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Comments on the match Zoja Golubeva versus Natalia Sadowska in Riga

This is the first time I keep a watchful eye on women match for the world title. I know about the matches played by women before, but for me it was more or less a passing by attitude. This time in Riga it was different. My good colleague Raimonds Vipulis was a trainer on Zoja’s side. He showed me something of what Zoja was thinking during the games, emotions and so on. To characterize both the players of the match and their tactics it is obvious that the style chosen by Natalia (probably advized by her coach Watoutin) was to play the openings, which she and her coach had prepared, to play for the center, to play with solidly built structures, sparing some time for the decisive calculations. I should say that she respected her experienced oponent, respected, but was not about to sacrifice initiative.
Zoja on the contrary was somehow not very certain about her openings. Several openings, which were disputable, but still playable, she refused point blank and tried some, which were a bit passive in my opinion. At the same time she was about to play from the position of safety: when she doesn’t see a clear plan then she was ready to switch for a quiet parity game, not refusing from a draw. Somehow Zoja didn’t look very convincing to me psychologically during the match. I think she was not convinced herself whether her amateur status of being a rare player in serious tournaments would let her to stand the battle against a much younger and very active oponent who has had a personal trainer of good rank for years already.
To tell the truth many men players of Zoja’s age are still on the very top of the ranking list and the most probable challengers for the world title. Even much older player Harm Wiersma who stopped active playing 15 years ago after attempt to come back with Dutch club championship, which is a strong team competition, started a season or two not quite successful, but after that he played excellent there. Thus men level can be reduced only short time and not with a sharp fall due to refrain from playing. Women on the contrary after omitting years of active playing can fall into such a sporting shape pit that it is hard to recognize them. I think it is determined by gender itself, because women are much more emotional and they are more practical than creative. By using practice one can only use his former knowledge, but it doesn’t solve the extraordinary dire situation when something new has to be creted on the spot. I think Zoja felt all this and she had some doubts about er own performance throughout all the match.
The match itself (4 first games) started with Zoja’s advantage in spite of the fact that both the oponents didn’t go for obvious complexities. In all of the first four rounds, including the one she lost, she had excellent positions or close to that at a certain moment either in a regular game or in some game played with shortened time control. Even on the first round Zoja managed to counter play some of Natalia’s activity, and Natalia broke when there sill was a chance for a draw. Had Zoja won one more of these games I think psychologically there would be a big probability that she would win the match. But here I should praise the young Natalia who stood all this and in a position of the fourth regular game where she actually should be very grateful when playing a draw she managed to exhaust Zoja and win, tying the score, which was on its turn a big shock to Zoja who tried to recover by playing next two rounds (5 and 6) rather passive. On the seventh round Zoja got a clearly marked positional advantage after the opening, but then started choosing for obviously passive and positionally “dry” continuations, which were absolutely not determined by position. Natalia felt that something broke in Zoja and started pushing on Zoja mentally. Zoja was undecisive, postponing the crucial decisions and running out of time, thus missing the last chance for a draw.
After that Zoja proved her character, because only a victory in one of the 2 remaining regular games could have saved the match. She changed the style of playing, played more active, tried to get the time advantage, gain tempi, took some risk, but still to my mind missed minuscule chances to make the game more enticing than it developed in reality.
Well, congratulations to the new champion and gratitude to Zoja who although having played only one tournament lately managed to fight till the very end!

Guntis Valneris

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