2020 Cairns Cup - Day 7 Recap

 By IM Eric Rosen

A couple hearts were broken this Valentine's Day as two marathon endgames ended unexpectedly. Wenjun Ju brilliantly outplayed Nana Dzagnidze, but gave away her entire advantage with a single blunder in time pressure. What should have been an easy win for Ju, ended in a draw. Meanwhile, Valentina Gunina overpushed in what should have been a dead drawn endgame against Mariya Muzychuk and lost the only decisive game of the round. After today’s results, Wenjun and Humpy still lead the field with 4.5/7, but three players are close behind with 4/7. 

Wenjun Ju - Nana Dzagnidze: ½ - ½ 

In a highly complex opening battle emerging from a Trompowsky Attack, play unfolded incredibly slowly. On move 9, Ju spent nearly 30 minutes before playing a mysterious queen retreat. Dzagnidze could have obtained a very pleasant edge by patiently improving her pieces, but instead decided to respond forcibly and aggressively. This decision was soon to be regretted as the Georgian grandmaster found herself down two pawns without much compensation. To Ju’s credit, she found some incredibly strong moves to consolidate her material advantage and obtain excellent winning chances. Most of the resulting endgame appeared to be smooth sailing for Ju, as she created two lethal passed pawns on opposite flanks. Just as commentators were about to dismiss the game as an easy win for the World Women’s Champion, Dzagnidze unleashed the study-like Nf5+! As this move was played, commentator GM Ramirez repeated himself in disbelief: “Where does the king go? Where does the king go, Yasser? Yasser, where does the king go?” In fact, Ju had nowhere to go with her king and had to sacrifice back material. The resulting position was nothing but a draw, and a huge disappointment for Ju.

Dzagnidze draws Ju in a miracle save

Irina Krush - Humpy Koneru: ½ - ½ 

In this highly positional clash, Krush achieved a small but nagging advantage from the white side of a Classical Nimzo Indian. As play quickly transitioned into an endgame, Koneru’s position became incredibly passive. “She’s being tied up,” GM Yasser Seirawan explained as Koneru’s predicament was not to be admired. However, the Indian grandmaster displayed great precision and resourcefulness in a technical rook endgame to save the half point. All it took was one misjudgement from Krush for the advantage to evaporate. With this draw, Koneru still shares the lead with Ju. 

Alexandra Kosteniuk - Kateryna Lagno: ½ - ½ 

In the shortest game of the round, an explosive Symmetrical English Opening quickly simplified into a dynamically balanced position. Towards the end of the game, Kosteniuk was up a pawn, but had to settle for repetition. With opposite-colored bishops accompanying a queen and rook for both players, it was not likely that either side could stir up any winning chances. After this draw, Kosteniuk is still in contention for first place with 4/7. 

Kosteniuk showed some Valentine's Day spirit on the Russian live show after her quick draw 

Valentina Gunina - Mariya Muzychuk: 0 - 1

Muzychuk achieved a dream position from the black side of a Rossolimo Sicilian in what was simply an opening disaster for Gunina. From early on, it seemed that this battle was going to be a one-sided demolition. However, Gunina managed to survive the storm despite her extreme passivity and glaring weaknesses. She displayed a great fighting spirit while she managed to complicate the position enough for her veteran opponent to eventually stumble. The position soon liquidated into a roughly equal endgame that everyone was expecting to be drawn. Then in a surprise decision, Gunina chose to turn down repetition and push for more. In the post-game interview, Muzychuk explained “Vanletina doesn’t like draws.” This proved to be costly as both players fell short on time. In the end, Muzychuk’s bishop and two pawns overpowered Gunina’s knight and two pawns. Gunina did manage to avoid a draw, but not in the fashion she desired. With this victory, Muzychuk sits a half point behind Ju and Dzagnidze with 4/7.

Muzychuk emerged victorious against Gunina after a roller coaster game

Harika Dronavalli - Carissa Yip: 1/2 - 1/2

With very solid play from both players, this game featured practically no mistakes. Yip equalized quite comfortably with a King’s Indian Defense and showed great class against her veteran opponent. Unlike many of the other games, these players managed their time effectively and neither side experienced time pressure. GM Ramirez dubbed this battle as a “pretty impressive game.” This marks Yip’s first draw of the tournament and she has recovered well from the disappointing start. Tomorrow, Yip will truly be tested as she has the black pieces against the tournament co-leader and reigning World Women’s Champion Wenjun Ju.

With two more rounds to go, the fight for first place is up for grabs with so many players still in contention. Tune in tomorrow for what is bound to be an exciting penultimate round!