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Three players share the lead at FIDE Women’s Grand Prix Gibraltar

Three players share the lead after round four of the Gibraltar leg of the FIDE Women’s Grand Prix, played at the Caleta Hotel on 25 May 2021. Zhansaya Abdumalik (Kazakhstan), Mariya Muzychuk (Ukraine) and Kateryna Lagno (Russia) have three points from a possible four, and they are also the only players in the field who remain unbeaten, such has been the uncompromising nature of the play. In fourth place is Elisabeth Paehtz (Germany) on 2½.

There was much interest in the R3 meeting of the two players born in the year 2000, leader Zhansaya Abdumalik and Gunay Mammadzada who is just half a point behind her. Despite their youth, they have already been rivals for many years, having first met in the World Girls’ Under 8 Championship in 2008.

They proceeded down in R3 a familiar line of Semi-Slav Meran theory until about move 16, when Gunay, playing Black, gradually assumed the initiative as White proved to have wasted time with 13. Ng5. Zhansaya, not wanting to succumb meekly, lashed out with a dramatic piece sacrifice, 21.Bxh6. Capturing it was possible, and seemed to find favour with engines, but the advantage of doing so is not obvious to the human eye as the resultant position only looks slightly better for Black. Gunay opted to retain more options but Zhansaya defended tenaciously. The game remained horribly complicated right up to the time control, with Gunay running her clock down to one second remaining before playing her 39th move. Still, she retained an edge which led to winning a pawn. However, that wasn’t the end of the story as she was unable to find a way past Zhansaya’s determined defence. A draw after a splendid fight, which reflected well on both players.

Alina Kashlinskaya had a nightmare start to the tournament, but fate smiled upon her last against Anna Muzychuk as the Ukrainian played into some of the Russian’s Classical Nimzo-Indian opening preparation. The consequence of 12…d4 and the subsequent exchange (for a pawn) sacrifice on d1 had all been carefully stress-tested in the Kashlinskaya/Wojtaszek opening laboratory before being inflicted on Anna. It meant leaving the white king in the center, but Alina was able to develop her rook via h3 and g3 and increase the pressure on Black’s king. Anna tried to blunt the attack by offering the exchange back but White simply emerged a pawn up to the good. Black tried to counter with an attack but Alina, after checking and double-checking her calculations (for fear of blowing another won position), mounted a final assault on Anna’s king. There’s still plenty of time to recover but this put a severe dent in Anna Muzychuk’s chances of challenging for a Candidates’ place.

Nana Dzagnidze and Dinara Saduakassova opened with a line of the English in which the queens disappear as early as move 8. Dinara’s new move 9…b6 steered the game away from a line disputed by Levon Aronian and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave a couple of times. Though even for much of its course, the pawns were imbalanced on both sides of the board and it became a battle to see who could squeeze the most positional juice out of the structure in Magnus Carlsen style. During the post-game interview, Nana said she felt confident about her chances of exploiting her well-placed kingside pawns. That said, had Dinara played 33…Bd7, Nana wasn’t entirely sure of the way to take advantage of her extra kingside pawn (with Black’s extra queenside pawn having few prospects of undoubling). Thereafter Black soon succumbed.

Elisabeth Paehtz versus Mariya Muzychuk was another Classical Nimzo-Indian, with Elisabeth as Black obtaining some early pressure against White’s d-pawn. Mariya’s reaction 15.Nh4 looked quite outlandish, but it proved its worth subsequently as she gained some compensation for the pawn. Indeed, White soon became the player with an extra pawn herself. However, it came down to a queen endgame in which White was unable to make real progress. Another draw and a real fight, albeit less entertaining for the spectators than the Abdumalik-Mammadzada confrontation.

Valentina Gunina played an unusual line against Kateryna Lagno’s choice of King’s Indian Defence… at least, that’s what I thought until I checked a database and discovered that a good number of modern GMs, including Ian Nepomniachtchi, have been experimenting with these very same ideas.. (I suppose it goes to show that my own concept of what is usual in this defence is about fifty years out of date.) But I wasn’t impressed and neither, evidently, was Kateryna Lagno as she secured a comfortable, flexible black set-up quite quickly. More seriously, Valentina played 18.b4 rather too quickly and Kateryna exploited this with 19…Ra3 with a lateral attack along the rank. White’s 20.e5 worsened the situation and Valentina had to give up a knight in return for a pawn on the seventh and some tactical tricks. Kateryna proceeded to defuse all the tricks and cashed in her extra material to win, thus moving alongside Zhansaya as co-leader.

Irina Bulmaga against Antoaneta Stefanova began life as a Scotch Opening. With the queens off and the pawns balanced on either side, a draw seemed the likeliest prospect, and remained so for much of the game, though both players strove to be positive and try to win. Irina, with White, seemed to preserve what little advantage there was as a result of having her king nearer the kingside action. Consequently, Black’s moves were a little harder to find. Eventually, Antoaneta went astray, according to analysis engines, on move 55 when 55…Kd7 would have kept her within sight of a draw, while everything else lost. But it looks like a desperately hard ‘only move’ for a human to work out, so Antoaneta will be too experienced and phlegmatic to reproach herself for missing it. A very fine win for Irina, who told us later that she had never won a classical game against Antoaneta previously.

The fourth round was opened by Mr. Joe Bossano, a Gibraltarian politician who served as Chief Minister of Gibraltar.

Nana Dzagnidze of Georgia is one of the leading contenders to qualify from the Women’s Grand Prix for the Candidates’ competition, but her chances suffered a severe blow when she lost to Elisabeth Paehtz in what was the game of the day. Elisabeth played a c3 Sicilian which resulted in hanging pawns on c4 and d4. However, there was no obvious way to bring pressure to bear on what is usually seen as a weakness (but, in this case, wasn’t). Nana took four moves to relocate her knight from a6, where it had no prospects, to f6, where it might have more scope. However, allowing Elisabeth to swap a bishop for the knight on f6 and break up her kingside pawn structure proved disastrous. Elisabeth immediately launched her full force at the kingside and it was soon apparent that Black had little defence against the onslaught. Eventually Nana had to give up her queen, plus two pawns, for two rooks, to prevent being mated but the cost was too high. With White’s king safely protected from rook checks, and Black’s opposite number exposed to an infinity of awkward checks, there was never much doubt about the outcome. A fine win for Elisabeth.

Gunay Mammadzada of Azerbaijan has established a reputation for brinkmanship and enterprise in this tournament so far but she came unstuck against former world champion Mariya Muzychuk. After 18 moves of solid Sveshnikov Sicilian theory, Mariya went into a side-line with 18…Bd7, though the first new move was her 20…f5, following a pawn sacrifice for active play. Gunay’s play in an imbalanced and complex position seemed reasonable enough until she went seriously wrong with 25 b4, after which her position collapsed with alarming rapidity.

It was a great round for the Muzychuk sisters as Mariya’s sister Anna also secured a full point in the longest game of the day against Valentina Gunina of Russia. Anna chose an offbeat and innocuous line against Valentina’s Caro-Kann. Anna was of the opinion that she was slightly worse in the early middle game, until Valentina embarked on a three-move excursion with her queen, during which time the position equalised and then swung in favour of Anna by virtue of her control of the d-file. Though a little short of time, Anna maintained her grip until the time control, steadily outplaying her opponent from that point on. A knight ending morphed into a queen and knight ending as both players queened pawns but by now Anna had worked out a continuation through to victory.

Irina Bulmaga’s game with round three co-leader Zhansaya Abdumalik was another Sveshnikov Sicilian and had some point of interest. But, after the queens came off, despite an imbalanced pawn structure, neither player found enough scope to merit playing on beyond move 30.

Antoaneta Stefanova and Kateryna Lagno headed into an unpromising side-line of the Grünfeld, which resulted in a number of exchanges and a sterile rook and pawn endgame after 30 moves.

Dinara Saduakassova, playing White, was content to end her run of losses with an early draw against Alina Kashlinskaya in a line of the English which ended with a three-move repetition.

Round 4 live games

Antoaneta Stefanova – Kateryna Lagno
Anna Muzychuk – Valentina Gunina
Dinara Saduakassova – Alina Kashlinskaya
Elisabeth Paehtz – Nana Dzagnidze
Gunay Mammadzada – Mariya Muzychuk
Irina Bulmaga – Zhansaya Abdumalik

Standings after 4 rounds:

1-3. Zhansaya Abdumalik, Mariya Muzychuk and Kateryna Lagno – 3 points
4. Elisabeth Paethz – 2.5 points
5-8. Gunay Mammadzada, Nana Dzagnidze, Anna Muzychuk and Antoaneta Stefanova – 2 points
9-10. Irina Bulmaga and Alina Kashlinskaya – 1.5 points
11. Valentina Gunina – 1 point
12. Dinara Sadukassova – 0.5 point


Text: John Saunders

Photo: John Saunders and David Llada