Humpy Koneru wins second edition of the Cairns Cup

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
2/17/2020 – Humpy Koneru comfortably held a draw with White against Harika Dronavalli and claimed first place at the Cairns Cup after Ju Wenjun defeated Alexandra Kosteniuk, the only player who had a chance to catch up with the leader. Ju's victory left her on clear second place, while Kosteniuk shared the third-fourth spot with Mariya Muzychuk. Meanwhile, Irina Krush got her first win of the event and Kateryna Lagno miraculously saved a half point for a second day in a row. | Photo: Austin Fuller

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Ju Wenjun clinches second place

It has been a good semester for Humpy Koneru. Since September 2019, the Indian star won the first event of the Grand Prix series in Skolkovo, got second place at the second stage in Monaco, became Women's Word Rapid Champion and now got clear first place at the Cairns Cup. This remarkable run of good results allowed her to overcome Ju Wenjun in the live ratings list, as she is currently in second place behind semi-inactive Hou Yifan.

The 32-year-old from Gudivada became the youngest female player ever to achieve the GM title back in 2002, a record subsequently broken by Hou Yifan. Humpy got second place in all four Women's Grand Prix series played between 2009 and 2016, finishing once and again behind Hou. Fittingly, the Chinese prodigy defeated her at the 2011 Women's World Championship match.

After consistently showing strong results, Humpy took a two-year break from competitive chess to take care of her newborn daughter Ahana. She returned to action at the Batumi Olympiad, and after she managed to dust off the rustiness she is back in contention at the world of elite women's chess. 

Jeanne Sinquefield, Humpy Koneru

Jeanne Sinquefield chatting with tournament winner Humpy Koneru | Photo: Crystal Fuller

In the post-game interview, Humpy interestingly confessed that she did not even have the ambition to get the GM title, as she was only trying to reach the WGM title when she got her first GM norm. When tournament victory was secured, she returned to talk to Alejandro Ramirez and mentioned that she has never had a chess coach other than her father, who still helps her decide what strategy to use before each game.

For her triumph, Humpy took home a hefty US$45,000 prize. Ju Wenjun, who bounced back from her Saturday's loss with a win over Alexandra Kosteniuk to clinch second place, got US$35,000. As many of the participants mentioned more than once during the event, we can only hope this event continues annually, as it offers top female players great conditions and serves as a strong motivational pull for young players to strive to strengthen their chess.

Cairns Cup 2020

The games for the championship

Before round nine, Kosteniuk, Muzychuk and Ju still had chances to win the event, but when Humpy signed a draw with Harika Dronavalli after a bit over an hour and a half only Kosteniuk still had a chance to catch up with the Indian. Before the three-hour mark, Muzychuk also drew, with Carissa Yip, who arrived as the clear underdog and scored an incredible 4 out of 5 in the second half of the tournament.

So it was all about the game between Kosteniuk and Ju. The Chinese chose the Berlin Defence with Black and found herself in a favourable position after Kosteniuk played some hesitant rook moves out of the opening — Black had the pair of bishops and a clear target on the backward white b-pawn. On move 24, Ju decided it was time to move forward on the queenside:

 

There followed 24...b5 25.d6 e6 26.cxb5 cxb5 27.axb5 a2 and White had nothing better than to exchange her bishop for White's remaining knight with 28.xd4. Ju quickly started advancing her kingside pawns, creating weaknesses on both flanks of the board, trying to make use of her long-range bishops.

Black got her d-pawn all the way down to the second rank, and when White manoeuvred to capture it there was no way to defend the lonely pawn on h2:

 

Kosteniuk did not take long to resign after 52.xd2 g2 53.de4 xh2. Ju had leapfrogged her Russian colleague in the standings table, securing sole second place.

 

Click or tap an entry from the list to switch between games

Alexandra Kosteniuk, Ju Wenjun

Alexandra Kosteniuk lost against world champion Ju Wenjun | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Krush wins, Lagno escapes

Seven-time US women's champion Irina Krush scored her first win of the event over Nana Dzagnidze after showing strong chess throughout but not managing to correctly handle her favourable positions. In round nine, she got the upper hand out of a Benoni and, although Dzagnidze continued trying to defend against a fierce kingside attack for a while, the result was never really in doubt. Krush got to end the game with a nice final move:

 

White resigned after 37.e5+ as the white queen, rook and bishop trio are ready to give mate in eleven moves.

 

Irina Krush

Irina Krush was visibly happy in the post-game interview | Photo: Austin Fuller

In the last game to finish at this year's event, defending champion Valentina Gunina almost lost on time, got a clearly winning endgame position, and in the end failed to wrap up the tournament on a high note. Her compatriot Kateryna Lagno, on the other hand, saved a half point from an inferior position for a second day in a row, finishing the tournament on 4½ out of 9 after scoring one win, one loss and seven draws. 

This is the rook endgame Gunina failed to convert into a win with White:

 

Gunina's 39.h1 did not completely give up her edge, but going forward immediately with 39.f5 was enough to eventually get the win. Gunina continued to err after the time control and the players entered a drawn ending with rook against two connected passers. The point was officially split after 74 moves.

 

Valentina Gunina, Kateryna Lagno

Compatriots Valentina Gunina and Kateryna Lagno | Photo: Lennart Ootes


Final standings

 

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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