No Sensations, but Some Surprises

The long-awaited Women’s World Cup has started in the hospitable Krasnaya Polyana. Despite all the difficulties caused by current situation, most players managed to make it to the tournament because of well-coordinated action by FIDE.
The rating difference is usually quite substantial in the first round, therefore, many favorites progressed without much difficulties.

P. Drastik – M. Sebag

The position is complicated, with mutual chances, but the more experienced Marie manages to find a way to seize the initiative.
23...Rhg8 24.Kf2 Rxg3!
A strong exchange sacrifice that gives an advantage to Black.
25.Kxg3 Qxd6+ 26.Kf2 Nb6 27.Be2 Qxd4+
The queen trade gives White some chances to get a good result. Black should have sustained the tension with 27...Nd5.
28.Qxd4 Rxd4 29.Ke3 e5 30.Rhc1+ Kb8 31.axb4 axb4 32.Rc5 f6 33.Rg1 Nd5+ 34.Kf2 Nc3 35.Rg8+ Ka7

The decisive mistake. The only chance to prolong the struggle was 36.Rc7 Kb6 37.Rf7, and the position is not clear yet.
36...Kb6 37.Rcc7 Bc6 38.Ke1 Rxh4 39.Ra7 Rh1+ 40.Kd2 Nxe2 41.Kxe2 b3 42.Ra3 Bb5+ 43.Ke3 b2 White resigned.

R. Padmini – U. Fataliyeva

After an interesting struggle in a fashionable line of the Caro-Kann the following position occurred. Black had a queenside attack, but couldn’t get anything substantial out of it. Now it’s White’s turn, and Rout launches a dangerous kingside attack.
23.g4! h5 24.h3 Bh6 25.Bh4 Ra8 26.Rxa8+ Nxa8 27.Bf6 Rg8 28.gxh5 gxh5+ 29.Ng5 Ng6 30.Kh1 Nb6 31.Qd1
White queen joins the game, and Black’s position quickly falls apart.
31...h4 32.Qh5 Bxg5 33.fxg5 Na4 34.Qh7 Kf8 35.Bxg6 Rxg6 36.Qh8+

Black resigned, not allowing White to execute a beautiful finish: 36...Rg8 37.g6 Rxh8 (37...fxg6 38.Bxh4+) 38.g7+ Kg8 39.gxh8Q#.
However, there were some unexpected results as well. The biggest sensation of the first round was Ayah Moaataz, a little-known Egyptian player, defeating the ex-world champion Anna Ushenina.

A. Moaataz – A. Ushenina

Reti Opening

1.c4 e6 2.g3 d5 3.Nf3 dxc4 4.Bg2 a6 5.a4
A curious gambit idea, but Black still manages to equalize rather confidently. At the tie-break game, the Egyptian player tried to improve upon this line with 5.Qc2, however, after 5...b5 6.Ne5 Ra7 7.a4 Bb7 8.0–0 Bxg2 9.Kxg2 Qd5+, the opening struggle was still won by Anna.
The main theoretical battles start after 5.0–0 Nf6, even though Black still equalizes without much trouble.
Hinting at the weakened b3 square.
Obviously, White doesn’t want to play 6.b3, but still, after 6...cxb3 7.Qxb3, White has some compensation for the pawn. After the game move, the resulting position was even worse for her.
6...e5! 7.Nxc4?!
Too straightforward. 7.Qc2 was stronger, not allowing the game move.

Now Black has a big advantage.
8.Ng1 Be6 9.b3 b5
Too rash. Black could keep the advantage with the simple 9...Nf6.
Suddenly, Black’s е4 pawn is in trouble.
10...Nf6 11.axb5 axb5 12.Rxa8 Qxa8 13.Bb2 doesn’t solve the problem: the black pawn is still in serious danger.
After the game move, it might seem that White’s position is quite worrisome, but...
Not fearing any ghosts!
The most sensible move. The natural-looking 11...Bxb3 is not too good because of the intermediate check 12.Bc6+, and it turns out that Black has no good moves. After 12...Qd7! (the only way for Black to stay in the game; 12...Ke7? 13.Ba3+, and queen joins the fray; 12...Nxc6 13.Qxb3 is also bad) 13.Bxd7+ Kxd7 14.axb5 Bxd1 15.Kxd1 Nxb5 16.Nf3, White gets a pleasant endgame.
12.Bc2 Bb4 13.Bb2 0–0
Moaataz was creative in the opening and even got an extra pawn, but a critical error follows.

Now the white king is weakened forever. White could keep the advantage with the simple 14.Bxd4 Qxd4 15.Nf3.
Now it’s hard to avoid material losses.
15.axb5 Nxc2+ 16.Qxc2 Bd5 17.Ra4 Be4 18.Qc1 a5 19.Rxb4 axb4 20.Nf3 Rb8
Even stronger was 20...Bxf3 21.exf3 Qd3.
21.Be5 Rxb5 22.0–0 Rb7 23.Ng5 Bd5?! 24.Qb2?!
Mutual inaccuracies. After 24.Qc2, the position got a lot sharper.
24...h6 25.Nf3 Bxf3 26.exf3 Re6 27.Rc1 Qd3 28.Kf2 Ne8 29.Rc5 f6 30.Rd5 Qa6 31.Bd4 Nd6 32.f5 Re7

Obviously, White’s position is hopeless, but Ayah launches a desperate attack that brings her unexpected success!
Question mark for the objective strength of the move, two exclamation marks for boldness!
33...gxf6 34.Rd4 Nxf5
Not bad, even if unnecessary.
Of course, 35.Nxf5 Re2+ loses.
35...Kf7 36.Qc2!
Despite being a rook down, White managed to create some problems for her opponent.
Ushenina’s first mistake in severe time trouble. The simplest was 36...Rxe3 37.dxe3 Qe6, and Black is safe.
Now White gets some mating ideas.
Allows for a repetition, even though it’s not too obvious. 37...Rxe3 was still strong: 38.dxe3 Qa2+ 39.Kg1 c5, and the black king is relatively safe.
White could force a draw with 38.Rg8 Ke6 39.Qe4+ Kf7 40.Qh7, and the black monarch cannot escape.

The decisive mistake. As before, the best move was to return the exchange, 38...Rxe3 39.dxe3 Qa2+, and then pose problems for the white king. Now, a spectacular finish follows.
39.Qg8+ Kg6 40.f5+ Kh5 41.Qh7
There’s no defense from the mate, so the Kharkov player was forced to resign. A dramatic game with a brilliant ending!
Nevertheless, the experience Ukrainian player managed to win on demand and then confidently win the tie-breaks as well. After such a shake-up, Anna will surely be especially dangerous!
Valentina Gunina was on the verge of big trouble in her second game against Jesse February.

J. February – V. Gunina

Caro-Kann Defense

1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.exd5 cxd5 4.Bd3 Nf6 5.h3 Nc6 6.c3 e5 7.dxe5 Nxe5 8.Qe2 Ne4
A creative move! Another well-known Russian player, Polina Shuvalova, played a number of games in this line.
For those who don’t like it hot, we can recommend the quiet 8...Qe7.
After the simple 9.Bxe4 dxe4 10.Qxe4 Bd6 11.Nf3 0–0 12.0-0, Black retained good compensation for the pawn in Iljushenok – Shuvalova, Khanty-Mansiysk 2019.
9...Bd7 10.Bxd7+

Valentina, as always, treats us to unconventional decisions!
After 10...Qxd7, the Russian player probably didn’t like 11.f3 (after 11.Nf3 Ng6, Black has a simple game), but after 11...0–0–0 12.fxe4 dxe4, Black has a formidable compensation for the piece, with a very Gunina-style position! In the actual game, however, Black got in trouble.
11.Nf3 Nxf3+ 12.Qxf3
The computer proposes the non-standard 12.gxf3.
12...Qf6 13.Qxf6 gxf6?
And this was too much. Black voluntarily ruins her pawn structure and gets quite an unpleasant endgame. Simpler was 13...Nxf6.
14.Be3 Re8 15.0–0 Rg8 16.Rd1 Kc6 17.Nd2 Ng5 18.Kf1 b6 19.Nb3 Bc5 20.Nd4+ Bxd4 21.Rxd4 Ne4 22.Rad1 Re5 23.c4 dxc4 24.Rxc4+ Kb5 25.Rdd4 Rge8

Black’s position is very difficult; however, the South African player, possibly slightly unsure of herself, facing such an illustrious opponent, decided to force a repetition.
After 26.a4+ Ka6 27.g4, it would be very difficult to hold the position.
26...Kc6 27.Rbc4+ Kb5 28.Rb4+ Kc6 29.Rbc4+ Kb5 30.Rb4+ Kc6 31.Rbc4+ Draw. All’s well that ends with progressing into the next round!

S. Latreche – N. Buksa

Nataliya won the first game very confidently, then seemingly controlled the situation in the second, but then suddenly blundered.
After the simple 22...Ne5, Black was very close to the needed draw.
A blow in the strong point! Black loses material.
After 23...dxe5, there’s 24.Rxe7.
Too cautious. The simple 24.Rxe7 was perfectly playable; after the game move, however, Buksa got some chances to save the game.
24...dxc5 25.Rxe7 Rd5
Black could make her opponent’s life more difficult with 25...Rd2 26.Kf1 Rfd8, creating her own threats.
26.f6 Rd2 27.fxg7 Kxg7 28.Rg4+ Kh8 29.Rxf7 Qa1+ 30.Qf1 Qxf1+ 31.Rxf1 Rxf1+ 32.Kxf1 Rxc2 33.Bxa6, and white easily converted her extra piece.
However, the Lvov player didn’t leave her opponent any chances at the tie break, easily progressing into the next rund.
There was a number of curiosities in the games as well.

S. Tsolakidou – J. Ryjanova

Forces Black to find some very difficult moves.
Alas, Julia blundered a mate in one.
Black could only save the game with 52...Nf2+ 53.Kg2 Nd1 54.Qf5+ Rf6 55.Qc8+ Ke7 56.Qc7+ Ke8, and White has nothing better than 57.Qe5+. After 57...Qxe5 58.fxe5 Ne3+ 59.Kg1 Rf5, Black should hold.

N. Salimova – I. Aliaga Fernández

Black has totally outplayed her opponent, and the win was already in sight.
58...Be4+ 59.Kh3 Re1
Ingrid forgets about stalemating ideas. The correct move order was 59...Nf2+ 60.Kh2 and only then 60...Re1.
Nurgyul finds a miraculous escape.
60...Kg6 61.Qf7+
The king can’t escape from the white queen.
61...Kh6 62.Qxh5+ Kxh5 Draw.
The second game was also drawn, and then Salimova won the tie-breaks.
There weren’t many sensations at the tie-breaks, however, we must take note of the matches Cyfka – Demchenko and Skripchenko – Wafa, where Svitlana and Shahenda put up a valiant resistance to their eminent opponents. Still, Karina and Almira’s class ultimately prevailed, and they progressed into the next round.
The match between Mai Narva (Estonia) and Gulnar Mammadova (Azerbaijan) was the longest one. Mai was close to winning multiple times, but still fell short.

M. Narva – G. Mammadova

Game 3

White’s position is easily won, but Narva decided to snatch a pawn in an inopportune time.
The simplest was 58.d6 with a quick checkmate. Now, however, the cunning Gulnar managed to obtain the textbook rook+bishop versus rook endgame.
58...Rh6+ 59.Kg1 Nxd5! 60.Bxd5 Rh5 61.Be4 Rxc5
The Azerbaijan player managed to confidently hold the position.
The second tie-break game was also drawn. In the fifth game, Mai showed brilliant technique in an opposite-colored bishop endgame with rooks, but Mammadova managed to win on demand in a fascinating rook endgame

G. Mammadova – M. Narva

After a complicated struggle, White managed to get an advantage, and here, she had a very strong move 30.f3, recommended by GM Ilia Smirin on livestream. After the capture, the white rook invades the seventh rank, and Black’s position falls apart at the seams.
Gulnar, who already was in severe time trouble, played 30.c4, and the aforementioned rook endgame soon appeared on the board.
30...Rd8 31.Bxc5 bxc5 32.g4 Bxg4 33.Rxe4 Bf3 34.Re5 Bxd5 35.Rxd5 Kg7 36.Kf1 Kf6 37.Ke2 Ke6 38.Rxc5 Rxd6
It seems that White has no winning chances, but Gulnar masterfully maintains the tension on the board.
39.Ra5 a6 40.Rc5 f5 41.a4 h5 42.a5 h4 43.Rc8 g4 44.Ke3 Ke7 45.Rb8 Kd7 46.Rb7+ Kc8 47.Rf7 Re6+ 48.Kd4 Re4+ 49.Kd5 g3
An inaccuracy, long-awaited by White. The simple 49...Rf4 kept the balance.
50.fxg3 hxg3 51.hxg3 Rg4 52.Rxf5 Rxg3

Now there’s a typical endgame on the board. Of course, it’s theoretically drawn, but it’s so difficult to prove in mutual time trouble!
53.Kc5 Rg6 54.Rf8+ Kc7 55.Rf7+ Kc8 56.Rf5 Kc7 57.Rh5 Rf6 58.Rh7+ Kc8 59.Rg7 Rh6 60.Kd5 Rh5+ 61.Kd6 Rh6+ 62.Kc5 Rh5+ 63.Kb4 Rh4 64.Re7 Rh6 65.Kc5 Rg6 66.Kd5 Rg5+ 67.Kd6 Rg6+ 68.Re6
White achieves some progress. Still, Black made no mistakes yet.
68...Rg1 69.Kc6 Kb8 70.c5 Rb1
Perhaps 70...Rh1 was more accurate, with the idea to meet 71.Kd7 with 71...Rh7+.
71.Kd7 Rd1+
A significant mistake. The only way to save the game was 71...Rb7+ 72.Kd6 Rb1 or 72.Kd8 Rh7.
72.Rd6 Rh1 73.Rxa6
A return courtesy! Now, a typical endgame with a- and c-pawns occurs. White could win with 73.Rb6+ Ka7 74.Rd6, and the c-pawn is unstoppable.
73...Rh7+ 74.Kc6

The decisive mistake. After the precise 74...Rh1, Black still can give checks from below and from the side, and even though White can still pose her a lot of trouble, it’s still a draw.
But now there’s no check from b1, and the white rook joins the game with decisive effect.
75...Rh1 76.Rg6 Rb1+ 77.Kc6 Ra1 78.Rg7 Ra2 79.Rg6 Ra1 80.Kd7 Rd1+ 81.Rd6 Rh1 82.Rb6+ Ka7 83.Re6 Rd1+ 84.Kc7 Ra1 85.a6 Rc1 86.c6 Kxa6 87.Kb8 Rb1+ 88.Ka8 Kb6 89.Kb8 Ka6+ 90.Kc8 Ka7 91.Re7+ Ka8 92.c7 Rd1 93.Re2 Ka7 94.Ra2+ Kb6 95.Kb8 Black resigned.
Gulnar Mammadova, inspired by her miraculous survival, left no chances for her opponent in blitz and deservedly progressed to the next round.
In round 2, the rating favorites of World Cup join the fray, including several Russian players: 12th women’s world champion Alexandra Kosteniuk, world vice-champions of various years – Aleksandra Goryachkina, Kateryna Lagno, Natalia Pogonina and Alisa Galliamova, grandmasters Polina Shuvalova, Alina Kashlinskaya, Olga Girya, Anastasia Bodnaruk… Let’s see whom Lady Luck smiles upon!