After a rather uneventful first round, where five our of six matches ended in a draw, the second day of the Fide Women’s Grand Prix in Monaco was a more exciting affair with four games were decided in favor of the white pieces. Thanks to a flawless technical performance, Indian grandmaster Humpy Koneru clinched her second victory to lead the overall standings.
She chose a rather aggressive line against Mariya Muzychuk’s Grunfeld, to which the Ukrainian did not react accurately. A key concept in this opening consists in not being scared of sacrificing material for the sake of activity. With this in mind, Black should have refrained from the passive move 23…Ra8, going instead for 23…Ne7 24.Qxa6 Nd5. After being given this opportunity, Humpy started to press relentlessly until she reached a favorable endgame before the first time control, which she converted confidently.
The other Indian representative Harika Dronavalli was equally successful, as she outplayed Elisabeth Paehtz in the Slav Defense. The German chose a timid 5…Nbd7 and ended up in the kind of passive position on the queenside which Black usually tries to avoid in this variation.
Paehtz tried to get counter-play on the other side with 18…g5, but Dronavalli reacted perfectly by allowing the exchange of her Bishop on g3. She even got attacking chances against the open black king, but when given a chance, she opted for converting her positional advantage in an endgame.
The four Russian players were pitted against each other on the second day of competition Alexandra Kosteniuk achieved what White dreams of in this line of the Caro-Kann: a long-lasting edge thanks to the pair of Bishops. On move 20, her opponent Aleksandra Goryachkina strangely decided to bring her strong Nb4 all the way back to e8, instead of developing her rook to d8. Kosteniuk later managed to break through with the thematic 30.d5.
She won a pawn and reached a highly favorable endgame. However, Kosteniuk criticized her own technique in the post-game interview: she indeed allowed her opponent to escape towards the end. But the future challenger for the World Championship missed the saving move 61…Kg6 and lost.
The other Russian duel also turned out to be a lively affair. Valentina Gunina took a lot of time in her Berlin opening and decided to offer a pawn with 15…Be6. Kateryna Lagno accepted the gift and got a clearly better position and a 1-hour advantage on the clock.
Down to her last minutes around move 20, Gunina started playing as actively as possible and managed to trouble her opponent. Lagno missed several ways to consolidate her advantage and eventually had to settle for a drawish endgame despite an extra pawn. But Gunina, who is suffering from a cold, did not have the energy to hold it.
Her final mistake came when she decided to reject the prospect of having to defend the famous endgame Rook and Bishop against Rook.
Both draws of this round featured very interesting games as well. Nana Dzagnidze could have obtained an opening advantage with 12.Bd6 but took the poisoned pawn on c6 instead. She admitted that she underestimated Anna Muzychuk’s reply 13…Qc8, after which she already had to be very careful. After 19…Qc4, it became clear that Black would not let her opponent castle. Being low on time, the Ukrainian erred with 21…Rc8. She refrained from the correct 21…Rad8 because of 22.Rd4, but the simple exchange on d4 would have given her a winning position. 23.cxd4 is met with Rc8, while 23.exd4 Qd3 is crushing too. In the game, Dzagnidze eventually managed to simplify and achieve a draw.
Pia Cramling played almost a perfect game against Zhao Xue’s English Opening. As she explained afterward, she felt that Black had to play actively in order to avoid getting slightly worse in the long run. Her moves 15…b5 and 16…d5 were brilliant and gave her the initiative.
The Swedish legend is known to be a very restrained and modest person. She probably failed to believe that she had so skilfully outplayed her opponent and repeated moves to achieve a draw. She actually missed two consecutive opportunities to win, with 25…Nb4 and 26…Nc4.
The leader of the Grand Prix race, Humpy is the only player with a perfect two out of two wins in Monaco. She is followed by her compatriot Harika Dronavalli and both Russians Kosteniuk and Lagno who have half a point less.
Results of round 2:
Nana Dzagnidze (Geo) – Anna Muzychuk (Ukr): ½-½
Humpy Koneru (Ind) – Mariya Muzychuk (Ukr): 1-0
Kateryna Lagno (Rus) – Valentina Gunina (Rus): 1-0
Alexandra Kosteniuk (Rus) – Aleksandra Goryachkina (Rus): 1-0
Zhao Xue (China) – Pia Cramling (Swe): ½-½
Dronavalli Harika (Ind) – Elisabeth Paehtz (Ger): 1-0
Standings after round 2 :
1. Humpy Koneru – 2 points
2. Dronavalli Harika, Alexandra Kosteniuk, Kateryna Lagno – 1,5
5. Nana Dzagnidze, Anna Muzychuk, Zhao Xue, Pia Cramling – 1
9. Aleksandra Goryachkina, Elisabeth Paehtz, Mariya Muzychuk – 0,5
12. Valentina Gunina (Rus) 0
Round 3, 5 December
Elisabeth Paehtz (Ger) vs Nana Dzagnidze (Geo)
Pia Cramling (Swe) vs Dronavalli Harika (Ind)
Aleksandra Goryachkina (Rus) vs Zhao Xue (China)
Valentina Gunina (Rus) vs Alexandra Kosteniuk (Rus)
Mariya Muzychuk (Ukr) vs Kateryna Lagno (Rus)
Anna Muzychuk (Ukr) vs Humpy Koneru (Ind)