Cairns Cup: A lively round

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
2/9/2020 – An exciting day of chess left four players sharing the lead at the Cairns Cup in Saint Louis. Mariya Muzychuk showcased her attacking abilities to take down Humpy Koneru, Kateryna Lagno outplayed Carissa Yip with Black from a balanced yet dangerous endgame, while Valentina Gunina could not take advantage of Alexandra Kosteniuk's opening blunder and ended up losing for a second day in a row. Irina Krush missed a chance to beat world champion Ju Wenjun with the black pieces. | Photo: Crystal Fuller

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Topsy turvy

It was a day full of ups and downs at the Cairns Cup, the kind that keeps you at the edge of your seat, as Jennifer Shahade affirmed when Ju Wenjun and Irina Krush signed a draw to put an end to the round. Three decisive results left Mariya Muzychuk, Kateryna Lagno, Nana Dzagnidze and Alexandra Kosteniuk sharing the lead on 1½ out of 2. Top seeds Ju Wenjun and Humpy Koneru are a half point behind and will face each other in the most anticipated match-up of round three.

Sunday will also see co-leaders Lagno and Muzychuk opposite one another, while Carissa Yip and Valentina Gunina will be trying to get on the scoreboard after kicking off the event with two losses. While the youngster was outplayed by Humpy and Lagno — two very difficult rivals to start her first all-GM event — defending champion Gunina could have easily got a win on Saturday. 

Cairns Cup 2020

The well-known playing hall at the Saint Louis Chess Club | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Muzychuk 1:0 Humpy

The younger of the Muzychuk sisters was paired up against the two highest-rated players of the event in the first two rounds; on the flip side, she got to face both of them with White. Scoring 1½ against them was a great result, which cannot but place her among the early favourites to win the tournament.

Against Humpy, she showed her attacking intentions early on, transferring her rook from a1 to f4:


Muzychuk doubled her rook and queen on the f-file with 13.b4 f5 14.f3 c5 15.f4 and immediately expanded on the kingside with 16.h4 and 17.g4. Humpy could not find the most precise defensive plan and quickly found herself trying to avoid a devastating onslaught. However, Muzychuk also needed utmost accuracy to break through, which left her with about three minutes to make 20 moves. The Ukrainian was up to the task, as Black's defences were cracked open on move 28:


White's previous 28.f1 prepared 29.hxh5+ gxh5 30.c7+ h8 31.e5+ h7 32.xh5+ (playable with the king on f1, i.e. not on the g-file) ♚g6 33.g5+ f7 34.h7+ and Black resigned.


Tactical Analysis by Fat Fritz

Mariya Muzychuk, Humpy Koneru

Mariya Muzychuk versus Humpy Koneru | Photo: Spectrum Studios

Gunina 0:1 Kosteniuk

The all-Russian encounter left everyone dumbfounded, as it seemed like Gunina would make a statement by bouncing back from her round one loss with a quick win after Kosteniuk completely mishandled the opening. Black's extremely passive approach allowed her opponent to showcase her tactical strength with a flashy move:


13.b6 was the shocker, making use of the pin along the a4-e8 diagonal, with the white knight ready to jump to b6 if Black captures. Kosteniuk played the most stubborn defensive recourse, 13...e6, but that did not prevent the commentators from speculating on how long it would take for Black's position to collapse. Gunina kept up the pressure for a while, but Kosteniuk continued to pose problems, giving up her queen to slow down the attack.

In the ensuing double-edged struggle, Gunina failed to make the most of the tactical resources at her disposal, and by move 33 the tables had turned — it was Black who had the better chances all of a sudden. Gunina could not recover psychologically and ended up losing an endgame with queen and two pawns for a rook and two minor pieces.  


Alexandra Kosteniuk

Former women's world champion Alexandra Kosteniuk | Photo: Austin Fuller

Yip 0:1 Lagno

Yip surprised her opponent by going for a Scotch Opening. While already out of book, Lagno played the novelty 12...d7, a move that prompted her young opponent to spend over 40 minutes on 13.e2. The queenless position that ensued seemed balanced, but Lagno kept looking for chances, as she considered Yip's 19.b3 to be slightly careless. Black got a strong initiative on the dark squares, piling up her forces against f2:


After 27.xa5 c5, there is no way to properly defend White's king. Resignation came after 28.h3 xf2+ 29.f1 h2+ 30.g2 e3+ 31.h1 f3.


Kateryna Lagno

Co-leader Kateryna Lagno | Photo: Austin Fuller

Ju Wenjun ½:½ Krush

While Muzychuk kicked off the event with two Whites, Irina Krush got two games with Black at the outset of the event. The seven-time US champion drew both games after getting the upper hand at some point of each encounter. In round two, against world champion Ju Wenjun, she missed a killer shot on move 19:


Black is temporarily up a piece, but her queen and knight are under attack. Surprisingly there is a tricky way to maintain the material advantage — 19...♝c6, when after 20.♘a7 Black has 20...♞f4, the move that Krush later confessed she had missed. Instead, she went for 19...b8, which allowed Ju to get back into the game.

The players simplified into a drawish endgame by move 27, but kept on looking for chances until move 74, when they signed the draw.

Harika Dronavalli and Nana Dzagnidze also split the point, after the Indian got a slight edge with White out of a Catalan but could not make much of it against her opponent's correct reaction. Dzagnidze therefore remained on 'plus one' and is still sharing the lead.


Ju Wenjun, Irina Krush

Irina Krush said she was satisfied with her play so far | Photo: Austin Fuller

Standings after Round 2


Commentary webcast

Commentary by WGM Jennifer Shahade, GM Yasser Seirawan and GM Alejandro Ramirez

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Carlos Colodro is a Hispanic Philologist from Bolivia. He works as a freelance translator and writer since 2012. A lot of his work is done in chess-related texts, as the game is one of his biggest interests, along with literature and music.


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