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Monday, 10 Feb 2020 00:02
Cairns Cup 2020: Dzagnidze shoots ahead

Going into Round 3, the fight for first was tightly contested with four players tied atop the leaderboard. After a number of topsy-turvy battles and dramatic time pressure situations, Nana Dzagnidze emerged as the clear leader with 2.5/3. The Georgian GM doesn’t have an easy road ahead however, as she will play the top 4 seeds in the next 4 rounds. 

Humpy Koneru - Wenjun Ju: ½ - ½ 

The shortest game of the round ended after a mere two hours. Humpy Koneru opted for an English opening, and Ju Wenjun surprised her with the Kramnik-Shirov Counterattack. In the post-game interview, Koneru confessed, “I was not much aware of the opening theory...probably she was just very well prepared.” While the early opening fireworks seemed to foreshadow an exciting battle, the action was cut short when both players were content with repetition. The game ended in a draw after just 22 moves. As this is a long and strenuous event, it’s not necessarily a bad idea for players to conserve energy early on. With this draw, both Ju and Koneru move to 1.5/3 in the standings.

Kateryna Lagno - Mariya Muzychuk: ½ - ½ 

 In Mariya Muzychuk’s third Petroff of the tournament, the opponents quickly reached a very imbalanced position. In a topical theoretical line, Lagno showed superior preparation. She achieved 3 minor pieces versus a queen and pawn which offered excellent winning chances. The unusual material imbalance captivated commentators and spectators. Lagno elegantly coordinated her minor pieces and rooks for a powerful kingside attack but stumbled at a critical moment. Not wanting to risk miscalculation, she decided to force a draw rather than push for more. Lagno explained her decision in the post-game interview, “I already felt that something was going wrong. Maybe it was still okay, but I was not sure and I decided when you are not sure, let’s be safe.” Both Lagno and Muzychuk are now tied for second place with 2/3 points. 

Nana Dzagnidze - Carissa Yip: 1 - 0

Yip’s woes continued as she fell into early trouble against her more experienced opponent. Commentators oohed and aahed at Carissa’s choice to play a Hippopotamus Defense, but there’s a reason why the exotic opening doesn’t have the best reputation. Dzagnidze grabbed a substantial space advantage as Yip struggled to find productive squares for her pieces. Dzagnidze stated, “the position after 10-15 moves I think was absolutely winning.” Despite the opening success, it wasn’t easy to take home the full point. Yip showed resourcefulness in defending and both players fell into time pressure. Despite some inaccuracies, Dzagnidze never fully lost her edge. She managed to transpose into an endgame with a material advantage. Today’s victory put her into a clear first place with 2.5/3. Although it was Yip’s third loss in a row this tournament experience will prove invaluable. Her battles against these illustrious opponents will no doubt highlight key areas of improvement and will undoubtedly facilitate further growth for the young talent.

Alexandra Kosteniuk - Harika Dronavalli: 0 - 1

Harika Dronavalli proved her dominance with the black pieces in a relatively balanced Ruy Lopez. Alexandra Kosteniuk fell into a disharmonious position in the middlegame, and was never able to recover. The Indian grandmaster displayed stellar technique and never loosened her grip on the position. In the end, Harika’s seemingly unstoppable center pawns stormed down the board against the former women’s World Champion. Kosteniuk resigned just before additional queens appeared for her opponent. With today’s game result, Harika leapfrogs Kosteniuk in the standings and now sits on the leaderboard at 2/3.

Irina Krush - Valentina Gunina: 0 - 1

With both players seeking their first win of the tournament, this battle was hotly contested. Krush achieved a dream position in a Classical Nimzo Indian. She claimed a substantial space advantage along with the bishop pair in the early middlegame. However Guinina, as the defending Cairns Cup Champion, was in no hurry to back down. As both players entered into severe time trouble, onlookers witnessed a dramatic turn-around. Gunina recounted the time scramble situation: “She didn’t know what to do, so we just danced.” At some point, Krush blundered away her whole advantage and it was Gunina who was playing for a win. In the interview with Gunina, GM Ramirez shared his perspective on the finish to the game: “After you got this endgame, it seemed you just didn’t let go. You played blow after blow and her position collapsed in time pressure.” Gunina was pleased to capture her first victory of the tournament as she admitted to be coping with jet lag. 

The first three rounds of Cairns Cup action have delivered nothing but exciting and instructive games. Chess fans can look forward to round 4 starting tomorrow at 1 pm local time.

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