2023 Cairns Cup - Day 8 Recap

by WGM Sabina Foisor

Day 8 was the most intense day in the event with each player bringing their fighting spirit to place in the top ranks of the standings in the 3rd edition of the Cairns Cup. IM Anna Zatonskih had the chance to draw the game by three-fold, but chose to continue her play without risk and it certainly paid off. Going into a knight versus bishop endgame, Anna was able to trade off to a winning king and pawn endgame that brought her not only the full point, but also a GM-norm. Zatonskih secured the first place win with one round left, an impressive result considering she won three games with the Black pieces during the tournament. Congratulations to the 2023 Cairns Cup Champion!

With Anna having won her game against GM Zhansaya Abdumalik and clinching the title, there are only three players fighting for the top places on the podium as we head into Round 8. Kosteniuk, Khotenashvili and Krush are all currently tied for 2nd place with 4/7 and the two American players will be facing off in tomorrow’s final round.

Standings After Round 8

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 8

IM Anna Zatonskih came to the game calm and composed as she was in the previous six rounds. She seemed well prepared and played relatively fast in the opening. It is in the following position that she could have accepted a draw by threefold repetition by playing Ne4-c3. Instead, Anna chose to keep the pressure on her opponent and ultimately her efforts paid off to the victorious win today. 

In this position with 31. Nc3 Anna could have claimed a threefold repetition, instead she went for 31. Rh4.

The endgame had some ups and downs from both sides, but in the end, Anna traded off her knight for her opponent’s bishop to a winning king and pawn endgame.

 IM Anna Zatonskih - on her way to her first GM norm and wins the event with a round to spare | Photo courtesy of Saint Louis Chess Club, Crystal Fuller

GM Alexandra Kosteniuk had a tough loss yesterday, but she came with strength and intensity, choosing an Open Ruy Lopez. The position was balanced for some time, but GM Bella Khotenashvili made a few inaccuracies and eventually gave up a pawn, possibly thinking of getting counterplay with her passed c-pawn. Unfortunately for Bella, it was White’s b-pawn that proved more dangerous. Bella impressed the commentators and fans with her amazing comeback of 4 victories in a row, after having lost the first two games of the tournament. This was a tough day for her. Despite being in a tough position, GM Kosteniuk let go of the win for one move. 

Position after 30. Rd7 which seems to give up the advantage as it allows the beautiful resource 30… Rxg2!! and with White not being able to recapture the rook (31. Kxg2 would be a blunder that allows mate after Qxf2, Qf3 +, Bf2 + , Bc5+ and Qf2#) , Black can hope for enough counterplay.

Unfortunately for her, Bella missed the opportunity and Kosteniuk had a precise line calculated that brought her the win.

GM Alexandra Kosteniuk - full focus on  | Photo courtesy of Saint Louis Chess Club, Crystal Fuller

The game between GM’s Harika Dronavalli and Nana Dzagnidze was a hard fought game, where Black had a big advantage around move 30. Unfortunately for Nana, she let Harika escape with a draw.

The game between IM Mammadzada Gunay and GM Irina Krush started as a Sozin Attack and it seemed for some time dangerous for Black, as White’s pawns marched up the board. Mammadzada delayed her attack on the king-side by playing 25.c3?! . This may have given enough time to Black to keep the play on the queen-side. Soon the pieces started being traded off and the players found themselves in a rook and opposite-color bishop endgame. Irina was able to capture a pawn, but too much material had already been traded, so the game petered out to a draw.

IM Gunay Mammadzada vs GM Irina Krush | Photo courtesy of Saint Louis Chess Club, Crystal Fuller

Although this tournament’s champion has been confirmed, we still have some exciting match ups for the final round and we see who will take home the top spots in the 2023 Cairns Cup. 

Pairings for Round 9

The 2023 Cairns Cup continues Monday June 12, 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.