The vice-world champion Aleksandra Goryachkina is playing very confidently. She defeated Olga Badelka from Belarus in her match.
A. Goryachkina – O. Badelka
Catalan Opening1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.g3 d5 4.Bg2 Be7 5.Nf3 0–0 6.0–0 dxc4 7.Qc2 a6 8.a4 c5
A currently popular move. The main line is 8...Bd7.
9.dxc5 Bxc5 10.Nbd2 b5 11.Ng5!
Aleksandra is playing in a gambit-like style. White can regain the pawn with 11.axb5 Bb7 12.bxa6 Nxa6 and even win one herself – 13.Qxc4, but after 13...Bd5, Black has enough compensation, as the game Donchenko – Lysyj, Warsaw 2016 showed. That game ended with a threefold repetition after 14.Qh4 Be7 15.Qf4 Bd6 16.Qh4 Be7 17.Qf4 Bd6 18.Qh4.
11...Ra7 12.Nde4 Nxe4 13.Nxe4 Bd4
After 13...Bb6, 14.Ng5 is still very strong.
14.Ng5 g6 15.axb5 axb5 16.Rxa7 Bxa7 17.Ne4!
This move was played in two well-known topical games, but this is still an inaccuracy. You need to be inhumanly cold-blooded to play 17...f5, but White can’t find a way to get an advantage here, for instance: 18.Bg5 Qb6 19.Nf6 Кg7 20.Qc3 Qd4 21.Qa6 Qb6.
18.Bh6 Bg7 19.Bxg7 Kxg7 20.Qc3+ f6 21.Qb4 Qb6 22.Nd6 Bd7 23.Rd1
Goryachkina seized all the key squares with her energetic play, and her pieces dominate the board, despite the lack of a pawn.
Black should have considered 23...Na6, to get a tenable endgame after 24.Nxc4 Qa7 25.Qd6 bxc4 26.Qxd7+ Qxd7 27.Rxd7+ Rf7.
24.Ra1 Rd8 25.Nb7 Rf8 26.Ra8 Bc6!
Olga skillfully defends a difficult position. Now simplifications are unavoidable, and they favor Black.
27.Bxc6 Qxc6 28.Qe7+ Kg8 29.Nc5 Qe8 30.Qxe6+ Qxe6 31.Nxe6 Rc8 32.Kf1 b4 33.Ke1 Kf7 34.Nd4 Rd8 35.Nc2 c3 36.bxc3 bxc3 37.Ra3 Rc8 38.Ra7+ Ke6
Relying on king’s activity. I think that after 38...Kg8, Black’s chances to draw were still higher than White’s chances to win.
39.Rxh7 Nc6 40.Rb7 Kd5
40...g5 looked great, fixing the weakness on h2.
White gave a cunning check with the knight, and not all squares are equally good to retreat to.
A long-awaited inaccuracy that benefits Aleksandra. Black should have unpretentiously retreated to e6, retaining chances to save the game.
42.Rb3! Kd4 43.Rb5!
The vice-world champion shows impeccable endgame technique. Now the black king is under the threat of checkmate.
Inaccuracy, but is the cool 43...Rd8 possible to find for a human?
A return courtesy. It was much stronger to bring the king to c2 with 44.Kd1, and 44...Ra8 is very strongly met with 45.Rd5+ Ke4 46.Rd6. The Russian player did the king walk in the game, but the conditions weren’t as good.
44...Kc4 45.Na3+ Kd4 46.Kd1 Ra8!
Now Black creates counterplay.
47.Rb3 g5 48.Kc2 Rh8
The computer proposes 48...Ng4 49.Rb4+ Kd5, and, inconceivably, black holds in all lines.
Tactics serving the strategic idea! White corrects her pawn structure.
49...gxh4 50.Rb4+ Kd5 51.gxh4 Ra8
I would have preferred 51...Ng6. White probably wouldn’t have been able to save the h-pawn, and the endgame with two pawns versus one on the same flank should be defensible.
52.Kb3 Nc6 53.Rb5+ Ke4
More cautious was 53...Ke6, and it’s not that simple to find a way to progress.
54.Nc2 Rc8 55.f3+ Kf4 56.Rc5 Rb8+ 57.Kxc3 Ne5
Even though the Belorussian player lost a pawn, she managed to activate her pieces, and the fate of the h-pawn is still in doubts.
58.Rd5 Rh8 59.Rd4+ Kg3 60.Ne3 Ra8
An incredible position could occur after 60...Kf2 61.Kd2 Rh7. Despite the two extra pawns, the position is close to a draw – the white pieces are too passive.
Of course, 60...Rxh4 is bad due to 61.Nf5+.
61.Nf5+ Kf2 62.Re4 Rh8 63.Kd4 Rh5 64.Ng7 Rh7 65.Ne8
The decisive mistake. Black still had some chances to save the game after 65...Nd7 66.Nd6 Rh5 or 65...Nc6+ 66.Kc5 f5 67.Re6 Nd8 68.Re5 Rxh4. In both lines, it’s very difficult to convert the huge material advantage. Chess is so wonderful!
66.Nxf6 Rxh4 67.Ng4+
Now it’s all simple.
67...Ke1 68.Ke3 Rh8 69.Re6 Nh4 70.Kf4 Rf8+ 71.Kg5 Ng2 72.Nf6 Ra8 73.f4 Kf2 74.f5 Ne3 75.Ng4+ Black resigned.
In the second game, Aleksandra didn’t give her opponent any chances to complicate the game and easily made it into the next round.
Kateryna Lagno also delights the Russian supporters. She defeated Batkhuyag Munguntuul in a rather interesting game.
B. Munguntuul – K. Lagno
After a complicated struggle, a fascinating position arose. Black has an extra pawn, but the a2 knight can’t rejoin the game. The players had just made time control, but then the Mongolian player missed a tactic.
After any waiting move, such as 41.Kf2, it’s hard to see how Black can improve her position.
41...Nc1! 42.Nxa3 Nb3!
Kateryna found a very elegant tactical motif. Now she threatens to take on а3 and give a check on d2, and 43.Nb1 is decisively met with 43...Rа1. Bat found the best defense – she sacrificed a piece.
43.Rc3 Rxa3 44.Kg3
An incredible position! Even though Black is a piece up, it’s very hard for her to find a winning plan – all her pieces are tied down at the queenside, and it’s difficult for the king to come to the rescue.
44...Kf5 45.Kh3 Ke4 46.Kh2 f5 47.Kh3 f4
Failing to find any other way to improve the position, Lagno sacrifices a pawn and breaks through to the queenside with her king
After 48...Kxf4 49.Kh2, it’s probably impossible to achieve any progress.
The decisive mistake. White captures the g7 pawn, but at the worst possible moment
After 50.Kh2, the pawn is still en prise, and 50...Ra7 can be strongly met with 51.Rg5; 50.f5 with similar ideas was not too bad either. Here, White still had significant chances to save the game.
50...Nd2+! 51.Kh2 Nf1+ 52.Kg1 Ne3!
With an elegant knight pirouette, Black managed to coordinate her forces and create mating threats
53.Rg5 Ng4 54.Kf1 Kd3
The rest is simple technique.
55.g3 Ra1+ 56.Kg2 Ra2+ 57.Kg1 Ke3 58.Rb5 Kf3 59.Rb3+ Ne3 60.f5 Re2 61.f6 Kxg3 62.Rb1 Rf2 63.Re1 Ng4 White resigned.
The Russian player drew the second game without much trouble and progressed into the next round.
Valentina Gunina defeated Harika Dronavalli in a complicated struggle.
V. Gunina – D. Harika
Ruy Lopez1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0–0 Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 d6 8.a4 Bg4 9.c3 Na5 10.Ba2
The usual move is 10.Bc2.
10...b4 11.d3 Rb8
Novelty, but not a particularly good one. In the only known game in this line, there followed 11...b3 12.Bxb3 Nxb3 13.Qxb3 Bxf3 14.gxf3 Nh5, and a complicated struggle with mutual chances ensued, Dubov – Predke, Moscow 2017.
12.Nbd2 c5 13.Nf1
Perhaps 13.Nc4 or 13.d4 was more cautious, because in the actual game, the white bishop became stuck on b1.
If I were Harika, I would have immediately pushed the pawn to b3, but this move is also good.
Dronavalli makes the programmatic move, but at the cost of her light-squared bishop. It was better to play 14...Bh5 first, and only then ...b3.
15.Nxg4 Nxg4 16.Bb1
It seems that White’s queenside isn’t going to join the game anytime soon, because d4 is met with c4. However, Valentina used the potential of her position so skillfully that she didn’t even need that!
16...Re8 17.Qe2 Qc7 18.Nd2 Nf6 19.Nf1
19.Nc4 was also worth checking.
If I played Black, I would have considered 19...d5: opening up the position after 20.exd5 Nxd5 21.Qxe5 Qd7 could benefit her because of the sleeping white bishop and rook.
20.Bg5 Nd7 21.Ne3 Nb6 22.Qg4!
Gunina gets ready for the onslaught.
Stockfish shows an incredibly beautiful line: 23.Bf6 gxf6 24.Nf5 Nc6 25.Qh4 Bg7 26.Re3 Nd7 27.Rg3 Rg8 28.Qxh7+ Kxh7 29.Rh3+ Kg6 30.Nh4+ Kg5 31.Nf3+ Kg6 (31...Kf4 32.Rh4#) 32.Nh4+ with perpetual check.
Seeing that the position is not ready for the attack, the Russian player gets all her reserves in.
23...f6 24.Bd2 Qf7 25.h4 g6 26.Ng3 Qe6
Black probably should have immediately curb White’s kingside expansion with 26...h5, and after 27.Qe2 Nd7 28.f4 exf4 29.Bxf4 Ne5, Black is all right.
27.Qe2 Rb7 28.f4
It was better to prepare this move with 28.Rf1.
Too passive. After 28...exf4 29.Bxf4 d5, the position opens up, and Black has nothing to complain about.
29.Rf1 Nc8 30.h5!
The call to attack!
Despite all odds, Gunina’s bishop joins the game, and even though it remained on b1 until the end of the game, it still played an important role in the attack.
32.fxe5 fxe5 33.Be3 was more precise.
Harika misses a chance to complicate the game with 32...exd4.
33.fxe5 fxe5 34.Nh5!!
Now White’s attack is unstoppable.
Of course, 34...gxh5 loses to 35.Qxh5+.
35.Bg5 exd4 36.Nf6 Qe6 37.cxd4 Rf8
After 37...Nxd4, 38.Qf2 immediately finishes.
38.e5 dxe5 39.d5 Nd4 40.Qe4 Qxf6 41.Bxf6 Bxf6 42.Qxg6 Rbf7 43.Rxf6 Black resigned because of the inevitable mate. A picturesque position!
In the second game, the Indian player won a pawn and could equalize the score, but Gunina managed to save a major-piece endgame with tenacious defense.
Alexandra Kosteniuk defeated the experienced Pia Cramling.
P. Cramling – A. Kosteniuk
Ragozin Defense1.Nf3 d5 2.d4 Nf6 3.c4 e6 4.Nc3 Bb4 5.Bg5 h6 6.Bxf6 Qxf6 7.Qa4+ Nc6 8.e3 0–0 9.Rc1 Rd8 10.Be2 dxc4 11.Bxc4 e5!?
The main line 11...Bd7 is not bad either.
Too ingenuous. The only chance to fight for the initiative was to castle. After 12.0–0 exd4 (in case of 12...Bxc3 13.bxc3, White has a solid pawn center) 13.Nd5 Qd6 14.exd4, White maintains some pressure.
A very interesting pawn sacrifice.
Of course, there was nothing wrong with the simple capture 12...Bxc3+ 13.Rxc3 Nxe5 14.Nxe5 Qxe5, but Kosteniuk decided to complicate matters, and her bet paid off!
13.0–0 Bh3 14.Ne1
Passive. It’s not easy to calculate the lines after 14.Nh4 Qg4 15.Nd5 (15.Ne2 Nxe5 16.Nf4) 15...Nxe5 16.Nf4, but still, it was the only way to maintain equality. Now Black has a considerable advantage.
The engine finds an incredible resource: 15.f4 Nxc4 16.Qxb4, and White is all right after 16...Nxe3 17.Rf3, so 14...Bс3 was more precise, but, on the other hand, it’s very hard to spot for a human.
15...c5 16.Qc2 Qxc2 17.Rxc2 Bf5 18.e4 Be6 19.Nf3
19.f4 Nc6 20.f5 Bd7 21.Nf3 Nd4 22.Nxd4 cxd4 was stronger, but still with a clear advantage for Black.
19...Nc6 20.a3 Ba5 21.Nd1
Pia’s best attempt was to sacrifice a pawn and go for the opposite-colored bishop endgame with 21.Nd5 Bxd5 22.exd5 Rxd5. White’s chances to save the game are considerable.
21...Nd4 22.Nxd4 cxd4 23.Bd3 Bb3
Inaccuracy. 23...Rac8 was more precise, depriving White of counterplay along the c-file.
More accurate was 24...Bb6.
Cramling overlooks a funny resource 25.Rb5 Ba4 26.b4, and White gets two pieces for the rook. Still, after 26...Bxb5 27.Bxb5 Bxb4 28.axb4 a5, Black retains a considerable advantage.
Now it’s over. Black simply converts her advantage.
26.Rxc8 Rxc8 27.f3 Bd2 28.Kf2 Bc1 29.Ke2 a6 30.Rf2 b5 31.f4 Re8 32.Rf3 Bd5 33.Kf2 Bxe4 34.Bxe4 Rxe4 35.g3 f5 36.h4 Kf7 37.a4 bxa4 38.Ra3 a5 39.Rxa4 Bd2 40.Kf3 Bb4 41.g4 Re1 42.Ra1 fxg4+ 43.Kxg4 d3 44.h5 d2 45.Kf5 Be7 White resigned. An outstanding achievement for the ex-world champion!
In the second game, Alexandra was in full control of the situation and advanced to the round 4 without much effort.
Now let’s get to the tie-breaks. Nana Dzagnidze made short work of Carissa Yip, winning 2–0. Bibisara Assaubayeva outplayed Bela Khotenashvili. The two young Russians, Polina Shuvalova and Leya Garifullina, had a very tough fight.
L. Garifullina – P. Shuvalova
Black won a pawn after a complicated struggle, but White has a great compensation because of her opponent’s weak king.
Leya opens up the position.
26...Qa3 27.Be2 Qe7 28.Bf3!
An inspired sacrifice of another pawn.
28...dxc4 29.d5 Bb5 30.d6 c3+ 31.Kf2 Qg7 32.Bd5+ Kf8 33.Qb4
A blunder. Black should have played 33...Bd7 with possible perpetual check after 34.Qxb7 c2 35.Qa8+ Be8 36.Bc6 Qe5 37.d7 Qh2+ 38.Kf3 Qh3+.
Return courtesy. The simple 34.Be6 won immediately.
Black overlooks her opponent’s tactical idea. The only chance to save the game was 34...a5.
35.Be6! Qxe6 36.d7+ Kg7 37.Qxc3+ Kf7 38.d8=N+
Very elegant! Black resigned.
However, Polina confidently won the return game, and in the next game, her opponent blundered.
L. Garifullina – P. Shuvalova
The chances are roughly equal, but the Russian vice-champion continues to play for a win, remembering the squandered advantage.
Alas, Garifullina blunders in one move and loses the game.
35...Nh3+ White resigned.
To Leya’s credit, we should say that she took this cruel blow very well, and she was very close to leveling the score again in the next game, but fell just short. In any case, I’m sure that the young Ekaterinburg player can be proud with her performance. Polina, meanwhile, progressed into the next round, facing Georgia’s Nana Dzagnidze.
The battle between the two Ukrainian ex-world champions was the fiercest of all. The opponents exchanged heavy blows in rapid chess, and Muzychuk’s nerves were stronger in blitz.
M. Muzychuk – A. Ushenina
White totally outplayed her opponent. A simple tactical blow follows.
24.fxg6 fxg6 25.Bxg6 hxg6 26.Qxg6 Nf4 27.Rxf4
And Mariya easily converted the two extra pawns.
In the return game, the Lvov player managed to defend well and progressed into the 4th round, where she’s going to face Alexandra Kosteniuk.
The battles between rating favorites are approaching fast. Let’s see who wins!