2019 Cairns Cup – Round 2

by GM Josh Friedel 

Today’s round was far less bloody than the first round, but it was certainly not short of interesting games.  There were time scrambles, advantages passed back and forth, and plenty of other action. In the end, only GM Khotenashvili was able to break through and score a victory, thus bouncing back from her loss on day one.  Below are the results and a breakdown of what happened.

GM Marie Sebag - IM Zhansaya Abdumalik ½-½

This game progressed normally in a closed Ruy Lopez with early d3 and a3.  Judging from the clock situation, however, it seemed as if Zhansaya had more familiarity with the position than Marie did.  It looked like Marie had a very slight pull, but taking on e5 bishop on the 20th move helped out Black’s position and left White’s h5 knight out of play.  The game took a sharp turn when Black put her king on f7 and White responded with f4. Perhaps if Black kept the rooks on the board she would have had some chances, but after they got swapped her king was somewhat exposed.  Sebag didn’t fancy her chances, and quite sensibly forced a perpetual. A few missed chances, but I doubt either player will lose too much sleep over them.

GM Alexandra Kosteniuk - IM Anna Zatonskih ½-½

Kosteniuk opted for a slightly unusual 5. C4 in a petroff, and it was clear after a few moves that neither player was completely in their comfort zone.  Similar to yesterday, however, that didn’t stop either of them from playing sharply! Anna’s 7… Bb4+ and Alexandra’s 8. Kf1 signaled that they are ready for a big fight.  It looked like Black’s queen was in a dangerous spot, but once it found a safe haven on h5, Zatonskih’s position looked to be solid. Soon, the players settled into an ending where Anna’s strong knight and control of the d-file gave her the better chances.  Kosteniuk’s 29. B3 looked quite slow, and perhaps moving a rook to challenge the d-file would have allowed her to better resist. Unfortunately for Anna, time pressure entered the fray, and Alexandra launched her kingside pawns with her king following in close pursuit.  The gamble paid off beautifully, and she was able to muddy the waters. After time control, Anna could find nothing better than allowing a perpetual. A draw, but certainly not an uneventful one!

Anna had the former World Champion on the ropes, but was unable to land the final blow

GM Bela Khotenashvili - IM Elisabeth Paehtz 1-0

A quiet English opening lead to a position where White had a nice space advantage.  In the confessional booth, Paehtz remarked that she wasn’t too crazy about her position, although Bela’s decision to take on d7 on the 12th move seemed unnecessary.  After that, Elisabeth’s position was easier to play, and she got an extremely comfortable game where only Black could be better. After Paehtz’s decision to swap dark-squared bishops, Bela got her knight cemented on d4, and, after that, it was once again White with the more pleasant game.  Black swapped off the knight and then a pair of rooks, but Bela’s a-pawn looked extremely intimidating in the resulting queen ending. She exchanged the a-pawn for an even more deadly h-pawn, and was able to win the game in short order. A nice way to bounce back to 50% for Bela, whereas Elisabeth has yet to get on the board despite her enterprising play.    

Khotenashvili-Paehtz was a back and forth affair, but Bela proved too strong in the end

GM Irina Krush - GM Valentina Gunina ½-½

Irina opted for a King’s Indian Attack, and the game progressed in a manner typical for that opening, where White was attacking on the kingside with Black launching her pawns on the queenside.  These positions can be difficult to play for White, as if you don’t generate any attack the queenside can start to look scary. Sure enough, chances soon favored Valentina, but the clock situation did not;  she was down to six minutes with 18 moves to make until time control. As was the case in round one, however, Gunina handled herself superbly in time pressure and steadily built up her advantage. Krush launched a desperate kingside attack, but lost an exchange and seemed to be nearly dead.  Unfortunately for Valentina, she missed a tricky forced win with 44… Qa2 (or Qb2), and after Irina took a pawn on e6, she had sufficient counterplay to make a draw. The players kept the fans on their seats until the very end, but neither wavered, and finally they agreed to a draw. Gunina will definitely feel like a chance for 2-0 slipped away, while Krush will likely be happy to still be tied for the lead.

GM Irina Krush had much to worry about in her game, but managed to hold her nerve

GM Harika Dronavalli - GM Nana Dzagnidze ½-½

Harika and Nana played a sharp Queen’s Gambit Accepted, and once White organized her pieces starting with the move 14. Ne1, it definitely seemed like she had the upper hand.  Nana found nice counterplay with the move 20… Rc3, which threw a wrench in the works and forced White to retreat a knight to c1. After that, Harika correctly steered the game towards safer waters, and after a lot of pieces were traded the players drew.  With this draw, Nana is on the board, while Harika let another promising opening position slip away from her.

Below are tomorrow’s matchups.  The round will begin at 1 p.m. local time.  See you there!