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Zhansaya Abdumalik and Mariya Muzychuk leading FIDE Women’s Grand Prix

Zhansaya Abdumalik (KAZ) and Mariya Muzychuk (UKR) went into the rest day of the Gibraltar leg of the FIDE Women’s Grand Prix as the co-leaders. Zhansaya and Mariya drew their game to move to 4½ out of 6, and are followed by Kateryna Lagno (RUS) on 4.

FIDE Women’s Grand Prix Gibraltar full information and LIVE games

The round 6 started quietly but we were in for a rousing finale when Elisabeth Paehtz (GER) and Valentina Gunina (RUS) played out an exciting second session. We’ll leave that till last.

The first game to finish was a quiet draw in a Grünfeld between Dinara Saduakassova (KAZ) and Kateryna Lagno (RUS). Dinara has had a tough tournament and perhaps wants to refocus on the rest day and see what she can achieve in the final five rounds. Kateryna is playing cautiously, with one eye on her rivals for the Candidates’ place that is sure to be available from the Gibraltar tournament.

A second draw followed between Antoaneta Stefanova and Anna Muzychuk. This started life as a QGD, with some resemblance to a c3 Sicilian in due course. A cagey game ensured, with both players steering clear danger.

Read more: Anna Muzychuk analyzes her win from R2 of the FIDE Women Grand Prix

The third game to finish was the clash between the two tournament leaders, Zhansaya Abdumalik and Mariya Muzychuk.

In a Bb5 Sicilian, both players castled kingside, with Mariya (Black) advancing her kingside pawns nevertheless, and Zhansaya countering in the centre. Material gradually disappeared from the board and the players agreed a draw as the game moved towards a level rook endgame.

Finally, after around three hours’ play, we saw a couple of decisive games. I think it’s fair to say that both were as a result of oversights and perhaps some tiredness after six solid days of uncompromising chess.

Alina Kashlinskaya, after playing a Petroff Defence, miscalculated a long variation and was stunned when Gunay Mammadzada played a temporary queen sacrifice to win material.

Or perhaps Alina missed an intermezzo check in an even longer variation. This was another blow for the Russian player who has had a nightmare tournament. Let’s hope she can recover after the rest day. At the same time we must congratulate Gunay for her tactical opportunism and energetic play. She followed up her win of material accurately and efficiently.

Nana Dzagnidze tried an unusual line of the Sicilian against Irina Bulmaga but it paid off handsomely as she emerged with a comfortable position from the opening. Nana said she didn’t like Irina’s move 10 Qd3. It was interesting that analysis engines disagreed with her at first, but then came round to Nana’s way of thinking after a few more moves. Nana felt confident she was better after she placed her bishop on e5. Irina’s position worsened by the move and she tried a piece sacrifice with 20 Bxd5, but it achieved little and the rest of the game proved to be a technical mopping up operation.

The game of the day was also the longest. Elisabeth Paehtz’s game against Valentina Gunina began with an unusual line of the Caro-Kann.

After queens were exchanged, Elisabeth emerged with a spatial advantage which she maintained well into the middlegame. Her prospects looked promising but then she played 32 b6. This might have been a little hasty as Valentina responded with a very clever exchange for pawn sacrifice which received the analysis engine’s seal of approval. As the players reached the time control, Black was arguably a little better, with two passed pawns ably supported by two bishops. The game still might have turned out a draw, but Elisabeth made a further mistake and Valentina’s demon bishops started to menace her king like vultures. White’s king found itself herded to the side of the board as the black bishops and rook circled. The problem for Elisabeth was that she was so short of time and her defensive moves rather harder to find than Valentina’s attacking ones. Sure enough, as her time ebbed away, Valentina found a way through Elisabeth’s various tactical tricks to escape the net and mated the white king. It was an exhausting game for both players. Even in victory, Valentina was still in shock as she left the playing hall and didn’t utter a word until I began the interview.

Candidates’ Tournament: Qualification Possibilities

As we reach the halfway mark of the tournament, it’s time to give consideration to the principal reward of the Women’s Grand Prix series: qualification for the Candidates’ tournament. The full current standings after three tournaments can be found here – https://wgp2019.fide.com/standings. Aleksandra Goryachkina (RUS), with 398 points, has already secured the top place in the Grand Prix but she has also qualified for the Candidates via a different route as world championship runner-up. So that means the two people to qualify for the Candidates via the Grand Prix will be numbers two and three in the Grand Prix overall points table.

Before the Gibraltar tournament, Humpy Koneru, who is not playing here, was in second place with 293 points. Three Gibraltar contestants, Nana Dzagnidze (180), Kateryna Lagno (180) and Anna Muzychuk (165) can still pass her score with a first or second place, but that would only push the Indian grandmaster down to third place, which still qualifies. Thus it would need two of the above names to finish first and second, or share first place, to deprive Humpy Koneru of a spot in the Candidates.

Another Gibraltar non-participant, Alexandra Kosteniuk, currently has 193 Grand Prix points to be in third place. But, to qualify, she would need all three Gibraltar participants cited above to score fewer than 13 points. Sadly for Alexandra, this is not mathematically possible as the player who finishes last in Gibraltar scores 10 Grand Prix points but, fatal to Alexandra’s aspirations, the 11th placed finisher scores 20 points. Even if two of the above players were to tie for last, they would still score 15 points each and overtake Alexandra. This means that at least one player currently in the Gibraltar line-up must overtake Alexandra and qualify for the Candidates from Gibraltar.

As well as Nana, Kateryna and Anna, a fourth player in the line-up has a theoretical chance of qualifying for the Candidates. This is Alina Kashlinskaya of Russia. However, with her current score, her chance is very slim unless she can mount a finish to rival her storming tournament performance in the Isle of Man in 2018.

Note that substitute players cannot qualify for the Candidates. This is why Zhansaya Abdumalik, currently doing well in Gibraltar and with 110 Grand Prix points from an earlier event, is not in the running for a place in the Candidates.

The rest day is on Friday 28 May. Round 7 is on Saturday 29 May at 15.00 GMT+2, after which former world champion Veselin Topalov takes over commentary duties from Nigel Short.

Round 6 Results

A. Stefanova (2)               ½-½    A. Muzychuk (2½)
D. Saduakassova (½)       ½-½    K. Lagno (3½)
E. Paehtz (3½)                  0-1      V. Gunina (2)
G. Mammadzada (2½)   1-0      A. Kashlinskaya (1½)
I. Bulmaga (1½)                0-1      N. Dzagnidze (2½)
Z. Abdumalik (4)               ½-½    M. Muzychuk (4)

Standings after 6 rounds:

1-2. – Zhansaya Abdumalik, Mariya Muzychuk 4.5 points
3. – Kateryna Lagno 4 points
4-6.- Elisabeth Paehtz, Nana Dzagnidze, Gunay Mammadzada 3.5 points
7-8. Valentina Gunina, Anna Muzychuk 3 points
9- Antoaneta Stefanova 2.5 points
10-11.- Irina Bulmaga, Alina Kashlinskaya 1.5 points
12.- Sadukassova Dinara 1 point

Round 5 report:

After round five of the Gibraltar leg of the FIDE Women’s Grand Prix, played at the Caleta Hotel on 26 May 2021, two players share the lead on 4/5 points: Zhansaya Abdumalik (Kazakhstan) and Mariya Muzychuk (Ukraine). Two players, Kateryna Lagno (Russia) and Elisabeth Paehtz (Germany) have 3½ points. The round was opened by Fabian Picardo, Chief Minister of Gibraltar. After welcoming the players and complimenting the organisers on a ‘very impressive’ lay-out for the tournament, he expressed the wish that one day a Gibraltarian flag would appear alongside one the competitors, who would compete alongside the top women’s world championship contenders. 

It wasn’t long before one of the games started to go downhill for one of the players. Antoaneta Stefanova came badly unstuck against Zhansaya Abdumalik’s Scotch Opening.

Her 10…Bd6 was a grave error, and the young Kazakh player took full advantage, forcing the win of her opponent’s queen for two minor pieces, followed by a brisk mopping-up exercise. This took the overnight co-leader to 4/5 and threw down the gauntlet to her two main rivals to try and catch her.

Another overnight leader, Kateryna Lagno, was unable to follow suit, despite have a promising position from an Italian Opening against Anna Muzychuk. Kateryna should perhaps have reacted more directly with 23 Qxe4 but she still managed to annex a pawn on move 25. However, Anna had calculated that she might have sufficient positional compensation for the material and so it proved. Kateryna returned the pawn to secure a drawn position.

Alina Kashlinkskaya is having a nightmare tournament. For the third time in five games, she let a winning advantage slip and lost.

At first it seemed that her opponent, Elisabeth Paehtz, was suffering a bad dream as she played a calamitous move, 9…Nfd7, in a QGD Tarrasch Defence, allowing her opponent a combination lead to a big plus. Elisabeth was unable to castle and her rooks couldn’t connection, so the resourceful German player hit on a plan of developing her entombed rook via the h-file. Later analysis revealed that it should not have been successful but mutual time trouble led to a chaotic position in which Elisabeth gradually gained the upper hand. By the time control poor Alina was looking at a wreck of a position and a material deficit. After a few mating tries were rebuffed, she was forced to resign. All credit, though, to Elisabeth who, not for the first time in this tournament, rode her luck and displayed her resourcefulness.

The three remaining games were long and hard-fought. Gunay Mammadzara plays some of the most exciting chess of the players present in Gibraltar and she gave Nana Dzagnidze a really good game, coming close to a win.

The opening was a Semi-Slav and Gunay managed to isolate and pressurise Nana’s d-pawn. As well as this she opened up lines against the white king on h2 and might have missed a couple of tactical shots (e.g. 25…gxh3 and if 26 gxh3 Bxh3!) along the way when in her habitual time trouble. Nana too might have missed some counter-chances such as 38 Qb4 to wrest the initiative. Eventually it came down to Gunay’s three pawns against Nana’s knight and nothing, but the only possible result was a draw. 

The remaining two games boiled down to rook and pawn endgames, both of which were won by the player with the extra pawn. Valentina Gunina told us she had been told to be more circumspect by her coach rather than overindulging tactics, and this proved a sage move. The opening was a Queen’s Indian (or possibly a Bogo-Indian) and Dinara Saduakassova was unable to mount a sufficiently active defence, soon being tied to the defence of a weak d-pawn. After the time control the pawn dropped off and, with some careful, patient play, Valentina was able to engineer a passed e-pawn and also infiltrate her king at b5, after which the fight was over.

Mariya Muzychuk quickly secured a slight but persistent edge against Irina Bulmaga from a Sicilian with Bb5.

But she felt that Irina might have put up a more solid defence had she played 19…Kf6 rather than 19…Kd7. As played, White was quickly able to gain an extra pawn when, despite a few technical problems, the endgame also looked likely to be a winning one. Mariya thus joined Zhansaya as overnight leader on 4/5. 

The two leaders, Zhansaya Abdumalik and Mariya Muzychuk, clash in round six on Thursday 27 May at 15.00 GMT+2 with Nigel Short and Fiona Steil-Antoni providing the commentary. The rest day is on Friday 28 May, after which former world champion Veselin Topalov takes over commentary duties from Nigel Short. 

Round 5 Results
Z. Abdumalik (3) 1-0 A. Stefanova (2)
M. Muzychuk (3) 1-0 I. Bulmaga (1½)
N. Dzagnidze (2) ½-½ G. Mammadzada (2)
A. Kashlinskaya (1½) 0-1 E. Paehtz (2½)
V. Gunina (1) 1-0 D. Saduakassova (½)
K. Lagno (3) ½-½ A. Muzychuk (2)

Standings after Round 5:
1-2. Zhansaya Abdumalik, Mariya Muzychuk – 4;
3-4. Kateryna Lagno, Elisabeth Paehtz – 3½;  
5-7. Gunay Mammadzada, Nana Dzagnidze, Anna Muzychuk – 2½;  
8-9. Valentina Gunina, Antoaneta Stefanova – 2;  
10-11. Irina Bulmaga, Alina Kashlinskaya – 1½,
12. Dinara Saduakassova – ½.

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