Round Four. Thriller Time
Finally! The key clashes took place today in two age groups out of six. The Girls 18 category featured the most fierce and uncompromising battles between all the main contenders. The nearby boards also added some heat.
Let us begin with the main course. Two former World Champions of younger categories faced each other on the first board: the 15-year-old Greek Stavroula Tsolakidou and the 15-year-old Alexandra Obolentseva from Russia. Both started with 3 out of 3 and by no means were strangers on the top board. The game started to produce sparks from the very beginning. Tsolakidou, playing White, tried to surprise the opponent with a rare line, but Obolentseva easily found the right solution, arranged her pieces harmoniously, and White’s first inaccuracy nearly became decisive. Black’s pawns started to advance, and White, additionally troubled by the time pressure, had to sacrifice a piece for a couple of pawns. A favorable situation for the Russian, who should have continued the attack, however, Alexandra went for simplifications, allowing Stavroula to come back into the game. For 50 more moves Alexandra tried to utilize her advantage, but in vain, and the all-important game ended in a draw.
This draw allowed Nino Khomeriki, the highest rated player of the event, to join the leaders. Her play in Khanty-Mansiysk impresses with simplicity and efficiency. She needs no fireworks to outplay her opponents. Today, despite playing Black, Nino quickly gained an advantage against Josefine Heinemann, then exchanged the most active pieces of the German, put pressure on her weaknesses, and demonstrated powers of a passed pawn when it was necessary. A very clean victory! Khomeriki now returns to the first board to play Tsolakidou in the next round, and to face Obolentseva a little bit later. These games must determine the champion.
The leaders of the Open 18 section played in a similarly uncompromising way. While the European Champion Manuel Petrosyan showed excellent technique against Zhanat Saiyn on the second board and won without any fireworks, the Russian Maksim Vavulin played a very risky game. The thing is, Valentin Dragnev from Austria, who commanded the White pieces, completely outplayed the favorite in the opening, leaving the Russian with bad pieces, numerous weaknesses and complete lack of counterplay. In addition, Vavulin experienced his usual time management problems. And suddenly… Quoting Mikhail Kobalia, Russian junior head coach, Vavulin is a slow starter, who comes into full strength only after three hours of play or so. Despite being in an objectively poor position, Maksim created wild complications, and his opponent finally lost a track. White still remained in control around the move 40, but after that started to slip, and fell apart in a few more moves. However, victories of the main contenders did very little for clarifying the tournament situation in this group.
Both Under 16 tournaments continued in a usual fashion, with little excitement and no surprises. The leader of the Open 16 event, Amin Tabatabaei from Iran, started today with 1.a3 and had a totally won position by the move 20. Haik Martirosyan, Luca Moroni, and Olexandr Triapishko also did not experience any problems winning their games. Parham Maghsoodloo, the rating favorite of the tournament, won in less than two hours!
The results on top boards of the Girls 16 section directly correlated with the rating order. Among the winners are Anna-Maja Kazarian, Oliwia Kiolbasa, Amina Battsooj, and Aakanksha Hagawane. Polina Shuvalova finally ended her drought, moving on 3 out of 4. She will eventually have to test the leader in one of the next rounds.
The Russians are in the lead in both Under 14 sections. However, while both boys, Andrey Esipenko and Semyon Lomasov, extended their winning streak, even if not in the most convincing way, the progress of the top girls, Elizaveta Solozhenkina and Aleksandra Maltsevskaya, was hindered. In both games the assessment was jumping up and down, but eventually froze at zero. Well, nobody can win forever!