Dzagnidze Wins Euro Women's Championship

Dzagnidze Wins Euro Women's Championship

| 9 | News

Nana Dzagnidze of Georgia won the 18th edition of the European individual championship for women, held April 11-22 in Riga, Latvia. IM Jovanka Houska, who participated as well, reports.

Nana Dzagnidze. | Photo courtesy EWCC2017.

"It's perfect!" seemed to be the overall participant sentiment the European Women's Championship in Riga. The central location, the hotel, the food and the playing hall, everything about this tournament was well organized. In fact everything went so well that if the chess went badly (as in my case!) the only thing you could look to blame was yourself!

However if I had to bemoan one thing it would be the inaccessibility of the tournament for the general public. No one except players and officials could enter the playing hall which, in addition to making chess seem like some secret pastime, is hardly aspirational to those interested in the game.  

Riga, with its vibrant Art Nouveau buildings, whimsical statues and beautiful Old Town, set a bewitching backdrop for the chess championship. Along with all its architectural beauty, Riga boasts a statue of the world champion Mikhail Tal—players could go and pay homage to one of our greatest chess wizards of all time.


The Magician from Riga. | Photo: Arne Hagesaether.

With a first prize of 12,000 euros and 14 all-important qualifying spots into the 2018 knockout world championship, such a prestigious tournament was always going to be fiercely contested. In fact, competing were seven former European champions (Pia Cramling, Antoaneta Stefanova, Ekaterina Atalik, Kateryna Lagno, Natalia Zhukova, Hoang Thanh Trang and Almira Skripchenko), 12 GMs, 31 IMs and 31 WGMs all gunning for international glory.

Top seeds were the Ukrainian sisters GM Anna and Mariya Muzychuk who were on the prowl for their first ever European title. Following the duo were Russian GM Kateryna Lagno, hunting for her third title and Georgian GM Nana Dzagnidze. Other strong participants were IM Nino Batsiashvili, WGM Natalija Pogonina, WGM Olga Girya, and GM Monika Socko.

Despite the absence of former champions, GMs Alexandra Kosteniuk, Valentina Gunina and 2016 European champion Anna Ushenina, this was still very much an impressive field. 

Not much air at the top:

As expected from such a tight, high-pressure event, the games were long and tense, indeed at the free day (round seven) there were four players leading the event with 5.5:7, Dzagnidze, the 18-year-old IM Alexandra Goryachkina, GM Elina Danielian and FM Daria Pustovoitova. Snapping at their heels were 15 players including the Muzychuk sisters and Lagno all trailing on 5.0 points. The leaderboard resembled the huge peloton in a cycling race, slowly inching en masse towards the finishing line. 

It was only after round 10 that the situation had clarified somewhat. Fourth-seed Dzagnidze leapfrogged the pack by defeating Socko to reach 8.0 points out of 10. A whisker away and with the better tiebreak was young Russian star Goryachkina on 7.5 points. Behind the two leaders were 11(!) players on 7.0 points, with Lagno the one able to snatch victory on account of her better tiebreak.

All this meant that all the audience could do was wait to see who would finish on the podium!

Georgian gold, Russian silver and bronze:


Dzagnidze, Galliamova and Goryachkina. | Photo courtesy EWCC2017.

Despite the anticipation and palpable nerves, round 11 proved to be a little anticlimatic with six of the seven crunch matches ending in a draw. Last-round draws for both Dzagnidze and Goryachkina meant that Dzagnidze became the first Georgian to win the European women's title with a magnificent 8.5/11 -- something the Georgian contingent was very proud of!


A Georgian selfie! | Photo courtesy EWCC2017.

Dzagnidze played very consistently throughout. Her tournament strategy? Play quiet openings leading to flexible middlegame pawn structures and dynamic piece play. When the mistakes from her opponent came and they often did, she was merciless.

Here is her crucial 10th-round victory over Socko from Poland.

In a horrible twist of fate, Dzagnidze found out the day after receiving her gold medal that while she had been fighting her greatest chess battles over the board, her father, who had been seriously ill, had died. My sincere condolences to her.

The 18-year-old Goryachkina has been making waves on the chess scene since she became a WGM at age 13. Although she started the event ranked number 14, it came as no surprise that she raced to 4.5/5 and stayed in the leader group throughout.


Rising Russian star Alexandra Goryachkina. | Photo courtesy EWCC2017.

Goryachkina thrives on dynamic and complex positions, excelling in positions where she has the initiative. In 2017 she successfully added the French defense to her repertoire and in round seven she played what can only be described as a model game for all French fans out there.

The decisive round-11 game:

The considerable amount of round-11 draws among the chasing pack in the final round meant that the former world championship contender Alisa Galliamova's victory over Alina Kashlinskaya propelled her into third place.

The 14 world championship qualifiers:

Everyone dreams of becoming world champion (or at least having a shot!), and the qualifying places available were one of the biggest draws of the event. Provisionally the following places have been allocated, although this will undoubtedly change once it is determined who has automatically qualified via rating, or from last years' qualifier. 

2017 European Women's Championship | Final Standings (Top 14)

Rk. SNo Fed Title Name Rtg Pts. TB1 TB2 TB3 Rp
1 4 GM Dzagnidze Nana 2528 8,5 0 70 75,5 2646
2 14 WGM Goryachkina Aleksandra 2452 8 0 68 73 2576
3 18 IM Galliamova Alisa 2444 8 0 61,5 66 2529
4 3 GM Lagno Kateryna 2543 7,5 0 70 76 2506
5 2 GM Muzychuk Mariya 2546 7,5 0 69 74 2547
6 9 GM Socko Monika 2462 7,5 0 68 73,5 2505
7 21 GM Danielian Elina 2437 7,5 0 68 73 2528
8 12 IM Paehtz Elisabeth 2454 7,5 0 67,5 73 2531
9 33 IM Nechaeva Marina 2395 7,5 0 67,5 71,5 2479
10 17 GM Khotenashvili Bela 2445 7,5 0 65 70 2487
11 20 GM Zhukova Natalia 2438 7,5 0 64,5 70 2520
12 7 WGM Pogonina Natalija 2478 7,5 0 64 69 2476
13 10 GM Hoang Thanh Trang 2459 7,5 0 63 68 2500
14 52 IM Gara Anita 2354 7,5 0 62,5 67 2482

(Full final standings here.)

Fire on the board!

Every generation has a trailblazer; in Riga, it was Tal who trained and infused younger players like Alexei Shirov with his tactical style. In his honor I have selected three puzzles and attacks. The last one in particular was a beautiful missed chance!

Second-seed Mariya Muzychuk was probably a little disappointed with her score; however she spotted a neat little tactic in round eight.

Puzzle two was played in round eight by the young Slovenian Laura Unuk against the German IM Marta Michna.


Laura Unuk. | Photo courtesy EWCC2017.

Can you find the killer blow?

Finally my favorite is a missed opportunity from Olga Babiy in her second-round game against champion Dzagnidze. It's a tough one but it's beautiful!

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