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A fifth round of blood, sweat, and tears at the Cairns cup 2020

by Satanick Mukhuty - 12/02/2020

In what was a remarkable day at the Cairns Cup 2020, all five of the total five encounters ended decisively. The players summoned every ounce of their strength in the fifth round prior to the rest day of the event and gifted the spectators a truly scintillating show. Nana Dzagnidze was ousted from the lead by Koneru Humpy who clearly came much better prepared today in the Tartakower variation of the Queen's Gambit Declined. On the other hand, Alexandra Kosteniuk and Ju Wenjun got the better of Mariya Muzychuk and Kateryna Lagno respectively to climb atop the leaderboard. Harika Dronavalli was convincingly taken down by Valentina Gunina and lady luck finally smiled on Yip Carissa who managed to score her first point in the event by beating compatriot Irina Krush. We bring you a comprehensive and detailed report from St.Louis, Missouri.

Rounds before rest days generally showcase relatively more fighting chess but to have five out of five games yielding decisive results is nothing short of phenomenal. In this detailed write up we bring you all the five encounters along with detailed analysis and highlights of everything that happened.

Humpy's profound prep and a missed brilliancy

Koneru Humpy, the 32-year-old Indian phenom, proves her mettle time and time again. After conceding to somewhat meek draws in the previous two rounds the World Rapid Champion bounced back strongly in the fifth round of the event today and almost out-prepared Nana Dzagnidze who is known for her expansive theoretical knowledge. (Photo: Lennart Ootes) 

Nana chose 1.d4 with the white pieces and thereafter both players followed trodden path in the Tartakower variation of Queen's Gambit Declined about 18 moves deep into the game. Koneru came up with a novelty on move 19 and quickly surprised her experienced opponent with moves like ...c5 and ...Ne4. (Photo: Lennart Ootes)


Nana Dzagnidze - Koneru Humpy, Round 5

19...a6 was the interesting new idea that the Indian employed. She actually wanted to push ...c6-c5 and at the same time keep control over the critical b5 square. 19...c5 right away is what Kramnik had played against Piket back in 1999 in Wijk Aan Zee. It led to fairly even positions and was drawn without much fuss in just 26 moves. Humpy's improvisation in the game was therefore ambitious.

22...Ne4 was a tricky move and White had the powerful 23.Nxe4 dxe4 24.e6 f5 25. Rd7 Qb8 26.Nd4 continuation at her disposal here. But this was missed and 23.Ne2 was played instead. This allowed Black to seize the edge with 23... Bc5 24.Ned4 Rxe5 25.Rc1 Qb8!

25...Qb8! simply puts the queen out of the white rook's line. But can you see why Black has a completely winning position after this? 

Well, the point is sacrifices like ...Nxf2 and ...Nxg3 are already starting to lurk in the air now. For instance, if White waits with a pointless move like 26.Qa1 then 26...Nxg3 27.fxg3 Re4 threatening Qxg3+ next is immediately decisive. In the game Nana played 26.Red1 and here Koneru in fact had the chance to strike with the other fine tactical shot 26...Nxf2!! but for some reason she hesitated and went for 26...Ree8 entering murkier lines.


Analysis Board

The move 26...Nxf2 practically forces 27.Kxf2 and after this comes the vicious 27...Re4 28.Bh3 Rd6 29.Bf5 Rf6 where virtually every black piece unleashes its wrath on White's hapless king. Something like 30.Bxe4 is pointless for after 30...dxe4 the threats of ...Rxf3+ and ...Bxd4+ are simply far too overwhelming. Koneru really missed a brilliancy by not playing 26...Nxf2, the game turned much more complex and topsy-turvy after the rather cautious 26...Ree8?! as Nana now found the time to push 27.b4! and defend the f2 pawn.

Humpy now had a herculean task ahead after 27.b4

Although the Indian never really lost the control of her game but things were pretty close and tricky after this huge miss. The diagram below shows the position after Black's imprecise 45th move ...Kg6-h5, can you find the nice way to force equality that White missed here?

White to move and draw...

The move that equalizes is 46.g4! The point is after 46...fxg4 Black can't avoid the series of checks starting with Qh8+ and 46...Kxg4 is met with 47.Qd1!


Analysis Board II

...Kxg4 makes the black king poorly placed on g4 and allows White to switch her queen back to d1 with the threat of discovery! And 47...f4+ 48.Nxf4+ Kf5 49.Ne2 is a perfectly holdable position. In the game the Georgian blundered and played 46.Qd1 directly and this ultimately sealed the fate of the game. Check out the full 64-move encounter with analysis below.

Ju Wenjun gobbles a poisoned pawn but gores her way to victory!

Fortune has favoured the World Champion Ju Wenjun right from the beginning of this event and round five was no exception either. In today's game the Chinese blasphemously captured a poisoned pawn against Kateryna Lagno in the opening but somehow in the end managed to come out on the top. Kateryna actually invested about half an hour of thought in the most critical moment of the encounter but failed to find the most incisive continuation and thereafter also fell prey to time pressure. Ju was particularly thrilled to clinch this rather impossible victory and rise atop the leaderboard. (Photo: St.Louis Chess Club)

Lagno and Wenjun in action | Photo: St.Louis Chess Club

Kateryna Lagno - Ju Wenjun, Round 5

10...Nf6 is the most popular continuation in the above line. Ju played 10...Bxc3 instead and soon followed up by taking the poisoned pawn on c3 with the queen!

Black grabbed a pawn and gave White the free pass to stir up activity with d5 and Rc1. Bravado or greed?

But Kateryna didn't play the bold game. She too went pawn grabbing and in the above position played 13.Qxd5, not going for the better move 13.Rc1!

Ju was lucky, she completed her development fully with 15...Rfb8 as Kateryna insisted on picking up one more pawn on b7.

Next, it was the Chinese's turn to hit back. Guess the move she played here!

Yes, Black went 22...Bxh3 23.gxh3 Rxe2 24.Rxe2 Qxf3, giving up an exchange for two pawns and now she was clearly better in view of White's exposed king.

All of Black's pieces are well placed and ready to launch an attack on White's weakened king. The World Champion was totally in command from here on.

Alexandra's knight on the rim not too dim!

Alexandra Kosteniuk handled the white pieces well in an open Spanish and found a promising position early on against Mariya Muzychuk but she messed things up a bit in the middlegame by misplacing her knight on the edge of the board. But not long after she was back on the track to register a convincing finish. (Photo: Lennart Ootes) 

For Mariya it was a rather hard day as she failed to capitalize on the chances she got | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Alexandra Kosteniuk - Mariya Muzychuk, Round 5

20.Na5? was an inexplicable error by Alexandra. She could have gone for 20.Nc5 instead and maintained a comfortable edge.

And 24.f3 was the next error. This weakens the kingside unnecessarily and allows 24...Re2 etc. White could have simply rerouted with 24.Nc6 followed by Nd4!

Valentina's valiant king hunt

Valentina Gunina rebounded from her loss against Ju Wenjun in the last round to score a crushing victory against Harika Dronavalli with the white pieces | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Valentina Gunina - Harika Dronavalli, Round 5

The Russian went for a very aggressive formation right out of the opening.

...And soon stormed the Indian's kingside with her pawns! Do you think Black has a way to survive in the above position?

23...e5 would have been the best way to combat in the above position. The point is it fixes the white pawn on e4. Even though White is still pushing here but there's no immediate breakthrough as everything in the center is nicely consolidated. In the game Harika erred with 23...Be7 and after 24.Bh3 exf5 25.exf5 once the e-file was opened, she was ripped apart.

Gunina lashing her pawns towards Harika's king | Photo: St.Louis Chess Club

Yip is finally relieved...

The last surprise of the day was pulled off by none other than the 16-year-old youngster Yip Carissa. After suffering losses in all the four games before she fought back to beat her experienced compatriot Irina Krush in the fifth round of the event. But this was far from an easy ride for the young talent as Irina, the seven-time US Champion, emerged with a clear edge out of the opening and maintained that advantage for the better part of the game. (Photo: Lennart Ootes)

Irina was in the driver's seat right from the start but as they say, the hardest game to win is a won game! | Photo: Lennart Ootes

The two Americans liquidated into a queen versus two rooks ending on move 27 and the veteran seemed to be the one with the advantage with a safer king and an active queen. But it didn't take long for things to sway on the other side as Yip suddenly managed to generate counterplay with her pair of rooks and bishop and overwhelm her opponent. It was a moment of big relief for the youngster.

Standings and next round pairings

Alexandra and Ju now assumes the top positions in the standings closely followed by Nana and Koneru. With four more rounds to go a lot can still change...

Wednesday is scheduled as the rest day for the players. The sixth round will be played on Thursday, 1 pm local time (that is Friday, 12:30 am IST)