Round nine of the Gibraltar leg of the FIDE Women’s Grand Prix at the Caleta Hotel on 31 May came to a heart-stopping conclusion after six hours and ten minutes as Zhansaya Abdumalik of Kazakhstan won her game against Valentina Gunina of Russia in 133 moves despite never having the remotest chance of winning the game for the first 100 moves. Zhansaya thus completes her rating requirement for the grandmaster title as well as moving into an imposing two-point lead over the rest of the field with two rounds remaining. Zhansaya has 7½/9 while three players are on 5½. Gunay Mammadzada of Azerbaijan is one of them: she nearly achieved a GM norm but missed some drawing chances towards the end of her game with Kateryna Lagno, who also moved to 5½ and remains the front runner for a place in the Candidates’ tournament. Mariya Muzychuk remains on 5½ after losing to Alina Kashlinskaya.
Zhansaya Abdumalik played the black side of a Queen’s Gambit Accepted against Valentina Gunina, who has yet to draw a game in the tournament.
Valentina advanced in the centre while Zhansaya countered on the queenside. Suddenly things became sharp as Zhansaya played the risky looking 17…h6, which Valentina replied to with a sneaky temporary sacrifice 19 Nxc4. Zhansaya further stirred the pot with 20…Bxa3, allowing a possible incursion into her territory with 21 Qh7+, but Valentina found a more pragmatic way of handling the position, emerging with an extra pawn. For most of the rest of the game, Valentina held an advantage but, typically, Zhansaya fought tenaciously. There was even a brief moment when a win was possible, but very much of the computer variety – 46…f4!! Instead Zhansaya played a move that might have lost, but once again she clawed her way back to equality. On and on they played, with Zhansaya eventually securing a dead drawn position. Her hopes of completing her GM requirement had evaporated hours before and she would have had to accept a draw had Valentina repeated moves or offered a draw.
But we all reckoned without Valentina’s gung-ho spirit. She hasn’t drawn a game yet in the tournament and plays every game to the death. She tried too hard to win a won position and, as so often happens, found a way to lose. Suddenly Zhansaya was presented with a won position, though it was still problematic. Valentina fought tenaciously again, now in a lost cause. After six hours and ten minutes, with both players utterly exhausted, Zhansaya finally secured the most improbable of victories, and it was my privilege to be the first person to address her as ‘Grandmaster Zhansaya Abdumalik’ when she came into the interview room. An utterly unforgettable game for everyone who witnessed it, and one reflecting great credit on both players for their never-say-die attitude.
Gunay Mammadzada, needing a draw with Black against Anna Muzychuk to clinch a nine-round GM norm, defended with a Scheveningen Sicilian where White fianchettoes kingside. Gunay’s 12…Bb7 led to a passive position in which White was able to take control of the dark squares in return for a temporary pawn sacrifice. Prospects looked blear for Gunay, but Anna failed to find the most way to clinch the game. When the game transformed into an endgame, there was a fleeting moment when Gunay might have held the draw, but it was hard to work out over the board and Anna won the resultant king and pawn endgame.
Kateryna Lagno, after suffering her first loss in round eight, opened 1 e4, and Irina Bulmaga, after a run of four straight losses, countered with a Rauzer Sicilian. Around move 20, Kateryna had established an edge and soon secured the two bishops. Irina ceded a pawn for which she had insufficient compensation, and things started to look bleak for her. Irina wasn’t able to create counterplay and Kateryna soon managed to engineer a kingside assault which was conclusive. Kateryna thus retains her edge in the race to qualify for the Candidates’ tournament.
Nana Dzagnidze and Antoaneta Stefanova, both on 4/8 at start of play, started with a Semi-Slav. As they emerged from the opening, Antoaneta had slightly the better of things as she advanced pawns towards Nana’s queenside castling set-up. Nana thought that Antoaneta’s plan of 17…Ba6, exchanging light-squared bishops, might have been a mistake, and it became increasingly clear that White was dominating the position. Nana worked her knight into play and then mounted a kingside attack. Antoaneta’s time trouble contributed to her problems and very soon Nana found a powerful breakthrough to clinch the point and preserve her chances of a Candidates’ place.
Alina Kashlinskaya and Mariya Muzychuk started with the Botvinnik (Anti-Moscow) variation of the Slav Defence, where both players have to walk a tightrope of complexity on which the tiniest slip can send you tumbling into the abyss.
Before long, Mariya, playing Black, had gained a couple of pawns but Alina was occupying a lot of dark squares and pressing against Black’s weak e6-pawn, constituting solid compensation. The position became very complicated and eventually Mariya blundered, losing immediately. Her chances of qualifying for the Candidates’ tournament must be all but finished.
Elisabeth Paehtz was still in the running for her final GM norm. She had to win in round nine and round ten to make a ten-round norm, and could then convert it to an 11-round norm by winning again in the final round.
Yesterday, playing the black side of a Catalan, Lizzie started at a rate of knots against Dinara Saduakassova. “She’s going to break some sort of record,” said commentator Veselin Topalov. However, the game proceeded evenly and Dinara never gave Lizzie a chance of scoring a win. Eventually a threefold repetition presented itself: in her post-game interview, Dinara said, “yesterday I could have repeated, so today…” – I finished the sentence for her, “discretion was the better part of valour!”
Round 9 Results
N. Dzagnidze (4) 1-0 A. Stefanova (4)
A. Kashlinskaya (2½) 1-0 M. Muzychuk (5½)
V. Gunina (4) 0-1 Z. Abdumalik (6½)
K. Lagno (4½) 1-0 I. Bulmaga (1½)
A. Muzychuk (3½) 1-0 G. Mammadzada (5½)
D. Saduakassova (2) ½-½ E. Paehtz (4½)
Standings after 9 rounds:
1- Zhansaya Abdumalik – 7.5 points
2-4. Gunay Mammadzada, Mariya Muzychuk, Kateryna Lagno – 5.5 points
5-6. Nana Dzagnidze, Elisabeth Paehtz – 5 points
7-Anna Muzychuk – 4.5 points
8-9. Antoaneta Stefanovam Valentina Gunina – 4 points
10-Alina Kashlinskaya – 3.5 points
11- Dinara Sadukassova – 2.5 points
12- Irina Bulmaga – 1.5 points
Report and games from R7:
After another exciting day’s play and four decisive results, round seven of the Gibraltar leg of the FIDE Women’s Grand Prix at the Caleta Hotel on 29 May 2021 ended with Zhansay Abdumalik of Kazakhstan in the lead on 5½, Mariya Muzychuk in second place on 5, and Kateryna Lagno of Russia and Gunay Mammadzada of Azerbaijan in third on 4½. In the race for the two places in the Candidates’ tournament, it was a good day for Humpy Koneru, watching from afar in India, and Kateryna Lagno, but a bad one for the other contenders Nana Dzagnidze and Anna Muzychuk who both lost with White and now have considerable ground to make up.
Anna Muzychuk’s game with Dinara Saduakassova was eventful. It started with an intriguing variation of the open Ruy Lopez (Spanish) opening, with Black sacrificing the exchange on move 24.
On commentary Veselin Topalov expressed some surprise about White’s 21 Ba2, which became vulnerable to the previously mentioned exchange sacrifice. He preferred 21 e6 followed by ideas such as Ne5. “Critical and natural,” as he put it. After the exchange sacrifice, Anna immediately went wrong with 26 Ra6, putting the rook seriously offside. Anna’s next move, 27 Ne5, left her kingside wide open to a wide range of tactics, although not so easy for humans to disentangle. However, Dinara soon hit on the best plan and finished the game in some style. This defeat put a severe dent in Anna’s hopes of qualifying for the Candidates’ tournament. As much as we feel sorry for her, we also have to be delighted for Dinara who has had a tough time in the first half of the tournament and has now recorded her first win.
Nana Dzagnidze opened against co-leader Zhansaya Abdumalik with a London System (involving d4 and Bf4), which always used to be regarded as insipid but has now been in vogue for some years. On move 15 Zhansaya played 15…Qd8, allowing Nana to capture a pawn on b7. Zhansaya countered with 16…Nxd4 but the computers were flagging up 17 Bf1 as a strong reply, but Nana opted for 17 Kf1. Zhansaya was walking a tightrope, but Nana failed to take advantage. Zhansaya deliberately conjured up a big mess on the board when Nana started getting short of time. Nana would still have been in the game had she found 24 Rcc4 but this was a deep computer game that no human could be expected to find. Thereafter the win was easy for Black. The result increased the young Kazakh player’s chances of winning the tournament and she now needs a +1 finish from four games to secure her GM title (subject to ratification). A loss for Nana means her chances of reaching the Candidates’ tournament have been affected. Humpy Koneru, no doubt following events in India, will be feeling that losses for Anna and Nana in this round have greatly increased her chances of playing in the Candidates’ event.
Alina Kashlinskaya and Irina Bulmaga, both on 1½/6, started with a Bogo-Indian (an ugly name for an interesting opening).
One snag about the line chosen is that it gifts White the two bishops. Perhaps 15…Nxd2 was an improvement for Black. As played, White gained space and was able to follow her plan while Black had difficulty in unravelling her slightly cramped position. On move 30 Black might have been able to fight on but 30…Ng8 allowed a move forcing the win on the f7-pawn, after which White’s attack broke through quickly. Irina paid her opponent the courtesy of playing through to checkmate.
Elisabeth Paehtz defended against Kateryna Lagno’s e4 with a Najdorf Sicilian, which usually results in some entertaining chess. However, Elisabeth settled for something more restrained and, as material was exchanged, the game was soon headed for a quiet conclusion. Kateryna could still be well content with her day as her two rivals for the Candidates’ place, Nana and Anna, had lost with White. With four rounds remaining, she is a clear point ahead of Nana and 1½ points ahead of Anna, and her rivals need to overtake her to, not simply finish level with her.
The battle of the former world champions, Mariya Muzychuk and Antoaneta Stefanova, started in a strange way with an unusual treatment of the Queen’s Gambit for Black by Antoaneta.
Her fellow countryman Veselin Topalov, making his debut as commentator today, admitted on commentary that he didn’t understand Antoaneta’s plan of 3…a6 followed by 5…Nc6. He also questioned moves such as 8…f5 and 9…h5, weakening the dark squares. Mariya held a stable plus, but much depended on the e4 break, which she opted for as soon as it became feasible on move 19. The position soon looked miserable for Black when White lodged a knight on f4 and menaced a number of weak white squares in the Black camp. Antoaneta later admitted she was lost, though there were still some complications. Then, just as the players reached the time control, Mariya allowed a trick. Antoaneta checked with the queen, sacrificed a rook on b2 and then infiltrated the white camp with her queen. At first sight it didn’t look like a perpetual check as the queen was only supported by a pawn on c4. But perpetual check it proved to be and Antoaneta had escaped with a draw.
Mammadzada, saw the Russian GM play a restrained line, the Closed Sicilian, against Gunay’s 1…c5. Commentator Veselin Topalov wasn’t sure about Gunay’s plan of 8…h5, though Stockfish seems to favour it. Valentina opted for a queenside thrust with 12 b4, which looked promising but needed to be followed up accurately. Soon the game became complicated and descended into a slugging match. Eventually Gunay emerged with extra material after Valentina blundered with 47 Be2. In desperation Valentina sacrificed a second piece to create chaos, but it didn’t really work and Gunay could return one piece and retained a stable material advantage. Still Valentina fought on, as she always does, but Gunay didn’t buckle under the pressure of having to play purely on the increment. Valentina is a tough fighter but she finally had to call it a day on move 96. Another excellent day’s work for Gunay, who has been impressive in Gibraltar, although she tends to give us all heart attacks as she runs her clock down to nothing. Commiserations to Valentina, who always gives us great entertainment value.
Round 8 is on Sunday 30 May at 15.00 CET.
Round 7 Results
M. Muzychuk (4½) ½-½ A. Stefanova (2½)
N. Dzagnidze (3½) 0-1 Z. Abdumalik (4½)
A. Kashlinskaya (1½) 1-0 I. Bulmaga (1½)
V. Gunina (3) 0-1 G. Mammadzada (3½)
K. Lagno (4) ½-½ E. Paehtz (3½)
A. Muzychuk (3) 0-1 D. Saduakassova (1)
Rankings after 7 rounds
1- Zhansaya Abdumalik – 5.5 points
2 – Mariya Muzychuk – 5 points
3-4. Gunay Mammadzada, Kateryna Lagno – 4.5 points
5- Elisabeth Paehtz – 4 points
6- Nana Dzagnidze – 3.5 points
7-9. – Valentina Gunina, Anna Muzychuk, Antoaneta Stefanova – 3 points
10 – Alina Kashlinskaya – 2.5 points
11 – Dinara Sadukassova – 2 points
12 – Irina Bulmaga – 1.5 points
Leading Grand Prix Places after Round 7
Text by: John Saunders