By IM Michael Rahal (Munich, Germany)
Alexandra Kosteniuk increased her lead this afternoon in the Munich leg of the 2023 Women’s Grand Prix after a fine performance against Anna Muzychuk. With 6.5/8, and with only three games to go, she is the clear favourite to take home the trophy.
“My husband – GM Pavel Tregubov – will be happy today. When I came back to the room in the last four games, he was always asking whether I had some pills to calm down his nerves!” were Kosteniuk’s first words in her post-game interview.
With her impressive win today, Humpy Koneru secures second place and, with three rounds to go, seems like the only player with a chance to catch Kosteniuk. However, Humpy keeps an open mind: “I have had a lot of disappointing games like yesterday against Zhu Jiner when I missed a completely winning position. I don’t want to think much about the standings and just focus on the game.”
Moritz Opfergeld, CEO of the Munich Residential Group, made the ceremonial first move for Alina Kashlinskaya in her game against Koneru Humpy today. However, Alina replaced his chosen 1.d4 with 1.e4!
GM Harika, Dronavalli vs GM Abdumalik, Zhansaya (0.5-0.5)
The first game to finish this afternoon ended in an excellent result for Zhansaya Abdumalik. After a shaky start, the top Kazakhstan female player is slowly but surely getting back into the event, and today she drew effortlessly with Black against Harika.
In the solid Vienna variation of the Queen’s Gambit Declined, they repeated the first fifteen moves of a well-known 2011 game between Levon Aronian and Vishy Anand, in which White sacrifices a pawn for the initiative.
Aronian won that game, but instead of playing for the attack, Harika preferred to get the pawn back and transition to a totally equal ending. A draw was agreed upon just after they reached move thirty.
GM Tan, Zhongyi vs GM Muzychuk, Mariya (0.5-0.5)
For this game, the former Women’s World Champion prepared an interesting pawn sacrifice in the English Opening. In exchange she got a bishop pair and certain initiative on the c-file.
Displaying excellent positional touch, Muzychuk decided to return the pawn and exchange the rest of the pieces, agreeing to a draw on the move thirty-three.
IM Kashlinskaya, Alina vs GM Koneru, Humpy (0-1)
A very solid game. Already in the opening, Kashlinskaya went for piece trades, and soon the queens were also off the board. It’s hard to say if the previous score between the two (4 wins and 1 draw for Humpy) influenced Kashlinskaya’s decision to play it safe.
Soon only one bishop a piece was left on the board, with Humpy pressing for the win thanks to a very slightly favourable pawn structure. Kashlinskaya defended very well until time trouble: fate struck on move thirty-six.
It’s impossible to confirm that Kashlinskaya would have drawn for sure with a move such as 36. Kd2 but 36.h4, allowing the Black king to penetrate via the d4 square, is a clear blunder that left her with no chance at all to save the game.
“The endgame is very comfortable for me: it’s White that has to defend. Of course, h4 is a blunder; probably she should have tried to block with her king on d1 and c2,” was Humpy’s analysis in her post-game interview.
WGM Wagner, Dinara vs WGM Zhu, Jiner (0-1)
Playing with White in the Nimzo-Indian main line Wagner obtained the bishop pair, but Zhu Jiner’s pieces remained very active. The position remained equal until move twenty-three when Wagner unexpectedly blundered with 23.Qc2? allowing a very nice tactical shot.
Zhu Jiner isn’t one to miss such an opportunity, and after a few-minute-thought sacrificed her knight with 23…Rxd1 24.Rxd1 Nxf3! winning material. After a forced line that both players calculated correctly, an opposite-coloured bishop ending was reached.
According to the engine analysis, Wagner had serious drawing chances but only by capturing the pawn on h5 on move thirty-five. Instead, low on time, she went for the a7-pawn, only to realise that her bishop would be trapped.
Zhu Jiner didn’t give her another chance and wrapped up the game with great technique.
GM Paehtz, Elisabeth vs GM Dzagnidze, Nana (1-0)
According to my database, Paehtz and Dzagnidze have played together on 40 occasions, with the Georgian GM outscoring her opponent by 17 wins to 8 with 15 draws. In today’s game, Paehtz went all-out for the win with a very aggressive approach against Dzagnidze’s Sicilian Najdorf.
The key moment of the game was move twenty-three. Dzagnidze initiated a sequence of captures with 23…Rxc3, followed by a positional queen sacrifice.
With fifteen moves to go and less than ten minutes each on the clock, it was hard to understand even from the outside if Paehtz’s queen was stronger than Dzagnidze’s combined rook plus knight plus an extra pawn.
Dzagnidze’s 32…Nh7 was the decisive mistake, allowing Paehtz to win more material and dominate her opponent in a queen plus pawns vs rook plus pawns endgame.
GM Kosteniuk, Alexandra vs GM Muzychuk, Anna (1-0)
Spending more than an hour of thinking time on your first ten moves at this level is generally a mistake. Even though Muzychuk managed to equalise going out of the opening, she sacrificed a pawn to exchange queens to fight for a draw in a slightly worse ending.
Several grandmasters have been able to hold the position to a draw, but it’s not an easy task. Muzychuk defended with great precision for many moves, but approaching time trouble, Kosteniuk picked up the pace with the idea 38.g5 – 39.g6 and especially 20.a5! which could prove useful in some king endings.
It’s hard to pinpoint the final blunder – possibly the plan initiated with 46…Rh8 – but in any case, Kosteniuk demonstrated excellent endgame technique to bring home the point.
“Time management was a key factor in today’s game. In the first time trouble, she definitely did something wrong; she gave me chances to improve my position on the kingside,” Kosteniuk explained after the game.
The ninth round will be played on Thursday, February 10th at 3 PM at the Kempinski Hotel venue.
The games can be followed live daily with commentary by GM Stefan Kindermann and WIM Veronika Exler on the FIDE Youtube Channel.
During the round, players can enjoy the refreshment room, replenished daily by the hotel catering, while pondering over their moves on the screen.
The closing ceremony and prizegiving is scheduled for Monday 13th at 7 PM in the Maximillian III room at the Kempinski Hotel. Approximate duration: One hour
Photos: Mark Livshitz