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Anyone’s Tournament: Leader And Top Seed Both Fall
Mammadzada dismantled the leader without hesitation. Photo: Mark Livshitz/FIDE.

Anyone’s Tournament: Leader And Top Seed Both Fall

NM_Vanessa
| 11 | Chess Event Coverage

In round nine of the Nicosia FIDE Women's Grand Prix 2022-2023, the competitors threw the fate of the tournament into uncertainty. IM Gunay Mammadzada defeated the leader, WGM Dinara Wagner, while GM Bella Khotenashvili scored her first victory with convincing confidence over the top seed, GM Aleksandra Goryachkina.

With Wagner's defeat, three players are tied for first: Wagner along with GMs Tan Zhongyi and Harika Dronavalli. In addition, much of the field is now within striking distance just half a point or a point away. And two of the leaders will face each other in the very next round: Wagner and Tan. 

The FIDE Women's Grand Prix continues with round 10 on Friday, May 26, starting at 5:00 a.m. Pacific/14:00 CEST.

How to watch?
You can watch live games of the FIDE Women's Grand Prix on our Events Page. The rounds start each day at 5:00 a.m. Pacific/14:00 CEST.

Mammadzada vs. Wagner

Mammadzada's victory against the tournament leader is an incredible example of how to turn a small edge into a winning finish by creating more weaknesses and limiting an opponent's pieces. In a Sicilian that transposed into a French-like structure with a locked center, Wagner offered an early trade of queens, which allowed Mammadzada to create doubled isolated b-pawns in Black's camp.

As the game traded into an ending, the Azerbaijani international master grew her advantage by targeting another weak point in her opponent's position.

Defensive Technique Puzzle: Mammadzada has just set in motion a plan to win Black's h4-pawn, starting with Be1 and then moving her king off the e1-h4 diagonal. Black has a way to save that pawn. Can you find what Wagner overlooked?

Once she was a pawn ahead, Mammadzada displayed masterful endgame technique. Despite being in a notoriously drawish opposite-color bishop ending, she induced weaknesses and cut off her opponent's king with great precision. Eventually she created an outside passer and while Black's king was tied down to prevent promotion, her king was free to pick apart the rest of her opponent's position. 

Mammadzada shared about her upcoming participation in the Cairns Cup next month: "It'll be my first time [in the U.S.], and I expect to show the best games. I'm looking forward to playing. [...] St. Louis is Chess City, so I'm looking forward to be there and see chess sights."

Shuvalova vs. Dzagnidze

IM Polina Shuvalova vs. GM Nana Dzagnidze was a fascinating battle of ideas in the Caro-Kann Defense. With white, Shuvalova aimed to create a weakness in Black's queenside structure with an early knight maneuver from f3-e1-d3. In response to White's slower play, Dzagnidze seized the opportunity strike in the center with 13...c5!? 

The center soon exploded with tactics from each of these dynamic players. Dzagnidze won a pawn, using a pin down the d-file, while Shuvalova countered with a discovered attack on the very same file. With a key desperado tactic, the Georgian grandmaster solidified her material edge. Can you find it?

Although Dzagnidze had an extra pawn, Shuvalova's energetic play kept her opponent's scattered pieces preoccupied, and the 36-year-old competitor decided to opt for a peaceful result. 

Khotenashvili vs. Goryachkina

Khotenashvili's win vs. Goryachkina is a remarkable lesson in fearless pawn grubbing. The top seed offered her opponent a free pawn on the often-poisoned square of b7, and Khotenashvili called her bluff and dove into Black's camp to capture it. As Goryachkina launched operations to surround the black queen, the Georgian grandmaster countered by sending much of her army deep into the black queenside to support her stranded empress. With an insightful tactical combination, Khotenashvili freed her queen, escaping a clear passed pawn ahead. 

Ever the fighter, Goryachkina fought back, reaching a tense queen and bishop vs. queen and knight ending. Though still behind a pawn, the world number-two could pester the white king, which lacked enough stable pawn cover. From here, Khotenashvili had to win the game all over again, but she was up for the challenge. She created weak points in Black's kingside and a passed d-pawn. 

As she pressed forward with her knight and queen, she also brought her king into the center where her strongest pieces could help shelter it. Carefully weaving her king out of the black queen's harmful stares, Khotenashvili gradually pushed her passer until Goryachkina was limited to passive defense and White's threats couldn't be stopped. 

This hard-fought victory is our Game of the Day with annotations by GM Rafael Leitao.


After the game, Khotenashvili shared her thoughts: "It was a really tough game. After Bg4, I decided to take on b7, and probably her plan was not really good. I was slightly better after all the complicated variations. With my time trouble, I was afraid not to blunder anyway, but after that, I had a solid advantage, so it was just a matter of time, I think."

Tan vs. Harika

This duel between the two players who were tied for second was very evenly matched. With the white pieces, Tan gained a space advantage. As the center opened up and exchanges took place, the 16th women's world champion took over the open d-file and brought her rook to the seventh. Harika defended actively, watchful of her opponent's ideas while creating counterplay. 

In the level rook ending, Tan continued to test her opponent, advancing her king to create tricky kingside threats while leaving her last queenside pawn hanging. Yet, Harika's mindful play with her active rook held off Tan's ideas, maintaining the balance.

Two potent rivals, both undefeated and in the running for first, face off. Photo: Mark Livshitz/FIDE.

Kiolbasa vs. Assaubayeva

IM Oliwia Kiolbasa and IM Bibisara Assaubayeva ventured into a Sharp Sicilian Najdorf with the kings castled to opposite sides. Kiolbasa launched forward on the kingside with an early g4 while her opponent held back White's onslaught by setting up a defense on the dark squares. Soon, Assaubayeva began to stir up her own play on the queenside with a b5-b4 advance. In the middle of this complicated struggle, with an enterprising exchange sacrifice on tap, Assaubayeva offered a draw. Kiolbasa―characteristically down to three minutes for the remaining 10 moves until time control―accepted. Much like Fitzgerald's unfinished last novel, the story is cut off halfway through. 

Assaubayeva seems to share a common chess player superstition: She's worn the same green and blue shirt to her games since she started winning in round seven. Did she offer a draw so she can finally change her attire? Photo: Mark Livshitz/FIDE.

Lagno vs. Kosteniuk

GM Kateryna Lagno and GM Alexandra Kosteniuk drew in the opening, beginning a three-time repetition on move 10. In consideration of this event alone, it's puzzling why Lagno would play for so little with the white pieces.

The draw is likely aimed more at Grand Prix points. Currently in fifth place, Lagno would gain 80 points if the tournament ended on Thursday. In contrast, her main competitors—Goryachkina and Kosteniuk—would gain much less as they are in ninth and 10th places respectively. Since the Ukrainian grandmaster leads the qualification race comfortably, she didn't want to take any unnecessary risks in her head-to-head against one of her prime rivals. 

If Lagno continues to perform solidly, Goryachkina and Kosteniuk will have to pass GM Zhu Jiner (the Grand Prix leader before this tournament) to stay in contention, meaning Kosteniuk must finish at least seventh and Goryachkina at least eighth.

Results - Round 9

White Black
Kiolbasa 1/2 - 1/2 Assaubayeva
Lagno 1/2 - 1/2 Kosteniuk
Shuvalova 1/2 - 1/2 Dzagnidze
Mammadzada 1 - 0  Wagner
Tan 1/2 - 1/2 Harika
Khotenashvili 1 - 0 Goryachkina

Standings - Round 9

Two of the leaders will face off in the penultimate round. Wagner has the white pieces vs. Tan. While they battle each other, Harika, the third leader, has her chance to edge ahead with white vs. Khotenashvili.

Pairings - Round 10

White Black
Assaubayeva  -  Goryachkina
Harika  -  Khotenashvili
Wagner  -  Tan
Dzagnidze  -  Mammadzada
Kosteniuk - Shuvalova
Kiolbasa - Lagno

All Games - Round 9


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NM_Vanessa
NM Vanessa West

Vanessa West is a National Master, a chess teacher, and a writer for Chess.com. In 2017, they won the Chess Journalist of the Year award.

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