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Tuesday, 11 Feb 2020 13:00
Cairns Cup 2020: Ju Wenjun and Kosteniuk move into joint lead

In the bloodiest round of the Cairns Cup thus far, a remarkable five out of five games ended decisively. Every encounter produced intriguing fireworks as players were able to give it their all before the rest day. Nana Dzagnidze let her first place position slip after a disappointing loss to Humpy Koneru. Meanwhile, Alexandra Kosteniuk and Wenjun Ju scored thrilling victories to leapfrog the Georgian GM and secure a tie for the lead. 

Nana Dzagnidze - Humpy Koneru: 0 - 1

Nana Dzagnidze entered this round in clear first as she has displayed some of the most solid and impressive play of the event. In this hard-fought battle, however, she was outclassed. Humpy Koneru was well prepared from the black side of a Queen’s Gambit Declined and obtained a pleasant position in the middlegame. Despite missing some strong tactical shots, Koneru was in control throughout. In a tricky queen+bishop versus queen+knight endgame, she displayed an impressive endgame technique to take home the full point. This marks Dzagnidze’s first loss of the event, and she is now tied with Koneru for third place with 3/5 points.

Kateryna Lagno - Wenjun Ju: 0 - 1 

After grabbing a poisoned pawn in the opening, Ju Wenjun could have easily had a losing position by move 13! Kateryna Lagno spent over 30 minutes in the critical moment but failed to seize a golden opportunity (13.Rc1 looks extremely stong). Ju was able to stabilize in the middlegame and then steered the battle into a flurry of tactical complications. Because Lagno took so much time in the opening, she did not have enough time to calculate precisely in the late middlegame. A few mistakes spelled disaster for the Lagno as Ju ripped the white king from its shelter. The reigning women’s World  Champion was thrilled to capture her second win of the event, knowing that the result could have easily gone the other way. She now sits in a tie for first with 3.5/5. 

Kosteniuk - Muzychuk: 1 - 0

After achieving a very pleasant position from the Open Variation of the Ruy Lopez, Alexandra Kosteniuk made some questionable decisions. First, she misplaced her knight on the very edge of the board rather than putting it on a key central square. Next, she played the terribly weakening 24.f3? which gave her opponent an opportunity to strike. Mariya Muzychuk could have replied with the highly aggressive 24...Re2 with the deadly threat of Bh3! After Black missed this chance, however, Alexandra reclaimed her spot in the driver’s seat. The Russian GM managed to maneuver her knight back into the center and achieved positional domination. In the end, Kosteniuk’s rooks dominated the 7th rank and Muzychuk ran out of time in a hopeless position. With this victory, Kosteniuk joins Ju in the tie for first with 3.5/5.

Valentina Gunina - Harika Dronavalli: 1 - 0

After losing a heartbreaker against Ju yesterday, Valentina Gunina rebounded strongly in Round 5. She was well rewarded for her decision to play a somewhat exotic Closed Sicilian. The pleasant opening advantage eventually snowballed into a vicious middlegame attack. Gunina was relentless in pushing her kingside pawns while Harika’s pieces failed to coordinate in a defense. In the end, Gunina executed a beautiful mating sequence to score her second victory of the event. In a post-game interview with Tatev Abrahamyan, Gunina revealed that she has been watching The Foreigner starring Jackie Chan to help take her mind off some of the painful losses. With today’s one-sided demolition, it seemed that Gunina emulated the ruthless fighting style of Jackie Chan! 

Irina Krush - Carissa Yip: 0 - 1

This all-American clash kept chess fans on the edge of their seats. In an offbeat opening, Irina Krush emerged with a clear advantage. She wisely sacrificed a pawn with a powerful central break and took advantage of Yip’s tendency to be overly materialistic. After achieving a queen versus two rooks imbalance, Krush was in control. The combination of her queen, bishop, and h-pawn seemed to be deadly for Yip’s delicate kingside. Just as it seemed Krush was going to outplay her American counterpart, the evaluation swayed. After a few inaccuracies, Carissa Yip managed to activate her pieces and find safety for her king. It wasn’t long before Krush’s position collapsed and Yip scored her first victory of the event. “I feel pretty relieved,” Yip told Ramirez in the post-game interview. The youngster admitted to feeling the nerves given the elite field but was able to relax in today’s battle.

 

With a rest today tomorrow, action will resume on Thursday at 1 PM local time. With over half of the games, producing decisive results and many players still contention to capture first, chess fans can look forward to an exciting second half of the tournament!

Text: IM Eric Rosen
Photo: Austin Fuller, Crystal Fuller, Lennart Ootes, Spectrum Studios
Official site: https://www.uschesschamps.com/2020-cairns-cup/