Anna Zatonskih wins Cairns Cup with one round to spare

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
6/12/2023 – Anna Zatonskih beat Zhansaya Abdumalik in round 8 of the Cairns Cup to claim tournament victory with one round to spare. Alexandra Kosteniuk’s win over Bella Khotenashvili helped Zatonskih to grab clear first place. Remarkably, the tournament champion was the lowest-rated player in Saint Louis. Zatonskih is set to face Irina Krush in Monday’s final round. | Photo: Bryan Adams

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Not your usual underdog

Before her victory at the Cairns Cup, Anna Zatonskih had been struggling to achieve successes in high-profile events during the last couple of years or so. The 4-time US women’s champion used to fight neck and neck with Irina Krush in the national championships, but her performances in 2021 and 2022 were not up to par.

Her loss of rating points throughout this period prompted her to enter the third edition of the Cairns Cup as the lowest-rated participant.

Zatonskih’s performance at the Saint Louis Chess Club was nothing short of impressive, as she grabbed four wins and three draws against top opposition to claim tournament victory with one round to spare. Commentator Nazi Paikidze aptly described Zatonskih’s triumph as “inspirational”. Once she figured out that she had just won the event, Zatonskih confessed in her post-game interview with Almira Skripchenko:

[This is the best achievement] in my chess career, definitely. The best in many years. [...] Thank you Almira, thank you everyone, especially the older generation who supported me here, who gave me motivation. I was trying to prove that age is just a number — it may be not, but I’m very happy!

The 44-year-old, born in Mariupol, Ukraine, had won her last US women’s champion back in 2011. Thanks to her performance in this event, no matter the result of her last-round game, she also grabbed a grandmaster norm, which was surprising to her as she thought it was not possible to get it after only eight rounds (the fact that Humpy Koneru withdrew, though, does grant her the norm). On her way to victory, she defeated the very active Bella Khotenashvili, Alexandra Kosteniuk, Gunay Mammadzada and Zhansaya Abdumalik.

Now the fight for second place will be decided in Monday’s final round, as Kosteniuk, Khotenashvili and Krush are all tied on 4/7 scores. Out of the three, only Kosteniuk will play with the black pieces.

Alexandra Kosteniuk

Alexandra Kosteniuk obtained a key win over an in-form Bella Khotenashvili on Sunday | Photo: Bryan Adams

Zatonskih 1 - 0 Abdumalik

Endgame analysis by GM Karsten Müller

Anna Zatonskih, Zhansaya Abdumalik

Anna Zatonskih facing Zhansaya Abdumalik | Photo: Crystal Fuller

Results - Round 8

Standings - Round 8

Cairns Cup 2023

All games

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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.