Goryachkina Wins Women's Candidates' With 2 Rounds To Spare
Aleksandra Goryachkina is interviewed after securing victory in Kazan. | Photo: FIDE.

Goryachkina Wins Women's Candidates' With 2 Rounds To Spare

JovankaHouska
IM JovankaHouska
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34 | Chess.com News

Aleksandra Goryachkina of Russia, the youngest participant in the field, has secured victory at the FIDE women's candidates' tournament in Kazan, Russia. The 20-year-old GM has a 2.5-point lead over Anna Muzychuk (Ukraine) with two rounds to go.

"She came, she saw and she conquered," accurately describes Goryachkina's performance at the women's candidates. Her magnificent score of 9 points out of 12 has not only netted her a 50,000-euro first prize (with two whole rounds to spare), but more importantly she can now challenge the crown of Women's World Champion Ju Wenjun. How will the champion celebrate on the free day? With some ice cream, of course! 

Goryachkina wins FIDE Women's Candidates 2019
Goryachkina definitely has a "winning stare" as well. | Photo: FIDE.

There is a rather beautiful tale about Mariya Muzychuk's world championship victory in Sochi 2015. In the story, touching on the theme of destiny and chess, a man approaches Muzychuk and tells her that his father has dreamed that she will win the women's world knockout championship. Despite receiving this lucky omen, Muzychuk lost her first game but, as predicted, won the championship. Sometimes things are just meant to be.

So why this story about chess and fate? Well, tournament leader Goryachkina's path to the candidates had had its fair share of circumstance. Not only was the 20-year-old from Orsk, Russia, the youngest competitor in the tournament, but as first reserve, she had qualified only because former women's world champion Hou Yifan had turned down her invitation.

See our preview article for Hou Yifan's comments to Chess.com on this topic.

Yet after nine rounds, this supposed underdog morphed into a juggernaut, establishing an overwhelming 2.5-point advantage over her closest rivals. The only question was: Could Goryachkina finish with the solid performance she desperately needed?

Round 10: Safety first

  • Kosteniuk, Alexandra - Gunina, Valentina 1-0
  • Lagno, Kateryna - Goryachkina, Aleksandra ½-½
  • Muzychuk, Anna - Tan, Zhongyi ½-½
  • Muzychuk, Mariya - Dzagnidze, Nana ½-½

A running joke is that two tournaments have been running concurrently: a tournament for Goryachkina and one for everyone else. If the two tournaments were to merge, Goryachkina's closest rival and compatriot Kateryna Lagno would need to pull out all the stops and defeat Goryachkina in their round-10 encounter.

It, therefore, came as no surprise that Goryachkina opted for the solid Caro-Kann as her opening weapon to blunt Lagno's dynamic play. While Lagno did manage to put her rival under some unpleasant pressure, her play was never accurate enough to faze the rock-solid play of her opponent.

Lagno (in pink) looks on as Goryachkina figures out why Lagno wants to keep her pawn on h4. | Photo: FIDE.
Lagno (in pink) looks on as Goryachkina figures out why Lagno wants to keep her pawn on h4. | Photo: FIDE.

In other results, both Muzychuk sisters were held to a draw, against Tan Zhongyi and Nana Dzagnidze respectively. While Anna called her own game boring, the same could absolutely not be said of the fight between Mariya and Dzagnidze. After a theoretical tussle in the Rossolimo, the former world champion soon found herself in the following promising position. 

Big fight here! Muzychuk and Dzagnidze face off in the trendy Rossolimo variation. | Photo: FIDE.
Big fight here! Muzychuk and Dzagnidze face off in the trendy Rossolimo variation. | Photo: FIDE.

The only decisive game of the round was between compatriots Alexandra Kosteniuk and Valentina Gunina. Kosteniuk's risky opening choices were well-rewarded after Gunina made some huge inaccuracies.

The tournament is too long! A dejected Gunina gives an interview after her loss to Kosteniuk. | Photo: FIDE.
The tournament is too long! A dejected Gunina gives an interview after her loss to Kosteniuk. | Photo: FIDE.

ROUND 11: Two perfect draws, a surprise ambush and a 106-move marathon

  • Goryachkina, Aleksandra - Muzychuk, Anna ½-½
  • Gunina, Valentina - Dzagnidze, Nana 1-0
  • Lagno, Kateryna - Muzychuk, Mariya ½-½
  • Tan, Zhongyi - Kosteniuk, Alexandra 1-0

The saying, "If you're young and talented, it's like you have wings," is certainly true for tournament leader Goryachkina, who breezed through the round with an effortless draw against Anna Muzychuk. Don't be fooled by the picture below; no blood was spilled.

This draw nudged Goryachkina even closer to the important tournament victory. It was also a "perfect" game for Mariya Muzychuk and Lagno as they harmoniously split the point in a Sicilian Sveshnikov.

A handshake that means business... and a solid draw. Goryachkina (with the white pieces) plays it slow and steady against Anna Muzychuk. | Photo: FIDE.
A handshake that means business... and a solid draw. Goryachkina (with the white pieces) plays it slow and steady against Anna Muzychuk. | Photo: FIDE.

It was sad news for Kosteniuk as her hope of making a late comeback was dashed to the ground. After blundering everything on move 14, her opponent Tan managed to whip up a whirlwind attack. Its execution was particularly picturesque.

With 20.Be8!! Tan won a fantastic attacking game against Kosteniuk. | Photo: FIDE.
With 20.Be8!! Tan won a fantastic attacking game against Kosteniuk. | Photo: FIDE.

In turn, Gunina was the recipient of a healthy dose of luck when her opponent Dzagnidze failed to find the correct continuation to her beautiful play. In a 106-move marathon, a tired Dzagnidze first squandered her chances of victory and then later even failed to hold the draw.

Dzagnidze with the black pieces played some beautiful chess against Gunina but failed to find the killer blow. | Photo: FIDE.
Dzagnidze with the black pieces played some beautiful chess against Gunina but failed to find the killer blow. | Photo: FIDE.

Round 12: We have a winner!

  • Dzagnidze, Nana - Kosteniuk, Alexandra 1-0
  • Muzychuk, Anna - Lagno, Kateryna 1-0
  • Muzychuk, Mariya - Gunina, Valentina 0-1
  • Tan, Zhongyi - Goryachkina, Aleksandra ½-½

As has become traditional, the most dramatic chess was played before the free day. The biggest question burning everyone's mind was whether tournament leader Goryachkina could get the required half point to win the tournament with two rounds to spare.

Her opponent, former women's world champion Tan, certainly wasn't in an accommodating, peaceful mood as both sides chose one of the sharpest variations in the Advance Caro-Kann.

For a while the prognosis looked dire for the Russian. As we have learned, not only is Goryachkina a very calm and classical player, she is also extremely resourceful, and that skill enabled her to find a save many would have overlooked. A standing ovation for the champion!

Tan, playing white, nearly managed to stop Goryachkina in her tracks. | Photo: FIDE.
Tan, playing as White, nearly managed to stop Goryachkina in her tracks. | Photo: FIDE.

The first game to a finish was Anna Muzychuk's crushing victory over Lagno. In a bid to unsettle Muzychuk, Lagno picked the risky Schliemann variation in the Ruy Lopez. Unfortunately for Lagno, this backfired spectacularly as Muzychuk had concocted a dangerous surprise of her own. In Lagno's rueful words, "The game started and then ended."

Tip: Don't play the Schliemann/Jaenisch variation against Anna Muzychuk. | Photo: FIDE.
Tip: Don't play the Schliemann/Jaenisch variation against Anna Muzychuk. | Photo: FIDE.

Dzagnidze had probably been the "unluckiest" player of the tournament, squandering favorable and even winning positions. In her game against Kosteniuk, the Georgian number one obtained a comfortable edge against a hedgehog opening. However, a tactical oversight forced Dzagnidze to find an excellent exchange sacrifice and reach the serendipitous ending.

Dzagnidze Kosteniuk FIDE Women's Candidates 2019
Dzagnidze vs. Kosteniuk. | Photo: FIDE.

Because Mariya Muzychuk and Gunina are known to be dynamic players, their encounter was expected to be extremely tense. In time trouble, Muzychuk missed some things, and she will be kicking herself for not inviting her rook on e1 to the kingside party.

The smile that says... she got away with it. Gunina escapes some hair-raising moments to claw her way to 5.5/12. | Photo: FIDE.
The smile that says... she got away with it. Gunina escapes some hair-raising moments to claw her way to 5.5/12. | Photo: FIDE.

Even though the first place has been decided, for the rest of the field the final two rounds will be absolutely critical in determining who will walk away with second place, netting a princely sum of 40,000 euros.

Ukrainian Anna Muzychuk is the only other player on a positive score of 6.5/12. However, the competition is tight, and Muzychuk is nurturing only a narrow half-point lead over Lagno. On 5.5 points we have four players—Gunina, Dzagnidze, Mariya Muzychuk and Tan—while Kosteniuk will need to come back with two victories to escape bottom place. Play resumes on Sunday, and there is everything to play for.

FIDE Women's Candidates' Tournament | Round 12 Standings

# Fed Name Rtg Perf 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Pts SB
1 Goryachkina,Aleksandra 2522 2723 ½½ ½ 1 11 ½1 9.0/12
2 Muzychuk,Anna 2539 2560 ½½ ½1 ½½ 01 1 ½ 6.5/12
3 Lagno,Kateryna 2554 2532 ½0 1 ½ ½½ ½½ 6.0/12
4 Muzychuk,Mariya 2563 2497 ½ ½½ ½1 ½0 1 5.5/12 32.25
5 Tan,Zhongyi 2513 2506 0 ½0 ½1 0 ½1 5.5/12 32
6 Dzagnidze,Nana 2510 2506 0 10 ½ ½0 10 01 5.5/12 30.5
7 Gunina,Valentina 2506 2507 00 0 ½½ ½1 1 01 10 5.5/12 29.75
8 Kosteniuk,Alexandra 2546 2438 ½0 ½ ½½ 0 ½0 10 01 4.5/12

The playing days in Kazan are May 31–June 2, 4-6, 8-10, 12-14, and 16-17. Tie-breaks (if needed) and the closing ceremony will take place on June 18.

The women's candidates' tournament has a record prize fund of 200,000 euros with a first prize of 50,000 euros. The winner will become Ju Wenjun's challenger, with half a million euros at stake in the title match.

The tournament venue is Nogai Hotel in Kazan, Russia. The rounds start at 3 p.m. local time, which is 14:00 CEST, 8 a.m. Eastern, 5 a.m. Pacific.

You can watch the games of the women's candidates' tournament here as part of our live portal. The official website is here.


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