By IM Michael Rahal (Munich, Germany)
After a stunning performance this afternoon against Alina Kashlinskaya, Nana Dzagnidze closed in on tournament leader Alexandra Kosteniuk, and with four rounds to go, it’s all up for grabs.
The former 2017 European Women’s Champion from Georgia displayed her excellent skills handling the white side of a classical King’s Indian and, coupled with some other surprising results, made her claim for the title in Munich. After seven rounds, she scored 4.5 points.
“It’s a very long tournament, and I am already quite tired, but I think that I am playing very well, and I hope that game by game, I can prove my strengths,” said Nana Dzagnidze after the game.
Still in the lead with 5.5/7, Kosteniuk might have used up her seven cat lives this afternoon, saving a completely lost position against Mariya Muzychuk, while Humpy Koneru also missed a huge opportunity to move into second place in her game against Zhu Jiner.
“This time, I’m just lucky to score more points than I am supposed to according to the positions I get after the openings. But these tournaments can go either way. Sometimes you play well, and you just don’t score at all,” was Alexandra Kosteniuk’s point of view.
GM Muzychuk, Anna vs GM Paehtz, Elisabeth (0.5-0.5)
The first game to finish was a solid affair. Although the English Attack in the Sicilian Najdorf generally suggests very double-edged positions, both players decided to play it safe.
After drumming up some initiative on the queenside, in an opposite-side castling, Muzychuk decided to trade queens to prevent any tactical danger.
In the final position, dare I say that Muzychuk is slightly better because of her superior minor pieces, but Paehtz tripled her thinking time on the clock. Therefore, a threefold move repetition around move thirty left both players content with the result.
GM Harika, Dronavalli vs WGM Wagner, Dinara (0.5-0.5)
In their first game together, Harika chose the reversed King’s Indian defence, definitely catching Wagner by surprise: she had already spent more than half of her thinking time before move ten.
Going into the middlegame, the position remained balanced: Wagner’s kingside was somewhat weak, but on the flip side, her pieces were very active.
“I preferred my position because I think it was easier to play, and any kind of ending would have been better for me, but she played very solid,” Harika explained to IM Michael Rahal, FIDE Press Officer in Munich.
With time trouble looming for both opponents, things got chaotic – it was hard to say which of the two kings was under the heaviest attack. “I think I made a mistake on my fortieth move in time trouble. After that, I am worse, but it is very complicated to understand, and with one small error, the position can equalize very easily, which is what happened.”
GM Abdumalik, Zhansaya vs GM Tan, Zhongyi (0.5-0.5)
The games between two of the best Asian players have always been quite exciting. In 15 games, only six draws and nine decisive results were registered.
Possibly inspired by her opponent’s choice yesterday, Tan Zhongyi tried out the Caro-Kan defence – she always plays Sicilian and Pirc. Zhansaya Abdumalik repeated the Fantasy variation 3.f3 that she used successfully in the recent World Blitz and Rapid event in her hometown Almaty.
However, something went wrong in the opening. After 14…c5! White was already on the defensive. Abdumalik decided to sacrifice a pawn to avoid greater problems later, but the compensation just didn’t seem to be there. However, this time luck was on her side.
“I should have played 20…Re7 instead of 20…Re8, and then I totally missed her sacrifice with 25…Bh6. After that, I think it’s just a draw,” Tan Zhongyi explained to us after the game.
GM Muzychuk, Mariya vs GM Kosteniuk, Alexandra (0.5-0.5)
A duel between former World Champions. Mariya Muzychuk (Women’s World Champion in 2015-2016) has always been a tough opponent for Alexandra Kosteniuk (Women’s World Champion in 2008-2010).
According to my database, in 35 games Muzychuk has won 15, lost 6 and tied 14. Being two points behind on the scoreboard, Muzychukonly needed a victory to retain any chance to win the event.
In a well-known theoretical position of the Italian Opening, and after more than 13 minutes of thought, Kosteniuk played the novelty 9…a5. Muzychuk took the same amount of time to reply with 10.Bb5, and a complicated battle began.
Muzychuk missed a clear win on move 21. Although her choice 21.Nc4 is actually quite good, the alternative 21.b4! wins on the spot as the threat Rxe6 followed by Bb3 is decisive.
“I felt that the position was very shaky, and it seems that I was losing in one move,” Kosteniuk explained in her post-game interview. “I thought that after 20…f5 I would be OK, but apparently I am not, there are a lot of pieces hanging”.
A few moves later, Muzychuk could have sealed the deal with 24.Rad1!
but her choice 24.Bg5? proved to be a clear blunder, allowing 24…f4! with the threat 25…Qxh3 winning. Back in the game, Kosteniuk forced a draw by perpetual check in a bishop + knight vs rook + two pawns ending.
GM Dzagnidze, Nana vs IM Kashlinskaya, Alina (1-0)
In 46 previous games, Dzagnidze built up a massive 33-13 advantage against Kashlinskaya. Playing with White, it would be fair to say that she was a favourite in today’s encounter.
Poland’s number one female player went for the King’s Indian Defence, her main choice against 1.d4, although in their most recent game played at the Chennai Women’s Olympiad, her choice had been the Ragozin variation in the Queen’s Gambit.
“I don’t usually play this variation, I generally go for g3-setups but I had prepared this line, and it’s not easy to play for Black,” Dzagnidze explained in her post-game interview.
When transitioning into the middlegame, the play became very sharp. In an opposite-side castling position, Kashlinskaya forced trading of queen’s, reducing her opponent’s attacking potential, in exchange for transitioning into a worse endgame, but it was not much help.
Dzagnidze displayed excellent technique, converting her advantage with apparent simplicity.
GM Koneru, Humpy vs WGM Zhu, Jiner (0.5-0.5)
A key game for India’s top female player in her dreams of triumphing here in Munich. Playing with White, she blitzed out her first thirteen moves in the Vienna variation of the Queen’s Gambit declined before uncorking the novelty 14.Rc2! The resemblance to the same idea and position from Giri vs Gukesh (Tata Steel 2023) was uncanny.
A few moves later, she missed a clear way to achieve a decisive advantage with 18.d5! (instead of 18.Rfe1), but came up with the piece and rook sacrifice 19.Ne-g5!? after more than thirty minutes of thinking time, followed by 20.Rxe6! – the same attacking sequence we saw in the above-mentioned Giri – Gukesh game.
Very low on time, she missed a chance to finish off the game with 21.Rh6! – the engine announces forced mate in twenty moves.
Instead, Humpy played good but not nearly as strong 21. Qxf3. In the end, a very close shave for Zhu Jiner, who saved half a point in a game in which she was totally lost on a couple of occasions.
The eighth round will be played on Thursday, February 10th, at 3 PM at the Kempinski Hotel venue. The games can be followed live with commentary by GM Stefan Kindermann and WIM Veronika Exler on the FIDE Youtube Channel.
Photos: Mark Livshitz