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Friday, 14 Feb 2020 10:00
Cairns Cup 2020: Humpy Koneru catches up with Ju Wenjun

With the players fresh off a rest day, Round 6 produced two thrilling decisive outcomes. Carissa Yip took down defending champion Valentina Gunina in a fiery tactical battle and Humpy Koneru managed to grind down Alexandra Kosteniuk in a long technical endgame. Koneru and Ju now lead the field having 4/6 points with 3 rounds to go. 

Humpy Koneru - Alexandra Kosteniuk: 1 - 0

Out of the many previous encounters between these two grandmasters, Alexandra Kosteniuk has never won over Humpy Koneru in a classical game. Kosteniuk was unable to reverse this trend today as she was again defeated by the Indian Phenom. After a relatively slow and positional battle, the players reached a symmetrical knight endgame which appeared to be dead drawn. However, Koneru was able to squeeze water from the stone and create “very slight pressure.” This was enough to put Kosteniuk on the defensive and eventually provoke a blunder in time trouble. For lesser experienced players, this game offers a highly valuable lesson: You should never assume a position should be drawn just because it looks dry. Always look for your chances and try to force your opponent to make difficult decisions! With this win, Koneru not only improves her lifetime score against Kosteniuk to 5 wins and 0 losses, but she also leapfrogs Kosteniuk in the standings and is now tied for first place. 

Wenjun Ju - Harika Dronavalli: ½ - ½ 

Overall, this game was a solid showing from both players. Ju Wenjun emerged slightly better from the white side of a King’s Indian, but Harika Dronavalli’s play was free of any clear mistakes. Pieces were traded quite rapidly in the middlegame, and Ju was unable to make much of her better piece activity in the endgame. In the post-game interview, the reigning World Women’s Champion explained, “White is slightly better, but it’s not easy to find anything to improve my position.” A draw was a very fair result and Ju remains tied for first and remains the only player in the tournament that has not lost a single game. 

Kateryna Lagno - Nana Dzagnidze: ½ - ½ 

Minutes before the round, Kateryna Lagno and Nana Dzagnizde could be seen chuckling across from each other and having a friendly conversation. This cheerful chatter was a fitting precursor to the quick and peaceful game between these two. The encounter featured a positional line of the Paulsen Sicilian in which queens were exchanged on move 10. While Lagno had a small edge, Dzagnidze’s position was quite stable. The position quickly dissolved into an equal endgame in which a draw was agreed.

Mariya Muzychuk - Irina Krush: ½ - ½ 

After receiving a very promising position from the white side of a Hedgehog Sicilian, it looked like Mariya Muzychuk was going to win without a fight. Irina Krush admitted after the game that the tides were not on her side. “I was just handily outplayed in the opening and middlegame...It was hard to avoid some knockout blows.” However, Krush’s ability to keep surviving paid off, as Muzychuk misstepped with 23.Nxa8? It was a dream for Krush to trade her depressing bishop for Muzychuk’s monstrous knight. The position eventually liquidated into an opposite bishop endgame where Krush was down a pawn but built an unbreakable fortress. The commentators dubbed this game a “miracle save” for the American grandmaster. With this draw, Krush cheerfully shared, “I’m happy to keep the one good streak I have going… I have not lost with black.” 

Carissa Yip - Valentina Gunina 1 - 0

In what was easily the most cunning game of the round, it seemed like every stage of the game unveiled a new plot twist. As early as move one, Valentina Gunina surprised her young opponent with the Alekhine’s Defense. Such an opening is very rarely seen at top-level play and led to immense complications before move 10. As both players drained their time in the early tactical slugfest, it seemed like Gunina emerged with an edge. Carissa Yip found herself down a pawn and trying to find compensation. However, the counterpunching nature of the position fell very well into Yip’s wheelhouse. After a few inaccuracies by Gunina and some tremendously strong moves from Yip, momentum swayed. In a time pressure situation, Yip’s pieces swarmed around Gunina’s exposed king and defense was near-impossible. On move 40, Gunina made the final blunder which allowed Yip to easily capture the full point. Despite the 0/4 start to the tournament, this is now Yip’s second win in a row. “I’m relieved that I’m not playing so bad anymore,” she told GM Ramirez.

Don’t forget that round 7 will take place tomorrow at 1 pm CST on Valentine’s Day! Tune into the live show and social media to find out how many Krush and Valentina puns there will be. 

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