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Kosteniuk remains in the sole lead with one round to go at FIDE Women’s Grand Prix Munich

By IM Michael Rahal (Munich, Germany)

Humpy Koneru, India’s number one female player, missed the opportunity of a lifetime this afternoon in the tenth round of the Munich Women’s Grand Prix.

In a must-win situation, Humpy ground down her opponent Alexandra Kosteniuk with the Black pieces in a spectacular performance, only to misplay a queen ending and allow Kosteniuk to escape by the skin of her teeth. 

A very close call indeed for Kosteniuk, who keeps her one-point lead going into the last round, where she will face Zhu Jiner with Black. Tie-breaks still favour Humpy, so only a draw will secure the tournament victory for Alexandra – any other result will also depend on the result of the game between Humpy and Tan Zhongyi.

The ceremonial first move was performed by Lukasz Turlej, FIDE Secretary General and Munich WGP Tournament Supervisor, in the Kosteniuk-Humpy game

GM Kosteniuk, Alexandra vs GM Koneru, Humpy (0.5-0.5)

Undoubtedly, the game of the day. Trailing Kosteniuk by one point, Humpy decided to play for a long battle, keep some tension in the position and see if an opportunity to win came about. Most probably, Alexandra Kosteniuk would be content with a draw, keeping her one-point margin going into the last round.  

In an attempt to surprise her opponent and maybe take her out of her preparation, Humpy played the Open Ruy Lopez with 5…Nxe4 but chose the side-line 6…Be7 (instead of the mainline 6…b5). 

According to my database, Humpy had played 6…b5 at least fifteen times, but 6…Be7 definitely caught Kosteniuk off-guard. For many moves the position remained in balance: bishop pair for Humpy, better pawn structure for Kosteniuk. 

However, Humpy gradually increased her space advantage on the queenside and soon had Kosteniuk against the ropes. It’s hard to pinpoint a specific mistake – Humpy just outplayed her opponent. 

But luck was on Kosteniuk’s side this afternoon. Humpy missed a clear chance to win in a tricky queen endgame, and Kosteniuk managed to escape with a draw, keeping the lead going into the final round. 

“I am feeling very tired but much better than if I’d lost the game” were Kosteniuk’s feelings a few minutes after the game had finished.

GM Tan, Zhongyi vs GM Dzagnidze, Nana (0-1)

According to my database, Dzagnidze and Tan Zhongyi have faced each other multiple times. In a total of 24 games, the former Chinese Women’s World Champion has won nine games while the Georgian player has won seven times, with a total of eight draws. 

“We have played many games together; we know each other very well. I didn’t expect her opening today, so I played on the board,” said Nana Dzagnidze in the postgame interview. 

In this afternoon’s game, Tan Zhongyi started with the English Opening, but soon there was a transposition to the Tarrasch System in the Queen’s Gambit. Coming out of the opening, Tan Zhongyi had a slight advantage, putting pressure on her opponent’s isolated pawn. 

“Maybe she played too ambitiously, and I found the interesting ideas …Qb8 with the idea …Bc7-b6,” said Dzagnidze in a short post-game interview.

But Dzagnidze defended well and took advantage of a small mistake in her opponent’s strategy (19.a4?) to win a pawn and force a superior endgame. With the excellent technique, she took home the full point in a very instructive opposite. 

“I chose the right plan to get the winning position. If the pawns would have been closer, the bishop ending might be a draw,” were Dzagnidze’s final conclusions.  

GM Harika, Dronavalli vs GM Muzychuk, Anna (1-0)

Thirty-eight games together with twenty-five draws shows that this match-up was going to be equal. The opening was a Symmetrical English, and it quickly became clear that both players were in their preparation until move fifteen. 

Harika spent thirty minutes on 16.Rc1 and quickly fell into a bad position, losing a pawn. “I forgot my preparation at some point, I knew the variation, but I couldn’t recall it,” said Harika in her postgame interview. 

With 18…Rxb4, Muzychuk would have enjoyed a small advantage, but instead she blundered 18…e5? and Harika was back into the game, recovering the pawn with superior piece coordination. 

“After her blunder, I had very easy play. The bishop pair and the misplaced rook on b6 should be winning for me,” Harika explained.

GM Paehtz, Elisabeth vs WGM Zhu, Jiner (0.5-0.5)

Paehtz decided to mix things up this afternoon, going for the 2.c3 Alapin Variation side-line against the Sicilian. Displaying excellent opening preparation, both players blitzed out their first sixteen moves following an earlier 2021 game between Gaponenko and Berdnyk. 

In her preparation, Paehtz had obviously gone even further: while Zhu Jiner started to ponder her moves, she continued playing fast. “I prepared it until 20.Nb3, and then according to the super engine, the only move to keep it equal was 20…Rcd8, if I remember correctly. So, after her 20…Rfe8 I was on myself but had a nice position already,” explained Elisabeth Paehtz after the game. 

Her strategy worked out: under heavy pressure in the centre, Zhu Jiner decided to jettison her e5 pawn and go into an inferior ending. Zhu Jiner displayed excellent defensive technique right until the end. Even so, Paehtz missed a clear chance to win the game with 67.Rc7+! instead of 67.b7. 

“After four hours, it’s known that the energy level goes down. I did quite a lot of sports before the event, but apparently, it was not enough. I knew I may lose the grip at some point, and unfortunately, it happened…” Paehtz frankly recognized the importance of being on top form during these elite events. 

GM Abdumalik, Zhansaya vs GM Muzychuk, Mariya (1-0)

Zhansaya Abdumalik and Mariya Muzychuk have played against each other many times in the past, with a more or less equal score.

Facing the Sicilian for the second day in a row, Abdumalik opted for the Rossolimo Attack, transposing a few moves later to the Marozcy structure. With 13.c5, she sacrificed a pawn to damage her opponent’s pawn structure: an interesting positional idea.

“The game was very smooth for me; I had a slightly better position after the opening, and then with the two bishops, I have a very safe and better game,” explained Zhansaya Abdumalik after the game. 

After recovering the pawn, she started grinding down her opponent with her two bishops and slightly better pawn structure and produced a textbook example of how to play with the bishop pair on an open board. 

WGM Wagner, Dinara vs IM Kashlinskaya, Alina (1-0)

After two defeats in a row, Wagner decided on a very solid, albeit less ambitious, b3-e3 system against her opponent’s Semi-Slav. Kashlinskaya traded off her passive minor pieces and reached a very playable middlegame featuring the “Alekhine pawn structure”.

In an equal position, with around twenty minutes each on the clock, both players repeated moves twice, but Wagner deviated on the third, fighting for a win. The position remained equal, but now there were some imbalances in the pawn structure. 

On move thirty-five, Wagner crashed through with the rook sacrifice 35.Rxg7!

However, under huge pressure on the clock, after 35…Kxg7 36. Ne4 Rd5 37. Qxf6+ Kh7 38. Qh4 Qa6 39. Nf6+ Kg7, she missed the sequence with the crushing 40.Ng4!! 

Instead, Dinara regained the material with 40.Nxd5. The subsequent rook ending was better for White, but not a lock. However, Kashlinskaya couldn’t find the best defensive ideas and eventually had to resign, and Wagner chalked up her first win in the event.

“I am feeling great. Very happy that I decided to continue playing on and was rewarded for that. A draw was, in principle good, because I am really tired after ten rounds. But then I thought to myself – it’s a great opportunity to play with the best players in the world, why should I force a draw” explained a very happy Dinara Wagner in her postgame interview. 

The eleventh and final round will be played on Sunday, February 13th at 1 PM at the Kempinski Hotel venue. 

The closing ceremony and prizegiving are scheduled for Monday 13th at 7 PM in the Maximillian III room at the Kempinski Hotel. Approximate duration: One hour

Photos: Mark Livshitz

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