2023 Cairns Cup - Day 1 Recap

The third edition of the Cairns Cup kicked off today in Saint Louis as ten of the world’s top female players began to battle it out for their share of the $180,000 prize fund. The tournament got off to a stunning start as former Women’s World Champion GM Alexandra Kosteniuk defeated top seed and reigning Cairns Cup champion GM Humpy Koneru. Meanwhile GM Harika Dronavalli, GM Irina Krush, and IM Gunay Mammadzada all won their first round games as well.

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.


The drama commenced early in the day with a shocking blunder as GM Bella Khotenashvili hung a knight after falling into a known trap in the Sicilian Defense. Her opponent, IM Gunay Mammadzada, thought for a few minutes before taking the free piece, but had few problems converting the rest of the game.

After 9…Ng4??, a thematic idea but in the wrong position. 10.Bxg4 Bxg4 11.Nxc6!+- simply wins a piece for White.

IM Gunay Mammadzada | Photo courtesy of Saint Louis Chess Club, Crystal Fuller

The action then swelled as former Women’s World Champion GM Alexandra Kosteniuk defeated the top seed and returning Cairns Cup champion, GM Humpy Koneru. The win was earned after some excellent maneuvering by Kosteniuk, which allowed her to outplay Koneru in a slightly better endgame.

After 34.Ba4!, Black's position was simply lost.

GM Alexandra Kosteniuk | Photo courtesy of Saint Louis Chess Club, Crystal Fuller

Another big victory was scored by 8-time U.S. Women’s Champion GM Irina Krush, who found a powerful shot to blow open the position and seize the initiative against GM Zhansaya Abdumalik:

27…Nxf5! completely turned the tables around, with the idea 28.exf5 e4, giving Black a serious advantage.

GM Irina Krush | Photo courtesy of Saint Louis Chess Club, Austin Fuller

In the only drawn game of the day, IM Anna Zatonskih successfully defended a worse position against GM Nana Dzagnidze, who eventually repeated moves in a rook endgame. The last game of the round was then won by GM Harika Dronavalli, who managed to grind out an extra pawn in a rook endgame against GM Elisabeth Paehtz. The evaluation of the position swung from winning for White to drawn at several moments, but a final error by Paehtz allowed Dronavalli to enter decisively with her king.

GM Harika Dronavalli | Photo courtesy of Saint Louis Chess Club, Crystal Fuller

Pairings for Round 2

The 2023 Cairns Cup continues Sunday, June 4, with tournament action live starting at 1:15 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.