Aleksandra Goryachkina has qualified to play in the “men’s” Russian Championship Superfinal after finishing 3rd in the Higher League with a brilliant 6.5/9. 22-year-old Aleksandra, the reigning Russian Women’s Champion, scored a perfect 5/5 with the white pieces as she climbed to 2610.5 on the live rating list, the 4th highest female rating of all time. Russian Women’s Championship runner-up Polina Shuvalova also starred as she finished 14th, picking up 18 rating points to storm into the 2500 club.
The 2021 Russian Championship Higher League took place from June 26 to July 5 in Cheboksary, a Russian port on the Volga River 150km from Kazan. The main goal of the Open and Women’s events was to qualify the Top 5 players for the Russian Championship Superfinals to be held later in the year.
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As has become traditional, Russian women’s no. 1 Aleksandra Goryachkina played the Open event, but this time she finished as one of the qualifiers to the Open Russian Championship.
Aleksandra lost only to the winner, 32-year-old Pavel Ponkratov, as she went on to score 6.5/9 to finish just half a point behind.
It was a spectacular result built on winning all five games with the white pieces, with Aleksandra’s victory over veteran Alexey Dreev memorable in more ways than one. It was a game full of tactics, with Aleksandra sacrificing an exchange on move 17.
17.Nxg6! fxg6 18.Rxd5 exd5 19.Qxd5+ Kh7 20.Qxc6 left an extremely sharp but balanced position. The next major turning point came just before the time control, when Dreev played 36…Bf6?!.
Aleksandra went for the forcing line 37.Bf7! Bh4 (37…Qe7 is hit by 38.Nf5) 38.Bxe6 Bxg3+ 39.Kg1 Re1+ 40.Qxe1 Bxe1. It was a nice tactical liquidation by Black, but left Aleksandra with two extra pawns.
As there were opposite-coloured bishops on the board it was far from an automatic conversion, but the Russian Women’s Champion held on to score a huge win.
Whatever happened, Aleksandra would be only the 6th woman ever to cross the 2600 mark on the live rating list, but there were still three rounds to go. It looked like it might be another near miss for Goryachkina in the Higher League when she lost the next game after a Berlin gone wrong against eventual winner Pavel Ponkratov.
Pavel found some beautiful moves.
39.Bb6!! was a fine trick, since 39…cxb6? 40.axb6 is hopeless for Black. After 40…Qd7 (the only way to stop a quick mate) 41.Qxd7+ Kxd7 42.e6+! either the e or b-pawn will queen. Goryachkina fought on with 39…Qd7 40.Qf8+ Kb7 41.Bd4 but White was in complete control and Pavel went on to win the game and tournament.
That could easily have signalled a collapse for Goryachkina, but instead she stormed back to win both the final games, where it helped that she again had the white pieces. The win over Alexandr Predke was a demolition job, with some stylish choices.
There are various ways to win, but Aleksandra picked 28.Qg6+! Qxg6 29.hxg6+ Kxg6 30.Rxd5!, based on the fork 30…Rxd5 31.Ne7+. Predke instead chose 30…Rxf5, but after 31.Rxd6+! Goryachkina had a winning rook ending, as she went on to prove.
Aleksandra finished the job with victory over talented 21-year-old Alexey Sarana.
That result made Goryachkina by far the highest rated active chess player in the world, ahead of Humpy Koneru on 2586 and Women’s World Champion Ju Wenjun on 2560. Only Hou Yifan, who’s all but retired from classical chess, is higher rated on 2658.
It also means that Goryachkina has become the 4th highest rated female player of all time on the live rating list.
For now the rating will remain unofficial, with Goryachkina set to play the Women’s World Cup as top seed from July 15th. She starts from Round 2, against Carolina Lujan or Gulrukhbegim Tokhirjonova, with her bracket to the semi-final looking as follows:
According to seedings she would then meet Anna Muzychuk before facing Kateryna Lagno in the final. You’ll be able to follow all the Women’s World Cup games live with commentary here on chess24.
The other qualifying places were taken by Maksim Chigaev, Aleksandr Rakhmanov and Alexander Motylev, but another major female success story was that of 20-year-old Polina Shuvalova, who finished runner-up to Goryachkina in the 2020 Russian Women’s Championship. In Cheboksary she won four games and finished 14th, but she would have qualified for the Open Russian Championship herself if she’d beaten Mikhail Antipov in the final round, since she had a better tiebreak than anyone other than the tournament winner.
Her +17.9 points saw the Challengers Chess Tour player storm into the 2500 club, the women’s equivalent of the 2700 club, on the live rating list.
She posted on Instagram.
Higher League 2021
- Main result: crossing 2500 on the classical rating list (2507 on live)
- 5 points out of 9 with a 2639 performance
- 14th place after starting as 28th seed
- Excellent training before the World Cup in Sochi
Meanwhile there was also a highly competitive Women’s Higher League to qualify players for the Women’s Championship Superfinal, with Marina Guseva, who finished joint 3rd in the 2020 Championship, scoring a stunning 8.5/9.
Her game against Evgenija Ovod in the penultimate round confirmed first place, and featured a spectacular finish.
41.Bg5! hxg5? (after 41…f6! White is better, but the fight goes on) 42.hxg5+ Kg7 43.Rh7+ Kf8
44.Rd8+! and it’s mate next move. Black resigned. Not a bad way to win a tournament!
Marina finished a full two points ahead of the pack. She was joined in qualification by Anastasia Bodnaruk, Daria Voit and Evgenija Ovod (6.5/9) and Alina Bivol (6/9), with top seed Olga Girya and 3rd seed Alisa Galliamova among the players to miss out. You can replay all the games here.