“Avoid euphoria: draw after a loss, also draw after a win” —Tigran Petrosian
After decisive outcomes in Games 8 and 9, with just three games left in the match, what could we expect to see today? Despite a heartbreaking loss in Game 9, should we still consider Aleksandra Goryachkina to be the favorite? After all, she had two games left with White, compared to Ju Wenjun's one. Would the Russian player's lack of experience in such high profile matches become a factor? Will Goryachkina attempt to take back what she felt was hers in the previous game?
Oleg Gumenyuk, mayor of Vladivostok, and Alexander Verkhovsky, Chairperson of the Board of directors of the main sponsor Gidrostroy (the Vladivostok leg of the match), made the first symbolic moves in Game 10.
The game began in an auspicious manner for Goryachkina, as the opponents mirrored Ganguly – L'Ami encounter that was played just yesterday at Wijk aan Zee. Goryachkina's (playing White) first opportunity to question Ju's preparation came on move 21. She could have opted for a natural Re5!, forcing Black to react with 22...f6, weakening the bishop on g6, and setting up dangerous play along the g-file for her rook. Instead, Goryachkina played a more pedestrian 21. Re3. It looked all but certain that the game was heading for a short draw, with players struggling to find sensible moves to reach the required 40-move minimum.
What happened to Goryachkina next had more to do with sports psychology than with chess itself. Starting around move 25, the game was a dead draw—a result she could have forced at any point all through the first time control. Instead, she made moves like 26. b5 and 38. Bd5, probing for an advantage that was simply not there.
Aleksandra did not appear to realize that she needed to be more careful and the position was not as one-sided in her previous games with White. At the press conference, Goryachkina admitted that she “blundered” 42...Be6 that in itself is still fine for White, but while chess engines continued to show zeros, the position suddenly became unpleasant to defend, especially against such a fine technical player as is Ju. By move 50, Goryachkina had to be extremely precise, something she was not able to keep up with in the approaching time trouble. Aleksandra collapsed with 53. Kb4?? whereas any other retreat left her some chances for a draw. Ju won and now is one point away from retaining her title.
Was it Goryachkina's lack of match experience? Was it Aleksandra's well-documented stubbornness that her coaching team couldn't overcome? Tomorrow's day off could not have come sooner for the challenger. Does she have it in her to get herself together and pull out a miracle come back in the last two rounds? We will find out this week.
Tomorrow, Tuesday, is a rest day. Play will be resumed on Wednesday 22. The 11th game will begin at 15:30 local time.
Official website: https://wwcm2020.fide.com
Text: Michael Friedman
Photos: Eteri Kublashvili
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