Cairns Cup: Humpy takes the lead as Yip beats Ju Wenjun

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
2/16/2020 – A sensational win by 16-year-old Carissa Yip over world champion Ju Wenjun was the story of the day in Saint Louis. Humpy Koneru also won and would have got to the final round a full point ahead had Alexandra Kosteniuk not defeated Nana Dzagnidze with the black pieces. So, going into the last day of action (unless a playoff is needed to decide the champion), Humpy is on 5½ out of 8 and Kosteniuk is the only contender a half point behind. | Photo: Lennart Ootes

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Yip beats the champ

Unlike the inaugural edition of the Cairns Cup, this time around it has all been twists and turns in Saint Louis. Yip had a rough start, losing her first four games, but has now scored 3½ in the last four rounds, including Saturday's victory against none other than world champion Ju Wenjun; defending champion Valentina Gunina got plenty of good positions that she could not handle properly but also poor showings that have left her in the cellar of the standings; while Alexandra Kosteniuk has had a roller-coaster of an event throughout.

And what was left? Perhaps the most stable participant, Humpy Koneru, is the sole leader with 5½ points, followed by Kosteniuk on 5, while Ju and Mariya Muzychuk still have an outside chance of reaching a potential playoff for the title as they stand a full point behind the leader.

These are the pairings of round nine, with the players' scores in parentheses:

White   Black
Harika Dronavalli (4)
Humpy Koneru (5½)
Alexandra Kosteniuk (5)
Ju Wenjun (4½)
Carissa Yip (3½)
Mariya Muzychuk (4½)
Irina Krush (3)
Nana Dzagnidze (4)
Valentina Gunina (2)
Kateryna Lagno (4)

Rex Sinquefield, Jeanne Sinquefield, Carissa Yip

Rex and Jeanne Sinquefield congratulated young Carissa Yip for her astounding win over the world champion — here with Yip's father | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Humpy 1:0 Gunina

It was high time for co-leader Humpy to get a win, as she had the white pieces and was facing a player that has been struggling in the event. Nonetheless, probably the Indian did not expect to get such an easy victory. The players entered a highly theoretical opening, one which Humpy herself had used to defeat former world champion Anatoly Karpov back in 2006...which makes it all the more surprising that Gunina fell into a trap as early as move 14:


Karpov himself had erred with 14...c6 here, the exact same mistake Gunina made in this position. The correct way to defend the e6-pawn was with 14...♞c5, as after the text White has 15.f3 h6 16.h3 and it is already difficult to find a good move for Black. Gunina opted for 16...hxg5, entering a miserable position after 17.xh8 e5 18.xg5.

Humpy handled her massive advantage proficiently, making use of the fact that tactics usually favour the player with a strategically superior position. For example, on move 27:


The game continued 27.d5+ f8 28.xf6 gxf6 29.h8+ f7 30.h7+ e8 31.e3, and White only needs to sidestep some mate-in-one threats before invading enemy camp.


Humpy Koneru

In the lead with one game to play — Humpy Koneru | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Ju Wenjun 0:1 Yip

As Yasser Seirawan mentioned when this game had finished, only five days ago absolutely no one would have predicted Yip would manage to beat world champion Ju Wenjun with the black pieces in this event. Even the youngster confessed that after her four straight losses she was already calculating what would happen to her rating if she finished the event on 0/9. But starting with her round-five win over Krush she has shown an increase in confidence that has led her to score 3½ points and actually gain some rating up to this point in Saint Louis.

A typically complex positional struggle emerged from a Ruy Lopez, with Yip blitzing out her first thirteen moves, while Ju already spent over 25 minutes on 13.a3. Eventually, Black got the pair of bishops and a space advantage on the queenside, making White's play rather uncomfortable. The world champion started to lose the thread around move 26, and a little later went for a piece trade that left her clearly under pressure:


Yip later explained that her opponent's 31.ec4 was imprecise, as it allowed 31...xc4 32.xc4 a2 and the black rook is very annoying on the second rank. 

White's position only got worse and worse with the time control approaching and, for a second day in a row, Yip got to — correctly — sacrifice a bishop to break through and soon end the game:


The youngster spent four minutes calculating the winning 39...xf4 and the queen both gobbles up the kingside pawns and pins the rook with checks — 40.gxf4 xh4+ 41.g1 h4+ 42.g1 xf4. Ju knew she was lost but nonetheless played 43.b1 and after 43...xb2 44.xb2 xe3 45.xf6 xe4+ Black is simply three pawns up. A fighter at heart, Ju only resigned when Yip forced the exchange of queens.  


Ju Wenjun, Carissa Yip

Ju Wenjun resigning the game | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Dzagnidze 0:1 Kosteniuk

This game saw White having a slight edge from the start. In the slow positional skirmish, however, Kosteniuk did not falter, keeping a dynamic balance throughout. And when the time control was approaching, in fact it was White who needed to be careful:


White's 33.d1 did nothing to prevent 33...xd4 due to the threats of back rank mate. A few moves later White gobbled up the b4-pawn, re-establishing material equality, but Black was already in position to push for a win with her faraway passer on the b-file. 

The knights were swapped by move 42, but going into a pure rook endgame was not enough for Dzagnidze to save the draw as Kosteniuk's king quickly transferred to the queenside, which meant White needed to give up her rook to prevent the b-pawn's promotion. Resignation came only on move 68, though.  


Alexandra Kosteniuk

Alexandra Kosteniuk had an eventful tournament so far | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Lagno ½:½ Krush

While Harika Dronavalli versus Mariya Muzychuk was a well-played, balanced struggle that ended in a draw, Irina Krush missed a huge chance to get her first win of the tournament against Kateryna Lagno. The latter failed to notice Black could gain an exchange with a small tactical sequence on move 31:


Lagno mistakenly played 31.xf4, as the capture gave way to 31...a7+ 32.e3 xb8 when Black only needs to be a bit careful to consolidate her clear material advantage. The win was not trivial, though, and Lagno kept posing practical problems to her opponent until Krush erred by allowing a simplification into a theoretically drawn opposite-coloured bishops endgame.

Once again, Krush got the upper hand but could not convert, as she has mostly done from day one at the second edition of the Cairns Cup.


Kateryna Lagno

Kateryna Lagno was lost but ended up saving a half point | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Standings after Round 8


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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