All the participants will enjoy tomorrow's free day to visit Astana.
The sixth round of the Astana Women's Grand Prix proved to be one of the most exciting, with four decisive outcomes and two hard-fought draws. Tomorrow will be a well-deserved rest day, and play will resume on Sunday.
After this afternoon's results, Aleksandra Goryachkina and Zhu Jiner still lead the event with 4.5/6.0, but both Kateryna Lagno and Alina Kashlinskaya have closed the gap and are just behind on 4/6.
Lagno, Kateryna - Tan Zhongyi (1-0)
Excluding blitz and rapid games, Kateryna Lagno has had a slightly better head-to-head record 4.5-3.5 over Tan Zhongyi in classical games. However, in their last encounter, Tan Zhongyi eliminated Lagno from the 2021 Sochi World Cup in the fifth round, a mighty blow for the two times European champion.
Eager to increase the score between them and maybe even get some payback for the Sochi elimination, Lagno went for the hyper-aggressive 8.g4 variation in the Sicilian Najdorf, which GM Esipenko recently used to defeat World Champion Magnus Carlsen.
Lagno might have mixed up her move order in the opening (11.g5 preventing 11…Bh4+ is the computer's suggestion) but in any case, reached a very nice middlegame position, with a rook on the seventh rank and, more importantly, Black's queen in great danger of being trapped.
Nevertheless, at the same time, Kateryna was very low on time – only 10 minutes left for the last 12 moves. Tan Zhongi tried her best, but she could not find a solution. In the end, she had to give up a piece in order to avoid losing her queen and finally threw in the towel on the move 39. With this win, Lagno advances to +2 and greatly positions herself for the event's second half.
She joined us at the press center to give us her thoughts on the game.
Kosteniuk, Alexandra - Zhu Jiner (0.5-0.5)
Previously, Kosteniuk and Zhu Jiner had only played one classical game in the 2021 Grand Swiss. In that encounter, Alexandra opened with 1.d4 and scored a nice victory in the Nimzo-Indian Defence.
Today, in an attempt to defeat and catch up with one of the co-leaders, Kosteniuk decided upon 1.e4. Zhu Jiner repeated her favourite Najdorf Sicilian, and a typical positional middlegame position emerged: the battle revolved around the all-important d5 square.
The position remained more or less balanced, and after mass exchanges, both players tried to squeeze a marginal edge from a bishop plus three pawns ending. After 48 moves, a draw was agreed.
Goryachkina, Aleksandra - Wagner, Dinara (0.5-0.5)
Although Aleksandra Goryachkina and Dinara Wagner had already faced each other more than ten times in blitz and rapid games, they hadn't played each other with classical time control. Playing with White, it was clear before the game that Goryachkina was going to try to make the best of this opportunity, going into the rest day leading the event.
Wagner went for the Nimzo-Indian defence but chose to play the side-line 7…h6, instead of the more popular 7…c5 and especially 7…dxc4. Both players came very well-prepared for this game: Wagner mentioned in previous interviews that she needed to speed up her opening play to avoid time trouble later on.
After twenty moves, it already became clear that Wagner had equalised. It even seemed that she might have the upper hand in the position. However, with spot-on defence, Goryachkina forced a well-known theoretical drawn rook endgame, which finished in the Philidor theoretical drawn position.
"My sister and her boyfriend will join me tomorrow. They have come to support me," said Dinara in her post-game interview.
Shuvalova, Polina - Abdumalik, Zhansaya (0-1)
In this first classical chess encounter between these two players (previously only three rapid and blitz games), Shuvalova opened with 1.e4 and chose the Rossolimo variation against Abdumalik's Sicilian defence.
By advancing her centre pawns, Shuvalova obtained a lot of space for her pieces but perilously opened up the long h1-a8 diagonal for Black's light-squared bishop. On move 20, Abdumalik sacrificed a pawn for the initiative.
It seemed that Shuvalova had everything under control but at the crucial moment miscalculated 26.Ng5? h5! and suddenly, she was two pieces down for a rook and still facing unsurmountable problems.
Abdumalik stepped up the pace, and soon her opponent was in huge trouble, facing two Black bishops, spearheading Zhansaya's pressure. Things were going great up and until fateful move 41: instead of 41…Nxc3, 41…Bb5! was the way to go.
After that Shuvalova's drawing chances increased but it was still an uphill battle for her: the two bishops are a powerful force on the open board. Abdumalik brought home the game on move 56, scoring her first win in the tournament. She shared her thoughts on the game in a short post-game interview.
Vaishali, Rameshbabu - Paehtz, Elisabeth (1-0)
Although Elisabeth Paehtz has been around for many years, I wasn't able to find any previous encounters against her opponent today, Vaishali – not even in official blitz or rapid events. With both players standing on -1 (2/5), a win today would be a crucial step to recover 50% going into the rest day.
In a Sicilian Four Knights variation, Vaishali went for one of the most complicated lines, demonstrating once again excellent opening preparation. But Paehtz was ready for the complications. She blitzed out her first twenty moves and then sprang upon her opponent a novelty 20...Qc7, in an attempt to improve Caruana's play in his 2021 game against Najer.
After the exchange of the queens, White seemed to be slightly better in the endgame but once again under time pressure: less than 10 minutes for the last 15 moves to the time control. Once they passed the time control, Vaishali converted a slightly better – albeit very tricky - rook ending into a full point. The happy winner gave her insights into the game in a short interview.
Kashlinskaya, Alina - Assaubayeva, Bibisara (1-0)
There is no doubt here that Alina Kashlinskaya has been playing the longest games of the tournament. With one round left before the rest day and playing against one of the two local favourites, she had to muster up enough energy for the battle.
With just one previous encounter between them – a draw in 2017 – the opening could go any way. By using a tricky opening move order, Alina managed to divert Bibisara from the Sicilian Najdorf variation into the so-called "Dragondorf" – a hybrid between the Najdorf and the Dragon.
Both players started fighting for control over the d5-square, and by move 18, Kashlinskaya finally installed a strong knight there – the middlegame was resembling more of a Sveshnikov structure.
However, on move 22, both players missed a crucial tactical trick which would have been very favourable for White, even winning:
22. Nxb7! with the idea 22…Qxb7 23.exf5! with the discovered check, Nf6 winning the queen was the key idea. Instead, Alina opted for not so strong 22.Nb6
Even so, she kept pushing and eventually increased her advantage in mutual time trouble, arriving at a winning endgame position with two extra pawns. Once again, Alina was the last woman to finish her game, but even so, she was happy to join us for a short post-game interview.
Round 7 | Astana | 25.09.2022
Assaubayeva, Bibisara — Shuvalova, Polina
Tan, Zhongyi — Kashlinskaya, Alina
Wagner, Dinara — Lagno, Kateryna
Paehtz, Elisabeth — Goryachkina, Aleksandra
Zhu, Jiner — Vaishali, Rameshbabu
Abdumalik, Zhansaya — Kosteniuk, Alexandra
Text and interviews: IM Michael Rahal, FIDE Press Officer, Astana
Photos: Anna Shtourman