News / New Delhi

Cyprus WGP: Missed opportunities

IM Michael Rahal (Nicosia, Cyprus)
Photo:Mark Livshitz
May 23rd, 2023

The seventh round of the Cyprus Women’s Grand Prix ended with a huge surprise: WGM Dinara Wagner, the lowest rating of the field, leads the event with four rounds to go, and on track for her second IM norm and, who knows, even a GM norm.

In addition to the surprise leader, the key element of the day were several missed opportunities. Both Tan Zhongyi and Gunay Mammadzada won their opponent’s queen for rook and a minor piece but were unable to convert.

The ceremonial first move was played by Christiana Erotokritou, Member of the Cyprus Parliament for the Democratic Party and Chair of the Budget and Finance Committee.

After the round had begun, Christiana was kind enough to talk to us: "My heart feels support for women who want to push themselves, to push their brains and their minds, to take their efforts to the next level. And whatever inspires your mind to move quicker, faster, better, more cleverly, — I think that is something women should be inspired by. And that’s why I’m here." Christiana’s on is passionate about the game, and her choice of move – 1.e4 – was based on his suggestion.

IM Shuvalova, Polina vs GM Dronavalli, Harika (0,5-0,5)

The first game to finish ended in a draw by perpetual check. Shuvalova went for a well-known line in the Rubinstein variation of the Four Knights Opening, which leads to a forced draw with perfect play.

The key move, which Black must know beforehand, is 14…Qh4!

Any other move allows White to consolidate the position and convert the extra material. I found several Grandmaster games with the same continuation, among them Vasilevich vs Lagno. Once again Shuvalova finished the game with more time on her clock than at the beginning.

GM Kosteniuk, Alexandra vs IM Assaubayeva, Bibisara (0-1)

Bibisara Assaubayeva scored her first win of the tournament against Alexandra Kosteniuk. They had faced each other many times, but only twice in classical chess, with one victory each.

Their most recent game finished in a win for Assaubayeva with Black, in the Astana leg of the WGP. Funnily enough, most of their games have been Sicilian defences in which Kosteniuk had the white pieces.

“I don't know why, but I always play with Alexandra Kosteniuk with Black but the results in our games are different. Today I was more prepared in the opening and that's it" she explained to Press Officer Michael Rahal after the game.

In today’s game, Assaubayeva went for 2…Nc6 and Kosteniuk once again played the Rossolimo Attack, one of her main weapons in Cyprus. It’s hard to say if Kosteniuk mixed up her move order or just wanted to get out of the book as soon as possible – in any case after eight minutes of thought she opted for 8.Na3 instead of the most theoretical 8.Bf4. However, there is an important difference: the bishop can’t get to d6 and therefore there is less compensation for the sacrificed pawn.

Assaubayeva played very well, nullifying her opponent’s initiative and consolidating her extra pawn plus the two bishops. On move twenty, the engine was already suggesting +4 advantages for Black, and Assaubayeva wrapped up the game with ease.

After the game, she was kind enough to spend some time with us discussing the encounter and her tournament up to now.

IM Mammadzada, Gunay vs GM Goryachkina, Aleksandra (0,5-0,5)

Mammadzada and Goryachkina are from the same generation. They played several times in the Under-10 and Under-12 European and World Girls Championships and subsequently in quite a few events, with Goryachkina generally taking the upper hand.

But today Mammadzada was in top form. In an equal position after a theoretical Slav defence, Goryachkina overextended with 20…e5, allowing Mammadzada’s knights to create havoc. However, the real damage was done after the blunder 27…Qc7

Any other queen move would have allowed Goryachkina to hold a worse but not lost position, but the c7 square was unfortunate – Mammadzada’s 29.Qc5! highlighted the threats to the a7 and b4 pawns but, more importantly, Ne7+ winning the queen, a combination that was unavoidable and occurred in the game.

However, Goryachkina is a tough nut to crack. She defended with rook and knight very well and although Mammadzada played well enough to create the imbalance needed to convert, was unable to seal the deal.

IM Kiolbasa, Oliwia vs GM Dzagnidze, Nana (0-1)

Nana Dzagnidze won her second game in Cyprus this afternoon by defeating Oliwia Kiolbasa in a fine game. As expected, Dzagnidze went for the Taimanov Sicilian and Kiolbasa prepared an interesting side-line, with 7.a3 followed by the aggressive push 10.h4 and 11.h5. After the game, Dzagnidze mentioned that Kiolbasa had already played this line and that she came well prepared.

Nonetheless, Dzagnidze is a very experimented grandmaster, with a huge baggage of classical games behind her. After some thought, she came up with a very principled way to continue, winning a pawn for dubious compensation.

Kiolbasa was still able to complicate matters and fight back in an open position with opposite-coloured bishops, but Dzagnidze kept her cool and reeled in the point.

When asked about how she forgets a bad game and prepares for the next one, Dzagnidze was very professional: “When you play such a tournament you are obliged to forget about the previous game and concentrate on what you have now. And if you are a professional chess player, you need to do your best in every single game".

For Kiolbasa, there just doesn’t seem to be any light at the end of the tunnel. After her fourth loss in a row, and six out of the seven games, it will require a mighty effort for her to stand up to the pressure and carry on for the last four games.

GM Lagno, Kateryna vs WGM Wagner, Dinara (0-1)

The clash between the leader promised to be interesting. In their only previous game together, Lagno defeated Wagner in Astana, in the first leg of the WGP series.

In this afternoon’s game, Lagno opted for the Rossolimo Attack against the Sicilian: Kosteniuk already played this line against Wagner in the fifth round.

On moves sixteen to eighteen, both players repeated the position, but ultimately Lagno decided to change her move and fight on, even though the position was dynamically balanced.

The decision proved to be correct. A few moves later, Wagner made an unforced blunder, choosing 30…Bd6 instead of the safer 30…Nc4. After a forced sequence, Lagno found the strong thrust 34.e5! opening a very important diagonal for her light-squared bishop and creating immense attacking chances on the kingside.

“I still can’t believe that I won this game because at some moment it felt really dangerous for me and with Black, I’m usually happy with a draw" Wagner explained in her post-game interview.

But fate struck hard on move forty, the last move before thirty extra minutes are added on.

Instead of 40.Kh1 e4 41.Qh3 Qxg5 42.Ng6+! Rxg6 43.Bxg6+ Qh6 44.Qxh6 gxh6 and 45.b3! with an extra exchange, Lagno played the losing 40.Be3? and after 40…Nxe3 41.Rxe3 e4 she was losing heavy material and had to resign.

GM Tan, Zhongyi vs GM Khotenashvili, Bella vs (0’5-0,5)

Tan Zhongyi missed a huge opportunity to lead the tournament this afternoon. After playing a fantastic game, she let the game slip from her hands at the last moment. Khotenashvili will be very happy to have secured a draw, but it stands to see if she can bring back her A-game for the final rounds.

It seemed to me that Tan Zhongyi caught Khotenashvili unaware in one of the many anti-Grunfeld side-lines. Already on move fifteen, White’s massive centre pawn chain was dominating the board and a direct attack on Black’s kingside seemed unavoidable.

Employing simple chess, Tan Zhongyi increased her advantage, combined with huge time trouble for her opponent.

On move thirty-four, with many options to win, Tan Zhongyi went for her opponent’s queen with 34.Bd7, allowing a queen sacrifice that permitted Khotenashvili to set up a fortress on the light squares. Although according to the engines she was still winning, she started to face serious counterplay and, before things got out of hand, decided to force the issue with a perpetual check.

Standings after Round 7

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