Astana GP: Lagno wins fourth game in a row, leads

Two clear favorites

Only Kateryna Lagno and Aleksandra Goryachkina have realistic chances of winning the first event of the Women’s Grand Prix series with two rounds to go in Astana – although Alexandra Kosteniuk and Zhu Jiner, who are two points behind the sole leader Lagno, still have outside chances to catch with the favorites. Coincidentally, Kosteniuk will face Goryachkina and Lagno in the final two rounds, respectively.

Goryachkina topped the standings from rounds 2-8, but a four-game winning streak from Lagno left the latter alone in the lead heading into the final two days of action.

In turn 9, the two contenders for first place played with the black pieces. While Goryachkina drew a quick draw in their match against Zhansaya Abdumalik, Lagno went for the win and inflicted Zhu Jiner’s second straight loss in a double-edged 32-hit encounter.

Aleksandra Goryachkina

Aleksandra Goryachkina in the second round | Photo: FIDE/Anna Shtourman

Playing in white against Lagno, Zhu showed great opening preparation on a Sicilian Four Knights but failed to make the most of her initiative on move 25. The youngster spent over 17 minutes before playing . 25.Rc4which was not the most taxing movement of the position.

Instead of lifting the rook, Zhu would have put more pressure on his opponent’s somewhat cramped position with 25.a4 or 25.f5, forcing Black to make a difficult decision amid a tense midgame.

After the text, Lagno got an extra tempo to breathe and relieve the pressure with 25…Bxc5 26.Bxc5 Rfc8. Only then Zhu went to look for 27.f5when the sharp 27…f6 – which Lagno had planned – is the only move that maintains the balance for black.

How to proceed with White? The bishop on c5 is suspended, but after 28.fxe6 Black cannot grab the piece with 28…Rxc5 because of 29.Rxc5 Rxc5 30.exd7, and Black’s queen is overloaded. In this line, of course, Black doesn’t have to capture the bishop, because 28…Rxe6 or 28…dxe6 are playable and hold the battle.

The line above is important in that it is likely that Zhu was calculating similar variations before playing 28.exf6, grabbing the wrong pawn. In this case, 28…Rxc5 works for Black, winning a piece. However, Lagno “believed” his opponent and, fearing a potential attack, responded with 28…Nxf6.

It was time for Zhu to put her bishop out of danger (on e7, a7 or d4), but she doubled her attack by playing 29.fxe6and only then did Lagno realize that she could safely grasp the coin.

29…Rxc5 followed, and Zhu wasted no time in giving up the game – 30.a4 Qb6 31.a5 Qb5 32.exd7 Rxc4

Black is simply a piece of the good. 0-1

Zhu Jiner, Kateryna Lagno

New Sole Leader Kateryna Lagno Facing Chinese Rising Star Zhu Jiner | Photo: FIDE/Anna Shtourman

Alexandra Kosteniuk has only drawn twice at Astana. In round 9, she bounced back from Monday’s loss to Polina Shuvalova by getting the better of Vaishali Rameshbabu. The former women’s world champion got the upper hand midway through the match and was able to play a fine final combination to secure her fourth win of the event.

With 35.Nf5, White threatens to checkmate on g7. 35…f6 is bad because of 36.Rxg7+, with mat-in-8, while Vaishali 35…Qf6 fails in beauty 36.Nh6+

All white pieces except the bishop on f1 contribute to the attack. Vaishali resigned.

Alexandra Kosteniuk, Vaishali Rameshbabu

A Sicilian on the board — Alexandra Kosteniuk vs Vaishali R | Photo: FIDE/Anna Shtourman

Ranking after the 9th round

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