Aleksandra Goryachkina showed great sporting qualities: she managed to overcome all the difficulties in her match against Antoaneta Stefanova from Bulgaria. In the first game, the Russian player confidently equalized with Black, then even amassed a big advantage, but lost a piece in the decisive moment.
A. Stefanova – A. Goryachkina
White obviously hadn’t managed to get an advantage out of the opening.
White should have found a funny small tactic 17.e3 with the idea to meet 17...Rxe3 with the double attack 18.Qd4, and after the only 18...Qe7, White has the interposition 19.Ne4. Black is forced to give up an exchange, 19...Rxe4 20.fxe4 Ncxe4, and the position is dynamically equal.
After this inaccurate move, Black seized the initiative, and White’s situation gradually became worse and worse.
18.Nd1 looks rather sad, but after 18...Qb6 19.Nf2, the knight goes to a good blockading position.
Goryachkina continues her attack!
Not bad, but even stronger was the straightforward 19...Nxd3 with a big advantage due to the Kasparovian knight on d3.
20.d4 Qxb5 21.dxc5 Rad8 22.Qc3
A big inaccuracy that allows the knight to reach d5 with a tempo. White should have defended passively, 22.Qc1, and, in spite of formidable centralized pieces, Black can’t breach White’s defenses.
Now Stefanova is in trouble.
23.Qa3 Ne3 24.Rf2
Aleksandra deviates from the correct path. She could almost finish the game then and there with 24...Nd1 25.Rf1 Qe2, and to avoid the worst, White had to part with her queen: 26.f4 Rd3 27.Qxd3 Qxd3 28.Raxd1 Qe3+ 29.Rf2 Qxc5 30.Bxb7 h5. I think that this position is purely technical.
After the mistake on move 24, the advantage has already evaporated, but then, an inexplicable blunder follows...
It’s hard to tell what exactly did Black overlook, but now she’s in a big trouble. She had to play 26...Ne5, and the position is equal because of the active knight.
The black knight is pinned, and its demise is only a matter of time.
The last chance.
The Bulgarian player remains vigilant. 28.b4 Qxb4 29.Qxc4 was not bad too, but, of course, 28.Qxc4 is too premature due to 28...Rd1+.
28...b5 29.b3 h5 30.bxc4
In the subsequent play, Antoaneta converted her advantage very accurately.
30...b4 31.Qe2 Rc3 32.Re1 Rxc4 33.Bf1 Rc3 34.Kg2 h4 35.gxh4 Rd6 36.Kh1 Re6 37.Qd2 Rxe1 38.Qxe1 Re3 39.Qd2 Qe7 40.Qd4 Re1 41.Kg2 a5 42.Rc2 Qe6 43.Bd3 g6 44.h5 gxh5 45.Qd8+ Kg7 46.Qg5+ Kf8 47.Qxh5 Black resigned.
However, the vice-world champion confidently won the second game on demand.
A. Goryachkina – A. Stefanova
Slav Defense1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 a6 5.e3 e6 6.b3 Bb4 7.Bd2 Nbd7 8.Bd3 0–0 9.0–0 Bd6 10.Re1 Re8 11.Qc2 h6 12.h3
A well-known theoretical position. It’s thought that 12...е5 leads to equality, but Stefanova makes an inaccurate move.
Now White is ready for the e4 break in the center.
13...Qc7 14.e4! dxc4 15.bxc4 e5 16.dxe5 Nxe5 17.Nxe5 Bxe5 18.Ne2 Bd6 19.Be3 Nd7 20.f4! Bc5 21.Bxc5 Nxc5 22.e5!
Aleksandra launches a strong attack in the center.
Too careless. Black should have calmed White’s battle fervor with 22...Nxd3 23.Qxd3 Be6, and Black is all right.
Now White has good attacking prospects.
After 23...Be6 24.Bf1, White has a considerable advantage as well.
This move probably was the decisive mistake. Black still had some chances after 24...Be6 25.c5 Qa5, and White still needs some precision here: 26.Qf2 Qxa2 27.Rd2 Qc4 28.f5 etc.
A great move! Not getting distracted by small things such as the c4 pawn, Goryachkina starts the decisive attack.
25...Qb6 26.Kh2 c5 27.Nh5 Kh8 28.Rg3 Rg8 29.f5
White pieces are extremely well-coordinated, which cannot be said about Black. The vice-world champion deftly executes her plan.
29...Rb8 30.e6 f6 31.Qc1 Qc7 32.Nxf6!
The decisive blow.
Of course, 32...gxf6 loses to 33.Qxh6+ Qh7 34.Qxf6+ Rg7 35.Re4.
33.Kxg3 gxf6+ 34.Kh2 Kh7 35.Qc3 Bb7 36.Re2 Rg5 37.Qxf6 Rbg8 38.g4 h5 39.e7 hxg4 40.Qxg5 Black resigned.
In the first tie-break game, Aleksandra outplayed her opponent in an original version of the Stonewall variation. In the second game, Antoaneta was very close to leveling the score, but…
A. Stefanova – A. Goryachkina
White is clearly better, and Stefanova forces a transposition into a very promising endgame.
31.Qb4 Qxb4 32.Bxb4 e6
32...Kf7 33.Kf2 changes nothing.
33.Bxf8 Kxf8 34.Kf2
The white king is relentless in its journey to the queenside, and it cannot be stopped.
34...Ke7 35.Ke2 Kd7 36.Kd3 Ne7 37.Kc3 h6 38.Kb4
38.h4 was more precise, denying Black any counterplay on the kingside.
Now Black at least has some counterplay.
39.Kxa4 also won, but it required calculation of several lines. Here are the main ones: 39...gxf4 40.gxf4 Ng6 41.Ka5 Nxf4 (41...Kc7 42.Bxe6 Nxf4 43.Bxf5+–) 42.Kb6 Nd5+ 43.Kb7 Nc3 44.Bb3 f4 45.a4 f3. For a moment, the black pawn looks very dangerous, but it’s only an illusion: 46.a5 Ne2 47.Bd1! Nxd4 48.Bxf3 Nxf3 49.a6, and the passed pawn cannot be stopped.
39...hxg5 40.Kxa4 c5!
Goryachkina desperately looks for counterplay, posing new problems to her tired opponent.
41.dxc5 Ng6 42.Kb5 Nxe5 43.Be2 f4 44.gxf4 gxf4
White’s position is absolutely won, but then the miracles begin.
In time trouble, the Bulgarian player loses the control over the position. The simplest finish was 45.Kb6 f3 46.c6+ Kd6 (46...Nxc6 47.Bb5 f2 48.Bxc6+ Kd6 49.Bb5) 47.Bxf3 Nxf3 48.c7.
45...f3 46.Bf1 Kc7 47.h5 Ng4 48.a4
White starts a pawn race, but her pawns are separated, while the connected e- and f-pawns are a force to be reckoned with.
We have to say that while the computer shows many ways to win, it’s not that simple to find any of them at the board. For instance, the non-obvious 48.Bh3 f2 wins: the bishop left the f1 square, and so White can play 49.Kc4 without fearing the knight fork. After 49...Ne3+, unexpectedly, the only winning move is 50.Kd4 (after 50.Kd3 Nd5, the computer evaluation shows zeroes) 50...f1=Q 51.Bxf1 Nxf1 52.h6, and the h-pawn is unstoppable
48...e5 49.a5 e4
And this move misses the win entirely. The way to victory was difficult and thorny, with several only moves. The winning move was subtle: 50.Kb4 (avoiding the “minefield” on с4) 50...e3 51.Kc3.
Should we say that finding and correctly evaluating all this in time trouble is more or less impossible? Still, it was at this moment that White’s game was derailed.
And with this move, White misses even the draw, even though it was there was no difference between drawing and losing for Antoaneta…
She could still save the game with the stunning 51.h6 Nxh6 (after 51...e2 52.h7 e1=Q 53.h8=Q, the draw is easy to make) 52.a6 e2 53.a7 Kb7 54.c6+ Kxa7 55.c7 Nf7 56.Kc5 e1=Q 57.c8=Q.
51...e2 52.a7 Kb7 53.c6+ Kxa7 54.c7 Kb7 55.Bxg4 Kxc7 56.Bxf3 e1=Q White resigned. A dramatic ending!
The fight between Valentina Gunina and Nino Batsiashvili was equally fierce. In the first game, the Russian player missed a sitter.
V. Gunina – N. Batsiashvili
White’s position is absolutely won, but the exhausted Valentina made a fatal mistake.
White won easily with 50.c4 a2 51.Nd2 Kf7, and the elegant king walk decides matters: 52.Kf3 Ke7 53.Ke2 Kd7 54.Kd3 Kc7 55.Nb3; after 55...Rb1 56.Kc3, the a2 pawn falls.
50...a2! 51.Ke2 Kh7
White is in a kind of a zugzwang: the king has no moves, the knight moves or c4 are met with ...Rс1, and the rook checks are useless.
52.Ra7+ Kg6 53.Ra5 Kg7 54.Ra6 Kh7 55.Nf6+ Kg7 56.Ne4
After that, Nino went for a threefold repetition. In place of the multiple-time Russian champion, I would have tried 56.Ng4 Rc1 57.Rxa2 Rxc3 and checked my opponent’s knowledge in the rook+knight vs. rook ending. Defending such an endgame is considered easy, but sometimes the stronger side does win, like in Carlsen – l’Ami, Wijk an Zee 2011.
Despite such a cruel blow of fate, Gunina pulled herself together and won the second game with Black, in a position where she had two knights against Batsiashvili’s two bishops. Mikhail Ivanovich Chigorin would have been happy!
In the battle between the two ex-world champions, Mariya Muzychuk and Alexandra Kosteniuk, the Russian player prevailed. She couldn’t pose much trouble for her opponent with White, but unexpectedly won the second game with Black.
M. Muzychuk – A. Kosteniuk
Giuoco Piano1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.c3 Nf6 5.d3 0–0 6.0–0 d5
A modern dynamic move.
7.exd5 Nxd5 8.Re1 Bg4 9.h3 Bh5 10.Nbd2 Nb6 11.Bb3!?
The latest opening fashion. After 11.Bb5 Bd6, black is no trouble at all, as the game Vakhidov – Karjakin from this World Cup showed.
Trying to seize the initiative. After 11...Qxd3 12.Nxe5 Qf5 13.Nef3, White maintains some pressure.
12.Ne4 Bd6 13.g4 Bg6 14.Ng3
A novelty, but not a particularly good one. After 14.d4 exd4 15.Nxd4 Nxd4 16.Qxd4, White got a comfortable advantage in Giri – Inarkiev, St. Petersburg 2018.
14...Nd7 15.Bc2 a5
The beginning of a wrong plan. Mariya starts playing too aggressively, giving Alexandra ample opportunity to counter-attack. After 16.Bg5 f6 17.Be3, White kept some advantage.
A serious inaccuracy, 17.g5 should have been played immediately. The difference between this line and game move is that after 17...f5 18.gxh6 gxh6 (of course, Black should play 18...f4 19.hxg7+ Kxg7 20.Ne4 Nf6 21.d4 Qc8, with great attacking prospects) 19.Bxh6 Rg8, White had a strong resource 20.Bb3. It’s clear that the g6 bishop only gets in the way.
Consistent, but Black has a strong reply. It’s hard to stop yourself in time during the game, but White should have consolidated with 18.Kg2.
A great resource: now Kosteniuk is going to counter-attack.
The decisive mistake. Muzychuk continues with her erroneous plan, which crashes and burns. 19.d4 allowed to prolong the fight, even though after 19...f4 20.Ne4 Bf5, white’s position is extremely bad.
19...gxh6 20.Bxh6 Rg8
Unlike in the line with 17.g5, the black pieces are very well-coordinated; she now threatens ...f4.
21.Bb3 Qf6 22.Bxg8 Rxg8 23.Bg5
After 23.Qd2, 23...f4 finishes immediately.
23...Rxg5 24.Nxg5 Qxg5
Three minor pieces dominate the two passive rooks. The game only continued for 10 more moves.
25.Kf1 Nf6 26.Qf3 Ng4 27.Qg2 e4!
The black bishop joins the attack.
And now the black knight goes to f4. White is completely defenseless.
29.c4 Ne6 30.c5 Bf8 31.Rad1 Nf4 32.Qh1 Bg8 33.Nxe4 Bc4+ 34.Kg1 fxe4 White resigned.
A. Kashlinskaya – D. Saduakassova
Despite the lack of a pawn, Black has a good counterplay. Saduakassova makes an inaccurate move, but it… wins the match for her!
After 32...Nb2+ 33.Kd2 Rxc1 34.Kxc1 Nd3+ 35.Kd2, the white bishop on b4 is protected, and after 35...Nxf2 36.Rf4 Nh3 37.Rf3 Ng5 38.Rf1, Black is in for a long defense in the endgame. However, strong was 32...a5 33.bxa6 bxa6, and Black maintains the pressure because of the threat …a5.
The most natural move in a position, but, alas, it’s a gross blunder...
The computer move 33.Ke2 is very hard to find, but, here, the threat ...Nb2 is neutralized, and in case of 33...d3+ 34.Kd1 Nb2+ 35.Kd2 Rxc1 36.Kxc1, White wins.
Amazingly, but even this move is inaccurate. Stockfish recommends another amazing resource: 34.Ke2 (who can even think about leaving a rook undefended?) 34...Rxc1 35.Re7+ Kf6 36.Re6+ Kg5 (after 36...Kf7 37.Re7+, the moves are repeated), and how White has 37.Bd2+ Kxg4 38.Bxc1, with good chances to draw. However, it’s probably impossible to find such a move.
The decisive mistake. White loses a piece in any case, but after the intermediate check 35.Re7+ Kf6 36.Kxc1 Nd3+ 37.Kd2 Nxb4 38.Rxb7, she picks up several pawns and still has some chances to save the game.
35...Nd3+ 36.Kd2 Nxb4
Now it’s over.
37.f4 a6 38.bxa6 Nxa6 39.Re6 Nc5 40.Rb6 d3 41.Rb4 b6 42.h3 h5 43.gxh5 Kf6 44.Rxb6+ Kxf5 45.Rb5 Kxf4 46.Rb4+ Ne4+ 47.Kd1 Ke3 48.Rb3 Rxh5 49.Ra3 Rxh3 50.Kc1 Ke2 White resigned. In the second game, Dinara easily parried Alina’s attempts to complicate matters and progressed to the quarterfinal.
The match between Nana Dzagnidze and Polina Shuvalova was very dramatic. The Russian player won the first game, but the experienced Georgian managed to win on demand. The roles were reversed at the tie-breaks: Nana got the lead, then Polina tried to even the score. In the 25+10 games, Shuvalova equalized, but in the next stage, Dzagnidze confidently won with White, then, with some luck, held with Black and progressed into the next round.
The quarterfinals have the following pairings: Aleksandra Goryachkina – Dinara Saduakassova, Nana Dzagnidze – Anna Muzychuk, Tan Zhongyi – Kateryna Lagno, Alexandra Kosteniuk – Valentina Gunina. We shall see who prevails in the battle for the FIDE Grand Prix spots and Candidates’ Tournament!