- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 4, 2019

For the second week in a row, we’re going to focus on the women.

Last week, we looked at the thriving culture for the women’s game in some unexpected places, including Vietnam, Malaysia and the Middle East. Today, we move to the Big Girls’ Table, where eight of the world’s strongest female grandmasters are battling it out this month for the right to challenge Chinese women’s world champ GM Ju Wenjun later this year.

With three former women’s world champs — Tan Zhongyi of China, Mariya Muzychuk of Ukraine and Alexandra Kosteniuk of Russia — this may rate as one of the strongest all-women fields in history.

GM Nana Dzagnidze, the latest in a storied line of women GMs from Georgia, drew the tournament’s first blood with a Round 2 win over GM Anna Muzychuk, Mariya’s elder sister. (Play has since heated up, with all four games in Sunday’s Round 3 producing a decisive result.)

Even without an early d2-d4 from White, Muzychuk and Dzagnidze engage in a ferocious early struggle for central control in this Sicilian. White seems to have missed a chance to up the pressure on 16. Bxc6 bxc6 17. Nb4?! (Be5! poses some difficult questions for Black) Rac1 18. Rac1 Be4 19. Bg5 c5!, and Black starts to claim the initiative.

With two strong bishops, Dzagnidze takes control after 20. dxc5 (on 20. Bxe7? cxb4 21. Bxb4 Qa4 22. Bxf8 Bxf8, the two Black bishops dominate the poorly placed White rooks) Qxc5 21. Be3 d4! 22. Bxd4 (after the game, Dzagnidze offered the cute variation 22. Na6 Qd5 23. f3? d3! 24. fxe4 dxe2 25. Rxd5 Rxc3! and wins) Bxd4 23. Qxe4 (23. Rxd4?? Qxd4 24. cxd4 Rxc1+) Bxf2+ 24. Kh1 Qe3 25. Qc2?! (better now was to trade queens and try to hold the ending) Rc5!, and the rook swings around to join an attack on the undefended White king.

The breakthrough comes on: 27. Qb3+ Kg7 28. Nxf2 (Qb7 Rh5 29. Nxf2 [29…Rxh2+ 30. Kxh2 Qh6 mate was the threat] Rxf2 30. Qc7 [to prevent 30…Qg3] Rxg2! 31. Kxg2 Qh3+ 32. Kf2 Rf5+ 33. Kg1 Rg5+ 34. Kf2 Rg2+ 35. Ke1 Qe3+ 36. Kf1 Qf2 mate) Rxg2!! 29. Qb7 (Kxg2 Rxf2+ 30. Kg1 Re2+ leads to mate) Rxh2+!, blowing open the White king’s cover.

Muzychuk’s queen is lost on 30. Kxh2 Rxf2+ 31. Qg2 h5 32. Re1 Qd2 33. Qxf2 Qxf2+, and the two White rooks still can offer no help to their cornered sovereign. White resigns after 42. Kg1 g3, facing the deadly threat of 43…Qe2 44. Rf5 Qh2+ 45. Kf1 g2+ 46. Ke2 g1=Q+ 47. Kd3 Qd4 mate.

We’re big fans of the great defensive escape, and Russian GM Valentina Gunina pulled off one worthy of Marshall in her game with compatriot GM Kateryna Lagno. In today’s diagram, White appears in dire straits after the game’s 45…Kg8-g7, down a pawn and with her pieces ill-placed and scattered.

But Gunina comes up with the inspired 46. Ra1!! Qxa1 (declining with 46…Qf7 47. Qg3 Rb6 [Qxd5? 48. Qc3+ Qe5 49. Ra7+ Kf6 50. Qc7 and wins] 48. Qc3+ Kg8 49. Ra8+ Bf8 50. Ne3 and suddenly it’s the White pieces that have all the play) 47. Qe7+ Kg8 48. Qe6+ Kf8 48. Qc8+ Ke7 50. Qc7+ Ke8 51. Qc8+ Ke7 52. Qc7+ Kf6 (the only way to keep the winning chances alive) 53. Qxd6+ Kg5 54. Qe7+ Kh5 55. g3!, and the threat of mate forces Black to concede the draw after 55…Bg5 56. Qxh7+ Bh6 57. Qe7 Bg5 58. Qh7+ Bh6 59. Qe7 Bg5 60. Qh7+. Resourceful play from White!

A. Muzychuk-Dzagnidze, FIDE Women’s Candidates Tournament, Kazan, Russia, May 2019

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 g6 4. O-O Bg7 5. c3 Nf6 6. Qe2 O-O 7. d4 d5 8. e5 Ne4 9. Rd1 cxd4 10. cxd4 f6 11. Nc3 Nxc3 12. bxc3 fxe5 13. Nxe5 Qc7 14. Nd3 Bf5 15. Bf4 Qa5 16. Bxc6 bxc6 17. Nb4 Rac8 18. Rac1 Be4 19. Bg5 c5 20. dxc5 Qxc5 21. Be3 d4 22. Bxd4 Bxd4 23. Qxe4 Bxf2+ 24. Kh1 Qe3 25. Qc2 Rc5 26. Nd3 Rg5 27. Qb3+ Kg7 28. Nxf2 Rxg2 29. Qb7 Rxh2+ 30. Kxh2 Rxf2+ 31. Qg2 h5 32. Re1 Qd2 33. Qxf2 Qxf2+ 34. Kh1 e5 35. c4 g5 36. c5 g4 37. Rf1 Qh4+ 38. Kg1 Qg3+ 39. Kh1 Qh3+ 40. Kg1 Qe3+ 41. Kh1 Qe4+ 42. Kg1 g3 White resigns.

David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by email [email protected].

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