Mind games and close calls: Shuvalova baffles Wagner

It was a day of close escapes in the eighth round of the 2022-2023 FIDE Nicosia Women’s Grand Prix. WGM Dinara Wagner kept her lead, sailing her way out of a close call against IM Polina Shuvalova, who set up a clever psychological upset for the tournament leader.

GM Harika Dronavalli and Tan Zhongyi continue to chase Wagner, trailing by half a point. Tan survived an endgame fight against GM Aleksandra Goryachkina. Harika endured a material deficit against IM Gunay Mammadzada, finding an escape hatch by switching to an opposite-colored bishop ending.

Down but not out, IM Oliwia Kiolbasa had GM Alexandra Kosteniuk on the ropes in a dynamic Sicilian finish. Furthermore, GM Kateryna Lagno fought briskly to a pawn-down ending against GM Nana Dzagnidze.

Winning a second game in a row, IM Bibisara Assaubayeva was the only winner of the day. She defeated GM Bella Khotenashvili convincingly in the Grunfeld, careful not to allow her opponent a miraculous save like in the previous round.

The FIDE Women’s Grand Prix continues with round eight on Thursday, May 25, starting at 5:00 am Pacific/14:00 CEST.

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Wagner vs. Shuvalova

Shuvalova came to the board armed, not only with a strong opening preparation, but with fascinating mind games ready for her opponent. Switching from Wagner’s usually well-prepared script, Shuvalova went straight to the Catalan variation that Wagner used to defeat Goryachkina in the first round. Shuvalova lured Wagner into a position where he has fond memories of his upset win against the top seed and stunned her with a complex trade sacrifice.

This strategy puzzled Wagner. She gave up a pawn and spent much more time than her opponent navigating the opening, fighting for a draw with the white pieces. Shuvalova pressed relentlessly, activating her pieces and trying to move her pawn past her. Ultimately, due to her excellent form and fighting spirit, the tournament leader was able to save the game. She set up a passer block on Shuvalova and used tactical means to goad the exchanges to a tied finish.

Goryachkina against tan

One of the top-tier matchups was Goryachkina vs. Tan: The top seed faced the 16th Women’s World Champion. With White, Goryachkina opted for the long squeeze in a Catalan endgame with a better pawn structure and a good knight against a tied bishop. Despite being in a slightly worse position for much of the game, Tan kept abreast of the subtleties of the endgame, taking advantage of key moments to improve her pieces and prevent White’s progress until she neutralized Goryachkina’s advantage. Can you find the movement that sealed equality?

Leading in Grand Prix points, Goryachkina is the favorite for the Candidates qualifying spots. Photo: Mark Livshitz/FIDE.

Assaubayeva vs. Khotenashvili

Facing the Grunfeld, Assaubayeva opted for the thematic sacrifice of the a2-pawn to remove the black queen from the rest of the action and buy time to build the game on the kingside with f4-f5. Khotenashvili tried to create counterplay on the queenside, but struggled against White’s threats against his king and the disconnected nature of his forces.

Soon Assaubayeva noticed the opportunity to earn material. Can you identify how?

With a comfortable material advantage and her continued grip on the kingside, Assaubayeva increased the pressure by activating her rook to the seventh rank and sinking her queen onto Black’s weak dark squares. Khotenashvili’s limited forces were unable to contain all of White’s threats.

This attacking victory is our Game of the Day, analyzed by GM Rafael Leitao

After the game, Assaubayeva admitted with a smile that her opponent’s miraculous save in round seven flashed through her mind:

“I watched yesterday’s match and I was a bit nervous because I thought: if it was a second day in a row, it would be fantastic for her.”

After a difficult start, Assaubayeva has started to find her rhythm. Photo: Mark Livshitz/FIDE.

Kosteniuk vs. Kiolbasa

Despite struggling for much of this tournament, Kiolbasa nearly picked up her first win today against the 12th Women’s World Champion. Perhaps after seeing the myriad of Sicilian victories yesterday, Kiolbasa decided to attempt the glory part of her in the counter-attack-laden opening. From Lowenthal’s black side, the Polish International Master took over the position with the central break 9…d5!?, taking advantage of her opponent’s slower development. Kiolbasa gained great activity, especially her knights, who found powerful positions in the center.

As the players traded queens, Black increased his control on the queenside, sinking one of his knights at the prominent c4 outpost. Although all of his pieces were better placed than their counterparts, Kiolbasa missed the opportunity to target Kosteniuk’s back pawn, choosing instead for him to repeat three times and draw. While Black is still significantly better in final position, Kiolbasa was probably keen to break his four game losing streak. It can be psychologically challenging to take risks against such an outstanding player after so many losses.

In his interview, Kiolbasa shared his perspective on the challenging event he had:

“It’s a completely new event for me. I haven’t played such a strong tournament where all the players are just extremely strong. I’ve played with a few of them, but we usually had some easier games during the tournament as well. Now it’s It’s just hard, and it’s a great experience. I think a lot of players went through the same thing in the Grand Prix series. […]

I’m going to treat this as a learning opportunity. This shows many places for improvement.”

I’m going to treat this as a learning opportunity. This shows many places for improvement.

-Oliwia Kiolbasa

Kiolbasa faces his tournament with a growth mindset, a key tool in the improvement process. Photo: Mark Livshitz/FIDE.

Harika vs. Mammadzada

Mammadzada’s control of the center and pressure on his opponent’s isolani earned him a pawn in the middle of the game. The Azerbaijani international master pressed, but Harika steered play into an opposite-colored bishop ending. With the bishops circling the board in entirely different realms, Harika sacrificed a pawn to create counterplay and initiate pawn exchanges. In the end, he was able to contain the material edge of Mammadzada in the light squares.

Dzagnidze vs. Lagno

After yesterday’s loss, Lagno seemed interested in a sharper game today, developing ambitiously and shaking up the center in the opening with 11…d4!? This triggered a desperate sequence that flipped most of the minor pieces, the queenside pawn structure, and soon the queens, leaving GM Nana Dzagnidze with an extra pawn. The Georgian grandmaster tried to create chances in the emergent endgame, but Lagno made it as difficult as possible, finding increasingly active posts for his pieces and creating counter-pressure on White’s isolated a-pawn.

To escape the pressure, Dzagnidze switched to a four pawn versus three rook endgame on the kingside. Lagno established a solid defensive position and had no trouble holding the draw.

Results – Round 8


asaubayeva 1 – 0 jotenashvili
Goryachkina 1/2 – 1/2 Tan
harica 1/2 – 1/2 mammadzada
Wagner 1/2 – 1/2 Shuvalova
Dzagnidze 1/2 – 1/2 lake
Kosteniuk 1/2 – 1/2 kiolbasa

Classification – Matchday 8

Tan and Harika, the two second-place competitors, have a chance to break the tie in the next round. In addition, Lagno and Kosteniuk, the players (along with Goryachkina) who are competing strongly for the qualification for the Candidates, will face each other.

Pairings – Matchday 9


kiolbasa asaubayeva
lake Kosteniuk
Shuvalova Dzagnidze
mammadzada Wagner
Tan harica
jotenashvili Goryachkina

All Games – Round 8

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