Harika Delivers With Black, Joins Leaders
Dronavalli picked up her second win to move to 3.5/5. Photo: Mark Livshitz/FIDE.

Harika Delivers With Black, Joins Leaders

| 14 | Chess Event Coverage

GM Harika Dronavalli was the sole winner on Saturday in the fifth round of the Nicosia FIDE Women's Grand Prix 2022-2023, defeating IM Oliwia Kiolbasa with Black in 45 moves. Harika's victory was comprehensive and it allowed her to join GM Kateryna Lagno and GM Tan Zhongyi on 3.5/5 in shared first.

After draws transpired on the other five boards, the standings remain compact, with WGM Dinara Wagner, IM Polina Shuvalova, and GM Aleksandra Goryachkina trailing the lead by half a point on 3/5. Goryachkina had small chances to repeat her heroics of the last two rounds, this time against Lagno, but missed the moment to enter a rook endgame with an edge.

The fourth leg of the FIDE Women's Grand Prix will continue with round six on Sunday, May 21, 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.

Lagno vs. Goryachkina

Circled as the most interesting matchup of the day, Goryachkina looked to complete a hat trick of wins after a disappointing first-round loss at the hands of Wagner. Lagno, who began the round with a +2 score, found herself defending against Black's powerful bishop pair following an exchange sacrifice that procured a passed pawn for Goryachkina. 

Fighting for first place. As the players near halfway, every half-point is crucial. Photo: Mark Livshitz/FIDE.

At the crucial moment, Goryachkina let Lagno off the hook, playing 22.Bf3? instead of trading off a pair of bishops. Though optimal play wouldn't have given her a decisive advantage, it would have given her the ability to race her king forward while Lagno's rooks remained paralyzed.

Mammadzada vs. Tan

Tan's performance in round five was close to perfect, and with the black pieces she weathered IM Gunay Mammadzada's early ambitions and stopped White from castling, a rare occurrence in the Catalan Opening. The diversion from theory on move 11 suited Tan and, as the game developed, it was Mammadzada who had to prove her position was holdable.

Mammadzada found the strength to hold former women's world champion Tan to a draw. Photo: Mark Livshitz/FIDE.

Following losses to Lagno and Shuvalova, there remained a question mark around Mammadzada's defensive resilience, but on Saturday she was up to the task, finding a tactical resource to exchange into a drawn rook and pawn endgame.

Tan's Computer Aggregated Precision Score (otherwise known as CAPS) was over 99% for the game, which is impressive factoring in that the players executed 36 moves each after leaving known theory.

Kosteniuk vs. Wagner

In the second leg of the FIDE Women's Grand Prix, GM Alexandra Kosteniuk scored a fine win over Wagner with the Canal Attack against the German WGM's Sicilian Defense, and in round five, the German WGM made the brave decision to try her luck once more in the double-edged opening.

6.h4 on the board! Kosteniuk reveals her intention to play for a win. Photo: Mark Livshitz/FIDE.

An early h2-h4 push was on the cards for Kosteniuk on Saturday as she hoped to double down on her winning run against Wagner. The gamble did pay off for the now-Swiss representative, and after a mistake by Black, she was able to leave her opponent's pawn structure in tatters. After a "complicated start" to the tournament, the imbalance was welcomed by Kosteniuk.

Three isolated pawns and one set of doubled pawns remind one of Aron Nimzowitsch's famous quip: "The isolated pawn casts gloom over the entire chess board," but Wagner expertly deflected Kosteniuk's advances and infiltrated her opponent's queenside. Content with a draw, Wagner offered a truce on move 31 from a position of strength and was granted her wish.

Kiolbasa vs. Harika

The highlight of the day was Harika's dominant victory over Kiolbasa, who struggled to deal with the Indian grandmaster's f-file onslaught. Kiolbasa's queenside pawn breaks were simply too slow in round five and she was left rueing in her decision to waste precious tempi on knight maneuvers that gave her Indian opponent time to swing her rooks to the kingside.

One thing working in Kiolbasa's favor was the fact that both player's time had slipped to below 10 minutes each after a complex middlegame, and Harika very nearly slipped up, by her own admission, when she played 30...Rff4?. 

Despite her sizeable advantage, the position was still tricky to convert for Harika under time pressure. Photo: Mark Livshitz/FIDE.

After White's response, 31.g3?, Harika was forced to give up an exchange with time dwindling but maintained sufficient kingside pressure to put the game to bed. The single decisive game was the Game of the Day and has been analyzed by GM Rafael Leitao below.

Harika said about the game: "I think it was actually pretty easy, from the opening, I got a good position. But then I complicated it a bit, during the time trouble I was like, overthinking and there were so many good ways, I was confused which one to take."

Shuvalova vs. Khotenashvili

Having started the event with a loss to Lagno, Shuvalova has moved from strength to strength as the tournament has progressed and did what she could to put pressure on GM Bela Khotenashvili's Gruenfeld Defense: Burille Variation in round five. 

The first test for Khotenashvili came when Shuvalova played the novelty 16.h4. For reference, the Grunfeld Defense is so theory-heavy that even a move-16 novelty is of interest to exponents of the opening. Perhaps taking inspiration from her countryman GM Alexander Grischuk who popularized 3.h4!? against the setup, Shuvalova clamped down on Khotenashvili's kingside and burst through the center with an isolated queen pawn break on d6.

Shuvalova put significant pressure on Khotenashvili's Gruenfeld. Photo: Mark Livshitz/FIDE.

Desperately trying to hold on, Khotenashvili offered a last-ditch queen trade which was accepted and, suddenly, the position was holdable once more. Shuvalova would later find that she had missed two opportunities, one tactical and one positional, to grow her advantage.

Dzagnidze vs. Assaubayeva

GM Nana Dzagnidze and IM Bibisara Assaubayeva played the lengthiest game of the day which stretched out to 91 moves and ended in a draw. Although Dzagnidze's kingside assault left the engine flicking between a winning and drawing position, the Georgian GM has little time on her clock to finish off a staunch Assaubayeva.

Eventually, the players exchanged into a queen and pawn vs. queen ending where Dzagnidze's king had nowhere to hide from the prying checks of Assaubayeva and she eventually allowed the Kazakhstani IM to trade until only the kings remained. 

Results - Round 5

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

Standings - Round 5

Looking to round six, the pairing that stands out is the clash between co-leaders Harika and Lagno. Having played most of the form players of the event in the first half, a draw for Lagno will make the road home far easier and she can be bullish about her chances of winning the tournament. Meanwhile, Harika has an opportunity to take the sole lead if she finds a way to win, pending the result between compatriots Goryachkina and Shuvalova.

Pairings - Round 6

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

The FIDE Women's Grand Prix Fourth Leg takes place May 15-28, 2023, in Nicosia, Cyprus. The format is a round-robin tournament with 12 players. The time control is 90 minutes for the first 40 moves, followed by 30 minutes for the rest of the game, plus a 30-second increment starting on move one.

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