Cairns Cup starts with four wins

by André Schulz
2/7/2019 – Over the past decade, the Saint Louis Chess Club has expanded its roster of events from US-centric tournaments for top players, to the international elite, junior tournaments, norm tournament, and now, with the Cairns Cup, a new initiative to support women and girls. The instigators, Rex Sinquefield and Dr Jeanne Cairns Sinquefield welcomed ten of the world's best women chess players to the "chess capital of the USA". | Photo: Austin Fuller / Saint Louis Chess Club

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The queen's turn

Saint Louis is the epicentre of the US chess boom. There are countless tournaments every year, all of which are well endowed. This not only includes tournaments for the top players but also for national and international junior players.

Modelled after the Sinquefield Cup, the bustling Saint Louis Chess Club, with its benevolent patron-couple Rex Sinquefield and Dr Jeanne Cairns Sinquefield, have now launched a round-robin tournament for top women players dubbed the "Cairns Cup."

With this new initiative, the Sinquefield couple now wants to do even more to promote chess specifically to women and girls and, as usual, they are dreaming big.

Rex and Jeanne Sinquefield

Rex Sinquefield passes the mic to his wife Dr Jeanne Cairns Sinquefield | Photo: Lennart Ootes 

USD $100,000 to support chess programs for women and girls

At the opening of the tournament, the US Chess Federation and the Saint Louis Chess Club announced a collaboration in which the club sponsors provide one hundred thousand dollars to help the USCF "promote, retain, and encourage girls and women in chess".

(L-to-R) Kimberly Doo McVay (member of US Chess Women’s Committee), Rex Sinquefield (co-founder, Saint Louis Chess Club), Carol B. Meyer (US Chess Executive Director), Sophia Rohde (US Chess Women’s Committee), Dr. Jeanne Sinquefield (co-founder, Saint Louis Chess Club), Maureen Grimaud (Chair, US Chess Women’s Committee), Jennifer Shahade (US Chess Women’s Program Director). Photo courtesy of Kimberly Doo McVay | Photo: US Chess

A 4-minute montage of the Opening Ceremony | Saint Louis Chess Club YouTube Channel

Jennifer Shahade is has moved up to Senior Digital Editor for US Chess but is now also in a new position, "Women’s Program Director", focused on identifying, developing, and executing key program initiatives that support the growth of chess among girls and women.

Writing for US Chess, she notes the Cairns Cup is not a one-off event:

"In my opening speech, I also expressed my gratitude to the ten players who came to the very first edition of the Cairns Cup, some at late notice, some directly from Gibraltar and some with young children. Despite the challenges, it was important to get this event on the calendar for 2019, and both Rex and Dr. Jeanne Sinquefield indicated that the Cairns’ Cup will be a fixture on club’s future plans."

Evolution of the chess queen

Yasser Seirawan and Jennifer Shahade on chess history, culture and changing rules.

Four decisions in Round 1

With four decisive games in the first round, the Cairns Cup kicked off with high entertainment. Elisabeth Paehtz's game against top seed and former Women's World Champion Alexandra Kosteniuk was the centre of attention for viewers and commentators. 

Elisabeth Paehtz and Alexandra Kosteniuk | Photo: Austin Fuller

Paehtz played with the white pieces and gained an advantage against Kosteniuk's Benoni Defence after the dubious-looking novelty 14...♛b6:


White gained a strong initiative after 15.e4 ♝g6 16.e5 dxe5 17.♘xg4 ♞xg4 18.♕xg4. A typical Benoni position has arisen in which White is better, but it's chaotic. In the complications that followed, Kosteniuk emerged with the edge.


Now it is Black who is clearly better. White would have had to switch to defensive with 29.e3, but instead played 29.♘e7 and got squashed: 29...♜xe7 30.dxe7 ♜g8 — Paehtz's position is already beyond repair. There are many dangerous threats on the g-file.


Zhansaya Abdumalik | Photo: Crystal Fuller

In the game between Anna Zatonskih and Zhansaya Abdumalik there was a variation of the Gruenfeld Defence leading to an exciting endgame. 

Winning against the Grünfeld

The Grünfeld is a highly dynamic opening in which Black's position often seems to hang together by a single thread; and yet, this apparently precarious equilibrium appears to be enough to make it entirely viable — up to the highest level.


Here, in an effort to win 30.♘c4, White gave up her e4-pawn to gain a pair of passers on the queenside with xa5. The black pawns in the centre and on the kingside and the bishop pair proved to be much more powerful, however.

A knight on a5 also played an unfortunate role in the contest between Nana Dzagnidze and Irina Krush:


Dzagnidze played optimistically 54.♘c6, but then discovered that the black b and d-pawns were very fast!

54...d2 55.e2 ♝e1 56.♘e5+ ♚g7 57.a5 b3 58.♗a4 b2 59.♗c2 h4 and here comes the h-pawn too! It's hopeless for Black and Krush got a nice early point with Black against one of the top seeds.

Results of Round 1


Standings after Round 1


Round 1 games and commentary


Commentary by GM Yasser Seirawan, GM Maurice Ashley and WGM Jennifer Shahade

P.S. Beware the "Smombies" | Photo: Lennart Ootes 

Translation from German and additional reporting: Macauley Peterson


André Schulz started working for ChessBase in 1991 and is an editor of ChessBase News.


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