2019 Cairns Cup – Round 7
by GM Josh Friedel
The 7th round saw two decisive results, but they were crucial ones. Gunina won a 4th game in a row and moved into clear first place, while Kosteniuk drew the worse side of a french and fell back to 2nd. The 3rd place player, GM Irina Krush, lost in convincing fashion to GM Bela Khotenashvili. Abdumalik-Dzagnidze and Paehtz-Sebag also could have seen White victories, but both players were unable to convert. Let’s take a look at the results and a summary of today’s battles.
GM Alexandra Kosteniuk - GM Harika Dronavalli ½-½
Harika played an early f6 in a Winawer French, a risky move which clearly surprised Alexandra. The decision paid off well for Black, as they soon entered an endgame where Black’s chances could only be better. White got her king stuck in the center at an inopportune moment, and Black found the nice shot 19… Rxf3! This lead to an ending where Black had an extra pawn in an opposite bishop ending. Unfortunately for Harika, she made the decision to trade rooks in order to get a passed a pawn, but with no rooks left, Kosteniuk was able to blockade the queenside pawns fairly easily. Good defense by the former World Champion, but the Indian GM can’t be happy about not putting more pressure on her in the endgame.
IM Anna Zatonskih - GM Valentina Gunina 0-1
Anna opted to play for an isolated pawn position rather than face the Benoni which Valentina prepared. This turned out to be a very nice decision, as she got a very comfortable position out of the opening, though clearly it was nothing super special. Gunina showed why she was one of the tournament leaders, however, by outplaying her opponent and creating a powerful kingside attack. Anna’s position looked unenviable, but she found a nice exchange sac with 27. Nxe4 and 28. Nxg5! This put her back in the game with great drawing chances, but with neither having much time until move 40, the point was truly up for grabs. Unfortunately for White, her kingside got broken up just before the players reached time control, which allowed Valentina to retake the initiative and her winning chances. The Russian played accurately and put maximum pressure on Anna, who blundered into a line where her queen gets lost. This 4th victory in a row puts Gunina in clear first, while the American continues to struggle in this event.
GM Valentina Gunina scored a 4th win a row and finally takes the clear lead in the event
GM Bela Khotenashvili - GM Irina Krush 1-0
Irina played an early g6 move in a main line of the London System, which actually transposes to a Caro-Kann line she had success with earlier in the event, albeit not the exact same position. She went astray early, however, with a dubious-looking Bd7-Qc8-a6 setup. Bela won a pawn on f4, then found a neat shot with 27. Bxh7+ winning another one. Krush won a pawn back, but she was still down one, and her king position left a lot to be desired. The Georgian was merciless in pressing her advantage, and eventually Irina was no longer able to hang on. An impressive win by the Georgian, handing Krush her 1st loss, and moving out of last place.
GM Bela Khotenashvili has had a rough tournament, but she won a great game today
IM Zhansaya Abdumalik - GM Nana Dzagnidze ½-½
Abdumalik seem to come better prepared for a Classical French, and she built up a nice opening advantage. When she played 22. F5, the commentators were going crazy, and everyone was anticipating a crushing attack. While indeed the young IM had a powerful initiative, a lot of accuracy was still required, and many of the variations were far from obvious. Zhansaya was correct in her decision to lift a rook on move 28, but she lifted it to the wrong square, as Rf4 was a stronger choice than Rf3. She admitted after the game to have missed h3 in a critical variation, which would give her king space to hide. Nana, to her credit, seized her chance immediately and forced a draw by sacrificing a piece for a powerful c pawn. Abdumalik won’t be happy to have let her chances slip, but overall it was just one move that really tripped her up. Dzagnidze has to be happy to survive, and just as in yesterday’s game with Anna, she took her chance quite well.
IM Elisabeth Paehtz - GM Marie Sebag ½-½
These players might not be fighting for first place, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t ready to fight. Elisabeth played the Nb3 line against Marie’s Najdorf, perhaps inspired by Gunina’s amazing victory against her two rounds ago. Black got a nice-looking knight on c4, but didn’t accomplish much else, and, by the time Paehtz got in 15. G6!, it seemed as if the German player had excellent chances. Elisabeth forced her opponent to trade queens, and the players liquidated to a rook ending which seemed to be winning for the German. White played it extremely well for a long time, and looked to be heading towards a fine victory. Similar to yesterday's game, however, disaster struck for Paehtz in the rook endgame. First, she played the conservative 33. Ra3 instead of the more aggressive and accurate Ra7. This allowed Sebag to improve her king and passive b8 rook, and the French GM didn’t miss her chance. Soon they traded to a single-rook endgame where Elisabeth pressed until the very end, but the position didn’t allow her to secure the victory. A miracle escape for Marie, while Elisabeth will be annoyed at letting a great chance for her first win to slip.
IM Elisabeth Paehtz struggles in a rook ending for a 2nd day in row, failing to beat GM Sebag
Here are the standings heading into round eight. Gunina pulls into clear first, but still has Kosteniuk right behind her, and they are slated to play in the final round. Irina is a full point back, but is still in clear third.
Matchups for the penultimate round should be exciting. Dzagnidze-Kosteniuk is a battle between the top two seeds, while IM Abdumalik will get a shot at knocking off the new leader. Tune in at 1pm local time for the broadcast and live games.