Cairns Cup: No lack of excitement

by Antonio Pereira
2/10/2019 – Four decisive results in round four of the Cairns Cup left Alexandra Kosteniuk at the top of the standings with 3½/4. She cannot sit back and relax though, as both chasers — Valentina Gunina and Irina Krush — also won and are still half a point behind. The games were full of ups and downs, with the players showing great fighting spirit on all boards. Sunday's fifth round will be the last one before the rest day. | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Saint Louis Chess Club

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Alexandra wins with Black

The highest rated player of the tournament is also the clear leader in Saint Louis. Alexandra Kosteniuk won all three games she played with the black pieces so far to reach an outstanding 3½ score. Her latest victim was Marie Sebag, who thought during eleven minutes before going for 9.♗d2 in the opening, a move that was used repeatedly by Alexander Motylev at the end of last year — apparently Kosteniuk was not ready for it, as she needed eight minutes to respond.

The contenders found themselves facing complex decisions right out of the opening but Kosteniuk seemed to get a better grip of the position rather quickly. By move 15, White had a better pawn structure but all of her pieces had gone back to the first rank:


The initiative was clearly on Black's side and Alexandra pushed her h-pawn to make something out of it. However, Sebag kept finding good defensive resources. When the situation was clarified, Black had an extra pawn and control over the open e-file. Nonetheless, Marie put forth an effective blockade on the light squares. After some simplifications, it seemed like Kosteniuk's task to break the fortress would take some time...until Marie blundered horribly:


Sebag played 47.♖e7? allowing 47...♜d1+ and there is no way to save the rook after a check from e1. White resigned.

This time women are the protagonists in Saint Louis | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Saint Louis Chess Club

Technical problems

All three other decisive games of round four finished after more than fifty moves, and all of them saw the players struggling in the final technical phase of the games.

Irina Krush put pressure on her old rival Anna Zatonskih right from the opening. Zatonskih, known for chronically getting in time trouble, found ways to keep the balance, however…or she did until move 39, when the clocks were about to add thirty minutes to each player:


Anna played 39...♞e4 aware of the fact that after 40.fxe4 she had 40...xe3+, with a perpetual. However, Irina found the correct 40.g6+ and ended up a pawn up in a queens endgame. Eventually, Krush converted and obtained her second win so far in the tournament.

Time to find the win | Photo: Austin Fuller / Saint Louis Chess Club

Zhansaya Abdumalik also obtained her second win at the event — she outplayed Bela Khotenashvili from a complicated position with opposite-side castling. It seemed like the youngster from Kazakhstan was on her way to a clean victory, as she even correctly "wasted a tempo" in the middle of the struggle:


Black has a strong attack, with her queen and bishop coordinating perfectly against the white king. Since the b1-knight is literally impossible to save, Zhansaya found it useful to open one more file on the queenside with 24...a5. Soon afterwards, Black was a piece up — for two pawns — in an endgame that the commentators judged as clearly winning.

Khotenashvili never stopped defending, though, and right after the time control the computers already showed a balanced evaluation. However, the Georgian eventually faltered and Abdumalik was — on second call — merciless in the conversion.

Zhansaya bounced back after Friday's loss | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Saint Louis Chess Club

Valentina Gunina took down Nana Dzagnidze with the black pieces after Nana was not precise enough in a rook endgame with six pawns per side. Dzagnidze probably did not expect her opponent's king would slowly but surely trap her rook on the side of the board:


Coffee time | Photo: Austin Fuller / Saint Louis Chess Club

Round five will see the leader facing Khotenashvili, who will arrive in that encounter after two straight painful losses. Gunina and Krush will be rooting for Bela while they try to catch up with Kosteniuk in their games against Sebag and Abdumalik. This will be the last round before the only rest day on Monday.

Commentary webcast

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

Standings after round four


All games



Antonio is a freelance writer and a philologist. He is mainly interested in the links between chess and culture, primarily literature. In chess games, he skews towards endgames and positional play.


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KrushonIrina KrushonIrina 2/10/2019 06:00
Go Irina! Yet another nice endgame conversion against Anna! Plus 2! Now on to Abdumalik with Black, your biggest test. Good luck!