Several guests made an appearance at the Nicosia Hilton this afternoon to follow the eighth round live. The ceremonial first move was played by Olga Milko, Business Development Director of Freedom Finance Europe, the main event’s sponsor. After starting the game between Assaubayeva and Khotenashvili, she was kind enough to spare some time to talk to us about the projects with the Cyprus Chess Federation.
“Chess is the most underestimated sport as I see it now. After this tournament, I want to take a lot of initiatives to develop the sport in Cyprus, and probably in the next few years, we will see some great women and men taking part in international competitions of FIDE,” Olga explained proudly, having supported Bibisara in her game.
Other guests included Alexandra Attalides, Member of Parliament for the Green Party; Annita Demetriou, Speaker of the House of Representatives of Cyprus and Criton Tornaritis, President of the Cyprus Chess Federation. Short interviews with all the guests can be found on FIDE’s Youtube Channel.
IM Assaubayeva, Bibisara vs GM Khotenashvili, Bella (1-0)
In an attempt to steer the game out of theory and surprise her opponent, Khotenashvili chose a very secondary move in the main-line Grunfeld (9…Qc7) that backfired. Confident after yesterday’s win, Assaubayeva played for the standard kingside attack and quickly exerted a huge amount of pressure both on the board and on the clock.
In this position, Assaubayeva played 23.Ba4, hitting the knight and preparing to trap the black queen with the rooks. Instead, 23.Rf4! followed by ideas such as Qh3, f6, Rh4 would have led to a deadly attack. Although slightly worried that Khotenashvili would come up with a defence, Assaubayeva pushed through and notched up her second win in a row.
After the game, she was popped into the press centre and gave a quick interview. “I am happy to be on 50%, and now I just want to play chess and see what happens. To relax here, I sometimes go to the gym or go for a walk, or just watch some videos,” she explained.
GM Kosteniuk, Alexandra vs IM Kiolbasa, Oliwia (0.5-0.5)
After four consecutive losses, Poland’s number two player IM Oliwia Kiolbasa finally scored half a point this afternoon in her encounter against GM Alexandra Kosteniuk. Playing with Black, Kiolbasa surprised her opponent with an offbeat line in the Sicilian, the Lowenthal variation.
The idea worked well: Kosteniuk hesitantly played – 9.a3 was already a step in the wrong direction - and soon landed in serious trouble. At some point, she was probably lost, but there was never a clear-cut way to finish off the game, and Kosteniuk’s resilience in worse positions is notoriously well-known.
In serious time trouble, Kiolbasa decided prudently to accept a three-fold repetition, probably a smart decision, with ten moves to go to the time control and no clear way to continue.
“This is a completely different tournament. At the Olympiad (she won a medal), I was playing third-board against weaker opponents and here everyone is playing for a win, pressing to the end. It’s definitely a learning experience for me,” Oliwia explained pragmatically when I asked her how she was dealing with the tough tournament situation.
WGM Wagner, Dinara vs IM Shuvalova, Polina (0.5-0.5)
Wagner used up another one of her seven lives today. Shuvalova came to the game, as usual, with excellent opening preparation and blitzed out her first eighteen moves at the speed of light. Under such pressure, Wagner blundered a pawn and was already on the defensive; in addition, she was running out of time.
However, in a complex position with an extra pawn, Shuvalova missed some chances to convert to a decisive advantage, and Wagner managed to bail out into an opposite-coloured bishop ending: even a pawn down, the draw was unavoidable.
GM Dzagnidze, Nana vs GM Lagno, Kateryna vs (0.5-0.5)
In an attempt to avoid any type of home preparation, Dzagnidze chose an offbeat variation in the Queen’s Gambit Exchanged, in the hope of creating an unfamiliar situation for Lagno.
A tactical melee was the result, out of which Dzagnidze emerged with an extra pawn, albeit with very few winning chances due to the drawing nature of rook endings with four pawns against three on the same side.
Lagno defended with precision and a draw was agreed on move sixty-eight.
GM Goryachkina, Aleksandra vs GM Tan, Zhongyi (0.5-0.5)
A classical match-up in women’s chess. Goryachkina and Tan Zhongyi have faced each other none less than ten times since their first encounter in 2015, with mixed results. Goryachkina eliminated Tan Zhongyi in the 2019 Women’s Candidates, but more recently, Tan Zhongyi unexpectedly eliminated Goryachkina in the 2022 Women’s Candidates.
Today’s game was a theoretical Catalan Opening, which both players executed swiftly, directly side-stepping the middlegame. Following a 2018 game between Chinese GM’s Ni Hua and Lu Shanglei, which ended in a draw, they battled it out in a: knight-against-bishop endgame which was slightly better for Goryachkina.
Aleksandra tried her best for sixty-two moves, hoping to secure an edge in the case of a mistake by her opponent, but, ultimately, had to settle for a three-fold repetition.
GM Dronavalli, Harika vs IM Mammadzada, Gunay (0.5-0.5)
As Harika explained herself in the post-game video: “It’s fair to say that I was lucky in this game, I didn’t play well at all.” Already on the opening, she spent more than fifteen minutes to play 14.c5, an incorrect plan in the position.
The advantage was on Mammadzada’s side: she gradually increased the pressure, and it looked as if she was going to score her second win of the event.
However, Harika spotted a very nice trick 51.f4!? in the opposite-coloured bishop ending that landed her a draw, although technically speaking, she was still losing.
Don’t miss Harika’s analysis in the last interview of the afternoon, which was recorded on the board immediately after the game, and includes a brief explanation of how to handle these endings.
Text: IM Michael Rahal (Nicosia, Cyprus)
Photos: Mark Livshitz
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