Reports Feb 17, 2020 | 3:35 PMby Colin McGourty

Cairns Cup 9: Humpy Koneru takes title

Humpy Koneru has won the 2nd Cairns Cup and $45,000 after drawing her final game against Harika Dronavalli to finish on 6/9. That meant only Alexandra Kosteniuk could catch her and force a playoff by beating Ju Wenjun, but the Women’s World Champion instead won with the Berlin to take clear 2nd place. Irina Krush ended with a win to mean that every player in the event had won and lost at least one game.

Humpy Koneru's great form continues as she wins the 2020 Cairns Cup | photo: Lennart Ootes, official website

You can replay all the games from the 2020 Cairns Cup using the selector below:

And here’s the final day’s commentary, including an appearance by Garry Kasparov:

Humpy eases to victory

Humpy Koneru knew that a draw in the final round would guarantee her at least a playoff for first place, and with the black pieces against compatriot Harika Dronavalli there was no reason to push for more. In the Scotch Four Knights she didn’t go for Jan’s sharp recommendation with Bg4, but the solid main line where White gets an easy to play position after 11.Qf3, but one very likely to end in a draw:


There was also no reason for Harika to rock the boat, since she’d been on antibiotics for most of the event:

Humpy’s father had told her a +3 score would be enough for victory, and so it proved, since Alexandra Kosteniuk was unable to beat Ju Wenjun on demand. The Women’s World Champion played the Berlin Defence after her loss the day before to Carissa Yip, with Garry Kasparov commenting when asked what Alexandra could have done differently, “I'm not the person to give advice on the Berlin!” Kasparov had of course famously failed to break down the Berlin Wall during his 2000 match against Vladimir Kramnik, though he did manage in one later game.

Ju Wenjun felt she'd been too aggressive in her loss to Carissa Yip, while the super-solid Berlin worked out perfectly against Alexandra Kosteniuk | photo: Lennart Ootes, official website

Kosteniuk soon ended up worse with the white pieces, and although there was a chaotic phase in the middlegame where her fans could hope again, it soon led to a position where you didn’t need to be a current or former world champion to understand that Black’s bishop pair was clearly better than White’s two knights!


Alexandra had put up a valiant fight, but it was Ju Wenjun who bounced back from her loss to claim clear second place and $35,000. That meant, of course, that Humpy Koneru had taken the top prize:


Carissa Yip completes a brilliant 2nd half of the event

Carissa stormed back in the 2nd half of the Cairns Cup | photo: Crystal Fuller, official website

16-year-old Carissa Yip got some high praise from the watching Garry Kasparov, who had found her very promising as a youngster and then seen her slow down a bit, as most talented players do. But he added:

If there’s real talent it shows, and the last time I saw her at this session a couple of months ago in New York I was truly impressed.

What had changed?

She was a bit too primitive, just attacking - her vision of chess was more one-dimensional, but now she could look at the game from different perspectives, she could defend, she could play positionally.

We’ve certainly seen evidence of that in the way she’s assessed positions in post-game interviews, while the comeback from four losses at the start also impressed Garry: “Strong character - that’s the sign of a big champion!”


Garry felt the game against Ju Wenjun had not just been a fine result but a fine game, while it seemed Carissa might be imitating the master in the final round:

When asked afterwards Carissa had no idea about that game (she resisted the temptation to say, “Ok, boomer!”) and in the end a 31-move draw followed. For Mariya Muzychuk it meant shared 3rd place, while Carissa was in a 3-way tie for 7th. The 16-year-old is now rated 2420.2 and women’s world no. 42.

Krush and Gunina entertain to the end

Nana Dzagnidze's aggressive opening didn't pay off against Irina Krush | photo: Lennart Ootes, official website

It hadn’t been Irina Krush’s event, with the 7-time US Women’s Champion letting chances slip in multiple games, but she finished on a high. Nana Dzagnidze’s tournament had been all downhill since she became the sole leader after Round 3, but she’d clearly decided to try and rescue something in the final round. Alas, the Benoni she played brought nothing good, with it being hard to pinpoint when her position went from merely bad to lost. Let’s perhaps just give the final moment:


All White needs to do is remove the bishop from f4 so that the queen can get to h4, and while not technically the fastest win 37.Be5+! is definitely the most satisfying. Nana resigned.

That game meant that, unusually, we had a 10-player round-robin where every player had won and lost at least one game (you can click on a result below to go to that game):

As you can see, Valentina Gunina had contributed more decisive action than most, and her final round game against Kateryna Lagno summed up her event. After three losses in a row Valentina was still fighting and had built up a completely winning position, until she went astray at the end:


The winning line is simply to play 39.f5! and queen the pawn, since if Black makes it a race with 39…h3 White queens first and has multiple ways to simplify into an easily won position. Instead, despite having the relative luxury for her in this tournament of five minutes for two moves, Valentina picked 39.Rh1?!, and then missed another win when given a second chance after the time control.

It's tough to stop Valentina smiling, though Caissa did her best in Saint Louis | photo: Lennart Ootes, official website 

Valentina complained about jet lag in the early rounds and had been fighting a running battle with the clock during the games as well, and this was to be no exception. In what was already a drawn position Valentina came within a fraction of a second of losing as she played 70.Kb6, before that moment jolted her back to her senses and she held on to draw:

One second to go, and the clock still needed to be pressed...

The game ended in bare kings, but while you can’t knock Valentina’s fighting spirit it was remarkable that after winning the Cairns Cup with an unbeaten 7/9 in 2019 she’d now lost six games and scored just 2.5/9. The final draw meant she couldn’t even boast of playing nine decisive games!

The next major event in the Saint Louis Chess Club will be the US Chess Championship in April, but before that we have the Candidates | photo: Lennart Ootes, official website

So that’s all for the 2020 Cairns Cup. The next big women’s event is the 3rd FIDE Women’s Grand Prix in Lausanne, Switzerland, where both Ju Wenjun and Aleksandra Goryachkina will be in action. Meanwhile the Prague Masters with Vidit, Firouzja, Duda and co. has four more rounds to go after today’s rest day.

Don’t miss all the action live here on chess24 from 20:00 CET!

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