Cairns Cup: Humpy beats Kosteniuk, catches up with Ju

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
2/14/2020 – The top two seeds are sharing the lead with three rounds to go at the Cairns Cup in Saint Louis. Ju Wenjun was joined in first place by Humpy Koneru after the latter defeated Alexandra Kosteniuk from a very slightly superior knight endgame in round six. The other winner of the day was Carissa Yip, who beat Valentina Gunina to collect her second straight victory. | Photo: Austin Fuller

ChessBase 17 - Mega package - Edition 2024 ChessBase 17 - Mega package - Edition 2024

It is the program of choice for anyone who loves the game and wants to know more about it. Start your personal success story with ChessBase and enjoy the game even more.


Yip gets second straight win

The second edition of the Cairns Cup restarted after the rest day, with two contenders sharing the lead and as many as five players within striking distance. In a key encounter for the tournament table, Humpy Koneru scored a lengthy technical win over Alexandra Kosteniuk to leapfrog her in the standings, while in the other decisive game of the day 16-year-old Carissa Yip got a second straight victory, thus recovering some lost ground after her rough start.

Three rounds are left to go and the two highest-rated players are sharing the lead on 4 out of 6 points, with both Ju Wenjun and Humpy Koneru lined up to play twice with Black and once with White in the final three days of competition. Nana Dzagnidze and Alexandra Kosteniuk are their closest chasers and both of them will be getting two Whites in the rounds to come.

Kateryna Lagno

Following her colleagues' games — Kateryna Lagno | Photo: Austin Fuller

Given the players' track records — in terms of style — it is no surprise that the most exciting game on Thursday was the one that faced Carissa Yip against Valentina Gunina. Gunina boldly chose the Alekhine Defence and quickly upped the ante by choosing a sharp line that had only been used before in a correspondence game:


Black spent ten minutes on 9...e5, while White needed fifteen to respond with 10.e1 — The players had gone into unexplored sharp territory, a perfect recipe for a thrilling fight. 

Yip felt she needed to focus on keeping the initiative, which prompted her to give up two pawns on the queenside, getting open lines against the black king castled on that flank. The youngster later explained that she had not seen anything in particular, but that she thought there should be enough compensation. The computer considered Black to have upper hand, but anything can happen in such a sharp position. 

First it was Yip who was falling behind on the clock, but when she started creating threats Gunina was the one seeing her clock going down to seconds before the time control. Yip finally broke through on the queenside and got a killer attack. She could have finished off her opponent more quickly though:


With five moves left to reach the time control, Yip spent no less than eight minutes on 35.e8, a move that in fact gives up a lot of White's advantage. Instead, she could have gone for 35.♗xf5 — which she later confessed she had seen — as after 35...gxf5 36.♕f8+ ♚g5 37.♕g8+ Black is completely busted.

After the text, on the other hand, Gunina had 35...e7, and after 36.h8+ — which was played on the game — she could have reduced the pressure by giving up a pawn with 36...♚f7 37.♕xh7+ ♚f6. The Russian grandmaster opted for 36...g7 instead, but now came 37.xf5 and there was no looking back for the youngster, who ended up getting the full point after playing her 54th move. 


Carissa Yip

A smiling Carissa Yip after executing a lethal attack | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Humpy Koneru's victory was of a very different nature. Playing White, she got an edge early in the game when Alexandra Kosteniuk unnecessarily — according to Humpy — decided to exchange her knight for White's dark-squared bishop:


Perhaps at some point it made sense to take the dark-squared bishop off the board, especially if the position opens up after an e3-e4 push, but capturing it right now with 11...xc3 seems a little rushed. The next eight moves saw the players simplifying along the c-file, leaving Black with an inferior pawn structure, as she had pawns on the a and c-files against White's connected pawns on a and b.

Humpy started building up the pressure slowly, but all she could get was a materially balanced knight endgame:


It is difficult to imagine either side winning from this symmetrical position, but even strong grandmasters falter in clearly drawish positions. Here Kosteniuk could have played 34...♚c6 as Humpy mentioned afterwards, when it is not clear how could White break through on the queenside after 34.♔c4 ♞d6+ 35.♔b4 ♚b6. However, Black opted for 34...b6, allowing the white king to go after the a-pawn with 35.c3 a4+ 36.b4 b2 37.b5.

Humpy was clearly for choice but the conversion was no easy task. In fact, she needed to continue playing until move 61. The Indian star has an excellent score against Kosteniuk in classical games — she has not lost once and this was her fifth win in their direct encounters.


Humpy Koneru, Alexandra Kosteniuk

The last game to finish — Humpy Koneru v Alexandra Kosteniuk | Photo: Lennart Ootes

The remaining games finished drawn. While Ju Wenjun and Kateryna Lagno got slight edges with White but could not make much of them against their rivals' correct reactions, Mariya Muzychuk will probably regret not having been able to convert a superior position against Irina Krush:


White's position already looks menacing, but at this point Krush felt some relieve when her opponent chose 23.xa8, getting rid of what the American considered to be a bad bishop. White did get to gobble up the d-pawn after 23...xa8 24.xd6 xd6 25.xd6, but when the heavy pieces left the board the presence of opposite-coloured bishops meant Black had a relatively easy task defending the endgame a pawn down.

Curiously, this was the first time Krush got a worse position out of the opening, as she actually was on the better side of equality (or more) in all five rounds before the rest day. Her main problem has been time management though, as she lost twice with White after losing the thread while hurried by the clock.


Irina Krush

Irina Krush | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Standings after Round 6


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.


Rules for reader comments


Not registered yet? Register