Cairns Cup: Dzagnidze in the lead

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
2/10/2020 – Nana Dzagnidze became the first sole leader of the Cairns Cup after inflicting Carissa Yip's third straight loss in Saint Louis. Kateryna Lagno and Mariya Muzychuk are still a half point back after drawing their direct encounter, while Harika Dronavalli joined them in shared second place after beating Alexandra Kosteniuk. Valentina Gunina, in the meantime, got on the scoreboard with a win over Irina Krush. | Photo: Austin Fuller

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Time pressure

Four out of five games in round three saw at least one of the contenders getting in deep time trouble. The scramble before move 40 had a direct effect on the results in Krush v Gunina and Lagno v Muzychuk — in zeitnot, Krush lost some key tempi in a complex middlegame, while Lagno decided to play it safe and force a draw instead of going for a continuation that would have kept her winning chances alive. In the meantime, Dzagnidze got to convert her edge despite falling below one minute early on, and Harika won after getting the upper hand both on the board and on the clock.

The day's results left Nana Dzagnidze alone atop the standings on 2½ out of 3, with Kateryna Lagno, Mariya Muzychuk and Harika Dronavalli trailing a half point behind. After her strong start, Dzagnidze will face the four top seeds of the event in consecutive rounds.

Tony Rich, Ju Wenjun

What is Tony Rich fixing while world numbers 2 and 3 get in the zone for their game? | Photo: Lennart Ootes 

The first game to finish was Humpy Koneru versus Ju Wenjun. Out of an English Opening, Humpy quickly found herself out of book with the white pieces. The Indian was on the back foot but managed to keep things under control until a repetition took place starting on move 19. Later on, she explained that it is difficult to face someone who comes from preparing for a world championship match, as their level of preparation is particularly impressive after such an important contest. 

By that point, it already seemed clear that Dzagnidze would get to beat the young Carissa Yip, who put up a Hippopotamus Defence with the black pieces. The Georgian grandmaster realized she was winning after the opening, but she started to spend too much time on each of her moves. It did not help that Yip pragmatically gave up an exchange to complicate matters and avoid a quick defeat:

 

The youngster allowed her opponent to capture the rook by playing 24...f6 when Dzagnidze was practically playing on increments. The Georgian missed some chances to end the game more quickly, as she frequently had too many good alternatives to choose from. For example, instead of going for the exchange we just showed, she could have given up her knight to infiltrate on the queenside:

 

Instead of 24.h6, White had 24.♘xh5, when after 24...gxh5 she has the beautiful 25.♗f6 and it is time for Black to resign. 

Despite the hiccups, Dzagnidze found a way to break through eventually, forcing Yip to resign on move 45, in an ending in which the latter had two pawns for the exchange but no way to prevent White from capturing the queenside pawns and queening on that side of the board.

 

Carissa Yip

Carissa Yip showed resourcefulness during round three | Photo: Lennart Ootes

In the most entertaining game of the day, Lagno outprepared Muzychuk out of a Petroff Defence. The Russian was surprised when her rival played 10...d7 after thinking for eight minutes, as Black should only enter such a sharp variation knowing the theory — 10...♛d7 was chosen, for example, by Wang Hao against Caruana in last year's Grand Swiss. Lagno knew, on the other hand, that giving up her queen for three pieces was favourable for White:

 

13.xf5 gives way to 13...xb3 14.axb3 cxd5 15.c3 when White has a lot of play with her three minor pieces. Much like Dzagnidze, however, Lagno saw it necessary to invest plenty of time looking for the most precise continuations, and on move 26 she decided it was better to play it safe and force a draw instead of going for a sharp endgame with little time on the clock:

 

The Russian knew that 26.♗d4 was the most critical move, but she was afraid of 26...♛c1+ 27.♔g2 ♛xf4 28.gxf4 ♚xf7, when Black returns the queen but gets two dangerous passers on the queenside. The computer still gives White a considerable edge, but Lagno would have needed to play precisely to convert. Thus, the experienced grandmaster went for 26.h6+ and the draw was signed after 26...gxh6 27.g4+ f7 28.f4+ g8, etcetera.

 

Kateryna Lagno

Kateryna Lagno | Photo: Austin Fuller

Dzagnidze got a winning position right out of the opening and stumbled into a win in the long run, while Harika needed a little more time to get the upper hand but then converted her better position swiftly against Alexandra Kosteniuk:

 

Kosteniuk, with White, had played the inaccurate 21.h5 some moves earlier and was now under positional pressure in the centre. In the diagrammed position, Harika transferred her knight to the commanding e5-square with 25...f6 26.f3 e8 27.e1 g8 28.b3 e5. A couple of moves later, Kosteniuk invited a knight trade by playing 30.d3, but at that point Black was in position to exchange the knights and go into a winning heavy-piece endgame thanks to her strong passer on the d-file. 

White tried to hold on by exchanging down into a pure queen endgame, but to no avail. Kosteniuk resigned on move 46.

 

Harika Dronavalli

Harika Dronavalli is on 2 out of 3 after scoring a fine win | Photo: Lennart Ootes

For a third consecutive day, Irina Krush played the longest game of the day. Unfortunately for her, though, she lost in her first outing with the white pieces. The seven-time US champion was on the driver's seat out of the opening once again — like in rounds one and two — but suddenly lost the thread on move 27:

 

White has the bishop pair and a chance to put pressure on the queenside with 27.♘c1, when Black would lose an exchange after 27...♜xa3 28.♗b6. Instead, Krush spent ten minutes on 27.a4, not only giving up her edge but also getting herself into time trouble. There followed 27...b4 28.f1 c8 29.h3 and, as Gunina put it, "We just danced and I was lucky".

Krush simply could not find a plan to go forward and ended up losing her a and e-pawns. Gunina showed great tactical alertness and got the full point by move 52. The Russian's new target? To get to sleep until 7 AM, as she has not yet managed to overcome the jet lag in Saint Louis.  

 

Valentina Gunina

Always with a smile — Valentina Gunina | Photo: Lennart Ootes


Standings after Round 3

 

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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.