Cairns cup R04: The World Champion deals her first blow
The fourth day of the Cairnes Cup 2020 wasn't as eventful as the first three. Many of the players tended to play it safe and conserve energy for the next round which is scheduled just before the rest day. There were two decisive games in all. On one hand, Ju Wenjun defeated Valentina Gunina in a complex topsy-turvy game and on the other Alexandra Kosteniuk took down Yip Carissa who has been having a really luckless run right from the beginning. Nana Dzagnidze continues to lead the field but now there are as many as five players breathing down her neck just half a point behind. In this comprehensive report we bring you the games, analyses, photos, and more.
Ju Wenjun wasn't seen in her best form in the first three rounds of Cairns Cup 2020 but in round four of the event today she really rose to the occasion beating Valentina Gunina of Russia in a gritty battle of wits and scoring her first victory of the tournament. This was indeed a complex, topsy-turvy encounter where fortunes changed hands a number of times. First it was Ju who took the initiative out of the opening but not long after Valentina managed to tilt the balance with her superior technique in the middlegame. However, as fate would have it, towards the end of the game the hapless Russian fell victim to time pressure and with only five minutes in hand lost the thread of her play, thus enabling the Chinese to turn the tables once and for all.
With the rest day soon approaching most of the players were visibly reluctant to go for full blooded fights in the fourth round today and the encounter between Ju and Valentina which lasted for 59 moves turned out to be the longest. Yip Carissa versus Alexandra Kosteniuk was the only other game that ended decisively where the latter registered a convincing win subjecting the 16-year-old to her fourth consecutive defeat. Let us get into the details now.
Ju Wenjun - Valentina Gunina, Round 4
The Ju Wenjun versus Valentina Gunina encounter had three phases so to speak. The former was better and winning in the first and third phases respectively, while the latter was doing well in the second. The above position is after 9...b5. In the game, White played 10.Bb3 missing the very interesting sequence 10...c5 11.Qe1 Nb7 12.Bc3 f6 13.Bc2 which would have maintained a comfortable edge for her.
Once again after 12...Nxb3 White could have opted for 13.axb3 opening the a-file and following up with Ba5 but 13.Qxb3 was somewhat meek and restored perfect balance in the position. Now it was time for Valentina to slowly start taking charge of the game.
The next critical moment arrived after 21...a5. Black was already pushing on the queenside and here Ju chose 22.Rfd1 which allows Black to take a clear initiative with 22... Rfc8 that comes with the powerful threat of ...Nxf3+ followed by Be6 and b4. Let's look at this in detail!
Analysis Board I
The problem with 22.Rfd1?! is that it robs the white queen of an important flight-square (d1) and as a result of which Rfc8 comes with the unpleasant threat of Nxf3+ Nxf3 Be6 Qc2 b4 exploiting the pin on the c-file. Thus, the only logical way to continue for White after 22...Rfc8 is simply to move the d1 rook once again but something like 23. Rdc1 Rc4 (see diagram below) is just all the more pleasant for Black.
Analysis Board II
Valentina missed all these in the game and after the rather premature 22...b4?! White simply equalized with 23.axb4. But this wasn't yet the end of the World for the Russian. She soon found another chance to grab a copious edge after 23...axb4 24.Bd2 Qb7 25.Nxe5 dxe5 26.Nc2
Yes, the right move is the simple 26...Qxe4. It is clear that once Black gets in Be6 after this she will simply be better but unfortunately Valentina came under severe time pressure here and erred with 26...Rfc8?! after which her able opponent hardly faced any difficulty to equalize.
The point is Black has already incurred serious dark square weaknesses on the kingside and 34.Qg3! just hits the nail on the head. Valentina didn't really have a good move here. 34...Bh6 is just bad in view of 35.Qh4 Bg7 and 36.Nf6+, while 34...f6 simply allows 35.h4 Bf4 36.Nxf4 exf4 37.Qxf4. Thus, in the game, she continued 34...Bf4 35.Nxf4 exf4 36.Qxf4 which left her with a seriously wrecked kingside and needless to mention, a pawn down. It was time for the chinese now to bring her dark-squared bishop into the foray and this was pretty straightforward for the reigning World Champion.
Valentina had to give up an exchange to get rid of White's venomous dark-squared bishop and she just couldn't recover anymore thereafter. But how did the game end? Well, check it out for yourself with analysis in the replayable board below!
Alexandra Kosteniuk is someone who loves to play dynamic chess and her play in this event as well is no exception. But her encounter against Yip Carissa today was kind of strange in that flared up tactically only much later after a long episode of careful positional maneuvering. Yip actually blundered on move 46 after fencing through a series of complications set in motion by her opponent and the experienced Russian seized the opportunity gladly to hand over the 16-year-old her fourth defeat in a row. (Photo: St.Louis Chess Club)
Yip Carissa - Alexandra Kosteniuk, Round 4
Standings after four rounds and next round pairings