Cairns Cup: Zatonskih beats Kosteniuk, leads

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
6/7/2023 – An eventful fourth round at the Cairns Cup saw both co-leaders losing their games, allowing Anna Zatonskih to climb to sole first place in Saint Louis. Zatonskih defeated Alexandra Kosteniuk from the black side of a French Defence, while Bella Khotenashvili got the better of Irina Krush, who had caught Kosteniuk in the lead after winning her round-3 encounter. The third decisive game of the day saw Nana Dzagnidze beating Humpy Koneru. | Photo: Crystal Fuller

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Both co-leaders lose

A new sole leader emerged at the Cairns Cup following an eventful fourth round on Tuesday. Co-leaders Alexandra Kosteniuk and Irina Krush both lost their games, with Kosteniuk losing to Anna Zatonskih, who now tops the standings in Saint Louis. Zatonskih has won her two games with black and drawn twice with white for a 3/4 score. Kosteniuk, Krush and Nana Dzagnidze are sharing second place with 2½ points each.

Dzagnidze bounced right back from her loss against Krush by beating top seed Humpy Koneru. In a dramatic time trouble phase, Humpy missed a couple of clear winning chances, and not only gave up her advantage but also blundered into a losing position. Incredibly, the Indian star resigned the game with mate-in-3 on the board only three moves after having lost her +5 edge according to the engines.

A compatriot of Dzagnidze, Bella Khotenashvili also had reason to celebrate in round 4. The Georgian scored her second consecutive win by taking down 8-time US women’s champion Irina Krush. In yet another sharp struggle, Krush also gave up a clear advantage as time trouble approached. Unlike Humpy, though, Krush got to fight until move 82.

Zatonskih, the new sole leader in Saint Louis, will face Harika Dronavalli with the white pieces on Wednesday.

Bella Khotenashvili

Bella Khotenashvili started the tournament with two losses, but has bounced back to a fifty-percent score by winning in rounds 3 and 4 | Photo: Crystal Fuller

Do not underestimate the French Defence

As ever, Kosteniuk played actively from the get go while facing Zatonskih’s pet French Defence. The 4-time US women’s champion got the usual structural solidity in these setups, while Kosteniuk failed to demonstrate enough counterplay in the early middlegame. On move 20, Zatonskih even managed to grab a pawn on the queenside.

20.Qxa3 h4 21.Qxb3 axb3 followed. Zatonskih had to work hard, until move 61, to win the game, but she was in the driver’s seat throughout.

Anna Zatonskih, Alexandra Kosteniuk

Anna Zatonskih beat Alexandra Kosteniuk in a crucial game for the standings | Photo: Crystal Fuller

Overly cautious

In a position with queens and rooks, Humpy failed to make the most of her winning initiative, as she defended a pawn that could have been lost without major consequences given the circumstances.

38.f3 is not the way to go here — the active 38.Re7 instead wins for White, when the g6-pawn is a key attacker in all potential lines involving a queen infiltration.

After 38...d3, things went from bad to worse for Humpy, who instead of playing 39.Re3, keeping equality, blundered again with 39.Qe3, allowing 39....Qc8

Now it is not the g6-pawn but the d3-pawn the one creating deadly threats to the opposite king. Humpy resigned after playing 40.Rd6, with mate-in-3 on the board.

Humpy Koneru, Nana Dzagnidze

Harika Dronavalli looks on as Humpy Koneru and Nana Dzagnidze try to find the best moves in a double-edged position | Photo: Crystal Fuller

Results - Round 4

Standings - Round 4

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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.