At the Final Frontier

The Women’s World Cup has come to an end. To the joy of Russian fans, Alexandra Kosteniuk met Aleksandra Goryachkina in the final. It was hard to pinpoint a favorite in this match-up: Goryachkina had a very good year and recently passed the 2600 mark, and Kosteniuk won all her World Cup matches without needing a tie-break. The result was largely decided by the dramatic ending of the first game. The young Aleksandra got an advantage in the opening and gradually increased it, and the experienced Alexandra defended ingeniously…

A. Goryachkina – A. Kosteniuk

Catalan Opening

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.g3 d5 4.Bg2 dxc4 5.Nf3 a6 6.0–0 Nc6 7.Be3
“Oh, the things the technology can do now!” White plays a lot of moves in this position. Igor Lysyj, for instance, even uses 7.Qd2. We should point out that the game move is not without its poison, and Black hadn’t managed to equalize.
7...Bd7 8.Qc1 b5 9.b3 cxb3 10.axb3 Bd6 11.Ne1 Nd5 12.Nc3 leads to typical Catalan positions. White is a pawn down, but there’s a good long-term compensation, as shown in Bluebaum – Najditsch, Baden Baden 2017.

Inaccuracy. Black should have waited for the capture on c4 first and only then taken on e3 – 8...Be7 9.Qxc4 (also interesting is 9.Bd2 b5 10.b3 Nb6 11.a4 Bb7 12.a5 Nc8 with complicated play) 9...Nxe3 10.fxe3 0–0. I think that it would be hard for White to get any advantage with the compromised pawn structure.
9.Qxe3 Be7
Another accuracy that allows White’s advantage to take real shape. Black should have prepared ...b5 with the typical 9...Rb8. Now, after 10.Rc1 b5, White has a very strong blow 11.d5, but Black still gets a normal position: 11...Nb4 12.dxe6 fxe6 or 11...Na5 12.dxe6 Bxe6 13.Ng5 Qf6 14.Nc3 Be7 15.Nce4 Qh6 with complicated play.
10.Rc1 0–0
Now 10...b5 is just bad because of 11.Ne5 Nxe5 12.Bxa8.
The results of the opening duel are obvious: White has a stable advantage, but Kosteniuk shows her ingeniousness and poses a lot of problems for her opponent.
11...Bd7 12.a3 a5 13.Nbd2 a4
Black managed to obtain control of the b3 square.
14.Ne5 Na5
As a rule, trading pieces is considered the best course of action in a cramped position, so it was logical to try 14...Nxe5 15.dxe5 Bb5 16.Rd4 Qb8.
15.Rc2 Bb5 16.Re1 Ra6
An interesting rook maneuver. The simple 16...c6 was also good.
The vice-world champion slowly improves her position.
17...Rd6 18.Qc3 c6 19.e3
Black’s position is worse because of lack of space and poor knight on a5. She should have patiently waited, but Kosteniuk decided to open up the play at all costs.

Significant weakening. Black attacks in the center, where she is weaker and has fewer pieces. She should have gone for waiting strategy, for instance, 19...Qb6.
20.Nef3 e5
It looks like that the ...е5 gamble bore its fruits, since 21.dxe5 loses due to 21...Rd3, and the white queen is trapped, but Goryachkina finds a strong reply.
Now the position opens up, and after all the complications, Black loses a pawn by force.
21...axb3 22.Nxb3 Nxb3 23.Qxb3+ Kh8 24.a4 Ba6 25.dxe5 Rd3 26.Rc3 Rxc3
26...fxe5 was stronger – it simplifies the game, which is more beneficial for Black. There could follow: 27.Rxd3 (after 27.Nxe5 Rxc3 28.Qxc3 Bf6 29.f4 Qe7, the pin on the e5 knight is quite unpleasant) 27...Qxd3 28.Qxd3 Bxd3 29.Nxe5 Bf5, and Black can resist with the help of her bishop pair.
27.Qxc3 fxe5 28.Qxe5 c5 29.h5
Have at thee!
More technical was 29.Rc1, to meet 29...c4 with 30.Nd4.
The black pawn goes ahead. Who would have thought that such an incredible career awaits it?
30.h6 Bf6 31.hxg7+ Bxg7 32.Qh5
Goryachkina goes for a mating attack.
It seems that now the knight cannot go to g5, but...
Aleksandra sacrifices a very important pawn on f2 to reach the black monarch.
33...Qxf2+ 34.Kh2 Qc2
After 34...h6, White wins with 35.Rf1 Qc2 36.Rxf8+ Bxf8 37.Ne6.
I can’t help but show a stunning win found by the computer: 35.Nf7+ Kg8 36.Qd5 Rxf7 37.Rf1 Qg6 38.Qd8+ Bf8 39.Bd5. Incredible geometry!

White’s position is won, but there’s no direct win in sight. As the great coach Mark Izrailevich Dvoretsky taught us, you should find the worst piece in your position and improve it. In this case, that piece is the rook on e1, which doesn’t take any real part in the game. After 36.Rd1, there’s an unstoppable threat 37.Rd6. In the game, however, White lost the thread.
36.Nf7+ Kg8! 37.Qd5
It turns out that after 37.Nxh6+ Bxh6 38.Qxh6 Rf2, White should resort to perpetual check to avoid the worst.
Alexandra plays very coolly, like a general who lights a pipe under the enemy fire! Indeed, discovered checks don’t win immediately.
38.Nxh6+ Kh7
White lost her advantage entirely, and now she needs to look for her own safety. This could be achieved with 39.Ng4 and 39.Nf5. In the heat of the battle, Goryachkina overlooked the importance of this moment and continued playing for a win.
Looks logical, with the threat 40.Ng5, but Black has strong defensive resources.
Not bad, but 39...Qd2 was even stronger.
The Fatal Fortieth… It wasn’t yet too late to give a perpetual: 40.Qh5+ Kg8 41.Nh6+ Bxh6 42.Qxh6 Qxe1 43.Qg6+.

The ex-world champion fearlessly pushes her king ahead, and it suddenly turns out that the white monarch is in danger as well!
41.Rh1 Qd4
Kosteniuk’s desire to play it safe is completely natural, but her position was so strong that she could simply play 41...c2, paralyzing the white pieces. In the game, White gets real chances to save the endgame.
42.Nh3 Qxd5 43.exd5 Bh6 44.Re1
Even better was the immediate 44.Nf4+ Bxf4 45.gxf4 Rxf4 46.Rc1, and White should save the game.
44...Bd3 45.Nf4+ Bxf4 46.gxf4 Rxf4 47.d6 Rxa4 48.Bxb7 Rd4 49.Kg3 Bf5
The smoke has cleared, Black is playing for a win, but White has enough resources to hold the position.
I would have thought about 50.Rc1, and after the tactical operation 50...c2 51.d7 Rxd7 52.Bc8 Rd3+ 53.Kf4 Bxc8 54.Rxc2, a theoretical rook+bishop vs. rook endgame appears on the board, which was most probably extensively studied by Goryachkina. She probably wanted to avoid such drastic measures, but in the game, her position started to deteriorate.
50...c2 51.Rc1 Kf6 52.Kf2 Ke5

The decisive mistake. White should have shown creativity and find the counter-intuitive way to transpose into the theoretically drawn rook+bishop vs. rook endgame: 53.Ke1 Rxd6 54.Bd1! cxd1Q+ 55.Rxd1.
A very important check, pushing the white king to an awkward position on the e2 square.
54.Ke2 Rxd6 55.Ke1
Too late!
55...Kd4 56.Bd1
After 56.Bg4, there’s 56...Bh7, and the black king breaks through to b2: 57.Kd2 Kc4+ 58.Ke3 Kc3 59.Kf4 Kb2.

56...Ke3!! 57.Rxc2
After 57.Bxc2, Black wins with 57...Rg6 (but not 57...Rh6 58.Kf1, and the game is drawn) 58.Kf1 (58.Bxf5 Rg1#) 58...Bh3+ 59.Ke1 Rg1#.
57...Bxc2 58.Bxc2 Rd2
The win here is simple, and Kosteniuk calmly claims her victory.
59.Bf5 Rf2 60.Be6 Rf6 61.Bd5 Rd6 62.Bb3 Rb6 63.Bc2 Ra6 White resigned.
In the second game, the older Alexandra was in full control of the situation and made a draw, like Garry Kimovich Kasparov used to say, “from the position of very great strength”.

A. Kosteniuk – A. Goryachkina

The queen ending with three extra pawns is easily won, but a draw still won the match, and, as Alexandra Kosteniuk said, in such a situation, she doesn’t see any difference between those two results.
The third place play-off between Anna Muzychuk of Ukraine and Tan Zhongyi from China was also a hard-fought battle. Both classical games were drawn, even though Tan had a big advantage in the second game.

A. Muzychuk – Tan Zhongyi

Black’s position is visually more pleasant, and the ex-world champion is trying to shake her opponent’s defenses.
33...f4 34.g4
A strategic inaccuracy. Now dark squares are too weak. After 34.b4 a5 35.bxa5 Qxa5 36.Bc2, White could easily equalize.
Tan uses her chance!
35.dxc5 Qxc5+ 36.Qf2 b6!
Black prepares a queen trade, but on her own conditions.
37.Nd2 Ne5 38.Qxc5
Anna is forced to trade, otherwise she would have fallen victim to a knight fork after ...Qf2 and ...Nd3.
38...bxc5 39.b4

Black is clearly better, but how to convert the advantage?
Too safe; now the position closes off. After 39...cxb4 40.cxb4 Kf7, Black should have won: her pieces are more active. The knight is especially good, always ready to jump to d3, and the king is ready to invade the queenside.
40.Nb1 Kf8 41.Na3 Ke7 42.Kf1 a6 43.Ke2 Bc6 44.Kd2 Kd6 45.a5
Black can’t break through.
45...Be8 46.Nc2 Nc6 47.Nd4 Bd7 48.Bc2 Nxd4 49.cxd4 Bb5 Draw.
Tan couldn’t win in the classical part of the match, but she utterly dominated the tie-breaks. The unbreakable Petroff Defense again brought her success.

А. Музычук – ТаньЧжунъи

Petroff Defense

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nxe5 d6 4.Nf3 Nxe4 5.Nc3 Nxc3 6.dxc3
One of the main positions of the Petroff. The Chinese player surprised Anna with her new interpretation.
6...Nd7 7.Be3 Nf6 8.Qd2 g6!?
A very rare, but rather interesting idea. It wasn’t late to go for the main theoretical lines with 8...Be7 9.0–0–0 0–0.
9.0–0–0 Bg7 10.Bg5 0–0 11.Qf4 d5 12.h4
Logical, but this is a start of a wrong plan. Simpler was 12.Bd3.

Black managed to equalize, her position is very solid. Muzychuk is trying to break through the opponent’s defenses with a typical attack, but this leads to nothing good.
13.h5 Nxh5 14.Qh4
After 14.Rxh5, Black had a very strong reply 14...f6.
14...f6 15.Be3 f5 16.Bg5 Qa5 17.Kb1 Re8 18.Bd3 c5!
Otherwise the white knight would go to d4.
19.Rhe1 Be6 20.Ne5 d4 21.c4
Logical, but gets White nowhere. Stockfish recommends the unexpected 21.b3 with the idea to meet 21...dxc3 with 22.Bc4, starting an attack.
A very strong reply: if White takes on f7, the е1 rook is hanging.
I would have preferred 22.f4, forcing ...Bе5.
22...Qd8 23.Qh2
Another interesting engine recommendation: 23.Bg5 Bf6 24.Nxf7 Rxe1 25.Rxe1 Kxf7 26.f4 h6 27.g4 hxg5 28.fxg5 Bxg5 29.Qh1. Of course, it’s very hard to find such moves over the board.
23...Qc7 24.f4 b5
Too risky. 24...Nf6 was much simpler.
25.Nxf7 Qxf7 26.b3 b4
White is a pawn down, and Black is ready to play ...Nf6, depriving her opponent of any counterplay.

The decisive mistake. White should have gone for activity at any cost: 27.g4!! fxg4 28.f5 Rxe1 29.Rxe1 Re8 30.Rxe8+ Qxe8 31.fxg6 hxg6 32.Qh4, and White retains a lot of chances to save the game.
Now it’s all over. Black confidently converts her material advantage.
28.Qg2 a5 29.a4 bxa3 30.Rxe8+ Rxe8 31.Bxa5 a2+ 32.Ka1 Qa7 33.Bd2 Ng4 34.Qd5+ Kh8 35.Qc6 Ra8 36.Bc1 Ne3 37.Rd2 Qa5 38.Bb2 h6 39.Re2 Kh7

A good try.
40...Nxg4 41.Re7 Ra7
But Tan is vigilant!
White could prolong the struggle with 42.b4 cxb4 43.Qe6; still, the result would have likely been the same.
42...Qxa7 43.Qa4 Qc7 44.Kxa2 Qxf4 45.Qc6 Qe5 46.b4 cxb4 47.c5 Ne3 48.Kb3 h5 49.Kxb4 h4 White resigned.
In the second game, Anna desperately tried to complicate the position, but her task was too difficult...

Tan Zhongyi – A. Muzychuk

Albin Countergambit

1.d4 d5 2.c4 e5 3.dxe5 Ne7!?
The Dubov-Shimanov gambit! Only 3...d4 was tried before.
4.Nf3 Nbc6 5.Nbd2
Tan is playing very safely, avoiding any risk.
5...dxc4 6.e3

A novelty, but clearly not a good one. On the other hand, Muzychuk had to win on demand, and how could she do that after the strongest 6...Ng6 7.Qc2 Ngxe5 8.Nxe5 Nxe5 9.Nxc4 Bb4+ 10.Bd2 Bxd2+ 11.Qxd2 ?
Now Black’s position is very bad.
7...Bg4 8.axb5 Nxe5 9.Qa4 Nd3+ 10.Bxd3 Qxd3 11.b6+ Bd7 12.Qxa7!!

The point of White’s combination is the line 12...Rxa7 13.bxa7 Bc6 14.a8Q+ Bxa8 15.Rxa8+ Kd7 16.Ne5+.
13.Ne5 Qd5 14.Nxd7 Qxg2 15.Rf1 Nc6 16.Qb7 Kxd7 17.Nxc4 Bb4+ 18.Bd2 Bxd2+ 19.Nxd2 Rb8 20.Qxc7+ Ke6 21.b7 Rhd8 22.Ra6 Rd6

White’s position is completely won, but the match situation allows her to simply fixate the draw.
23.Qc8+ Ke7 24.Qc7+ Ke6 25.Qc8+ Ke7 26.Qc7+ Ke6 27.Qc8+ Draw.
The tournament has ended, congratulations to the winners! The FIDE Online Olympiad is starting soon, the world team championship will take place as well, so we’ll meet again soon!