Reports Feb 7, 2019 | 4:01 PMby Colin McGourty

Cairns Cup 1: A fighting start

There were wins for Alexandra Kosteniuk, Irina Krush, Valentina Gunina and Zhansaya Abdumalik as the first edition of the Cairns Cup got off to an entertaining start in Saint Louis. Only Harika Dronavalli and Marie Sebag drew their game on a day when the white pieces or an opening advantage seemed to count for very little. Gunina, for instance, summed up that, “my teammates always tell that they don’t look at my position as it’s always some mess, so they just prefer to see it when it’s the end!”

Alexandra Kosteniuk found a great finish to win the day's most exciting clash | photo: Crystal Fuller, official website

You can replay all the Cairns Cup games and check out the pairings using the selector below:

And here’s the day’s English video, with commentary by Jennifer Shahade, Yasser Seirawan and Maurice Ashley, including interviews with many of the players:

The first decisive game of the Cairns Cup was a win for Alexandra Kosteniuk over Elisabeth Paehtz, with the top seed playing the opening provocatively. First Kosteniuk played the Benoni, then she opted for the novelty 14…Qb6?! on move 14:


The former Women’s World Champion admitted:

I thought that I was still in my home preparation, but somehow the lines I prepared at home I didn’t like. That’s why I invented this Qb6 move, which is certainly a move in the wrong direction!

Elisabeth said she, “wanted to punish her” (“she had every reason to!” – Kosteniuk), and objectively her 15.e4! Bg6 16.e5! was strong, but she spent 31 minutes on e5 and later regretted not playing more positionally with 16.a4. Kosteniuk welcomed the game becoming double-edged after e5 and all it took were a couple of mistakes for White’s position to collapse. The hammer blow came on move 32:

32…Rxg2! 33.Kxg2 Qg6+! 34.Bg3 Bg4! 35.Qc1 Bf3+


As Alexandra pointed out, 36.Kf1 now would have allowed the beautiful finish 36…Qxg3!! 37.fxg3 Nxg3#, but after 36.Kh2 Nxg3 White simply resigned.

Alexandra Kosteniuk wasn't pretending she had it all under control when she talked to Maurice Ashley after the game | photo: Lennart Ootes, official website

The other game to match that drama was Gunina-Khotenashvili, where both players burnt up an enormous amount of time in the opening, though things got really strange after 18.Bxh6!


Bela Khotenashvili thought this was impossible due to 18…Ne5?, but then realised that runs into 19.Rxe5! Rxe5 20.Qxa8. Simply playing 18…Rxe1+ 19.Rxe1 Re8 gives Black a decent position, though. Instead she went from 29 minutes on her clock to just over a minute before playing 18…d3?!, and soon, playing on increment, her position crumbled. Valentina Gunina’s direct and aggressive approach to converting her advantage may not exactly have been optimal, but it got the job done.

Valentina Gunina got off to a great start in Saint Louis | photo: Lennart Ootes, official website

Harika Dronavalli vs. Marie Sebag was a well-played draw, while the other two decisive games saw the player with the black pieces use the bishop pair and passed pawns to grind out a win. 

Harika Dronavalli stood out in red as she paced the playing hall | photo: Lennart Ootes, official website

19-year-old Zhansaya Abdumalik played a novelty on move 15 of some Grünfeld theory against Anna Zatonskih, but by that stage it seems both players were out of book. Anna felt she had a chance to get “a big advantage”, but it seems she overpressed and was ultimately punished by her young opponent. Anna commented, “I prepared too much before the game and got tired and couldn’t calculate variations”.

Zhansaya Abdumalik showed a chess playing posture we're used to from young prodigies! | photo: Lennart Ootes, official website 

Abdumalik pointed out that the only previous time she’d played a women-only round-robin was in Wroclaw, Poland in 2016. The rest of the field will be hoping not to see a repeat of that performance, since she took clear first place:


There was some good news for local US chess fans, however, as Irina Krush came through to beat Nana Dzagnidze in the longest game of the day. Black had a nagging edge from early on, but Nana had chances to hold before finally falling to defeat in 69 moves.

Nana Dzagnidze resigns against Irina Krush | photo: Lennart Ootes, official website

In Round 2 it’s USA-Russia as we get Krush-Gunina and Kosteniuk-Zatonskih!

Almira Skripchenko is commentating with Anastasia Karlovich in Russian | photo: Lennart Ootes, official website

Follow all the action live from 13:00 in St. Louis (20:00 CET) live here on chess24!

See also:


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