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Mariya Muzychuk and Yifan Hou take the lead after the first round
europe echecs (1)
A panoramic of Salon Touzet, a private hall of Casino Montecarlo (Photo: Europe Echecs)

The first round of the Grand Prix tournament in Monaco got under way on the 3rd of October 2015, after the Director of Casinos of Montecarlo, Mr. John Galvani, made the honorary move 1.e4 in the game between current World Champion Mariya Muzychuk and former World Champion Antoaneta Stefanova.

John Galvani makes the first move with the advice of FIDE President Kirsan Ilumzhinov

The first round was quite peaceful at the beginning, with three fast draws. The quickest one was Zhukova-Dzagnidze in a positional theoretical short battle. Another draw came a few minutes later between the young Iranian Khademalsharieh Sarasadat, who played solidly against elder Muzychuk’s sister. After two hours local player Almira Skripchenko forced a draw with former world champion Alexandra Kosteniuk, after a short but sharp fight. The last three remaining games provided more emotions. World’s number one Yifan Hou won with black against Pia Cramling, who played a bit passive with the White pieces, got under pressure and eventually made a big blunder.

FIDE President Kirsan Ilumzhinov carefully following the games

Humpy Koneru had a difficult time against Natalia Pogonina and was happy to share the point. The protagonists of the longest game of the round were Mariya Muzychuk and Antoaneta Stefanova, who played for more than five hours, with a victory for the Ukrainian after 73 moves.

DSC01886  Zhukova - Dzagnidze     0,5-0,5

The game between Natalia Zhukova and Nana Dzagnidze was a draw after the players decided to repeat moves, just after the opening. In a well known and solid Maroczy variation against the Accelerated Dragon, black reached easy equality and white didn’t find the way to fight for an advantage. The Ukrainian admitted that she was preparing a lot for the game but was taken by surprise by the choice of her Georgian opponent. Draw in 20 moves.
 Khademalsharieh - Anna Muzychuk     0,5-0,5

The story of this game was similar to the previous one. Black was well prepared in a fashionable line of the Queen’s Indian, and managed to keep an approximate balance with active play on the center. According to GM Ljubojevic, official commentator, white could try 16.e3 fixing the opponent’s hanging pawns but it’s hard to say if that would have yield any positive advantage. Instead, the game was soon a draw by repetition in just 20 moves.
DSC01894  Kosteniuk - Skripchenko     0,5-0,5

The third game to finish was also a draw in a well known line of the Queen’s Indian Defense. White tried the Petrosian positional pawn sacrifice (6.d5) and some moves later decided to offer a second pawn to keep the initiative, but the compensation was not that obvious. Both players remarked that they were playing only moves for a while, till the French representative decided to force a draw on move 30 after checking that the alternative 30…Qxa2 31.Be5 Qa5+ 32.Kf2 Qxe5 33.Qe6! was good for white.
 Cramling - Yifan Hou     0-1

The first decisive game of the tournament saw Yifan Hou, with the black pieces, defeating Pia Cramling. The Chinese grandmaster was able to surprise her experienced opponent with an original and ambitious setup in the Queen’s Indian Defense, with the move 5…g6. The Swedish reacted with a very cautious play, and a symmetrical double fianchetto appeared on the board. It was easy to predict a calm draw, but slowly black developed a promising initiative on the king side, with a clear King’s Indian plan with the break f5. White could keep the balance, but Pia made a serious tactical mistake ( 35.Rh2 instead of 35.Bg2) and lost in a few moves.
DSC01902  Koneru – Pogonina     0,5-0,5

After the opening, the position in the game between Koneru and Pogonina was symmetrical, and everything looked like the game was going to finish in a quick draw. But the Russian player found a very interesting possibility (18…Qc7) which gave her a pawn up and the initiative. The Indian GM admitted in the press conference after the game that she was almost lost, and managed to survive almost by miracle after a tenacious defense. In the final position, with opposite color bishops, Pogonina’s extra pawn was not important. 
Mariya Muzychuk – Stefanova      1–0

The round’s longest game offered a decisive result after more than five hours. In the opening, Mariya surprised her opponent very early, with 3.Nf3, a move that she had never played before. Antoaneta had to improvise and probably the plan Nd7-b6 was not very appropriate, as the same player pointed after the game. Very soon White got a small, but comfortable and stable positional advantage, thanks to a space advantage and the bishop’s pair. Black’s decisive error was 38…Qc3, that permitted White to win a very healthy pawn. Later in the endgame, the Bulgarian GM was fighting well and provoked some inaccuracies from Mariya. In the press conference, both identified 56…g5 as the last mistake (instead 56…Ng5 would give black real chances to survive). Despite the mistakes it was a good game from the Woman World champion.
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