Tan Zhongyi and Aleksandra Goryachkina at the interview stand.

Credit: FIDE / Maria Emelianova / Michał Walusza

Women's Candidates: Halfway Point

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It's not that cold after all.

We made it to the halfway point of the Women’s Candidates. Things are unfolding as expected with the two favourites, Aleksandra Goryachkina and Lei Tingjie at the top, and wait, what is Tan Zhongyi doing at the top? That’s right! Tan Zhongyi, who no one picked to win the Candidates, is sitting comfortably in the sole lead on 5/7 (+3). Right behind her is Aleksandra Goryachkina on 4½/7 (+2). And then there’s Lei Tingjie with 4/7 (+1), same as Kateryna Lagno.

In the other half of the standings, everyone else’s hopes are pretty much done, with Vaishali, Anna Muzychuk, and Humpy Koneru all on 2½/7 (-2). Nurgyul Salimova is a bit closer on 3/7 (-1), but no one is on even, creating a clear gap between the top group and the bottom group. Going back to my standings predictions, the two groups have unfolded actually pretty much as expected. Kateryna Lagno is the only surprise in the top group and Anna Muzychuk is the only surprise in the bottom group.

Current Women’s Candidates standings. Credit: lichess.

Taking your chances

Tan Zhongyi and Aleksandra Goryachkina have impressed the most in the first half of the Candidates.

Tan had winning positions in three of the games and converted all of them. She only gave up an advantage once in a subtle way that Anna Muzychuk realistically wasn’t able to capitalize on in time trouble. She has looked the most solid of any player, while also playing for decisive games, and was only losing in one of her games. Her only bad result was not beating the bottom seed Nurgyul Salimova with White.

Aleksandra Goryachkina has looked even more solid, not having a losing position or even a much worse position in any of her games. The only two games she was winning, she won, the first with tactics in time trouble and the second by outplaying a weaker opponent in a difficult endgame to hold.

The top two! Credit: FIDE / Maria Emelianova / Michał Walusza.

Missed chances

Anna Muzychuk is tied for last place right now, her hopes all but over, but we could have been talking about her as the leader. She was winning three games in a row against Kateryna Lagno, Lei Tingjie, and Vaishali. That would have put her on +2, but instead she only came away with three draws and snapped that streak by losing to the actual leader Tan Zhongyi.

Kateryna Lagno has been the most drawish, with six draws from seven games, but it’s not like she hasn’t had chances. She was winning two games in a row against Tan Zhongyi and Lei Tingjie, but let them get away with draws.


Tan Zhongyi’s pairings. Credit:

Is Tan Zhongyi really going to keep it going and win the Candidates? She does have four Whites in the second half, but three of those Whites are against the other three members of the top group. That could be good in giving her chances to get even further ahead of them, but it could also be bad in that it’s hard to expect her to win any of those games. It’s also hard to imagine her getting through the whole tournament without losing, but she might not have to.

If Tan were to score 9/14 or better (only +1 in the second half), I think it might be her best-ever performance by performance rating (and it would be her career-best performance in all-classical regardless!). She also currently sits at a live rating of 2536, on pace to break her personal record of 2530. It would be a milestone win in a few big ways if she could do it.

Aleksandra Goryachkina’s pairings. Credit:

Is Aleksandra Goryachkina going to win the Candidates as expected? That’s probably the safest bet at this point. The main reason is not just her current place in the standings, but the last round. She has the easiest last-round pairing possible, White vs. the bottom seed Nurgyul Salimova, who she already beat. If she needs to win that game to win the tournament, rest assured she will. Her second-to-last White is also opportunistic against Humpy.

Goryachkina’s main difficulty might be having four Blacks, including two at the start, but she’s also the better player in all of those, so she should still have winning chances. Her two most interesting pairings left are White against Lei Tingjie and then Black in the penultimate round against the current leader Tan Zhongyi. That latter matchup could decide the tournament before Goryachkina even gets to Salimova.

Overall, 4½/7 (+2) is a good place to be, but keep in mind Goryachkina was on 5½/7 (+4) when she won the 2019 Candidates. That shows she's playing more drawish-ly than last time, which has been true of her play in other recent events as well. But that might be enough as no one looks like they're going to run away with it the way she did back in 2019.

Lei Tingjie’s pairings. Credit:

Is Lei Tingjie going to win the Candidates as expected? Based on what we saw in the first half, it doesn’t look like it. Tingjie is luckily in contention now, but she was almost in dead last. Her general level did not seem that great, and she was almost on -3 after needing to save lost positions in back-to-back games against Anna Muzychuk and Kateryna Lagno. But that didn’t happen and just like that, she ended up on +1 in the first half after all.

If Tingjie could summon her best form, she still controls her own destiny. But that may only be true for one more round, as she starts off the second half with Black against Tan Zhongyi. A win there could put her in the lead. A loss and it’s basically over. A draw and it’s unclear, but still out of her control. She only has three Whites, but they are the three easiest Whites possible with two of the three currently in last place and the other being the lowest seed.

Tingjie will need to play at a better level to win the Candidates. She is tied with Vaishali for the most games that were losing with three, and neither of her wins were really that great. But maybe her current win streak could bode well for good things to come anyway.

The action continues tomorrow with Round 8. Don’t miss it!

PS: Credit to GothamChess for covering all the games in the recaps on YouTube! (Sam from BBK Chess also does full recaps of all the games, and WIM Svitlana Demchenko from PowerPlay Chess does a Game of the Round!)

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