 13.Qd3 f5! 14.Nxc6 Qc7 15.Ne5 a5
Both players show brilliant opening preparation. White, as it often happens in this line, has an extra pawn, and Black has strong pieces that provide a long-term compensation.
16.f3 Nf6
It was interesting to try 16...Bb4+, depriving the white king of castling rights. After 17.Kf1 Ba6, a complicated, dynamically equal position arises on the board.
17.0–0 Ba6 18.Bf4 Rfd8

Despite the extra material, it’s not easy to play for White here, and Alexandra makes a serious inaccuracy.
Leads to the irreparable weakening of the kingside. White had to carefully retreat with the bishop, 19.Bg3, and now, after 19...Nh5 (19...b4 20.Qd1), she had the unexpected 20.Qb3.
Not sharp enough. 19...b4 posed the most problems. After 20.Qd2 Bxe5 21.Bxe5 Qxe5 22.dxe5 Rxd2 23.Bxa6 Rxa6 24.exf6 Rc6, the resulting rook ending was very difficult for White.
20.Bh2 f4 21.Qb3 Re8 22.Ng4 a4
The black pieces are very well-coordinated, unlike their white counterparts.
23.Qd3 e5
Too premature. Better was 23...Ng3 24.Bxg3 fxg3, keeping a huge advantage.
24.Rfe1 Ng3 25.Bxg3 fxg3 26.Qf5!
Kosteniuk repels the attack with very precise moves and launches her own counterattack.
Going for the opposite-colored bishop ending doesn’t solve the troubles. 26...Rf8 27.Qh5 e4 28.fxe4 Bf4 kept the tensions in the position.
27.Qh5 Bxg4 28.Qxg4 a3!? 29.bxa3 Rf8
Valentina skillfully complicates matters in her signature style.

The ex-world champion cracks under pressure and makes a mistake. After the accurate 30.Bd3, White would have an obvious advantage because of her strong light-squared bishop.
Now Black has strong counterplay.
Mistakes come in pairs. White could still maintain equality with 31.Qd5+, with the approximate line: 31...Kh8 32.Rad1 Rxd4 33.Rxd4 Bc5 34.c3
31...g6 32.Qd5+ Kg7
Since 33.dxe5 is met with 33...Qb6 with a quick checkmate, White is now in big trouble.
The only defense.
33...Rxd4 34.Rxd4 Bc5 35.Kf1 Bxd4 36.Re1
More accurate was 36.Rb1, trying to make the rook useful along the b-file.
36...Bc3 37.Re3 Rd8
Slows the tempo of the attack. 37...Rf4 practically won on the spot, with the black rook invading White’s camp through h4. Valentina implements this idea in the game as well, but in a less conductive situation.
38.Qe6 Rd4 39.Ke2 Rxh4

A great defensive resource! The tactical blow 40.Bxg6 is met with a strong intermediate move 40...Bd4 (of course, not 40...hxg6 41.Rxc3 Qxc3 42.Qe7+ with perpetual check).
40...Rxf4 41.Rf3 Qa7 42.Qd5
A blunder that could have led to a loss. After 42.Rxf4 exf4 43.Kf3, White still had great chances to save the game.
Return courtesy. 42...Qg1 looks very tempting, but to actually make this move, you need to calculate the lines very precisely: 43.Qd7+ Kh6 44.Qh3+ Kg5! (a very important move that wins the game for Black) 45.Qxg3+ Rg4 or 45.Rxg3+ Kf6.
Now Alexandra corrects her mistake, and it seems that the game should end in a draw...
43...exf4 44.Kf3 Kg7
Black shouldn’t have given her pawns away for nothing. After 44...Qe3+ 45.Kg4 Be5, White still needs to play very precisely.
45.Kxf4 Qf2+ 46.Kg4 h5+ 47.Kh3 Qg1 48.Kxg3 Qe1+ 49.Kf3 Qd1+ 50.Ke3

Any sensible queen check led to a draw. Gunina, as usual, continues to find until the end, but misses a strong reply.
50...Kh6? 51.Qe4
Now the g6 pawn is hanging, and all opposite-colored bishop endgames are bad because of White’s potential passed pawns on the queenside.
51...Qg1+ 52.Kf3 Qd1+ 53.Qe2 Qa1 54.Qe3+ g5 55.Qe6+
An inaccuracy. Still, it’s hard to spot the computer move 55.Ke4.
55...Bf6 56.Qf5 Kg7 57.Qd7+ Kf8 58.Qxb5 Qd1+
58...Qxa2 still gave Black good chances to draw. In the game, however, Valentina decided to hunt for the opposing king, but it’s a clear mistake: the king can’t be checkmated, and all endgames are lost.
59.Ke4 Qg4+ 60.Kd5 Be7
The decisive mistake. 60...Kf7 was the only move that helped Black prolong the resistance, but now White calmly converts her advantage.
61.Be4 Qf4 62.Qd7 Qf7+ 63.Qe6
After the queen exchange, everything becomes obvious.
63...Bxa3 64.Qxf7+ Kxf7 65.c4 Ke7 66.Bf5 g4 67.c5 Kd8 68.Kc6 Ke7 69.Kb6 Kf6 70.Bd7 Ke7 71.Bf5 Kd8 72.g3 Bb2 73.Kb7 Be5 74.a4 Bc7 75.c6 Bxg3 76.a5 Black resigned. An exciting game!
In the second game, Kosteniuk was in total control.

V. Gunina – A. Kosteniuk

Испанская партия

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0–0 b5 6.Bb3 Bc5 7.c3 d6 8.d4 Bb6 9.a4 Bb7
A fashionable move. Still, the main line is 9...Rb8.
10.Bg5 h6

Careless. White should have looked for chances to gain an advantage after 11.Bxf6 Qxf6 12.Bd5.
11...g5 12.Bg3 Nxe4 13.Nbd2 Nxd2
Not bad, even though it was also interesting to capture the bishop – 13...Nxg3.
14.Nxd2 Qf6
Simpler was 14...0–0, and it’s hard for White to prove that she has a compensation for the pawn.
15.axb5 axb5 16.Rxa8+ Bxa8 17.Ne4!
Now White has some play.
17...Qg6 18.Bd5 f5
Too optimistic. After 18...0–0, White has no compensation for the material loss.
19.dxe5 dxe5

Valentina found a powerful resource, and the battle rages on again!
20...Ke7 21.c5
This is a mistake, allowing the position to close. However, after the logical 21.cxb5 fxe4 22.bxc6 Rd8 23.Qb3 Bxc6 24.Bxc6 Qxc6 25.Bxe5 Rd3, the position simplifies, and Gunina only needed a win.
21...Ba5 22.Qa1 Rd8
A safe continuation. The player go for the opposite-colored bishop endgame.
If the match situation was different, I’m sure that Alexandra would have played the aggressive 22...Bb4, and White would have been in trouble.
23.Bxc6 Qxc6 24.Qxa5 Rd7 25.Re1 fxe4 26.Qc3 Rd5 27.b4 Qe6 28.h3 Rd4 29.Qa1 Bc6 30.f3 Kd7 31.Bf2 Rd3 32.fxe4 h5
Kosteniuk plays very safely, avoiding any risk and getting closer to winning the match. In a desperate situation, Gunina goes all-out, but Black’s position is just too solid.
33.Qb1 Qb3 34.Qc1 g4 35.hxg4 hxg4 36.Qg5
36.Qh6 was more precise, targeting the c6 bishop.

The decisive mistake. The only way to keep afloat was 37.Qg4+ Kd8 38.Be3, and the black monarch is still in danger.
Now the black king is completely safe, which cannot be said about its adversary. The rest is a matter of technique.
38.Qxg3 Qxb4 39.Qg8+ Kb7 40.Bf2 Qa4 41.Kh2 Rd2 42.Qg3 Qc2 43.Be3 Re2 44.Qxe5 Rxg2+ 45.Kh3 Rg8 46.Bg5 Qf2 47.Ra1 Bd7+ White resigned.
The match between Anna Muzychuk and Nana Dzagnidze was the longest one. After two draws, which were not particularly interesting, the match went to tie-breaks, and the Ukrainian player dominated, winning both games. In the first rapid game, she convincingly refuted the opponent’s opening strategy.

A. Muzychuk – N. Dzagnidze

Sicilian Defense

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Bg5
Shows Anna’s combative mood.
6...Nbd7 7.Bc4 g6
A rare and seemingly dubious system. The main line is 7...Qb6.
8.Qe2 Bg7 9.0–0–0 0–0 10.f4 Qc7

White launches a very strong attack.
11...b5 12.Bb3 Bb7 13.h4 Nc5 14.h5 Nxb3+
After 14...Nfxe4, white gets a very strong attack after 15.Nxe4 Bxe4 16.hxg6 hxg6 17.Qf2, as played in Berg – Spirin, Gothenburg 2010.
15.axb3 Qc5
The decisive mistake. The only way to hold the position was 15...Nxh5, and, in spite of all the strength of White’s attack, there seems to be no direct win.
16.hxg6 hxg6 17.Qf3
Now White has an attack for free.
17...Rfc8 18.Qh3 Qe5 19.Bxf6 Qxf6 20.fxg6 Qxg6 21.Nf5 Qg5+ 22.Kb1 Rxc3 23.bxc3 Bxe4 24.Nxg7 Qxg7 25.Rde1 d5
Here, Anna gave her opponent a random chance.

Any sensible move won easily, for instance, 26.Rh2.
Nana didn’t use her chance. After 26...Bxg2 27.Qh4 Bxh1 28.Rg3 Be4 29.Rxg7+ Kxg7 30.Qxe7, there’s something like a fortress on the board; at any rate, this could prolong the game greatly.
27.Rg3 Bg6 28.Re1
The typical 28.Rxg6 fxg6 (28...Qxg6 29.Qh8#) 29.Qxe6+ Qf7 30.Rh8+ finished the game immediately.
28...Re8 29.Qh4 a5 30.Rf1 a4 31.Kb2 Rc8 32.Rf6 axb3 33.cxb3 b4 34.cxb4 Rc2+ 35.Ka3 Re2 36.Rfxg6
The decisive blow.
36...fxg6 37.Qd8+ Black resigned.
In the second game, Anna was in full control and deservedly qualified for the semifinal and the Candidates’ Tournament.
In the semifinals, we will see the matches Goryachkina – Muzychuk and Kosteniuk – Tan Zhongyi. All the players have already qualified for the Candidates’ Tournament (Aleksandra Goryachkina has a spot as the winner of the previous Candidates’); let’s see who qualifies for the final now!