With nine rounds in and only two to go, things have heated up in Cyprus, and not just because the sun has reappeared after a couple of rainy days!
Not only is the tournament victory at stake but, more importantly, several players are contending for the overall win in the Grand Prix –20,000 euros extra prize money and two qualifying spots for the 2023-2024 Women’s Candidates cycle. A big deal, indeed!
After this afternoon’s results, there is a three-way tie for first place with 5,5/9 with Tan Zhongi, Harika and Wagner, who unfortunately now has to share first place. Two of them face each other tomorrow.
Shuvalova and Lagno are right behind, waiting for their opportunity to spring into the lead.
Our guests today, performing the ceremonial first move, were Madhumita Hazarika Bhagat, High Commissioner of India in Cyprus, and Josie Christodoulou, Gender Equality Commissioner for Cyrus.
Christodoulou opened the game with White for Tan Zhongyi while Madhumita Hazarika Bhagat played Harika’s first move with Black, at the same time wishing both of the players the best of luck.
In a short interview, Madhumita Hazarika Bhagat put into words her feelings in the playing hall: “I am very proud to have played the first move for a very capable Indian player. The game has developed with an amazing history behind it - Vishy Anand has done us proud.”
GM Lagno, Kateryna vs GM Kosteniuk, Alexandra (0.5-0.5)
The round hardly began, but one of the games had already finished. Lagno and Kosteniuk decided to play it safe and agree to a draw in one of the many unforced three-fold repetitions in the Italian Game.
Although the game only lasted fourteen moves, in accordance with the rules, the arbiter accepted the result. Rule 5.3 Draw by mutual agreement states: “The players cannot draw any game by mutual agreement before black’s 30th move. A claim for a draw before black’s 30th move is permitted only in cases of a draw by repetition or a stalemate”.
IM Shuvalova, Polina vs GM Dzagnidze, Nana (0.5-0.5)
Shuvalova has been getting great positions from the opening in her recent games but has been having some trouble converting, whereas Dzagnidze had a shaky start but has been scoring well in the second half of the event.
Something went wrong for Shuvalova in the Advance variation of the Caro-Kan – it’s always hard to tell from the outside, but it seemed to me that Dzagnidze was more at home in the double pawn tension c4-d4/c5-d5. Shuvalova’s queen couldn’t find a safe square to hide behind.
On move twenty, Dzagnidze found a nice tactic to win a pawn with 20…Nxe5!, effectively exploiting the pin on the d-file.
However, Shuvalova’s tactical skills came to the rescue: she gave up a second pawn to open up the position and force a three-fold repetition thanks to the strength of her bishop pair.
IM Kiolbasa, Oliwia vs IM Assaubayeva, Bibisara (0.5-0.5)
A typical open Sicilian with opposite side castled kings. In a complex middlegame, Kiolbasa, playing with White, was controlling the d-file and putting pressure on Assaubayeva’s backward d-pawn. Meanwhile, Assaubayeva was manoeuvring her knights on the kingside, angling for strong dark squares.
The key moment of the game, which both players discussed extensively in the press centre, was after 27.Nf1.
Assaubayeva’s first idea was to play 27…Ng2!, and transfer her knight to f4, with a small positional edge. However, she changed her mind and went 27…Nb6, allowing Kiolbasa to regroup with 28.Qg3! isolating the black knight on h4 forever and allowing her knight on f1 to develop with tempi.
Sensing that the game was starting to drift in her opponent’s direction, Assaubayeva offered a tactical draw which was accepted without much thought by her opponent.
GM Tan, Zhongyi vs GM Dronavalli, Harika (0.5-0.5)
Tan Zhongyi went for the exchange variation in the Queen’s Gambit, a line she already used to defeat Kiolbasa in the second round. However, Harika, supported this afternoon by India’s High Commissioner in Cyprus, was well-prepared and equalised effortlessly.
Although the draw was agreed after fifty-five moves, Harika was never in danger: more than half of the moves were played out in a completely equal single rook ending.
IM Mammadzada, Gunay vs WGM Wagner, Dinara (1-0)
Although the game started out as – another – Sicilian Rossolimo, the middlegame pawn structure turned out to be more common of the French defence or the Exchange variation of the Slav.
With some well-timed exchanges, Mammadzada created a few imbalances in the pawn structure – probably not enough for a win but definitely to press for the advantage in the endgame. Eventually, she won a pawn, although Wagner steered into an opposite-coloured bishop endgame, known for its high draw tendency.
It’s hard to say if it was a draw at some point, but in any case, Mammadzada gave a masterclass on approaching and playing these types of endings, taking home the full point and her well-deserved second win of the tournament.
GM Khotenashvili, Bella vs GM Goryachkina, Aleksandra (1-0)
In a Neo-Grunfeld defence, Khotenashvili, playing with White, went for an apparently dangerous poisoned pawn grab on the queenside. She took her time to make the decision: her queen had been in trouble in the last couple of games.
But fortune always favours the brave. Goryachkina tried to generate counterplay for the pawn but Khotenashvili kept things under control and increased her advantage. Under pressure, and after spending twenty-five minutes, Goryachkina blundered heavily. It’s always hard to tell what a player missed, but they do say that blunders generally occur after spending too much time on the clock.
Goryachkina should have played 22…Rc4 with a slightly inferior position but everything to play for. Instead, she opted for 22…Bxf3? 23.Bxf3 and (I assume) realized that the intended move 23…Nf6 would lose to 24.Nxd5! Nxd5 and 25.Rc8! with an overwhelming advantage for White.
Therefore, she had to permit Bxh5, and her pawn structure became seriously weakened. Towards the end, 35.d5! (instead of 35.f3) would have been a very nice tactic to finish off the game.
Nonetheless, Khotenashvili patiently improved her position, avoiding all the tricks and traps that Goryachkina set up in an attempt to get a draw by a perpetual check, and finally took the point home.
Standings after Round 9
Text: IM Michael Rahal (Nicosia, Cyprus)
Photos: Mark Livshitz
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