John Saunders reports: The #GibChess Battle of the Sexes reached its halfway point at Gibraltar’s Garrison Library on Friday 28 January with a tense 5-5 draw in round five, with the women having White on all boards. The women thus still lead the men by a single point, with 25½ points to the men’s 24½. The match is beautifully poised for a tense second half when play resumes on Sunday after the Saturday rest day.
Now we’ve reached the halfway mark, it’s time to start considering how individuals are performing. After a rocky start (no pun intended), team captain Sabino Brunello has reeled off three straight wins. He now stands on 3½/5 which is the highest score on either team. As reported yesterday, the men’s team barely knew each other when they arrived in Gibraltar but it’s clear that Sabino is the glue that holds them all together. Glue is a doubly appropriate analogy as the way he stuck to his task in grinding out a win against Olga Girya was very impressive. The game lasted 105 moves, 45 of which consisted of a pure queen ending with Sabino having an extra pawn. These are notoriously difficult to win, or at least win quickly, and Olga held out well, but her king went the wrong way on move 104 to allow Sabino to force an exchange of queens and reach an easily won king and pawn ending. This clinched the draw for the men’s team. It was Olga Girya’s first loss of the event and her score is now 2½/5.
Two players in Team Sabino are on 3/5: one is Balazs Csonka, who had another quick draw to reach this score, this time against Marie Sebag. It was a Berlin Defence Ruy Lopez and ended in 15 moves. Marie has drawn all five of her games so far, none of which has yet reached move 30, while Balazs too has failed to reach move 30, other than in his first-round win against Jovanka Houska. I guess this was a case of the immovable object meeting the immovable object and, unsurprisingly, neither immovable object was moved.
The other member of Team Sabino on 3/5 is Leandro Krysa. The Argentinian grandmaster had an interesting struggle with Irene Sukandar, featuring the Exchange variation of the Caro-Kann. White chose a slightly suspect line and came under considerable pressure on the kingside from Black’s massed pieces but the defence held. Irene Sukandar’s score is also 3/5, making her joint top scorer on Team Pia, with three others.
Pia Cramling also reached 3/5 with a draw against Bobby Cheng, for whom this was a fifth straight draw. White opened 1 Nf3 and it transposed to a Queen’s Gambit Accepted. The game lasted 30 moves but there was time enough for the advantage to swing back and forth a little. Black might usefully have continued 23...Nb6 against the inferior 23 Ne2 and achieved an edge for Black. With this chance missed, White was able to gain an advantage and might usefully have continued from the position where a draw was agreed but for time pressure.
Mariya Muzychuk moved to 3/5 with a win against Eric Rosen, who now has 2/5. The opening was a slightly offbeat but known line of the Sicilian of uncertain nomenclature (to me, at any rate). Black emerged from the opening in good shape. At the cost of a pawn (which he was reasonably assured of regaining), Black allowed a considerable amount of material to be hoovered off by move 18. Stockfish approved of this transaction and awarded it an evaluation of 0.00 but this was based on a rook coming to e8 and not d8 on move 18. As played, it was a little more problematic. It was still likely to be holdable but another inaccuracy ten moves further along made the defence a little harder. Even when it came down to rook and two pawns versus rook and pawn it looked defensible, with the black king and rook seemingly well posted, but it was also easy to go wrong as proved to be the case. Black played 42...Rh4? when 42...Ke6 would have secured the draw. Tough luck on Eric but a vital point secured by Mariya for Team Pia.
The fourth member of Team Pia to reach 3/5 was Israeli IM Marsel Efroimski whose results have mirrored those of her team captain - a win in round one and four draws since. Marsel drew with Bilel Bellahcene who now has 2½/5. This was the first game to finish: a Bb5 Sicilian which ended in 14 moves. White might have had a slight edge when the draw was agreed, if analysis engines are to be believed.
Zhansaya Abdumalik moved to 2½/5 with a draw against Ravi Haria who has the same score after drawing his fifth straight game for Team Sabino. The opening was a Scotch with White seemingly having a significant edge out of the opening. However, she let this slip and Black was soon back in the game, if not slightly better. The best way to enjoy this game is to watch the players discussing it with Irina Bulmaga in a delightful video on our YouTube channel (https://www.youtube.com/gibchess). There you will find lots of entertaining chat between the two players, both of whom have recently become grandmasters, are rated within one point of each other and are clearly on the same wavelength when it comes to banter.
Before the round, Joe Gallagher was on minus one and Gunay Mammadzada on an even score but they swapped places after Joe beat Gunay in a sharp sideline of the Najdorf Sicilian which the experienced Anglo-Swiss GM practically invented. Joe thus moves to 2½/5 while Gunay has 2/5. Black’s move 16...Nf3+ looks spectacular but it’s something Joe has been familiar with for 30+ years, having written about it in a magazine around that time. It’s well worth watching my post-game chat with Joe, also on our YouTube channel, as he gives a bit more detail about it there. As played, Black emerges from the complications with rook and two pawns for two minor pieces, which Stockfish thinks slightly favours White, but Joe Gallagher thinks differently. I’d be more likely to trust Joe’s judgment when it comes down to the human playability of a given line as he’s one of the best chess writers around. (I have no hesitation in saying that he’s my personal favourite writer when it comes to opening books.) Subsequent play was extremely complicated and of course there were some inaccuracies which Stockfish points out. There was one real zinger missed in time trouble - 31...Rc8!! Joe kicked himself for playing 34...Qe3 after which he had to win the game all over again. White should probably have kept the queens on with 36 Bxf3 after which the game might not have been winnable for Black. Bad luck on Gunay Mammadzada for facing such an experienced GM in his pet line, and a few rounds into the event just as he had shaken off some of his ring rust.
Jovi Houska and Husain Aziz were both on 1½/4 when they met in round five. Jovi surprised Husain with her first move, 1 Nf3, so he determined to confuse her by adopting an offbeat idea for Black, routing a knight to b6 and then playing ...Bf5. The game exited known territory as early as move six. Black was doing fine until 26...Ba3 after which his queen became stranded behind enemy lines. Soon Black was completely and utterly lost but White miscalculated on move 38 which cost her all of her advantage. Jovi fought valiantly to regain an advantage for another 30 moves but Husain defended stoutly to hold. The self-deprecating Qatari IM later referred to his play as “boring” in our post-game chat (on YouTube) but actually it was a very entertaining struggle. Jovi will be kicking herself for letting this one slip.
Nino Batsiashvili and Gillian Bwalya have both played four out of the five rounds played so far. Nino is the nominated reserve for Team Pia and she has played those four games as Antoaneta Stefanova tested positive for Covid earlier in the event and, though asymptomatic, is required to remain in self-isolation at the hotel for a number of days in accordance with the Gibraltar protocol for this event. (Every player and tournament official is required to be lateral flow tested on a daily basis.) All being well, and she tests negative, Antoaneta Stefanova could be back playing in round eight. As for Gillian, he had an extremely difficult journey to Gibraltar from Zambia and he’s perhaps not acclimatised yet, having scored half a point from four games. Nino Batsiashvili also had a tough start but she now has 1½/4 after beating Gillian. Their game started with a Dutch Defence but it left theory behind on move five. Gillian’s 7...g5 was an ambitious try to advance on the kingside. Nino too was bold in going for a central advance. With hindsight, Black might have done better to stop White opening up the kingside for his rook by playing 17...g4. As played, White gained some control of the dark squares as well as setting threats along the h-file. Black’s position deteriorated drastically after he allowed the white queen to enter his territory at c7 - 25...Qc7 might have defended longer.
Note that Saturday 29 January is a rest day - round six is on Sunday 30 January at 15.00 CET.
Photos of Round 5 may be found on Flickr via the web link - https://flic.kr/s/aHBqjzAfxa
Live coverage of the event will be found at the official website: https://www.gibchess.com/live-commentary