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Warming up
2A promising start of the tournament, with all the games ending only after the complete exhaustion of resources. White won three games and Black held a draw in the remaining three, a good percentage of decisive games and great fights for our eyes, too. Perhaps the players just started to warm up, as missed opportunities were hovering in the air, making the tournament, the game of chess and, on a larger scale, women chess – an exciting but also a hair-rising competition.

The two big rating favorites Hou Yifan and Humpy Koneru made their first steps ahead by defeating Muminova and Stefanova, respectively. The local heroes, Nana Dzagnidze and Bella Khotenashvili took home half points but, if Bella could be happy about it, Nana is probably not thinking the same. As Bella shared with us during the press conference, playing at home (this is the region she was born and lived) is not an easy affair, she feels the pressure of performing well on her grounds. The same was for Nana before, when she played in the European Individual women championship, in 2011. The experience she got there helps her now to leave this type of stress aside and play one game at a time.

Ju Wenjun maintained some light pressure from the opening until deep in the ending, in a relatively peaceful position. Her opponent, Elina Danielian, kept kicking even after her position deteriorated but her defensive efforts were not enough to get Ju out of the winning track.
A thematic pawn sacrifice yielded White strong initiative in Harika-Muzychuk. Eventually, the game entered a rook ending with some extra pawns for White, but... all the rook endgames are drawn, aren't they?

Hou Yifan - Nafisa Muminova 1-0

Hou Yifan decided to meet Nafisa Muminova's Berlin Defence with the quiet 4.d3. But quiet is surely not the word to describe how this game developed...

52Hou Yifan estimating whether she got the upper hand or not

62Perhaps Nafisa was thinking the same...

Nafisa directed her pieces towards her opponent's king in order to play for mate and it could have worked wonders had she continued in the same powerful style. The combatants reached the critical moment on move 16:


Here Nafisa played 16...Nxh3+ 17.gxh3 but, since 17...Bxf3 loses a piece after 18.Qf4! Bh5 19.Qf5+, which she told us during the press conference that she missed, the Uzbek player had to come up with an alternative: 
17...Bxh3, hoping that the two pawns for the piece will give enough compensation.

Instead, 16...g5!! was the way forward, the point being 17.hxg4 h5!!, opening the h-file. Black's initiative could have been very unpleasant in a practical game and Yifan mentioned this opportunity as well.

Since Nafisa didn't see the above Qf4-f5 hidden trick, she had to come up with the B-plan and she could have put more resistance with 18...g5, as she suggested afterwards, rolling everything forward, preventing Qf4 and hope for a safe. She played instead 18...Qf7, the position deteriorated more and more and nothing could be done to save Black's position from the merciless Chinese execution. 

Zhao Xue - Bella Khotenashvili 1/2   
The Queens Gambit between Zhao Xue and Bela Khotenashvili developed rather quietly and when the queens were exchanged the game seemed to be heading fro a draw. The final result was indeed a peaceful one but we could have had a dramatic turn of events.


Bella Khotenashvili slipped with 20...Bf6: 

This could have been severely punished by Zhao Xue, which "felt there is something more to the position but just couldn't see it; perhaps I am still suffering from jet lag".


The jackpot could have been taken with:
21.Nxe4! Bxe4 22.Bd6 where 22...Nc2 doesn't save the house from fire: 23.Bxf8 Nxa1 24.Ba3 and Nd6 will follow too...

After missing this opportunity, the game liquidated into an opposite colour bishop endgame, which we all know: a draw had to be agreed.

Nana Dzagnidze - Alexandra kosteniuk 1/2

The Georgian GM opened the game with her c-pawn against Alexandra Kosteniuk, making us believe we will be soon walking into English territories. It was not to be, we got even better! The game actually witnessed a reversed Sicilian, which has the reputation of being extremely sharp, and indeed, it was fire on board rather early; after Alexandra's long castle 12...0-0-0, her position started to go downhill.


"I didn't like this move but I couldn't find something better; I was really worried at this point" (Alexandra Kosteniuk). The game could have ended as early move 15, where Nana had a beautiful blow after Black's uninspired 14...Nd3:

Dzagnidze - kosteniuk

With her last move, Alexandra Kosteniuk managed to post a knight deep in her opponent's camp but Nana had here the amazing 15.Bd4! at her disposal. Good advise is hard to give because 15...exd4 16.Qxd3 leaves White with a positionally winning advantage.


Instead, the Georgian player chose for the interesting exchange-sacrifice:
15.Rfc1 but that almost didn't unsettle Alexandra who eventually forced her opponent to give perpetual check on move 25. And yet, there was still a scary moment for her, when Nana could have taken on c5 with the queen, instead of the natural 21.Nxc5 that she played, allowing her opponent to grab the chance and go home with half a point.

Koneru Humpy - Antoaneta Stefanova 1-0


Handling the black pieces against Koneru, Antoaneta decided to go for the modern defence. Commentators Maia Lomineishvili and Daniel Alsina were fond of Koneru's position throughout, given her domination in the centre and possibilities to play on both sides of the board.
However, on move 23, the Bulgarian GM had the possibility to free herself with the neat trick:

Koneru - Stefanova

23...Nb5!? the idea being 24.axb5 Nxc4 25.Bxc4 axb5 and Black wins back the sacrificed material. Instead, the game continued:
23...Nxa4 24.Rxb8 Rxb8 25.Ne5 Be8

Koneru - Stefanova2

And here Koneru used the fact the black's pieces are overloaded by playing:
26.Ngxf7!. Stefanova continued to defend well but her position proved beyond repair and on move 43 she had to resign.

41There are rumours that Humpy's recent engagement is giving her extra strength...

Harika Dronavalli - Anna Muzychuk 1/2

It was Harika who seemed to have orchestrated the game against Anna Muzychuk (who is back, playing for Ukraine, after many 10 years of being the top board of the Slovenian team!) in an English Opening. Using the relatively rare 9.Na4 introduced by Vladimir Kramnik last year, she looked well prepared:

harika - Muzy

Since Anna didn't expect this to happen, she considered the main line 9...Qd8 but after a second thought she opted for the interesting alternative:
9...Qd8 The game continuation faced an unbalanced struggle, where White sacrificed a pawn for the bishop pair and better coordination, of which Emil Sutovsky, Anna's trainer, was not worried at all.

8  16 

Fairly quickly, the game headed for an endgame where Harika was a (doubled) pawn up. In the rather generous drawish margins of rook endgames, Anna Muzychuk calculated well the risks involved, gave up a second pawn in order to activate her rook and, indeed, this was the best way to steer for a draw.

harika - Muzy1

It is difficult for White to make progress here, with a cut king. After 59.Kg2 Re3! 60.Rc5 Rxe4 61.b5 Rxe5! the pawn endgame turned out to be drawn in the surgical hands of the now Ukrainian GM.

Ju Wenjun - Elina Danielian 1-0

The Chinese WGM (during the press conference we found out that, despite having the rating and all the GM norms, one of them is missing the signature of the arbiter..."I will make another norm, no problem" said Ju Wenjun) went for a more quiet line in the Ragozin. It was a good choice, as Elina was burning a lot of time on her clock and soon had to defend a difficult position with her seconds painfully ticking away.


White's stable middlegame advantage increased during Elina's time trouble, but the Armenian could have saved the day in two different occasions: 

Ju - Elina
The first opportunity was far from obvious though and very difficult to play over the board. Perhaps 45...Nxf3+ 46.Rxf3 Rxe4 was a better attempt to fight for a draw, as White's passed pawns are still far from queening and Black may be able to create counterplay on the king-side by pushing the g and h pawns. 
Such a drastic decision was discarded by both players, who, understandably so, believed the a and b pawns are simply too dangerous.

Elina's sufference continued after 45...Nc4 but the stubborness she displayed in defending a tough game is certainly to be admired. And this could have even brought her half a point, had she made use of the big opportunity landed on her side right before the end of the game:

Ju - Elina1

69...Kf3 and White cannot make progress; for example 70.h4 Kg4 71.h5 Nf5!, where Black will wait for half a point with Nf5-h6-f5...
But the Armenian GM erred with the less fortunate 69...f3 and after 70.Ra2+ Ke1 71.Rf2 had no other option but to resign.

This relatively stormy round was greeted by a torrential rain, following the torrid heat of yesterday. For the second round we could only hope for some moderation of the meteorological conditions at the same time of a further intensification of the spectacle on the chess board. And, why not, for Black's revenge?!

By Alina l'Ami

© FIDE Grand Prix 2014    |    |