2023 Cairns Cup - Day 7 Recap

by WGM Sabina Foisor

Day 7 brought another eventful round at the Cairns Cup, with three decisive games, all won by those players playing with the white pieces.  With the tournament approaching its end, the fights are heating up as everyone is trying to bring in their A-game to place at the top of the standings in this 3rd edition of the Cairns Cup.

The leader of the event, IM Anna Zatonskih, was leading by a point to her second competitor, but she had a rest day today. She maintains her lead, as none of the competitors who could catch up won their games. GM Bella Khotenashvilli turned around the tournament, having won 4 games in a row. GM Nana Dzagnidze stopped the series of losses, with a tough win against former Women’s Champion GM Alexandra Kosteniuk. GM Irina Krush won a convincing game against GM Harika Dronavalli, while GM Abdumalik drew against IM Mammadzada.

Standings After Round 7

Check out the full replay of live coverage from the day here. The time control for the event is 90 minutes for 40 moves, followed by an additional 30 minutes, with a 30 second increment starting from move 1.

Results of Round 7

Dzagnidze suffered 3 losses in a row following her win over Koneru. In a post-game interview Nana discussed the psychological implication the withdrawal of Koneru had over her and said is happy to be back with a win. The opening of her game against Kosteniuk seemed dubious, but as she escaped the opening unharmed, Nana started feeling comfortable with her position as washable to capture Black’s passed d-pawn, after that her pressing technique and the unfortunate time trouble for Kosteniuk, gave Nana the ability to trade off to a winning endgame.

This is the opening position where Kosteniuk played 13…d6?? … instead 13…dxc4 would have made life difficult for Dzagnidze as Bxf3 would follow and White’s position is very unpleasant to say the least.

 GM Nana Dzagnidze came back today with a win after a tough series of losses. | Photo courtesy of Saint Louis Chess Club, Crystal Fuller

After having started the event with 2.5/3, Krush had a rocky path, only scoring 0.5/3. Today, however, she started cautiously with the Exchange Variation of  the QGD (Queen’s Gambit Declined) and kept pressing her opponent, slowly building up an attack on the queen-side, while combining it with trades on the king-side. It’s hard to pinpoint her opponent’s mistake, but having reached a position with a better pawn structure around move 30, Krush didn’t let go of her advantage and went on to win.

8-times US Women’s Champion, GM Irina Krush making her move to bring back a win in Round 7 | Photo courtesy of Saint Louis Chess Club, Crystal Fuller

Similarly to Krush, Khotenashvilli also chose the Exchange Variation of the QGD, however this game was completely different, as Bella focused on a king-side attack.

The game was mostly balanced going into the endgame with both players making inaccuracies that could have tilted the balance. It was in the endgame and as the players were approaching time trouble that Paehtz struggled to find a way to get compensation for her two lost pawns.

Position after 36.Ke2

The engine evaluates this position as slightly better for White, but Black has to be precise and take advantage of White’s uncoordinated rook and knight on the rim. Elisabeth played 37…d4? which allowed the strong 38. g4!! . This move was all White needed to gain the advantage and Bella converted the game to a win. Instead, 37… Rc2+ 38. Kd3 and 38…Rf2 keeping the pressure on the f4-pawn would have made it difficult for white to find a way to regroup.

GM Bella Khotenashvili, with a 4-0 streak after a rough start in the competition | Photo courtesy of Saint Louis Chess Club, Bryan Adams

With only two rounds to go in the tournament, there's still plenty of fighting games left to play to see who will make it to the top of the leaderboard.

Pairings for Round 8

The 2023 Cairns Cup continues Sunday June 11, with tournament action live starting at 1:20 PM CT with commentators Grandmaster Yasser Seirawan, International Master Nazi Paikidze, and International Master Almira Skripchenko on uschesschamps.com and on the Saint Louis Chess Club’s YouTube and Twitch.tv channels.