Formerly known as Astana, Nur-Sultan is a futuristic city in the middle of the vast steppe. With an estimated population of 1,136,008, it is the second-largest city in the country, after Almaty, which had been the capital until 1997. Nowadays, it’s one of the most modern cities in Central Asia.
The event will be held at the Astana International Financial Centre (AIFC) while the players, accompanying persons and officials will stay at the Hilton Astana hotel, perched on the edge of the 2017 Exhibition Centre.
Fielding 16 of the world’s top female players, the Grand Prix will spread out between four different events (Kazakhstan, Germany, India and Poland will be the organizing countries) and each player must participate in three out of the four tournaments.
The stakes are extremely high: the top two finishers of the series will qualify directly for the 2023-2024 FIDE Women’s Candidates.
The twelve Nur-Sultan participants, with their starting numbers, are:
1. GM Aleksandra Goryachkina (2579 - FIDE)
2. GM Kateryna Lagno (2547 - FIDE)
3. IM/WGM Alina Kashlinskaya (2491 - Poland)
4. IM/WGM Bibisara Assaubayeva (2443 - Kazakhstan)
5. GM Tan Zhongyi (2525 - China)
6. WGM Dinara Wagner (2358 - Germany)
7. WGM/IM Elisabeth Paehtz (2477 - Germany)
8. WGM Zhu Jiner (2464 - China)
9. GM Zhansaya Abdumalik (2503 - Kazakhstan)
10. GM Alexandra Kosteniuk (2521 - FIDE)
11. IM/WGM Vaishali R (2449 - India)
12. IM/WGM Polina Shuvalova (2510 - FIDE)
Top Indian player GM Humpy Koneru withdrew from the first event a few weeks prior due to medical reasons and, according to regulations, has been replaced by IM Vaishali R, who also plays for India, only for this first event.
The two top seeds, Goryachkina and Lagno, playing under the FIDE flag, seem to have a slight rating edge over the rest of their colleagues, especially two-time World Junior U-20 champion Aleksandra Goryachkina. In addition to being the overall winner of the previous edition of the Women’s Grand Prix, Goryachkina is the only player of the field to have overpassed the elite 2600 rating barrier.
However, perhaps it’s too early to speculate if the lack of recent rated games may be a drag on any of them: Goryachkina, has only played 15 official classical rating games so far this year.
As for two-time European women's champion and three-times World Blitz/Rapid champion Kateryna Lagno, seeded number two, she has only played 8 official games this year.
Nonetheless, in online events Lagno did achieve success very recently. She took down the 2022 FIDE Chess.com Women's Speed Chess Championship, defeating Hou Yifan in the final round; many of the Nursultan participants also participated in this event.
With regard to the other two participants playing under the FIDE flag, Polina Shuvalova has kept herself very busy - 45 official FIDE rated games this year, including Tata Steel in January and two top-level local events in August.
Finally, former Women’s classical World Champion and current World Cup Champion Alexandra Kosteniuk has only tallied 11 classical rated games but has successfully played recently in the French Chess League and other online events.
Possibly in an even worse situation are the two Chinese players. Former 2018 Women's World Chess Champion Tan Zhongyi and 2016 U-14 World Youth Chess Champion Zhu Jiner have hardly played this year.
For several reasons, including the fact that China did not participate in the Olympiad this year, they have practically not played official classical games, although both of them have been active online and in rapid and blitz modalities.
Notwithstanding, while writing this report, I happened to notice that Zhu Jiner is currently participating in the highest category of the Chinese League in Fuling, Chongqing.
Meanwhile, some of their main opponents have been much more active. Elite players Alina Kashlinskaya, Elisabeth Paehtz, Vaishali R and Dinara Wagner all played at the Chennai Olympiad recently, notching up important top-level games. In particular, Vaishali shared the third-board individual bronze medal with her brother, elite Indian Grand Master Praggnanandhaa, R.
For the home crowd, it will be a joy to see the progress of Kazakhstan's two strongest young players, Zhansaya Abdumalik and Bibisara Assaubayeva. Born in 2000, Abdumalik is a two-time girls' World Youth Champion as well as a girls' World Junior Champion and has represented Kazakhstan at the Chess Olympiad and World Team Chess Championship.
A few years younger, Bibisara Assaubayeva, winner of several youth world and continental titles, is also the current Women's World Blitz champion. Both were part of the Olympic team that finished fifth in Chennai, where Abdumalik also won the individual bronze medal on the first board.
The first round, scheduled for next Sunday, September 18th, already features some very cool match-ups.
Goryachkina Aleksandra 2579 (FID) – Shuvalova Polina 2510 (FID)
Lagno Kateryna 2547 (FID) – Vaishali R 2449 (IND)
Kashlinskaya Alina 2491 (POL) – Kosteniuk Alexandra 2521 (FID)
Assaubayeva Bibisara 2443 (KAZ) – Abdumalik Zhansaya 2503 (KAZ)
Tan Zhongyi 2525 (CHN) – Zhu Jiner 2464 (CHN)
Wagner Dinara 2358 (GER) – Paehtz Elisabeth 2477 (GER)
PRIZE FUND AND GP PLAYER ALLOCATION
The total prize fund for each leg will be €80,000, with another €80,000 being distributed among the top 8 finishers in the global Women’s Grand Prix Series standings, according to the cumulative points they score across the four events.
Players tournament allocation (IM Vaishali R replaces GM Humpy Koneru):
Text: IM Michael Rahal, FIDE Press Officer, Nur-Sultan