Cairns Cup 2024 Round 4: Tan Sole Leader After Quick Victory


Former Women’s World Champion GM Tan Zhongyi scored a quick 20-move victory over defending champion IM Anna Zatonskih to move into the sole lead with three points after four rounds at the Cairns Cup 2024 in St. Louis. Tan is trailed by GMs Mariya Muzychuk and Harika Dronavalli on 2.5 points.

GM Nana Dzagnidze missed an opportunity to reach 2.5 points when she could not convert a huge advantage in the ending against GM Anna Muzychuk. Both the Muzychuk sisters seemed to be on the brink of defeat but put up strong fights to salvage draws in their respective games.

It was an exciting day for young IM Alice Lee as she defeated another former Women’s World Champion GM Alexandra Kosteniuk to record the first American victory of the tournament. The entertaining Game Of The Day saw Lee fight back despite time pressure after seemingly getting caught in opening preparation in a sharp line.

Round five starts Monday, June 17, at 2 p.m. ET / 20:00 CEST / 11:30 p.m. IST.

Round 4 Results


Standings


No Draws And Mind Your Clock

Two factors seem to have contributed to the fighting games at the Cairns Cup 2024. The tournament rules prohibit draw offers during games, resulting in excellent chess so far. Though professional chess has seen a prohibition of draw offers before 20-40 moves, banning them completely during the game seems to be a novel strategy to help the players get into a combative mindset all along.

The second factor is the unusual time control of 120 minutes for the whole game with an increment of 30 seconds from the first move onwards. This means that a player who typically comes under time pressure in the middlegame does not get a reprieve once the 40th move is reached. Rather, she has to fight on for the rest of the game at the mercy of the 30-second increment. Unlike the “no draw offer” rule, the time control makes life difficult for the players but provides excitement for the spectators.

Fighting games at the 2024 Cairns Cup have been exciting for the spectators. Photo: Crystal Fuller/Saint Louis Chess Club.

Tan 1-0 Zatonskih

Zatonskih, the winner of the 2023 Cairns Cup is having a difficult time this year, as she lost a quick game to Tan, her third loss from as many games played with the black pieces. Playing a favorite variation of GM Evgeny Bareev’s in the French Defense, Zatonskih spent five moves with her queen in the early middlegame, allowing her opponent to develop a dangerous attack on the black king.

Tan was playing reasonably quickly in the opening stages even though she had not expected the variation to appear on the board on the day, as she confessed later. Zatonskih had consumed copious amounts of time in the opening as well. By the 16th move, White had developed all her pieces and had them ready to hunt the black king, whereas Black had developed just her queen and knight. White won in 19 moves with a simple kingside attack, to score the quickest win of the tournament so far.

Talking after the game (through a translator) Tan was suitably happy with her play: “I have been here for several days, and have already adjusted my time… so I don’t feel tired here. I didn’t have as many opportunities in the past, because I played a lot in China, and much less outside of China.”

I didn’t have as many opportunities in the past, because I played a lot in China, and much less outside of China.

—Tan Zhongyi

Paehtz ½-½ Mariya Muzychuk

This was a topsy-turvy affair, where Mariya Muzychuk held a slight advantage in the early middlegame. However, GM Elisabeth Paehtz fought back steadily and increased her advantage to achieve a clearly better heavy-piece endgame. However, mutual time pressure played its part in the game. 

 Dzagnidze ½-½ Anna Muzychuk

Another long game. Dzagnidze seemed to be enjoying a small advantage for most of the middlegame. With characteristic strategic acumen, the Georgian grandmaster brought her opponent under defensive pressure, and Anna Muzychuk erred in judgment in entering a difficult queen endgame. 

The final phase of the game was played under mutual time pressure when Dzagnidze held a winning advantage. However, she erred in the final minutes of the game to miss a crucial win.

Both the Muzychuk sisters were involved in gritty fights in the fourth round. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Saint Louis Chess Club.

Harika ½-½ Krush

GM Irina Krush seems to have started employing the Sicilian Sveshnikov with Black as one of her weapons, playing it twice in the recent Saint Louis Summer Chess Classic – B 2024. Though Harika faced the opening line for the first time in her career with the white pieces, she still showed her depth of opening preparation with 13.h4!?, offering an early pawn sacrifice. It could have been a bigger fight and theoretically significant if Black had accepted the pawn. But after Krush played the safer 13…Bh6, Harika seemed to slowly build up a good position, which looked promising by the 23rd move.

Kosteniuk 0-1 Lee

When Lee chose to play the Petroff Defense with the black pieces and boldly entered a sharp line against her experienced opponent, a lot was expected from the youngster. Especially considering that Lee had been in a training session at the Saint Louis Chess Club itself with the legendary GM Garry Kasparov just a week before the start of this tournament.

Just when Lee looked to be coming under pressure both in the position and on the clock, the youngster showed her fighting qualities in the middlegame. Black’s counterplay started with 19…b5, and she unexpectedly got help from her opponent. Though enjoying a strategically better position, Kosteniuk’s reaction to her opponent’s fightback didn’t seem ideal. Lee slowly and steadily built up an attack on the white king.

Kosteniuk vs. Lee was the most absorbing game of the day. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Saint Louis Chess Club.

Lee’s victory was praiseworthy considering she had less than five minutes on the clock for the crucial part of the game starting from move 24. Kosteniuk too looked visibly nervous on the board, and the excitement of the game reached high proportions at this point.

This exciting encounter is our Game of the Day, analyzed by GM Rafael Leitao below.

The 2024 Cairns Cup is one of the strongest women’s tournaments in the world. The event is a 10-player round-robin with a classical time control (120 minutes for the entire game, plus a 30-second increment per move). The 2024 Cairns Cup runs from June 13 to June 23 and features a $200,000 prize fund.


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