2020 Cairns Cup - Day 1 Recap

 By IM Eric Rosen

At the Cairns Cup opening ceremony last night the players expressed gratitude and excitement to be part of such a strong and historic event. They promised to deliver dynamic and exciting chess for this event and maybe even produce more decisive games than the Sinquefield Cup. While many of the first round battles started a bit slowly (everyone seemed to be overly cautious), the cold Saint Louis weather did not stop many of the games from heating up. The first round produced a mix of fighting draws and decisive battles as Humpy Koneru and Nana Dzagnidze emerged as the two winners with highly instructive victories. 

Mariya Muzychuk - Wenjun Ju: ½ - ½ 

Fresh off defending her title at the World Women’s Chess Championship a couple weeks ago, Ju Wenjun made her Cairns Cup debut today as the top seed. She had the black pieces against Mariya Muzychuk and was tested early on in a theoretical line of the Petroff Defense. Muzychuk had a small edge as the play transitioned into the middlegame, but Ju stabilized quite comfortably. After a quick sequence of trades, the position liquidated into an endgame with the players having near symmetrical structure. In the end, a peaceful draw was the fair result. 

GM Wenjun Ju played a solid petroff to draw her first round game

Humpy Koneru - Carissa Yip: 1-0

This battle between veteran and youth was one of the most fascinating games of the round. Yip surprised the commentators and her opponent by playing the KID (King’s Indian Defense) which is outside of her usual repertoire. At 16 years old and a whole decade younger (at least) than everyone else in the field, perhaps the “KID” suited Yip’s age and dynamic playing style. The opening proved to be a wise choice for Yip, as Koneru burned a lot of time from early on. However, after getting what could have been a very comfortable position, Yip committed a grave positional error with 19...f6? This not only buried her dark-squared bishop in the corner, but also allowed Koneru a beautiful positional sacrifice. The Indian veteran jumped on the opportunity with the deep and intuitive pawn sacrifice, 20.Ne6!! This led to a dominating endgame in which black’s buried bishop never came to life. Koneru converted her advantage with exceptional precision despite falling very low on time. 

GM Humpy Koneru defeated Carissa Yip in a highly instructive positional masterpiece

Harika Dronavalli - Kateryna Lagno: ½-½ 

This game was perhaps the most confusing for the commentators as it ended a bit prematurely. The opening featured a Dragon Sicilian and the middlegame became quite sharp. Lagno was quite adventurous with her queen as it made its way into the center of the board, surrounded by white’s pieces. The evaluation was topsy-turvy as both sides had chances in the middlegame chaos. After some dust settled and pieces were traded, Lagno emerged with a better endgame, but faced severe time pressure. With neither side wanting to take a risk, the players agreed to a draw on move 37, just 3 moves before an additional half hour would have been added. 

Nana Dzagnidze - Valentina Gunina: 1-0

In what was easily the sharpest game of the round, Nana Dzagnidze capitalized on an early advantage emerging from a Trompowsky Attack. Gunina mishandled the opening as commentators criticized her 9th move, Qd6 to be awkward and lacking harmony. The Georgian superstar pounced from all directions with 13.a4! and 15.Bxh7! After white won a pawn, it looked like Gunina never had a fighting chance. In her post game interview, Dzagnidze expressed that she didn’t have any worries throughout the game and was very satisfied with her play. However, it was revealed after the game by engine analysis, that Gunina had a miracle save just a few moves before she lost to Nana. Such a moment shows that you should never give up even when you’re on the verge of losing. 

GM Dzagnidze was pleased with her first round victory over GM Gunina

Alexandra Kosteniuk - Irina Krush: ½ - ½ 

The longest battle of Round 1 was relatively level throughout. Kosteniuk unleashed an Alapin Sicilian, which is not commonly seen at grandmaster level, but still has some venom. After getting what looked to be a passive position, Krush managed to neutralize white’s space advantage by achieving a very stable blockade against Kosteniuk’s isolated queen’s pawn. It appeared that Krush was pushing for some advantage as play transitioned into the endgame, but there were simply not enough weaknesses to exploit. Towards the end of the game, both players fell low on time but had incredibly solid setups. They decided to repeat moves and the round came to a peaceful draw. 

After the first round of play there are already as many decisive games as there were in the first four rounds of the 2019 Sinquefield Cup! Here are the pairings for round 2:

Be sure to catch all the action live at uschesschamps.org!