Aleksandra Goryachkina, Winner of the 2019 Women’s Candidates (photo FIDE)
Aleksandra Goryachkina is the clear winner of the 2019 Women’s Candidates Tournament in Kazan, Russia, topping the field by a point and a half with a 9.5/14 score. In the process she took home the first place prize of 50,000 euros, and she qualified to play a scheduled match against current World Champion Ju Wenjun later this year.
But you knew that already, because this is old news.
Goryachkina wrapped up her victory four days ago, and with two rounds to spare, after a twelfth round draw with Tan Zhongyi. Here she faced a motivational problem familiar to a handful of (very fortunate) top players, including our own Jennifer Shahade and current U.S. Women’s Champion Jennifer Yu. How do you ramp yourself up to play chess against elite competition – this is the Candidates, after all! – when you know in your heart of hearts that the result “doesn’t matter?”
Both times I won the US Women's, I clinched in advance and got so excited I lost my final game. I admire the spirit of our new champ, Jen Yu, who explained to me on Ladies Knight why winning is even more important after clinching:
If you want to hear more about how the two Jennifers fared, check out the episode of Shahade’s new podcast Ladies Knight at the link in the tweet above.
Now, back to Kazan, and to the final two rounds. How did Goryachkina hold up under the pressure?
Gunina V. — Muzychuk A. | 0 — 1
Kosteniuk A. — Muzychuk M. | 1 — 0
Goryachkina A. — Dzagnidze N. | draw
Lagno K. — Tan Zhongyi | draw
Goryachkina wasted no time splitting the point with Dzagnidze, as their game was drawn by repetition in 20 moves. The Lagno-Tan Zhongyi game was also drawn, after a heartier 49 moves of play.
Valentina Gunina continued to suffer in Kazan with her loss to Anna Muzychuk, who ended up finishing in second place. Gunina’s 11.Nh7 and 13.Qf3 idea left her with a worse position that she could not salvage.
Alexandra Kosteniuk defeated the “other” Muzychuk, Mariya, in a very nice attacking game.
Muzychuk A. — Kosteniuk A. | draw
Muzychuk M. — Goryachkina A. | 1 — 0
Dzagnidze N. — Lagno K. | draw
Tan Zhongyi — Gunina V. | 1 — 0
Most of us tire after a playing a five-round weekender, so consider the mental strain accumulated after an eighteen day playing schedule. And then there’s the matter of a £200,000 prize fund, the chance to play for a World Championship, etc., etc. One can imagine just how wiped out these players must be.
Anna Muzychuk’s early draw against Kosteniuk is thus understandable, especially given her tournament situation, while the Dzagnidze-Lagno game was drawn fairly tamely, and Gunina collapsed in the second time control, losing to Tan Zhongyi.
The real story of the round, however, was Goryachkina’s loss to Mariya Muzychuk. More accurately, it wasn’t just that Goryachkina lost – a wholly understandable event given the psychology of the situation – but it was how she lost that really caught the chess world’s eye. Mariya Muzychuk played brilliant tactical chess to win the game, and she was awarded the “most beautiful game” prize at today’s closing ceremonies.
So Aleksandra Goryachkina moves on to become the official Challenger for the Women’s World Championship, which (if I read the FIDE website correctly) is scheduled for sometime later this year. There she will meet a very impressive Champion.
Ju Wenjun became Women’s World Champion in May 2018 by winning a match against Tan Zhongyi, and retained it with her November victory in the Women’s World Championship Knockout. She followed that up by taking the World Women’s Rapid Championship in Saint Petersburg. Suffice to say that Ju Wenjun, the second ranked woman by FIDE ratings behind Hou Yifan, will present stiff competition for the new Challenger, and the match should be one to watch.