Today’s round was filled with excitement as chess fans got to witness heartbreaking blunders, jaw-dropping tactics, intense time pressure situations, and one marathon endgame. It seemed like the games produced continual drama as there were multiple unexpected turnarounds. After the dust settled, Muzychuk, Kosteniuk, and Lagno emerged as the second round victors. There is now a large tie atop the leaderboard with four players sitting with 1.5/2.
Mariya Muzychuk - Humpy Koneru: 1 - 0
Mariya Muzychuk came out of the gates swinging. After achieving a dynamic position against the Petroff Defense (which isn’t easy to do these days), she executed a highly creative rook lift. Her exotic Rb1-Rb4-Rf4 maneuver allowed for tremendous attacking chances on the kingside. After a single misstep (18... Qe7?) from Humpy Koneru, the Ukranian grandmaster launched an overwhelming attack. Muzychuk proceeded to lift a second rook and pummeled black’s fragile kingside to take home the full point. Muzychuk leapfrogs Koneru in the standings and now sits at 1.5/2 with this victory.
Harika Dronavalli - Nana Dzagnidze: ½ - ½
After a series of early trades in the Catalan Opening, the players reached an endgame by move 15. In Harika’s post-game interview, she explained that her opening preparation was a success. “I definitely thought I had better chances and a very pleasant endgame.” Despite having a worse pawn structure, Harika’s rooks were much more active. The Indian GM pointed out that Kf2 would have offered her better practical chances rather than immediately grabbing Dzagnidze’s a-pawn. Sometimes it is better to be patient than greedy! After the precise 20...g5!, Dzagnidze was able to equalize quite easily and the game ended in an early draw.
Ju Wenjun - Irina Krush ½ - ½
This marathon game kept the production team working overtime! The position became incredibly complex in the middlegame, and both players burned a lot of time to navigate through the chaos. The complicated tension in the position caused Ju Wenjun to blunder and allowed Irina Krush to respond with 19...Bc6! The resulting position would have led to a clear material edge and very good chances for the American to take down the reigning women's world champion. However, Krush missed the golden opportunity, and the position liquidated into a drawish endgame. In the end, it was Ju pushing for a win with a knight versus bishop. However, there were not enough pawns on the board to create realistic winning chances. The near 5-hour battle ended in a draw and both players move to 1 out of 2 in the standings.
Valentina Gunina - Alexandra Kosteniuk 0 - 1
In what was the most topsy-turvy game of the round, Valentina Gunina achieved a near-winning position after just 12 moves. After some mystifying queen moves by Kosteniuk, Gunina built up an impressive display of piece activity. The commentators raved about Gunina’s spectacular Bb6!! and it seemed like black was going down without a fight. However, Alexandra Kosteniuk fought valiantly and forced her Russian counterpart to make some difficult decisions. With the positional blunder 21.Nxg6? Gunina lost all her advantage. GM Ramirez voiced his criticism: “I cannot begin to understand how you give up the knight that defends your weakest square on the board for the absolutely trashiest bishop I’ve ever seen.” Kosteniuk then managed to completely reverse the momentum of the game. In the end, the combination of Kosteniuk’s rook, knight, and bishop was too powerful for Gunina’s lone queen. With this result, the defending Cairns Cup Champion has yet to score any point and Kosteniuk is tied for first with 1.5/2.
Carissa Yip - Kateryna Lagno: 0 - 1
After yesterday’s loss, Carissa Yip opted for a quiet variation of the Scotch game. This surprise opening choice appeared to be inspired by Xiong’s quick victory over Sethuraman from the 2019 Winter Classic. After Kateryna Lagno’s novelty 12...Qd7, Yip spent over 40 minutes on her reply. Lagno’s experience and positional understanding proved to be valuable as she proceeded to outplay the youngster from a roughly equal position. Yip didn’t sense danger soon enough and was forced into an incredibly passive position. Lagno cruised to victory after pouncing on Carissa’s final mistake 27.Bxa5? Even though queen’s were off the board, Lagno’s kingside attack was simply overwhelming. This victory catapulted Lagno to a tie for first with 1.5/2.
Text: IM Eric Rosen
Photo: Austin Fuller, Crystal Fuller, Lennart Ootes, Spectrum Studios
Official site: https://www.uschesschamps.com/2020-cairns-cup/overview