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Tuesday, 11 Feb 2020 00:02
Cairns Cup 2020: Ju Wenjun claims first victory

With the rest day soon approaching, some players were keen on conserving energy while others were adamant about fighting until the bitter end. Round 5 produced two decisive games as Wenjun Ju defeated Valentina Gunina, and Alexandra Kosteniuk took down Carissa Yip. Nana Dzagnidze maintains her lead with 3/4 points, but there is a large group of players trailing close behind in 2nd place.

Ju Wenjun - Valentina Gunina: 1 - 0

The longest battle of the day was also the most topsy-turvy. Ju Wenjun achieved a very promising position from the opening, but then let her advantage slip. Valentina Gunina demonstrated a strong middlegame play and capitalized on the reigning world champion’s inaccuracies. Unfortunately for Gunina however, she fell victim to time pressure. With only 5 minutes left on her clock, she missed an opportunity to snag Ju’s central pawn and obtain a very stable edge. Her position then went from clearly better to completely lost in just a few moves. GM Ramirez described the dramatic turn around: “It was like an avalanche that suddenly hit her.” Although it took a while to convert her advantage, Ju went on to win the game, scoring her first victory in the tournament. She is now part of the large group of players tied for 2nd place, while Gunina has suffered her third loss of the event.

Carissa Yip - Alexandra Kosteniuk: 0 - 1

In what GM Ramirez dubbed “a very strange game,” it was Alexandra Kosteniuk who emerged victorious. After the play unraveled quite slowly in a closed and maneuvering middlegame, immense complications emerged later on. At a critical moment, Yip misplaced her bishop and gave the Russian GM a beautiful sequence of attacking moves. Kosteniuk pounced and unleashed a number of impressive tactical shots. In the end, the young American was defenseless to her opponent’s threats, thus losing her fourth consecutive game. This marks the third decisive outcome of the tournament for Kosteniuk who has been displaying some of the sharpest and most dynamic chess among all the competitors.

Harika Dronavalli - Irina Krush: ½ - ½ 

Yesterday, Harika Dronavalli won a masterpiece against Alexandra Kosteniuk by achieving a monster passed pawn on the d4-square. Today, Irina Krush gave Harika a taste of her own medicine by creating the same type of monster on the same square! It seemed that Krush was well on her way to produce a masterclass, but the Indian Grandmaster defended resiliently. After a dubious decision by Krush to play 23...f6?! Harika exploited the light square weaknesses and eventually executed a nice tactic to force a draw. Despite being close to winning in many games, Krush has yet to score a win in this event. It is often said that the hardest thing to do in chess is to win a better position! 

Mariya Muzychuk - Nana Dzagnidze : ½ - ½ 

This battle between two experienced grandmasters featured a sharp variation of the Richter-Rauzer Sicilian. It was clear that Nana Dzagnidze was better prepared as Mariya Muzychuk started taking her time after just 2 moves! Muzychuk explained in the post-game interview that Dzagnidze “plays everything” and is “hard to prepare against.” At a critical moment well into opening theory, Muzychuk deviated from mainline with the incredibly rare 12.Be1. Not wanting to risk encountering further preparation from the Georgian grandmaster, Muzychuk played safely and solidly. As the middlegame soon transitioned to an endgame, play remained relatively balanced and neither player made any clear mistakes. The eventual draw was a very fair result, allowing Dzagnidze to maintain her spot atop the leaderboard.

Humpy Koneru - Kateryna Lagno: ½ - ½ 

In the most peaceful game of the day, pieces disappeared from the board quicker than the Olive Garden catering disappeared from the Chess Club’s basement kitchen. Commentators compared the liquidation of pieces to a vacuum cleaner. An endgame was reached by move 13 and there was never a moment where either side had much of an edge. The game ended in a draw well before any other game concluded. 

I would like to predict that round 5 will be the most interesting and exciting thus far, as players can give it their all before the rest day. Be sure to tune in tomorrow at 1 PM central time for all the action!

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