You storm a very strong field on your home turf to win a prestigious tournament with the luxury of two rounds to spare, and then you lose your unbeaten streak in the final round – no, we’re not talking about Magnus Carlsen’s latest conquest at the Altibox Norway Chess, but rather the relatively unknown Aleksandra Goryachkina, as the 20-year-old Russian caused a sensation with her breakthrough victory at the FIDE Women’s Candidates Tournament that ended today in Kazan, Russia.
1The very much un-fancied young Russian – who only a few months ago was playing board four for her country in the World Team Championship – turned in an almighty performance, not only by winning the strong double-round world championship tournament, but doing so with more than just a touch of élan. And along the way, she emphatically beat her fellow teammates – Kateryna Lagno, Alexandra Kosteniuk and Valentina Gunina – with an impressive unbeaten score of 5-1, conceding just two draws.
Ironically, Goryachkina wouldn’t have been playing in the tournament in the first place had Hou Yifan, the current women’s #1 and four-time ex-champion accepted her place in the tournament. But Hou declined her spot, due to a combination of pursuing her academic work at Oxford and her now avoidance of any form of all-female tournaments – and with Hou declining, Goryachkina seized her big chance, and how!
Goryachkina now goes on to play in the biggest match of her career, by challenging China’s Ju Wenjun for the title later in the year. And with her outstanding winning score of 9½/14 – the only blip being her final round loss to runner-up Anna Muzychuk – she also now jumps five places in the women’s rankings to be the new Russian #1 and world #3, behind world champion Ju and #1 Hou respectively.
1. A. Goryachkina (Russia) 9½/14; 2. A. Muzychuk (Ukraine) 8; 3-4. Tan Zhongyi (China), K. Lagno (Russia) 7; 5-6. M. Muzychuk (Ukraine), N. Dzagnidze (Georgia) 6½; 7. A. Kosteniuk (Russia) 6; 8. V. Gunina (Russia) 5½.
Photo: Women’s World Championship Challenger Aleksandra Goryachkina!| © Eteri Kublashvili / FIDE Women’s Candidates
GM Valentina Gunina – GM Aleksandra Goryachkina
FIDE Women’s Candidates, (9)
Caro-Kann Defence, Two Knights variation
1.e4 c6 2.Nc3 d5 3.Nf3 The slightly obscure Two Knights against the Caro-Kann is not as innocuous as it looks – and indeed, this was once a big favourite of the young Bobby Fischer, who played it in the 1959 Candidates, and also the Bled Grandmaster tournament of 1961, against the likes of Larsen, Petrosian, Smyslov and Keres. The Soviets at the time saw Fischer’s reliance on the Two Knights to be one of the American’s weak links and practically issued a three-line whip to their players to play the Caro-Kann against him. Later, en route to winning the world title, Fischer had wised up by successfully switching to the Exchange variation with Bd3. 3…dxe4 In Fischer’s day, the Soviets – almost to a man – played the alternative of 3…Bg4. 4.Nxe4 Nf6 5.Qe2 Nxe4 6.Qxe4 Qa5 In essence, Black basically has a slightly better version of a Scandinavian Defence. 7.Bc4 Bf5 8.Qe2 e6 What’s not to like for Black? Goryachkina has easy development, a solid position, and her bishops active. 9.Ne5 Be7 10.c3 Bf6 11.d4 Bxe5 12.dxe5 Nd7 13.g4 Alternatively, if 13.Bf4 0-0-0 Black has an easy plan of …Qc7, …Nd7-b6-d5 and doubling rooks on the d-file for a solid game. However, as typical with Gunina, she likes to take risks to try and ‘make things happen’ – but throwing her pawns forward just creates weaknesses that Goryachkina ruthlessly exploits. 13…Bg6 14.f4 b5 15.b4?! Gunina most likely missed, or perhaps seriously under-estimated her opponent’s reply. 15…Qd8! With just one accurate move, suddenly throwing the pawns forward has dire consequences. 16.Bb3 Qh4+ 17.Kd1? Awkward, but 17.Qf2 Qxg4 just loses a pawn for nothing, and the White king is still in the danger zone. Better was 17.Kf1 0-0 but Black will simply play …Nb6 and double rooks on the d-file. That’s bad, but moving the king to the middle of the board and onto the open d-file is just asking for it. 17…Rd8 18.Bd2 h5 Much better was 18…0-0! and following up with …a5 and …c5 to bust the queenside open with the king in the danger zone. 19.f5 exf5 20.e6 It looks just as dangerous for the Black king as it does for the White king – but it isn’t; though Goryachkina has given her dangerous opponent a little hope by playing like this. 20…Nf6 21.exf7+ Kf8 22.Kc1 Ne4! Effectively blocking the e-file and bringing another piece into the attack. 23.Be1 Qg5+ 24.Kb2 hxg4 25.a4 The only slim hope Gunina has is if her opponent suddenly panics in this mutually dangerous position – but to her credit, her young opponent keeps her nerve by trading down to a completely won position. 25…Bxf7 26.Bxf7 Kxf7 27.axb5 cxb5 28.Rxa7+ Kg6! [see diagram] Not only is the king safer here, but Goryachkina can now bring her kingside rooks into service, freeing up her queen to come in for the kill. 29.Qxb5 Rd1 30.Qc6+ Kh7 31.Qc7 Rg8! It looks as if she’s over-protecting g7, but with it, now comes the big threat of …Qc1+ etc. 32.Kb3 Rb1+ 33.Ka4 Qe3 Gunina’s king is caught wandering around dazed and confused in no man’s land. 34.Kb5 Rxe1 So many ways to win – but the clinical kill was 34…Qd3+! 35.c4 Nd6+ 36.Kc6 Qxc4+ mating. But then again, when you are in a little time trouble, and your opponent kindly offers you a piece in a totally won position, who wouldn’t refuse the offer? 35.Rxe1 Qxe1 36.c4 Nc3+ 37.Ka5 Qa1+ 38.Kb6 Qg1+ 39.Ka6 Qd4 40.Qf7 Qd6+ With the time control now safely made, Goryachkina easily finishes the game with the dual threat of simply pushing her f-pawn home and the option of mating the king. Those are nice choices to have! 41.Ka5 Qg6 42.Qd7 Rf8 43.c5 f4 44.Ra6 Qf5 45.Qd4 Qc2! Threatening …Qa4+. 46.Kb6 Rb8+ 47.Kc6 Qg2+ 0-1 Gunina resigns, as both her rook and king are now lost!