The ninth round of the FIDE Grand Prix in Monaco could possibly be labelled the decisive one in this event. Aleksandra Goryachkina escaped defeat by a thread, while Humpy Koneru lost her first game in this event. Elisabeth Paehtz has clearly been out of form in Monaco, having lost four games so far. But in her encounter with Koneru, she raised to the occasion and created the biggest upset in the tournament so far. The German reached a typical Maroczy structure from her King’s-Indian opening and Koneru did not handle it well. Under pressure, the Indian lost a pawn without getting enough counter chances. After a second pawn fell, her position became hopeless and she resigned shortly after.
At the same time, Goryachkina chose a solid but passive line of the French Defence. Mariya Muzychuk played some unusual moves at first, but her pieces suddenly started displaying great activity. She managed to get pressure in all areas of the board and Goryachkina clearly seemed uncomfortable. Yet, the Russian would not be the challenger to the World Championship title if she could not handle difficult positions. She defended with resilience and wisely decided to give up a pawn in order to exchange some pieces and pawns. It is hard to point out exactly where the advantage slipped through Muzychuk’s fingers. The game simplified into a drawish endgame after the time control, and Goryachkina held confidently. The Russian is now a full point ahead of an Indian duo, as Harika Dronavalli made a draw against Kateryna Lagno and caught up with her compatriot Koneru. The opening of that game was interesting, but as sometimes happens, simplifications ensued early on and the game ended in a draw by move repetition.
Anna Muzychuk obtained a clear advantage from her opening against Pia Cramling, but later missed a resource from the Swedish champion. The final position was very unclear, as Black had no choice but sacrificing her queen, but the Ukrainian preferred not taking any risk and offered a draw.
This is definitely not the tournament for Valentina Gunina, who suffered yet one more defeat, and has only one point out of nine rounds. In her game against Nana Dzagnidze, the opening turned into a disaster and she was already lost after 15 moves, without having any chance to put up a fight. The Russian, who started the year with a sound victory at the Cairns Cup in Saint Louis, has had some health problems since she arrived in Monaco, and that became evident in her feeble play.
Alexandra Kosteniuk won a pawn right after the opening against Zhao Xue but the Chinese did not have much to worry about because of her overall activity. The game was always balanced and ended in a draw on move 42.
Even though Goryachkina is a clear leader now, one point clear of Koneru, it is highly possible that the last-round encounter between the two of them will be decisive to determine the winner of the Monaco Grand Prix. But before that, Friday’s round may bring its share of upsets, as all players are visibly exhausted from all battles.
Results of round 9:
Valentina Gunina (Rus) – Nana Dzagnidze (Geo): 0-1
Alexandra Kosteniuk (Rus) – Zhao Xue (China): ½-½
Kateryna Lagno (Rus) – Harika Dronavalli (Ind): ½-½
Humpy Koneru (Ind) – Elisabeth Paehtz (Ger): 0-1
Anna Muzychuk (Ukr) – Pia Cramling (Swe): ½-½
Mariya Muzychuk (Ukr) – Aleksandra Goryachkina (Rus): ½-½
Standings after round 9:
1. Aleksandra Goryachkina - 6½ points
2-3. Humpy Koneru and Harika Dronavalli - 5½
4-7. Anna Muzychuk, Alexandra Kosteniuk, Kateryna Lagno and Pia Cramling - 5
8. Mariya Muzychuk - 4½
9. Nana Dzagnidze - 4
10-11. Elisabeth Paehtz and Zhao Xue - 3½
12. Valentina Gunina - 1
Round 10, 13 December at 3 pm:
Nana Dzagnidze (Geo) – Zhao Xue (China)
Harika Dronavalli (Ind) – Alexandra Kosteniuk (Rus)
Elisabeth Paehtz (Ger) – Kateryna Lagno (Rus)
Pia Cramling (Swe) – Humpy Koneru (Ind)
Aleksandra Goryachkina (Rus) – Anna Muzychuk (Ukr)
Valentina Gunina (Rus) – Mariya Muzychuk (Ukr)
Official website with live games and commentary by WGM Keti Tsatsalashvili, IM Almira Skripchenko and GM Josif Dorfman:https://wgp2019.fide.com
Pictures are available on our official Flickr account.
Text: Yannick Pelletier
Pictures: Karol Bartnik