Ju ½-½ Goryachkina
22nd January 2020

Ju Wenjun got nothing with the white pieces and is having problem getting the type of positions she wants. One of her wins came when Aleksandra Goryachkina overpressed, but in many of the games, Ju has not shown many ideas. Ju had won two games in a row and could end the match.

This game was also a Berlin, but varied with the 6.dxe5 Nxb5 7.a4 winning back the piece. This seen in Vallejo-Nakamura game which ended in a quick draw in 14 moves. Both players had a 40-move requirement, but this game would be dead equal after the queens came off. The rooks followed and an opposite-colored bishop ending ensued. After shuffling bishops around the board, they agreed to a draw on move 40.

Video by FIDE

Match Score: Ju 6 – Goryachkina 5

Official Site: https://wwcm2020.fide.com/
Match Regulations: https://handbook.fide.com/ (PDF)
Games (ChessBase): http://live.chessbase.com/watch/FIDE-WWCC-2020
Drum Coverage: https://www.thechessdrum.net/blog/2020/01/05/2019-womens-chess-championship-ju-vs-goryachkina/

Goryachkina 0-1 Ju
20th January 2020

Black scores the first victory of the match and it is a crucial one indeed. Ju asserted her authority in a Queen’s Gambit Declined and repeated the game from a couple of games ago when Ju played Ne4. That game did not turn out well for her. She did deviate with 6…Bf5!? receiving plaudits from GM Nigel Short. The game followed Ganguly-L’Ami played yesterday in Wijk aan Zee.

The resulting middle position had a lot dynamic subtleties that Short and Hou Yifan were working out. They were using the Carlsen-Kramnik game as an illustration. Carlsen won resoundingly, but if one looks at the Ganguly-L’Ami game, there is a strong resemblance.

What is interesting in the position is the fact that so many rules of chess have been broken. One of the differences between chess three decades ago and today is that players would never play a position with such a wretched pawn structure.

Nowadays, players consult with the engine and if it gets a good assessment, they’ll play it regardless of how horrible the structure is. The dynamism is what is important, but how does one make sense of this transition in chess understanding? It is certainly due to the advancement in the use of computers.

In this game, it is hard to understand how such a “bad” bishop can solve such problems. The commentary was actually quite fascinating and demonstrated another level of chess proficiency. The main site stated that the position had so much tension and psychology came into play.

What happened to Goryachkina next had more to do with sports psychology than with sound chess. Starting around move 25, the game was a dead draw—a result she could have forced at any point all through the first time control. Instead, she made moves like 26. b5 and 38. Bd5, probing for an advantage that was simply not there.

Ju switched her focus onto the queenside where she had a fluid pawn structure. Finally, the break 26…c5 came and this is where white began to lose the thread and play in risky fashion. Perhaps she felt there was little risk of losing the position. In fact, the commentators kept repeating the game would end in a draw.

One of the dangers when losing a game in the match is the tendency to try to win immediately. Goryachkina was able to do that in Shanghai and perhaps was overambitious. Optically, black’s position looked worse all along and this may have clouded her thinking. The final moment occurred when Goryachkina tried penetrating with the rook. After 34.Rd7 Re6 35.Rxd5 Kc6 36.Bf3 Rd6. “All drawn,” said Short.

However, the Russian went for more after 37.Rd3+ Kc7 38.Bd5, but after 38…Be8! black’s bishop was suddenly alive. Ju managed to swap the bishops and the outside passed c-pawn was the trump. Somehow Goryachkina began to play some suboptimal moves and the rook ending became impossible to hold. At the press conference, Goryachkina stated that she felt she was in control and was not affected by yesterday’s loss. Perhaps she got overzealous.

This game had many subtleties and not easy to play, but Goryachkina should have been able to secure the draw. One may ask if Goryachkina is unraveling as the tension is ratcheting up. There is a rest day and then the last two games of the match. If Ju wins again, she will clinch the match.

Video by FIDE

Match Score: Ju 5½ – Goryachkina 4½

Official Site: https://wwcm2020.fide.com/
Match Regulations: https://handbook.fide.com/ (PDF)
Games (ChessBase): http://live.chessbase.com/watch/FIDE-WWCC-2020
Drum Coverage: https://www.thechessdrum.net/blog/2020/01/05/2019-womens-chess-championship-ju-vs-goryachkina/

Ju 1-0 Goryachkina
19th January 2020

Ju Wenjun equalizes with Aleksandra Goryachkina after a resounding win in game 9 of the Women’s World Championship. The Chinese player played dynamically and flummoxed the commentators with her 21.a4! A new commentator joined the booth as “Nikolai Shortovsky” gave his insights on the position. 🙂

GMs Hou Yifan and Nigel Short

GMs Hou Yifan and Nikolai Shortovsky

After Nigel Short returned, he and Hou Yifan were both skeptical of her play because it exposed the white king. In fact she had seen that the b-file could be plugged up and at the same time, the two bishops would rake the black kingside. However, the critical moment came when Ju Wenjun sacrificed the exchange to exploit the a1-h8 diagonal.

However, tension in a championship match makes such positions doubly difficult. While Goryachkina had better moves, but perhaps got nervous and begin to falter. The move 27…Rd8 was criticized by the commentators although the engines give -1.14. It does appear that 27…Qb4! would have given black a definite edge.

The game was rich in complications. There was an interesting moment after 29…Qg2? giving Ju the chance after 30.Qe5 (threatening both Qxb8+ and Qxf6+!) Rxb3 31.cxb3 Qc6! There was still a lot of tension in the position and Ju found a way to advance her king and trade queens. Black’s queenside pawns were an immediate target and were eventually lost. Ju was able to sacrifice her last piece and get her pawns rolling. This was too much for the black bishop and Goryachkina conceded.

Video by FIDE

Match Score: Ju 4½ – Goryachkina 4½

Official Site: https://wwcm2020.fide.com/
Match Regulations: https://handbook.fide.com/ (PDF)
Games (ChessBase): http://live.chessbase.com/watch/FIDE-WWCC-2020
Drum Coverage: https://www.thechessdrum.net/blog/2020/01/05/2019-womens-chess-championship-ju-vs-goryachkina/

Goryachkina 1-0 Ju
17th January 2020

Aleksandra Goryachkina took her first lead in the match. It turns out that Ju Wenjun played a dubious line in the Queen’s Gambit after 8…Ne4?! This line doesn’t have a good reputation and the Russian demonstrated why.

It appeared that black had a solid position, but her pieces became tangled defending various weak points. The h1-a8 diagonal was also vulnerable after 30.e5! bxc5 31.Qh1! Nb8. White could’ve pressed on with 32.b5! but chose the more direct 32.Be4 and eventually crashed through.

Goryachkina received the concession from Ju in her usual stoic manner. She may realize that Ju is much too strong to be celebrating, but the truth is she has outplayed the champion thus far.

Video by FIDE

Match Score: Goryachkina 4½ – Ju 3½

Official Site: https://wwcm2020.fide.com/
Match Regulations: https://handbook.fide.com/ (PDF)
Games (ChessBase): http://live.chessbase.com/watch/FIDE-WWCC-2020
Drum Coverage: https://www.thechessdrum.net/blog/2020/01/05/2019-womens-chess-championship-ju-vs-goryachkina/

Levon Aronian sharing wisdom prior to
South Africa Junior Chess Championships
Photo by Tendai Mubayiwa

Africa is starting off the year with hopes of capitalizing off of the momentum generated from last year’s progress. Last year an elite contingent of chess Grandmasters visited Africa as part of the historic Grand Chess Tour in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire. This is part of an increasing trend to integrate the continent as an important part of the chess community. Over the years, Africa has attracted chess celebrities including Judit Polgar, Viswanathan Anand, Nigel Short, Hikaru Nakamura, Wesley So, and now Armenia’s Levon Aronian.

Aronian was in South Africa to help launch the 2020 South African Junior Championships. His 107-board simultaneous exhibition was a hot ticket indeed. The affable and fashion-forward GM strolled the boards while donning the “Madiba smart” shirt, a style popularized to the world by Nelson Mandela.

Playing a simul of that size takes a lot of energy and focus but the Armenian begin to cut down the opposition one after the other. The difference was that Aronian had no rating limits and the players were randomized so he didn’t know where there strongest players were. There were a number of draws (due to participants having to play in the Jr. tournament), but there was one fortunate soul who claimed victory against the famed GM.

Levon Aronian against 107 in South Africa

Aronian poised to face 107 ambitious challengers
Photo by Reint Dykema

Cornelius Klaver trotted out the Center Counter and the game saw a lot of tension with both sides building up attacks on opposite wings. The game entered tremendous complications after Aronian sacrificed a bishop on e6. Klaver ignored the piece and continued mobilizing his pieces.

Aronian lost control of the thread and the South African player crashed through with a blistering attack! This would be the only blemish in Aronian’s exhibition and he would end on 78 wins, 28 draws and the sole loss to Klaver. Africa Chess Media has the game here!

What visit would be complete if a Grandmaster doesn’t play at the popular watering hole where chess hustlers are lurking? These players are a different breed and are generally make up in speed what they lack in skill. This place is Joubert Park where the action happens. Hikaru Nakamura paid a visit to the park in 2018 in a famous video on chess.com. Wesley So held court last year. Aronian would be the latest GM to face the “lion’s den,” but seemed to be in his element. Africa Chess Media posted a video of the encounter with Simphiwe Buthelezi at 3:1 odds.

Video by Africa Chess Media

The video is endearing for so many reasons besides the cool hat Aronian is wearing. The music and the excitement shows the allure of street chess. It would be the only game Aronian would lose at Joubert, but what a moment! Africa Chess Media’s Tendai Mubayiwa summed up the moment…

It was the only game I saw the GM make a blunder and appear a bit flustered the whole time in the park. Everyone else had tried and failed in Joubert Park and all hope seemed lost. But the great Simphiwe Buthelezi, (@SIMZA19 Lichess handle) saved the day! What a huge relief it was for everyone. Grandmaster Levon Aronian had mowed down the opposition and not even come close to losing in other games. Yes this unassuming young man, Simphiwe Buthelezi, Simza had done what few thought was still possible on Sunday, beating Super Chess Grandmaster Levon Aronian in Joubert Park.

Aronian has always been interested in the expansion of chess in Africa and has been a supporter of The Chess Drum over the years (interviews 2006, 2008, 2012, 2017). It is hopeful that the stream of elite players will continue to visit Africa and encourage others to actually play in Africa in order to qualify for norms. There was a very candid interview conducted where Aronian talks about many topics including the future of chess in Africa. Very insightful!

Ju ½-½ Goryachkina
16th January 2020

Play resumed today in Vladivostok where British commentator Nigel Short reported bone-chilling temperatures of -23C. It was anticipated that there would be some fireworks at the board, but it fizzled to a draw after 67 moves… another marathon. It appears that stamina and nerves may be a deciding factor.

In this game, Ju Wenjun played 4.d3 avoiding the previous two 1.e4 games that resulted in the Berlin. Both games were drawn. This game would be a more positional tone with slow maneuvering and an accumulation of small advantages. Aleksandra Goryachkina faced a delayed exchange and the game slowly went into the middlegame. The pawn structures were imbalanced with white having both central pawns and pressure on the f-file.

After the queens were traded white maintained the structure advantage and begin to apply pressure on the light squares. However, the Russian was able to trade off the knights and ease some of the tension. While white still had the advantage, the position was a bit rigid.

Goryachkina tried 39…g6!? which made a concession, but the idea was that her rooks would become more active since moving the king to the h-file would be risky. Ju decided to trot the king over the queenside to provoke weaknesses. This would not be enough to create a tangible advantage and the game was comfortably drawn.

Video by FIDE

Match Score: Ju 3½ – Goryachkina 3½

Official Site: https://wwcm2020.fide.com/
Match Regulations: https://handbook.fide.com/ (PDF)
Games (ChessBase): http://live.chessbase.com/watch/FIDE-WWCC-2020
Drum Coverage: https://www.thechessdrum.net/blog/2020/01/05/2019-womens-chess-championship-ju-vs-goryachkina/

2020 Women’s World Chess Championship
January 3rd-11th, 2020 (Shanghai, China & Vladivostok, Russia)
Ju Wenjun
Drum Coverage

The Women’s World Chess Championship is at the midway point with the match score tied at 3-3. Thus far, the match has been hard-fought with the average game lasting 73 moves. Aleksandra Goryachkina has actually had more chances against the defending champion Ju Wenjun.

The games have been tense with the Russian missing winning chances in a few of the games. Ju is fortunate not to be behind in the match. She has tried 1.e4 in two white games with no success against the Berlin. One may think that she may be hiding some of the preparation that is still being done by her team.


Ju Wenjun and Aleksandra Goryachkina
Photo by Zhang Yanhong

Goryachkina must feel good about her performance so far. It is true that she did not make the most of her chances, but now she is heading to her homeland where she will be greeted by a throng of fans and supporters. One of the things the young Russian star will have to be wary of is getting emotionally impacted by the overwhelming support. Viswanathan Anand experienced such distractions in his title defense against Magnus Carlsen. Saying that, her stoic demeanor may by a good thing.


Aleksandra Goryachkina in one of her rare smiling moments
at a Moscow conference before the championship match.
Photo by Chess Federation of Russia

Both have tried opening experiments… Ju (1.e4) and Goryachkina (1.c4). This may be to avoid exhausting preparation of their main weapon or to avoid opponent’s preparation altogether. Ju has been on the defensive in many of the games and Goryachkina has tested her by playing longer than would deemed normal in dead equal positions.

Two of the positions in game 1 and 6 feature good knight vs. bad bishop and Goryachkina played 40 moves of shuffling the knight around the board hoping for a misplacement of the bishop. This may be a psychological message to show the champion that she is on par and can control the state of affairs.

Is “home field advantage” overrated
in championship chess matches?

It will be up to Ju to reassert her authority as the reigning champion. The change in venue could serve as a relief for Ju due to ease any homeland pressure. One may wonder whether “home field advantage” is benefit or a detriment.

Magnus Carlsen (no less) seems to prefer playing high-stakes match outside of Norway. Viswanathan Anand defended his title in Bulgaria on Veselin Topalov’s home turf and Carlsen stripped the title from Anand in Chennai, India. Ju successfully defended her title against Kateryna Lagno in Russia. Thus, she may be comfortable without the extra attention.


Ju Wenjun will spring some surprises in the second half
and will undoubtedly be confident.
Photo by Zhang Yanhong

If one has noticed Goryachkina’s button “Sima Land,” it is the largest Russian wholesale company headquartered in Ekaterinburg. While the Chinese team was ever-present in the hall, the Russian team has been kept a mystery. In a pre-match conference in Moscow, Goryachkina stated, “I will reveal my team only after the Match.” She did mention the “Chess Federation of Russia” as lending full support.

It will be an interesting second half and we can expect to see all the preparation come out early. If one player wins early, it will put tremendous pressure in what is essentially a six-game match.

Official Site: https://wwcm2020.fide.com/
Match Regulations: https://handbook.fide.com/ (PDF)
Games (TWIC): https://theweekinchess.com/

Liberia Liberia Liberia

2019 Liberia National Championship

Left to Right: Former Champions James Stephen Tondo III and FM Barcon Harmon with Thomas Saah wearing his championship medal. Photo by Mario Kpan

Left to Right: Former Champions James Stephen Tondo III and FM Barcon Harmon with Thomas Saah wearing his championship medal. Photo by Mario Kpan.

Kenya Chess Masala has just reported on the Liberian National Championship ending this past weekend in Buchanan City, Liberia. The winner of the championship was Thomas Saah, who in his impassioned victory speech, gave a warning to Nigeria and pledged that the regional power would not have its way in West African zone.

Saah talled +6 or 7.5/9 enroute to his first championship and with it, qualification for the Olympiad team. He was a part of the historic Batumi team that featured FM Barcon Harmon, CM (now FM) Jacob Jallah, James Tondo III and Tom Sawyer.

Wesley So and Hikaru Nakamura with Liberia at 2018 Chess Olympiad in Batumi. Photo by David Llada

Wesley So and Hikaru Nakamura with Liberia
at 2018 Chess Olympiad in Batumi.
Photo by David Llada

Liberia has had activity for many years and in 2007 Parker Barcolleh had launched an initial appeal to help the Liberian chess community. It took efforts by some dedicated pioneers and seven years later the Liberian Chess Federation was born. Two years later they joined FIDE. In another two years, they participated in the 2018 Chess Olympiad in Batumi, Georgia. Saah will lead them to Khanty-Mansisyk for the 2020 Olympiad.

Thanks to Kenya Chess Masala’s Kim Bhari for coverage!

Results: https://chess-results.com/tnr495363.aspx?lan=1&art=1

Ju ½-½ Goryachkina
11th January 2020

Another hard-fought battle in today’s action at the World World Chess Championship in Shanghai, China. It would be the last game in the first leg of the match. Aleksandra Goryachkina must feel satisfied with the status of the match given that she was able to level the score after losing the fourth game. It was her first victory which should give her confidence an added boost.

On the other hand, Ju Wenjun did not impress today and got nothing against the Russian’s Berlin Defense. In fact, black was slightly better throughout the middle and toward the end had a good knight versus bad bishop scenario. This phase of the game lasted 40 moves and while eventually drawn, sent a strong message to Ju. Her young opponent will be tough to beat and is gaining confidence.

Ju had to fight 105 moves in order to make a draw with her young opponent. Isn’t it supposed to be the champion who applies the pressure to the challenger? Perhaps this is part of an overall strategy, but time is running short. Ju may have saved her analysis by playing 1.e4 twice, so we’ll have to see what will happen with her white games. The two have battled for an average of 73 moves per game! Will youth and physical fitness play a factor in the second half?

Video by FIDE

Match Score: Ju 3 – Goryachkina 3

Official Site: https://wwcm2020.fide.com/
Match Regulations: https://handbook.fide.com/ (PDF)
Games (ChessBase): http://live.chessbase.com/watch/FIDE-WWCC-2020
Drum Coverage: https://www.thechessdrum.net/blog/2020/01/05/2019-womens-chess-championship-ju-vs-goryachkina/

Tata Steel Chess 2020
2020 Tata Steel Chess - Masters

2020 Tata Steel Chess – Participants (Masters)
Photo by Alina L’Ami

Coming off of a blistering 2019, Magnus Carlsen winning the Grand Chess Tour, he starts off the 2020 campaign seeking his 8th Tata Steel title. He won the event last year 1/2-point ahead of Anish Giri who is also returning. One of the criticisms of chess is that top-level events feature the same 10-12 players.

The effect of playing the same players is (1) players get familiar with each other and (2) their preparation becomes more precise. Thus, the games mostly end in 80% draws approaching the rate of draughts. GM Jonathan Tisdall made an interesting observation via Tweet…

Nevertheless, the good thing about the Tata Steel Chess event (besides the pea soup) is the diversity of the field. In general, the organizers are able to pull together a mixture of world-class talent, cagey veterans and rising stars. Both Alireza Firouzja and Jeffery Xiong will be making their first appearances in the Masters section. Firouzja won a silver medal at the recent World Rapid & Blitz Championships. Xiong played in the Challengers section back in 2017 and 2018.

The previous winner of the Challengers section gets an automatic berth to the Masters section. That honor goes to Belorussian player Vladislav Kovalev who won the group last year by 1.5 points. This field is even younger with several of the participants being less than 20 years old. Last year was saw India’s Rameshabu Praganandhaa, but this year 15-year old Nihal Sarin will carry the flag.

Other young talents here are Nodirbek Abdusattorov (15), Anton Smirnov (18), Lucas van Foreest (18) and Vincent Keymer (15). Both van Foreest and Keymer played last year finishing in the bottom half. Dinara Saduakassova also played last year and is the only woman in either section. The veterans of the field are Pavel Eljanov, Surya Shekhar Ganguly, Rauf Mamedov and Erwin l’Ami… all in their 30s.

Video by Tata Steel Chess

2020 Tata Steel Tournament
January 11th-26th, 2020 (Wijk aan Zee, Netherlands)
1 Carlsen, Magnus GM Norway
2 Caruana, Fabiano GM USA
3 Giri, Anish GM Netherlands
4 So, Wesley GM USA
5 Anand, Viswanathan GM India
6 Duda, Jan-Krzysztof GM Poland
7 Vitiugov, Nikita GM Russia
8 Artemiev, Vladislav GM Russia
9 Yu, Yangyi GM China
10 Firouzja, Alireza GM FIDE
11 Xiong, Jeffery GM USA
12 Dubov, Daniil GM Russia
13 Kovalev, Vladislav GM Belarus
14 Van Foreest, Jorden GM Netherlands
1 Anton Guijarro, David GM Spain
2 Grandelius, Nils GM Sweden
3 Mamedov, Rauf GM Azerbaijan
4 Eljanov, Pavel GM Ukraine
5 Ganguly, Surya Shekhar GM India
6 Abdusattorov, Nodirbek GM Uzbekistan
7 Nihal Sarin GM India
8 L’Ami, Erwin GM Netherlands
9 Smirnov, Anton GM Australia
10 Smeets, Jan GM Netherlands
11 Keymer, Vincent IM Germany
12 Van Foreest, Lucas GM Netherlands
13 Saduakassova, Dinara IM Kazakhstan
14 Warmerdam, Max IM Netherlands
Official Site

Official Site: https://www.tatasteelchess.com/
Schedule: Masters, Challengers
Videos: (YouTube)

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