Valentina Gunina has won the European Individual Women's Championship for a second time, gaining 22 Elo points in the process. The 25-year-old Russian suffered a first round stumble – drawing against Romania’s WGM Irina Ionescu (2253) – but then went on a fantastic 7-game winning streak, so that two draws in her final games were sufficient to claim the title. Spanish IM David Martínez takes a look back at her performance.
After becoming the sole leader on 5.5/6 Gunina had to face Ukraine’s Natalia Zhukova, who achieved a very promising position…
This is perhaps the key position of the whole tournament. Zhukova has an extra pawn, and although converting it into a win isn’t easy she had good chances. However, the tide is about to turn.
37. ♗c6? An ambitious move, aiming to capture a second pawn on b5, but one which leaves the king unprotected. This loses all of the edge and only precise defence can now save White.
37. ♕c6 or Qb7, protecting the bishop, would have retained the extra pawn with the king protected.
37... ♖d5! Blocking the access of the bishop, and indirectly the queen, to the kingside.
37... ♕a1 would also have posed White great problems.
b) 38. ♗xb5 ♘f3! A beautiful move. 39. ♖c7! This counterblow saves White. (39. ♔xf3 ♕h1+ 40. ♔f4 g5+ 41. ♔xg5 ♕xh3 and mate is inevitable.) 39... ♖d2 40. ♗f1 (40. ♔xf3 loses to 40... g5 not allowing the king to escape. The queen-rook tandem does the rest.) 40... ♘h4+ Spoiling the white structure. (40... ♕e1 41. ♖xg7+! ♔xg7 42. ♕b7+ ♔f6 43. ♕xf3 and White holds.) 41. gxh4 ♕e1 42. ♖xg7+ The only way to defend f2 with the queen. 42... ♔xg7 43. ♕b7+ ♔f6 44. ♕f3 ♖d1 45. ♕e2 Just in time. The ending should be holdable for White since the b-pawn won’t fall.
38. ♖xd2? Zhukova, perhaps in a state of shock, fails to find the defence.
That game inspired Valentina to go on and win her next as well, putting herself a full point ahead of her pursuers:
I love how Valentina set about winning this ending. First of all, she easily won the d5-pawn.
39. ♘d4! A very good move! Gunina rejects winning a second pawn… and gives up the extra one she has! What’s the point? Her pieces pose problems for the black king.
39. ♘xa5 ♘b2 (39... ♘xa5 40. ♖xa5 ♖e7 41. ♖e1 ♖a2 could still, after 42. g4 and a subsequent sacrifice of the a4-pawn, lead to winning possibilities for White.) 40. ♖d4 ♖e7 The black pieces are clearly more active than the white pieces, which are unable to mobilise. It’s very likely the game would have ended in a draw.
40... ♔e7 gaining space, even though there could still have been a lot of problems, for example: 41. ♖dd8 ♖xa4 (41... ♘d6 is the move proposed by the engines to defend, but after 42. ♖xd6 ♔xd6 43. ♘b5+ ♔d7 44. ♘xc7 ♔xc7 45. ♖f8 we end up with an ending where the white pawns overcome the black rook: 45... ♖xa4 46. ♖xf7+ ♔b6 47. ♖xh7 The a-pawn will force White to sacrifice the rook, but the scrum of white pawns will turn into heroes.) 42. ♘b5 ♖c5 43. ♖e8+ ♔d7 (43... ♔f6 loses to 44. ♘c3 followed by Ne4.) 44. ♖bd8+ ♔c6 45. ♘c3 and although it isn’t easy to demonstrate a forced win it’s clear that the white rooks, combining well with the knight, will pose problems for the black king and kingside pawns.
41. g4! The key move! Gunina looks to put a pawn on g5 in order to cut off the escape routes of the black king and give mate with the two rooks.
42... ♖xa4? Letting White execute the plan.
42... ♖b2 would put some obstacles in the way of White controlling the eighth rank. Nevertheless, after moving the rook to d8 or e8 and advancing the pawns on the kingside the black position would remain too cramped.
47. ♘e6+! with Re7 mate to follow. A very instructive ending!
A fine triumph for the Russian player who finished a clear point ahead of another Russian player, Tatiana Kosintseva. Valentina explained after the tournament that after a short break she’ll focus on the Olympiad along with the other team members. She remains positive about a resolution of the problems concerning the Russian team taking part.
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