In an amazing turn of events, when everything seemed to be pointing towards a tiebreak, former Women’s World Chess Champion GM Tan Zhongyi, from China, defeated GM Aleksandra Goryachkina, playing under the FIDE flag, in the fourth and final game of the 2022 Women’s Candidates Pool B.
Tan Zhongyi will face Pool A winner, GM Lei Tingjie, also playing for China, in the first quarter of 2023. The winner will play the current women’s World Champion, GM Ju Wenjun, from China, for the title.
The fourth game began at 3 pm sharp, in the Farovon Hotel venue. The ceremonial first move was performed by Mr. Akram Ikramov, General Director of the Hotel, who correctly guessed Tan Zhongyi’s first move 1.d4.
Tan Zhongyi has been dominant in the opening stage, mixing up her openings intelligently to keep her opponent off-balance – Goryachkina has hardly had the chance to pose any serious problems.
This afternoon, she decided to repeat the Semi-Slav defense, which was also seen in the second game of the match. However, instead of repeating the Exchange variation, with which she didn’t achieve much in that game, this time Tan Zhongyi understandably went for 6.e3.
Slightly surprised, Goryachkina paused for a few moments considering her options, and finally decided to move her queen to a5: the Cambridge Springs variation. GM Arturs Neiksans, one of the official commentators of the event, was slightly taken aback by this choice, mentioning “I am not sure of the current reputation of this line”.
Nevertheless, judging by the speed with which Tan Zhongyi whipped out her moves, she was clearly still in preparation. I did notice that Goryachkina had already played the Cambridge Springs against top Indian GM Nihan Sarin, back in 2020, along with other games against GM’s Cramling and Timofeev. I am also sure that her opponent’s team had also noticed this.
The key moment of the game occurred on move eighteen, just out of the opening. Goryachkina blundered with the seemingly natural 18…Rac8? allowing the very strong – and unexpected – pawn thrust 18.c5!
It took Goryachkina more than twenty minutes to recover from the shock. It’s not at all easy to find a way to parry the threat Nc4, hitting the queen and the bishop on a3. Tan Zhongyi took only four minutes to calculate the lines, which makes me think that she had already considered this idea in her home preparation.
In an attempt to come out alive from the complications, Goryachkina sacrificed a piece for two pawns. She would have had some chances to survive if she had found 32…Qe6! Instead of 32…gxh4.
After that, it was plain sailing for Tan Zhongyi, who secured the win on move forty.