International Chess Federation
Friday, 26 May 2023 19:44
The final round to decide the winner of Cyprus Grand Prix and two Women’s Candidates

Grand Prix events are very long. Eleven rounds against strong opponents, adding game preparation and debriefing, can leave you without energy very quickly. Fatigue and exhaustion set in, and mistakes start to happen.

The two-time European Champion, and current leader of the Grand Prix, Kateryna Lagno, summed the situation up perfectly. “Everybody is already very tired, and that’s why we are probably seeing some blunders.”

For the first time in the tournament, all six games ended in draws, but most of them were hard-fought. With only one round to go, three players are still in the lead with 6/10 – Harika, Tan Zhongyi, and Wagner – while Lagno and Shuvalova are just behind on 5.5/10. 

Theoretically, up to six players could have a chance of grabbing the two coveted Candidates spots, and it will all depend on tomorrow’s results. 

The tenth-round ceremonial first moves were performed by Andreas Michailidis, President of the Cyprus Sports Organisation (pictured above) and Michalis Giorgallas, Cyprus Minister of Defence, in the game between Dinara Wagner and Tan Zhongyi.

For Michalis Giorgallas (pictured below), it was his first time in a chess tournament. “I am very glad to be here and excited to host the tournament in Cyprus. I don’t know how to play, but I hope that my first move will give success and glory to my player.”

Andreas Michailidis, in his capacity as President of the Cyprus Sports Organisation, is a regular in local events organised by the Cyprus Chess Federation - “It’s a great honour for Cyprus to host this event and for FIDE to have chosen our country and our organisation supports the tournament 100%. I admire the patience, the courage, and the expertise of the players. We don’t yet have top-level players in Cyprus, but we are working on this, and very soon, we shall compete at the highest level”. 

The event was also honoured by the presence this afternoon of Louiza Christodoulidou Zannetou, the Law Commissioner for Cyprus and President of the Gender Equality Committee. She was happily surprised when she went inside the playing hall: “My first reaction was that I had to go out, so as not to disturb them because I realised that they needed their peace and concentration to perform at the maximum level.”

IM Assaubayeva, Bibisara vs GM Goryachkina, Aleksandra (0.5-0.5)

After her loss yesterday, Goryachkina decided to play it safe today, choosing the solid Slav defence as Black. Assaubayeva went for the modern 4.Bf4 line in the Exchange variation, but Goryachkina neutralised the opponent’s initiative with the standard …Bg4-h5-g6 manoeuvre, exchanging White’s dangerous light-squared bishop. 

According to the engine, Black was already slightly better when both players agreed to a draw on move twenty after an unforced three-fold repetition. Goryachkina will play White in the final round against Harika – depending on the rest of this afternoon’s results. She may need a win to secure one of the two Candidate’s spots.

WGM Wagner, Dinara vs GM Tan, Zhongyi (0.5-0.5)

The second game to finish, after just about two and a half hours of play, was a solid affair. Co-leading the event by the slightest of margins, it seemed unlikely that they were going to take many risks.

Tan Zhongyi went for one of the most solid lines in the Bogo-Indian defence with Black, a favourite of Ulf Andersson in the eighties. 

Wagner spent about twenty minutes on move twelve, deciding how to deal with the double pawn tension in the centre. The engine suggests that maybe 14.b4!? was a better try for an advantage.

Once they started trading-off pieces on the d-file, it became clear that the game would end in a draw, which was agreed on move forty-one. 

GM Dronavalli, Harika vs GM Khotenashvili, Bella (0.5-0.5)

Playing with Black, Khotenashvili opted for the Symmetrical variation in the English Opening, employing the so-called Botvinnik System, conceding a permanent weak square on d5 but gaining a firm grip on the dark squares.

Her opening choice against the tournament co-leader worked out well: going into the middlegame Bella equalised comfortably, and her only problem was, once again, falling behind on the clock.

An important idea in Harika’s strategy was to notice that 21…f5, which at first glance wins the bishop on c3, does not work due to 22.Ng5! Rxc3 23.Nxe6, and since 23…Qxe6? fails to 24.Bd5, White is already slightly better.

However, this time the position was reasonably simple to play, and after 28…f5 it was clear that Black had no problems at all and that a draw would be the most likely outcome. Finally, both players agreed to share the point on move thirty-one.

IM Kiolbasa, Oliwia vs GM Lagno, Kateryna (0.5-0.5)

A tense but equal game, very typical of the Ruy Lopez Berlin variation. Lagno equalised comfortably coming out of the opening but was unable to create an imbalance.   

“I tried to create something, but she found this b4-Ne1 plan, and it looks like it’s just equal. Maybe I should have played 22…b4 myself instead of 22…g6,” Lagno explained after the game.

After that, it was Kiolbasa who could have had a chance had she found 28.Nd3! but low on time Oliwia went for the clear-cut 28.Rd1-d7, and a draw was soon agreed upon.  

Lagno was kind enough to talk to us after the game. “It’s a hard tournament, everybody is tired already. But there is still one game to go, and I should stay concentrated.”

When asked about the added stress of playing for the two Candidate spots, Lagno explained that she was trying to concentrate on the games. “I try not to think about it too much, and I don’t think it affects my play, but I see that everybody is very tired already, and that’s why we are probably seeing some blunders.”

GM Dzagnidze, Nana vs IM Mammadzada, Gunay (0.5-0.5)

Dzagnidze tried to surprise her opponent in the opening with the offbeat 4.h3 idea in a Delayed Alapin Sicilian. The point is to play 5.Bd3-c2 and further on advance d2-d4 but preventing the pin on g4. 

As expected, Mammadzada didn’t fall for 4…Nxe4?? 5.Qa4+, winning the knight, and instead played very sensibly to finish her development. The position was relatively new to both players, and they consumed a lot of time on the clock. 

After some tactical complications, Mammadzada forced the exchange of queens and isolated Dzagnidze’s d-pawn: she had a small advantage in the endgame, but it wasn’t enough to win. 

GM Kosteniuk, Alexandra vs IM Shuvalova, Polina (0.5-0.5)

In one of the most fashionable lines of the Sicilian Four Knights, and after spending nearly fifteen minutes of thinking time, Kosteniuk recovered an old idea and played 18.Kg3, in a position in which most grandmasters choose 18.Rd1. 

Unimpressed, Shuvalova took the bull by the horns and lashed out a Benko-style pawn gambit with 18…g5!? followed by 19…h6, achieving great dynamic play for the pawn. There followed twenty moves of deep manoeuvring, in which Shuvalova gradually improved her pieces while Kosteniuk tried to do something with her extra pawn.

They eventually reached a status quo: there didn’t seem to be a way to progress. So Kosteniuk sacrificed the exchange for a second pawn with 47.Rhxe4 and pressed for a win until move 95, when a draw was finally agreed. 

Text: IM Michael Rahal (Nicosia, Cyprus)

Photos: Mark Livshitz


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