2019 Cairns Cup – Round 8


Round eight had plenty of fighting chess, but only one player was able to secure a victory.  French GM Marie Sebag scored her first win of the tournament against GM Irina Krush. IM Zhansaya Abdumalik came close to knocking off the tournament leader but stumbled just before making time control.  GM Alexandra Kosteniuk, on the other hand, had plenty of chances against Dzagnidze before the Georgian GM managed to hold her to a draw. Let’s take a look at the results and a full breakdown of today’s games.  

GM Valentina Gunina - IM Zhansaya Abdumalik ½-½

Both these players have shown a pension for sharp chess, and it likely came to no one’s surprise that a sharp fight ensued right away.  White played an aggressive English line which plays for development at the cost of king position. Valentina tried to target Zhansaya’s c-pawn early in the game, but soon her pieces became highly disorganized.  Abdumalik played pointedly by sacrificing a pawn for an initiative, and this decision paid dividends with Gunina’s queen scampering around the board. Eventually, the Russian GM was forced to pitch a piece in order to stave off the attack.  Zhansaya played extremely well in mutual time trouble for some time, but just before making time control she failed to find the most accurate continuation. As a result, Valentina found a way to sac an exchange and untangle her position. The players agreed to a draw in a position that was equal but quite unclear, perhaps with neither wanting to take much more risk.  Gunina has to feel a great sense of relief, while Abdumalik has to be disappointed not to have converted after once again outplaying her opponent.

GM Valentina Gunina survived quite a scare against IM Zhansaya Abdumalik

GM Nana Dzagnidze - GM Alexandra Kosteniuk

A sharp f3 nimzo turned into an extremely strange position.  White had her king in the center, but Black had trouble developing.  Nana’s 21. G4 was quite aggressive, perhaps overly so, and Alexandra’s position looked quite promising.  Despite this, it proved not to be so simple to take advantage of White’s wayward king on d2. Even so, the ex-Women’s World Champ shocked the commentators by offering a queen exchange on the 29th move instead of moving her king to h8.  The resulting ending was definitely still better for Black, but Nana defended quite stubbornly. Alexandra’s decision to trade the f-pawn for the c-pawn seemed to help the Georgian accomplish her task, and while Kosteniuk played until there was only one pawn left, it simply wasn’t enough to win.  Dzagnidze remains at 50% after a long defense, while Alexandra will now have to beat Gunina to get first.

GMs Nana Dzagnidze and Alexandra Kosteniuk had a long and intense fight

GM Marie Sebag - GM Irina Krush 1-0

The French GM challenged Irina’s Classical Sicilian and got a very pleasant position where the American had issues with her d5 square, as well as a kingside attack looming.  Black tried to drum up counterplay by sacrificing a pawn, but Marie kept control by sacrificing an exchange. Her decision to trade to the endgame might have been premature, but Sebag still was clearly the one applying pressure.  In the time pressure phase, one slip by Irina allowed White to collect her first win of the tournament.

French GM Marie Sebag was elated to score her first victory of the tournament

GM Harika Dronavalli - GM Bela Khotenashvili ½-½

An English opening transposed into one of the main lines of the maroczy bind.  Harika played down a queen trade line, one that hasn’t really offered White a whole lot.  The White king is definitely better than its counterpart, but it is difficult to use this advantage.  Bela played the Black side well, and once she activated her rook on the queenside she forced a perpetual.  A solid game by both players.

IM Elisabeth Paehtz - IM Anna Zatonskih ½-½

Anna chose a petroff today, and after the opening the position looked roughly balanced.  Black’s move 26 queen retreat was not best, but Elisabeth returned the favor by moving the wrong rook to c1 a few moves later.  Keeping the d-rook centralized would have enabled her to have a large advantage in the resulting endgame, but the loss of one tempo proved quite meaningful.  While White might still claim a minor edge in the final position, it is very small, and the players decided to call it a day. Quite understandable by two participants who have been off form.  

So going into the last round, we have GM Gunina in 1st and Kosteniuk just half a point back.  Third place is shared by GMs Dronavalli and Krush.

Below are the pairings for the final round.  There are plenty of interesting matchups, but all eyes will be on the game between Kosteniuk and Gunina.  The final round will begin at 1 pm local time, with commentary by GMs Yasser Seirawan, Maurice Ashley, and WGM Jennifer Shahade.