16-year-old Carissa Yip took down Women’s World Champion Ju Wenjun with the black pieces as a tournament she started with a nightmare four losses in a row is ending like a dream for the US youngster. “I like being a ruiner,” said Carissa after leaving Ju Wenjun a full point behind sole leader Humpy Koneru, who defeated an out-of-form Valentina Gunina. Alexandra Kosteniuk is just half a point behind the leader after beating Nana Dzagnidze.
You can replay all the games from the 2020 Cairns Cup using the selector below:
And here’s the Round 8 live commentary from Yasser Seirawan, Jennifer Shahade and Alejandro Ramirez:
Things could easily be so different in this year’s Cairns Cup. In Round 7 Humpy Koneru was struggling against Irina Krush while Ju Wenjun had won a pawn and then built up an overwhelming advantage against Nana Dzagnidze. It seemed to be just a matter of technique, until 67…h3?
That ran into 68.Nf5+! and suddenly the black king has nowhere to go to avoid mate or a killer fork (68…Ke8 69.Ng7+). 68…Rxf5 69.Kxf5 was forced, while it turned out that 69…a4 was only enough to draw. It was a little unfortunate for the Women’s World Champion, because if she’d started with 67…a4! she would still have been winning even after 68.Nf5+.
Ju Wenjun’s day got worse when Humpy Koneru held a draw so that they went into the penultimate round level on points, while Valentina Gunina had a miserable Valentine’s Day. She lost a drawn minor piece ending, with the final position, after Mariya Muzychuk played 73…Ba1!, summing up Valentina’s tournament:
It’s White to play, but there’s nothing she can do about 74…Kb5 next move, when the knight has nowhere to go.
Things got no better for Valentina Gunina in Round 8, as she suffered a 6th loss of the event, this time to Humpy Koneru. In a way you couldn’t criticise Valentina’s 14…Qc6?
The 12th World Champion Anatoly Karpov had made the same move against Humpy 14 years previously, but it’s a fatal mistake that even Anatoly couldn’t recover from. After 15.Qf3! h6 16.Qh3! White is losing material. Karpov tried 16…Nc5, while after 21 minutes’ thought Valentina gave up the exchange with 16…hxg5 17.Qxh8. A move later Black was down a pawn and an exchange for no counterplay, and although the game lasted 35 moves it was already over as a contest.
That game put the pressure on co-leader Ju Wenjun, who seemed to be caught out when Carissa Yip played the 4…g6 sideline in the Ruy Lopez. Nevertheless, the Women’s World Champion had things under control until around move 23:
23.b4! would have fixed the queenside in White’s favour, but instead Ju Wenjun burnt up time as she played 23.Qa2?! Nc8 24.Ne1?! b4! 25.Bb2 Bb5!. Carissa had started the day with low expectations, just as she had most rounds after beginning with four losses in a row:
I guess starting bad kind of helped my mentality in a way, because I’d sort of resigned myself to having 0/9, so going to each game I didn’t really have any expectations.
And before playing the World Champion:
I was mostly excited to play her because it was going to be my first time, and I was just sort of chilling - I was hoping for a draw, I was hoping not to lose! And then somehow I managed to turn things around.
Carissa knew she was doing well after 25…Bb5, however, “because her pieces are misplaced on the a-file and she needs to move them all back and I gain a lot of space”. There were some inaccuracies from both sides until 34.Nd2? Bh6! was the point of no return, even if Carissa thought at first she’d underestimated the reply 35.f4:
She wanted to play 35…Qd7, but correctly saw that 36.Re3 would just about hold things together for White. After 9 minutes, however, she found the killer 35…Qa7!, threatening c4+, and when Ju played 36.Nc4 only now did she go for 36…Qd7! It was much stronger, since after 37.Re3 Carissa could simply take on c4 and then invade with the queen.
The only danger was that the youngster would succumb to the pressure and go astray before the time control, but she showed nerves of steel:
39…Bxf4! was the winning shot, with Carissa noting afterwards that it had taken her a while to find the sting in the tail after 40.gxf4 Qxh4+ 41.Kg1 Qg4+ 42.Kh1 Qxf4:
She thought 43.Rb3 might defend here, but finally saw that 43…Qxc1+! 44.Bxc1 Ra1! simply wins the bishop, when an extra three pawns should be enough - at last she knew she was going to beat the World Champion! In the game we saw 43.Qb1 Rxb2 44.Qxb2 Qxe3 45.Qxf6 Qxe4+ and again, Black had three extra pawns. There was more danger of stumbling into a perpetual check with queens on the board, but Carissa didn’t put a foot wrong and completed a famous win in 57 moves:
That meant Carissa had not only beaten Ju Wenjun but scored 3.5/4 after starting with 0/4. She reflected on what the experience had taught her:
I guess what I learned about myself is that confidence is really important and, like I said, at the beginning of the tournament I had no confidence and after my first win it really brought that back up and I think I started playing better too.
How does this rank in all-time achievements for the teenager? “Maybe Top 5, barely!” She said it’s up there with the first time she beat her dad as a 7-year-old beginner.
Carissa will at least finish the tournament above Valentina Gunina, but there were important results elsewhere in the fight for first place. Mariya Muzychuk couldn’t squeeze out a win after Harika Dronavalli overpressed, while Nana Dzagnidze seemed to suffer a strange case of chess blindness as she “defended” the d4-pawn against Alexandra Kosteniuk with 33.Rd1?!:
Alas, Black could simply play 33…Nxd4! anyway, since if White captured twice on d4 she would get mated on the back rank after Ra1+. 34.Kf1 was met by 34…Nb5! and in the end Alexandra managed to win a rook for one of the b-pawns. Victory in the game followed, though not as quickly as you would have expected, and Kosteniuk has now won four and lost two before she goes into the final round against Ju Wenjun just half a point off the lead.
The drama in the final game had little direct impact on the hunt for 1st place, but it was a memorable chess tragi-comedy. Kateryna Lagno had blundered an exchange earlier in the game and in a lost position 43.Bc5 looked like a move that hastened the end:
Unfortunately for Irina, she was eagle-eyed enough to “spot” the combination 43…Rxg2+? 44.Bxg2 Qg5 45.Qf1 Bxg2:
After 46.Qxg2 Qc1+ Black would pick up the bishop on c5 with a trivially won queen ending. Irina had missed one detail, however – 46.h4! Bxf1+ 47.hxg5 Bb5 and the vital final touch 48.d7! (not giving Black time to activate her king with Kg7) 48…Bxd7 49.Bd6! Holding the opposite-coloured bishop ending proved easy for Kateryna.
That leaves the standings as follows going into Sunday’s final round:
Four players are still in the chase for first place, with Harika-Koneru, Kosteniuk-Ju Wenjun and Yip-Muzychuk the crucial games. How will it all end?
Any playoff would take place on Monday and would be another full day of chess – for two players it starts with two 45+5 games, then two more 10+5 if still tied and then a 5 vs. 4 minutes Armageddon game. A 3-player playoff starts with a 25+5 round-robin.
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