Macaques and defence

19 June 2021

9:00 AM

19 June 2021

9:00 AM

January normally brings cheerful photos from the Gibraltar Chess Festival, where visiting chess-players get an impromptu snap with the Barbary macaques which inhabit the island. Alas, the 2021 festival was off, while the Fide Women’s Grand Prix, a 12-player all-play-all which forms part of the Women’s World Championship cycle, was planned for January and then postponed.

Gibraltar vaccinated most of its adults by March, and by mid-May the government announced that there were no active cases among residents or visitors. That was good timing for the Fide Women’s Grand Prix, which had been rescheduled for later in May, and offered a refreshing glimpse of over-the-board chess.

Zhansaya Abdumalik, 21, from Kazakhstan, won the event convincingly. With a magnificent 8.5/11 score, she gained enough rating points to punch through the 2500 barrier, her last hurdle in qualifing for the Grandmaster title. She faced a difficult defensive challenge during the ninth game.

Valentina Gunina — Zhansaya Abdumalik

Fide Women’s Grand Prix, May 2021

Abdumalik is a pawn down and facing dangerous kingside pressure. 46…Rxb2 looks tempting, but that would allow Gunina to crash through with 47 e6! fxe6 48 Nxe6 Bxe6 49 Qxg6+ Kh8 50 Rxe6 with decisive threats. The most powerful move was 46…f4! 47 Qxf4 Qg4 48 Qxg4 hxg4, which jettisons a second pawn to defuse the kingside attack. The b2-pawn can only be defended with 49 Rb1, but after 49…Bb6! White’s position is hopeless. The enmired bishop and knight can only watch as d4 and b2/f2 drop off.

Instead, Abdumalik opted for 46…Bxg5 47 Qxg5 Rc6 (to prevent Qf6) 48 Ra1 Rb6 (to prevent Ra8+), when the Black position hangs by a thread. A few moves later, Gunina had blown her advantage, but her refusal to settle for a draw allowed Abdumalik to take the full point after 133 moves. 0-1 (Valentina Gunina was already widely admired for her fighting spirit, but she outdid herself in Gibraltar. Her games lasted an average of 75 moves, and ten out of 11 were decisive.)

In this next game, White has a healthy extra pawn, a strong pair of bishops, and the rook on h8 is sidelined. In this desperate situation, Paehtz found an imaginative defensive ploy.

Alina Kashlinskaya — Elizabeth Paehtz

Fide Women’s Grand Prix, May 2021

24…Kh7! 25 Rxh5+ Kg8 Now if 26 Rxh8+ Kxh8 27 Rd1 b5 28 axb5 axb5 29 Qxb5 Bf6 White should win with best play, and 30 Rd6! is a good start. But it’s easy to get spooked when you notice that 30 Bxf6? even allows 30…Nb3 mate! Kashlinskaya preferred 26 Rd5. Now, compare with the diagram: the h5 pawn has vanished! So Paehtz played 26…Rh4 with troublesome counterplay 27 g4 Bf8 28 a5 Rc7 29 Rhd1 h2-h3 and Bf3-g2 was safer, to lock the Rh4 out 29…Rxh2 30 Rf5 Rxf2 31 Rh1 Ne6 Objectively, the position remains unclear, but the trend is strongly in Black’s favour. 32 Qd5 Rc5 33 Qe4 Ng5 34 Rxg5 Rxg5 35 Qxg6 Rxg6 36 Bxb7 Rxg4 37 Bxa6

37 e4! would prevent Black’s next move.

Bb4 38 Bd4 Bxa5 39 Bd3 Bd8 40 Bc5 g6 41 e4 Bg5+ 42 Kb1 Rd2 43 Bd4 Rh4 44 Rc1 Kh7 45 Rc8 f6 46 Rc3 Rh3 White resigns

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