Mind Games And Close Calls: Shuvalova Unnerves Wagner

Mind Games And Close Calls: Shuvalova Unnerves Wagner


It was a day of narrow escapes in round eight of the Nicosia FIDE Women’s Grand Prix 2022-2023. WGM Dinara Wagner maintained her lead, navigating her way out of a close call vs. IM Polina Shuvalova, who prepared a shrewd psychological surprise for the tournament leader.

GMs Harika Dronavalli and Tan Zhongyi continue to chase Wagner, trailing by half a point. Tan survived an endgame struggle vs. GM Aleksandra Goryachkina. Harika endured a material deficit vs. IM Gunay Mammadzada, finding an escape hatch by trading into an opposite-color bishop ending. 

Down but not out, IM Oliwia Kiolbasa had GM Alexandra Kosteniuk on the ropes in a dynamic Sicilian ending. In addition, GM Kateryna Lagno fought with verve to hold a pawn-down ending vs. GM Nana Dzagnidze

Winning a second game in a row, IM Bibisara Assaubayeva was the only victor of the day. She defeated GM Bella Khotenashvili convincingly in the Grunfeld, careful not to allow her opponent a miraculous save like in the previous round. 

The FIDE Women’s Grand Prix continues with round eight on Thursday, May 25, starting at 5:00 a.m. Pacific/14:00 CEST.

How to watch?

You can watch live games of the FIDE Women’s Grand Prix on our Events Page. The rounds start each day at 5:00 a.m. Pacific/14:00 CEST.

Wagner vs. Shuvalova

Shuvalova arrived at the board armed, not just with strong opening preparation, but with fascinating mind games ready for her opponent. Flipping the script on the usually well-prepared Wagner, Shuvalova headed straight into the Catalan variation that Wagner used to defeat Goryachkina in round one. Luring Wagner into a position where she has a pleasant memory of her upset victory vs. the top seed, Shuvalova surprised her with a complex exchange sacrifice. 

This strategy set Wagner off balance. She gave up a pawn and burned much more time than her opponent to navigate the opening, fighting for a draw with the white pieces. Shuvalova pressed relentlessly, activating her pieces and trying to set her passed pawn in motion. Ultimately, due to her excellent form and fighting spirit, the tournament leader was able to save the game. She set up a blockade of Shuvalova’s passer and used tactical means to incite exchanges into a drawn ending. 

Goryachkina vs. Tan

One of the top tier matchups was Goryachkina vs. Tan: the top seed faced vs. 16th women’s world champion. With white, Goryachkina went for the long squeeze in a Catalan endgame with a better pawn structure and good knight vs. tied down bishop. Despite having a slightly worse position for much of the game, Tan stayed cognizant of the subtleties of the ending, capitalizing on the key moments to improve her pieces and prevent White’s progress until she neutralized Goryachkina’s advantage. Can you find the move that sealed equality?

Leading in Grand Prix points, Goryachkina is the frontrunner for the Candidates qualification spots. Photo: Mark Livshitz/FIDE.

Assaubayeva vs. Khotenashvili

Facing the Grunfeld, Assaubayeva opted for the thematic a2-pawn sacrifice to draw the black queen far away from the rest of the action and gain time to build up kingside play with f4-f5. Khotenashvili tried to create counterplay on the queenside but struggled in the face of White’s threats against her king and the disconnected nature of her forces.

Soon, Assaubayeva noticed the opportunity to win material. Can you spot how?

With a comfortable material edge and her continuing grip on the kingside, Assaubayeva added to the pressure by activating her rook to the seventh rank and sinking her queen onto Black’s weak dark squares. Khotenashvili’s limited forces were unable to hold back all of White’s threats.

This attacking victory is our Game of the Day, analyzed by GM Rafael Leitao

After the game, Assaubayeva admitted with a smile that her opponent’s miraculous save in round seven did cross her mind:

“I saw yesterday’s game, and I was a little bit nervous about this because I thought: if it would be a second day in a row, it would be fantastic for her.”

After a rocky start, Assaubayeva has begun to find her stride. Photo: Mark Livshitz/FIDE.

Kosteniuk vs. Kiolbasa

Despite struggling for much of this tournament, Kiolbasa nearly scored her first win today vs. the 12th women’s world champion. Perhaps after seeing yesterday’s slew of Sicilian victories, Kiolbasa decided to try for her share of glory in the counterstrike-laden opening. From the black side of the Lowenthal, the Polish International Master took charge of the position with the center break 9…d5!?, capitalizing on her opponent’s slower development. Kiolbasa gained great activity, especially her knights, which found potent posts in the center.

As the players traded queens, Black increased her grip on the queenside, sinking one of her knights into the prominent c4-outpost. Though all of her pieces were better placed than their counterparts, Kiolbasa missed her opportunity to target Kosteniuk’s backwards pawn, choosing instead to repeat three times and draw. While Black is still clearly significantly better in the final position, Kiolbasa was likely eager to break her four-game losing streak. It can be psychologically challenging to take a risk against such a prominent player after so many losses. 

In her interview, Kiolbasa shared her perspective on the challenging event she’s had:

“It’s a completely new event for me. I haven’t played this strong of a tournament where every player is simply extremely strong. I’ve played with some of them, but usually we also had some easier games during the tournament. Now it’s simply tough, and it’s a great experience. I think a lot of players went through the same in the Grand Prix series. […]

I’m just going to treat this as a learning opportunity. This is showing a lot of places for improvement.”

I’m just going to treat this as a learning opportunity. This is showing a lot of places for improvement.

-Oliwia Kiolbasa

Kiolbasa is approaching her tournament with a growth mindset, a key tool in the improvement process. Photo: Mark Livshitz/FIDE.

Harika vs. Mammadzada

Mammadzada’s control of the center and pressure on her opponent’s isolani won her a pawn in the middlgegame. The Azerbaijani international master pressed, but Harika steered the game into an opposite-color bishop ending. With the bishops speeding around the board on entirely different realms, Harika sacrificed a pawn to create counterplay and initiate pawn trades. In the end, she was able to hold off Mammadzada’s material edge on the light squares. 

Dzagnidze vs. Lagno

After yesterday’s loss, Lagno looked to be interested in a sharper game today, developing ambitiously and shaking the center in the opening with 11…d4!? This set off a desperado sequence that traded away most of the minor pieces, queenside pawn structure, and soon the queens, leaving GM Nana Dzagnidze with an extra pawn. The Georgian grandmaster tried to create chances in the arising ending, but Lagno made it as tough as possible, finding increasingly active posts for her pieces and creating counterpressure on White’s isolated a-pawn. 

To escape the pressure, Dzagnidze traded into a rook ending with four pawns vs. three on the kingside. Lagno set up a sturdy defensive position and had no trouble holding the draw.

Results – Round 8


Assaubayeva 1 – 0 Khotenashvili
Goryachkina 1/2 – 1/2 Tan
Harika 1/2 – 1/2 Mammadzada
Wagner 1/2 – 1/2 Shuvalova
Dzagnidze 1/2 – 1/2 Lagno
Kosteniuk 1/2 – 1/2 Kiolbasa

Standings – Round 8

Tan and Harika, the two competitors in second, get their chance to break the tie next round. Additionally, Lagno and Kosteniuk, the players (along with Goryachkina) heavily in contention for qualification for the Candidates, will face each other. 

Pairings – Round 9


Kiolbasa  –  Assaubayeva
Lagno  –  Kosteniuk
Shuvalova  –  Dzagnidze
Mammadzada  –  Wagner
Tan Harika
Khotenashvili Goryachkina

All Games – Round 8

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