After nine rounds of play, there is one name dominating the women’s candidates’ tournament in Kazan, Russia: GM Aleksandra Goryachkina. With a magnificent score of 7.5/9 and a 2804 performance rating, she holds a 2.5-point-lead over her closest rival and compatriot GM Kateryna Lagno.
In a tournament where only first place counts, things are looking very promising for the 20-year-old Russian leader. The first half of the women’s candidates’ has been an exciting event. There were hardly any “perfect draws” and a whole lot of cut-throat chess. It’s clear that when the eight participants came looking for a fight, they found it.
Such excitement comes at a cost of energy and it would have been easy to surmise that play would become more cautious as the event passed the halfway mark and nudged towards the golden finishing line. Not quite; chess is never that predictable!
After six rounds of play, Russia’s Goryachkina had stomped into the lead with a fantastic five points out of six and a clear 1.5-point advantage over closest rivals Lagno of Russia and GM Nana Dzagnidze of Georgia. Unusually for an all-play-all tournament, five participants languished below the 50 percent mark.
- Goryachkina, Aleksandra – Muzychuk, Mariya ½-½
- Gunina, Valentina – Tan, Zhongyi 1-0
- Kosteniuk, Alexandra – Muzychuk, Anna ½-½
- Lagno, Kateryna – Dzagnidze, Nana ½-½
Round seven saw no change at the top, as tournament leader Goryachkina managed to survive an inferior endgame against GM Mariya Muzychuk of Ukraine to hold the draw. Dzagnidze and Lagno, who were both tied for second place, played an exciting battle that finished in a draw. The result didn’t matter, Dzagnidze told the crowd. What was more important was that it had been a fight.
“Be bold and mighty forces will come to your aid,” wrote Goethe, but what counts as boldness in chess? For Kosteniuk, boldness came in the shape of a “Hail Mary” that saved her the point.
The only decisive game of the round was GM Valentina Gunina’s victory with the white pieces over GM Tan Zhongyi. Although the game started out a dry Petroff, Gunina’s one-move “blunders” turned a mistake into a moment of genius.
- Goryachkina, Aleksandra – Kosteniuk, Alexandra 1-0
- Lagno, Kateryna – Gunina, Valentina ½-½
- Muzychuk, Anna – Muzychuk, Mariya ½-½
- Tan, Zhongyi – Dzagnidze, Nana 1-0
As the tournament entered into its second lap, the participants got their chance to inflict revenge on their first-round opponents, or for the Muzychuk sisters, another opportunity to maintain sibling harmony.
Runaway leader Goryachkina widened the gap even further by defeating GM Alexandra Kosteniuk in a very classy game. There were no fireworks on the board, just sensible chess.
In the race for second place, Lagno managed to equalize with the white pieces to secure a relatively stress-free draw against Gunina. Things took a sharp turn for the worse for the Georgian hopeful Dzagnidze after she lost to the former women’s world champion Tan in a wild game.
Later on, a dejected Dzagnidze told the audience that she missed all the tactics, but the first blunder did allow the position to develop along a fascinating trajectory. Positions with piece imbalances are often rich in dynamics and highly instructive to study. This one was no different:
- Dzagnidze, Nana – Muzychuk, Anna 0-1
- Gunina, Valentina – Goryachkina, Aleksandra 0-1
- Kosteniuk, Alexandra – Lagno, Kateryna ½-½
- Muzychuk, Mariya – Tan, Zhongyi 1-0
In the women’s candidates’ there seems to be that an unwritten rule that there should be as many decisive games as possible before the rest day. Round nine was no different. True to form, the candidates saved the best for last.
The first game to finish was Gunina vs Goryachkina, a curiously one-sided Caro-Kann affair in Goryachkina’s favor. As one of the world’s leading Caro-Kann experts, Gunina is keenly aware of the dangers of going for a quick opening kill against the Caro.
What followed was quite frankly the kind of game every Caro player enjoys and allowed Goryachkina to showcase her counter-attacking skills!
This victory left Goryachkina going into the free day with 7.5/9 and a healthy 2.5-point-lead over her nearest competitor. The loss was bad news for Gunina who, with only 3.5/9, finds herself pushed to the bottom of the pack.
“You win, I win…” must have been the deal the Muzychuk sisters made with each other. They won in unison in round six and did the same again in round nine. In a typical stroke of synchronicity both sisters are now tied for third place with 4.5/9. Mariya in particular found a beautiful tactic to imprison the luckless Tan:
Older sister Anna successfully revitalized a little-known line in the English defense to heap yet more misery onto Dzagnidze.
The Russian derby between Kosteniuk and Lagno was the only game to end in a hard-fought draw, which meant that Lagno, with five points, could keep her hopes of catching Goryachkina alive.
However, the report really wouldn’t have been complete without showcasing this tactic.
A time of change? In the shadow of the Women’s candidate tournament in Kazan and its exceptional prize fund comes the welcome news that FIDE will make a firm commitment to gender equality and female empowerment. You can read the full statement here.
— International Chess Federation (@FIDE_chess) June 10, 2019
FIDE Women’s Candidates’ Tournament | Round 9 Standings
The playing days in Kazan are May 31–June 2, 4-6, 8-10, 12-14, and 16-17. Tie-breaks (if needed) and the closing ceremony will take place on June 18.
The women’s candidates’ tournament has a record prize fund of 200,000 Euros with a first prize of 50,000 Euros. The winner will become Ju Wenjun’s challenger, with half a million euros at stake in the title match.
The tournament venue is the Nogai Hotel in Kazan, Russia. The rounds start 3 p.m. local time, which is 14:00 CEST, 8 a.m. Eastern, 5 a.m. Pacific.