Cairns Cup: Ju and Kosteniuk join the chasing pack

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
2/11/2020 – Nana Dzagnidze is still leading the second edition of the Cairns Cup after none of the chasers scored wins in round four. Ju Wenjun and Alexandra Kosteniuk (pictured) did get to join the players trailing a half point behind the Georgian though, after beating Valentina Gunina and Carissa Yip respectively. The rest of the games finished drawn, with Irina Krush missing a good chance to take down Harika Dronavalli. | Photo: Austin Fuller

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Double-edged battles

Fighting chess has been the norm so far at the second edition of the Cairns Cup. Two decisive results and two sharp draws were the highlights of Monday's round, with only Humpy Koneru versus Kateryna Lagno a quiet affair. Two players that were on fifty percent before the round, Ju Wenjun and Alexandra Kosteniuk, won and are now part of a five-player chasing pack trailing behind sole leader Nana Dzagnidze. 

Before the rest day on Wednesday, Dzagnidze will have the white pieces against Humpy, while Lagno v Ju and Kosteniuk v Muzychuk are two crucial games for the standings. 

Valentina Gunina, Mariya Muzychuk, Jeanne Sinquefield

Valentina Gunina and Mariya Muzychuk chatting with Dr. Jeanne Sinquefield, neé Cairns | Photo: Crystal Fuller

After the quiet draw between Humpy and Lagno, the first game to finish saw Harika saving a half point in her encounter against Irina Krush. As the commentators pointed out during the webcast, Krush is currently 4 out of 4 out of the opening and in the early middlegame, as she has got a clear edge every day since the start of the event. The American, however, has had trouble making the most of her chances.    

By move 22, Harika found herself defending a very similar position to the one her opponent from the previous round had had to defend:


Harika later confessed that she had "completely forgotten her prep", which resulted in her getting this uncomfortable position with White (some moves earlier, her 17.c3 was way too slow). Curiously, however, she had also got a strong d4-pawn and a similar structure in her round three victory over Kosteniuk. 

In the diagrammed position, there followed 23.g4 and Krush responded with 23...f6, a manoeuvre the computer approves but which Harika thought gave White some chances to get counterplay. Krush was on the driver's seat, but once again did not quite find the way to convert her advantage, and on move 32 she allowed her opponent to completely equalize with a small tactic.


Irina Krush

Irina Krush has got excellent positions so far in Saint Louis | Photo: Crystal Fuller

In Muzychuk v Dzagnidze, a Richter-Rauzer Sicilian appeared on the board. Muzychuk later confessed that it is very difficult to prepare against Dzagnidze as she "plays everything". Thus, the Ukrainian started thinking long and hard as early as move 3, and she spent 23 minutes on move 11, when she decided to step away from a sharp continuation:


The most common here is 11.h4 — played, for example, by Shirov and Motylev — when White needs deep theoretical knowledge to navigate the complications. But since she had not reviewed this variation recently, Muzychuk went for 11.h4 a5 and the rare 12.e1, which worked out well insofar Dzagnidze started spending time on her clock.

Muzychuk got the bishop pair, which made her feel that she had a slightly better position, but Dzagnidze had enough conunterplay on the queenside to keep things under control. By move 30, the players reached a drawish position, but instead of simplifying into a pure opposite-coloured bishop endgame and calling it a day Muzychuk decided to keep trying for more. The game continued until move 48, when the point was finally split.


Mariya Muzychuk, Nana Dzagnidze

Mariya Muzychuk facing sole leader Nana Dzagnidze | Photo: Austin Fuller

Carissa Yip's woes continue in Saint Louis, as the youngster lost for a fourth straight time, this time against former women's world champion Alexandra Kosteniuk. Against the Russian's Petroff Defence, Yip did not find the correct 12.exf6 and played 12.b1 instead, which left her with a strategically inferior position early on. Kosteniuk slowly increased her edge, but when the time control was reached a rather dynamically balanced position meant it would be difficult for her to break through. 

Yip had shown resilience throughout, until she failed to anticipate a killer tactical shot on move 46:


The American's 46.b5 gave way to 46...h4 and Black had an unstoppable attack against the king (46.♔h2 would have prevented this from happening). After 47.f1 g3 White went for 48.a2 instead of the more stubborn 48.♗xd3. Kosteniuk did not take long to find the way to shatter White's scarce defences, and resignation came shortly after.


Carissa Yip, Alexandra Kosteniuk

Carissa Yip versus Alexandra Kosteniuk | Photo: Lennart Ootes

The last game to end, after a little over five hours, could have finished much earlier, as Gunina kept on playing what can only be defined as a miserable position against Ju Wenjun. We cannot blame the Russian for doing so, however, as she had obtained a solid edge with the black pieces in the middlegame:


The defending champion missed 22...♜fc8 here, when the threats against the uncoordinated white pieces on the queenside are hard to deal with. Instead, she went for the immediate 22...b4, which is still good but gives White more chances to fight back. 

It was during the time trouble phase that Gunina lost the thread, a circumstance the world champion gladly exploited in her favour:


Ju played 34.g3, with a double attack against e5 and g5, to which Gunina responded with 34...f4 giving up a pawn. To defend against the threats of invasion on the dark squares, Black sacrificed an exchange and soon after White had a completely dominating position with her rooks doubled on the eighth file. Gunina continued playing until move 59, however, when a second white queen was about to appear on the board.


Ju Wenjun

Current women's world champion Ju Wenjun | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Standings after Round 4


Commentary webcast

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

All games



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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