Goryachkina arrived at the venue just under 15 minutes before the start of the game, while Tan Zhongyi also made it in time with only a few minutes to spare. Chief arbiter Husan Turdialiev was already prepared for the ceremonial opening moves, which were performed by the Mayor of Khiva, Timur Davletov, and by Lola Mirzaeva, General Manager of the Farovon Hotel.
Playing with White, Goryachkina opened the game with 1.d4, her usual choice. Tan Zhongyi repeated the Queen’s Gambit declined defense, with which she was quite successful in her quarter-final match against Kateryna Lagno. After an early exchange of queenside pawns, a balanced symmetrical position was reached.
According to my database, two Chinese masters Xu Zhihang and Zhou Weiqi had already played the same variation in this year’s Fuling tournament. Additionally, their game was strikingly similar to today’s encounter!
On move 22, Tan Zhongyi could have captured a pawn on a3. She thought about it for nearly eight minutes but finally decided not to go down that road.
The game remained approximately equal until around move 30: Goryachkina had a slightly worse pawn structure but Tan Zhongyi was straddled with a passive bishop.
Just when the game seemed to be heading for a draw, Goryachkina exchanged knights on c4, giving her opponent a passed pawn and a very nice diagonal for the bishop. Very low on time, it was understandably a difficult decision to make. The tables had turned: now it was Tan Zhongyi pressing for the win.
They maneuvered around for nearly sixty-five more moves - Goryachkina kept trying to set up an impenetrable fortress. According to the engine, it seems that Tan Zhongyi was very close to winning. However, in practical terms, she was unable to make progress and a draw was finally agreed upon.
“All in all, I didn’t think that my position was that challenging. We were just moving back and forth and I don’t recall having any major problems” were Aleksandra Goryachkina’s first impressions after the game. “Maybe my opponent was able to play stronger at some moments, but she didn’t”.
Game two of the semi-final is scheduled for Wednesday, December 7th at 3 pm and can be followed live with expert grand master commentary on FIDE Youtube.
Text: IM Michael Rahal
Photo: Timur Sattarov