Round 9. Almost There
The 9th round became one of the most nerve-wrecking of the entire championships. Rather than clarifying the situation, it made things even more complicated. Perhaps only Alexandra Obolentseva, who leads the Girls 18 section, can start celebrating after her today’s win, though chess players are very superstitious and will never celebrate prematurely.
The spectators who followed both the second table of the Open 16 and the first table of the Open 18 tournaments, could experience deja vu. Arash Tahbaz and Parham Maghsoodloo followed the game of Dmitrij Kollars and Maksim Vavulin move by move. And it was not a fashionable line of the Sicilian or QGD – just a regular King’s Indian… The games deviated on the 13th move.
Tahbaz initiated a conflict on the kingside: 13.f5?! gxf5 14.Ng3 0-0-0 15.a4 b4! 16.Nh5 Bh6!, and White did not find anything better than trading queens – 17.Qxd4 Qxd4+ 18.Nxd4 Nb8! 19.Nf3 Bxc1 20.Rfxc1 Rxd6 with an equal position, which he did not manage to hold.
Kollars decided to play against Black’s queenside weaknesses, relying on his strong center. After 13.a4! Rc8 14.Qd3 Ngf6 15.Ne5!? Vavulin failed to sense danger and played the provocative 15…Nd5? Safer is 15…Nxe4, removing the d6-pawn: 16.Rxe4 b4 17.Bd2 Qxd6, etc.
The German obliges: 16.Nxd7 Kxd7 17.Bd2 h6? Protecting against Ng5, but Black cannot afford wasting time on that. Closing the queenside was necessary – 17…b4, and there is nothing forced for White, for example, 18.Ng5 Rcf8 or 18.a5 Qc6, etc.
18.b4! Black also experiences difficulties after 18.axb5 axb5 19.Ra5 Rc3! 20.Qxb5+ Qxb5 21.Rxb5 Kc6 22.bxc3 Kxb5 23.c4+, and the d6-pawn plays an important role. The text-move launches an attack on the area where White can deploy superior forces.
18…Rc4 19.axb5 axb5 20.Ra5 (after 20.Nc5+ Rxc5 21.Ra6 Rb8 22.Rea1 White wins an exchange, but his attack evaporates, and there is still a lot of play ahead) 20…Nc3 21.Rea1 Nxe4 22.Ra7+! Kxd6 23.R1a6 Qxa6 24.Rxa6+ Kd5. White won a queen, and his attack is still rolling.
But suddenly the tables were turned.
25.Rb6? A careless move – White allows trading the key bishop. After 25.Be1 Black has no sensible ideas, even doubling the rooks to attack the c2-pawn does not work due to a checkmate on b5. Therefore, 25…Rb8, but now White can start harvesting: 26.Ra7 Bf8 27.Rxf7 Bxb4 28.Bxb4 Rxb4 29.Rd7, etc.
25…Nxd2! 26.Qxd2 Rhc8 27.Rxb5+ Kd6 28.Rc5 R8xc5 29.bxc5+ Rxc5 30.Qb4 Bf6, and the position becomes dynamically balanced. In a few moves the players agreed to a draw.
Manuel Petrosyan defeated Bilel Bellahcene, and is now just half a point behind the Muscovite.
The 15-year-old Alexandra Obolentseva won another game without making her friends and trainers sweat and remains a full point ahead of the pack. After a lucky save in a difficult position against Nino Khomeriki she caught the wind in her sails and crushes one opponent after another.
In the game against Heinemann, Obolentseva played her favorite opening, where White sacrifices a central pawn for the strong initiative. The German player did not manage to solve the opening problems, lost an exchange and gave up. Alexandra now has 8 out of 9, and needs only one point in the next two games to at least tie for first place with Stavroula Tsolakidou, whose tie-break right now is inferior to the Russian’s. But who can dare saying that Obolentseva will slow down?
The all-important step to the title was made by Polina Shuvalova in the Girls 16 category. Her usual rivals, Tsolakidou and Obolentseva, ran away to the Under 18 group, so the player from Moscow mostly has to fight with herself. This fight is not always successful – if Shuvalova converted all her opportunities, she would already secure the title. From time to time her nervousness affects the natural course of the games, and her today’s encounter with Alicija Sliwicka can serve as a good example.
Black’s position is ruined, following White’s powerful blows in the opening. Converting such advantage into a full point must be easy. And yet…
25…g5 26.Be3?! (why not 26.Bg3) 27…Nxe3 28.fxe3 Bc5 (now Black has a target to attack) 29.Kf2 f5!? 30.Ke2? Trying to avoid pins after f4-f5, but the same could be achieved by the stronger 29.Nd4 Ng7 30.Ncb5 f4 31.Nd4!, and White promotes her pawns.
29…f4?! (Black for some reason avoids 29…Bxg2 30.a6 Bh3 31.Rg1 Ng7, creating White problems with coordination) 30.e4? After 30.Ne4 the game returns to its normal course, and Black loses to a pin: 30…Bxe4 31.Bxe4 fxe3 32.Rf1, liberating the pawns.
30…Be3 31.Rc2 Rc5 (31…Bb7!) 32.Rd8 Kg7 33.Rxf8+ Kxf8 34.Rb2?! (more accurate is 34.Nd1! Rxc2+ 35.Bxc2 Bc5 36.a6, and the king marches on the queenside with decisive threats) 34…Ne8 35.a6 Rxe5 36.Bd3 Ke7 37.Na3! Finally Shuvalova finds the right arrangement of her pieces.
37…Ba7? (the knight transfer to c4 could be prevented by 37…Nd6, and White must regroup again) 38.Nc4 Rc5 39.Nb5 Bb8 40.a7 Be5 41.Nb6!? Generosity of a rich man. One could retreat with the rook, but Polina isn’t bothered by minor losses when her pawns are queening.
41…Bxb2 42.Nxa6 Rxb5? (42…Rc8 does not save either, as White queens both pawns) 43.axb5 Bd4 44.Nb6? (what is wrong with 44.b6 and Nc7?) 44…Nc7 45.a8Q? (45.Nc8+ Kd7 46.b6!) 45…Nxa8 46.Nxa8 Kd7 47.Bc4 e5 48.Kf3 h5 49.h3 Kc8 50.Bd5 Kb8 51.b6 Kc8 52.Nc7 Bxb6 53.Ne6, and White converted an extra knight.
A win is a win, you say? Tell it to the trainers who follow such games, unable to help their students, and just burn themselves over such painful endings.
The championship is far from over for Shuvalova, too, as her main competitor Hagawane Aakanksha from India also won today, and the gap between them remains the same – half a point.
The leader of the Open 16 championship Haik Martirosyan made a quiet draw with the Russian Olexandr Triapishko. To secure the gold, he needs to make two draws in the last two games, and his opponents will probably not object, as Martirosyan already played with all of his rivals.
Semyon Lomasov, the leader of the Open 14 championship, does not slow down. Today he won the eighth game! His opponents cannot bear the pressure and accuracy, and he always punishes them for mistakes.
The Russian decided to invade the queenside, to which Nodirber Yakubboev replied with a central break. Here is what happened next: 26…Ng5? Better is 26…cxb4 27.Nc6 Rde8 28.Ndxb4, and apart from some light-squared pressure, White does not have much.
27.Qe3 Nxe4?! (Black could still change his mind: 27…cxb4 28.Nc6 Rd7 29.Bxe5, accepting a slightly worse but bearable position) 28.Nc6! Rxd5 (alas, there is no choice) 29.Rxd5 Bb7 (29…Qxd5 fails to 30.Ne7+) 30.Rd8+ Rxd8 31.Nxd8 Qxa2 32.Nxb7 Qxb2 33.Re1 f5 34.Nxc5, and Lomasov converted an extra exchange.
Curiously, the rating favorite of the tournament Andrey Esipenko does not play for a win as hard as the leader. Today he spent a minute to play 21 moves of a well-known variation of the Slav, which leads to an absolutely equal position. His attempts to refute this evaluation did not bring success. So Lomasov is 1.5 points ahead right now.
The gap between Zhu Jiner, leader of the Girls 14 championship, and her chasers was also 1.5 points, but today the Chinese suddenly lost as White to Olga Badelka from Belarus. Objectively the sharp rook ending they entered was equal, but the nerves let Zhu Jiner down. “Technique is how you handle your nerves!”, Alexander Alekhine said once, and the Chinese player seems to have problems with it.
So now, with two rounds to go, three players are half a point behind the leader – Badelka, Annie Wang (USA) and Vantika Agrawal (India). It is going to be a hot race!