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.
The longest game of the day, Valentina Gunina, playing White against Gunay 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. Live transmission, with Veselin Topalov and Fiona Steil-Antoni, may be found at https://wgp2019.fide.com/#live
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)
Gibraltar Crosstable after Round 7(in draw order - superscript characters indicate colour and round number)
Leading Grand Prix Places after Round 7(based on current positions)
Players marked in bold and green would qualify for the Candidates’ tournament if current tournament position remained the same
* = already qualified for Candidates’ tournament (runner-up, last world championship)
** = Grand Prix reserve player - not eligible for Candidates’ tournament place