Cairns Cup Round 6, 2024: Kosteniuk Records Fifth Decisive Result, Moves To Second


GM Alexandra Kosteniuk has continued her run of decisive results at the Cairns Cup 2024 with a win over GM Mariya Muzychuk and now moves to 3.5/6, half a point behind the sole leader GM Tan Zhongyi.

Draws on the remaining boards occurred with minimal drama except for the clash between IM Alice Lee and Irina Krush, where the 14-year-old tried to crack her compatriots defenses for more than five hours.

Round seven will start on Thursday, June 20, at 2 p.m. ET / 20:00 CEST / 11:30 p.m. IST.

Round 6 Results


 
Standings


The Saint Louis Chess Club was still bustling with events on the rest day and the headliner was a “Ladies’ Knight” which gave aspiring chess players the chance to ask the legendary GM Nona Gaprindashvili questions and learn from one of the greatest to play the game. Chaired by WGM Thalia Cervantes Landeiro, there certainly would have been discussion about how the Cairns Cup participants would fare the next day…

The “Ladies’ Knight” took place in the World Chess Hall of Fame. Photo: Saint Louis Chess Club.

Solid chess was the name of the game in round six and for those playing with the black pieces, the extra preparation time allowed them to quash the attacking ambitions of their opponents. Besides in Kosteniuk-Muzychuk, a +0.5 margin in Harika-Zatonskih, which arose six moves into a French Defense, was the closest anyone came to a decisive result. 

For the two players behind the leaders on 3.5/6 and five in the chasing pack on 3/6, time is running out to strike. The next three rounds will determine whose name will be inscribed on the perpetual trophy and win the $50,000 first prize. 

The 2023 winner Zatonskih is the only player out of contention after six rounds. Photo: Austin Fuller/Saint Louis Chess Club.

Kosteniuk 1-0 Mariya Muzychuk

Kosteniuk’s erratic play in this year’s cup has made her a genuine contender for first and after beating Muzychuk, the “Chess Queen” silenced any negativity and showed has the grit and fortune required to go all the way. 

The tournament has been a rollercoaster for Kosteniuk and her face sums it up! Photo: Lennart Ootes/Saint Louis Chess Club.

Muzychuk’s “better” preparation from the black side of a Caro-Kann Defense meant that Kosteniuk spent most of the game battling from a worse position although when time pressure became a factor, Kosteniuk used her years of experience streaming Arena Kings, Titled Tuesday, and other speed chess events to flip the script.

Our Game of the Day has been analyzed by GM Rafael Leitao and will be added shortly.

With this being her third win of the event, Kosteniuk has been involved in more than half of all the decisive results at the tournament. In a post-match interview, Kosteniuk would humorous state: “I have been playing chess for many years and I am desperate to learn how to play calmly.”

Harika 0.5-0.5 Zatonskih

The French Defense was used by Tan as a surprise weapon earlier in the tournament and in round six IM Anna Zatonskih used the opening in a bid to keep her title defense dreams alive. Unfortunately for the four-time U.S. champion, exchanges meant that the majority of the game was spent in a rook endgame. 

Normally a draw with Black against Harika would be welcomed but given her run last year, Zatonskih hoped for more. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Saint Louis Chess Club.

Following her defensive effort against Mariya Muzychuk in round five in a similar ending, GM Harika Dronavalli was untroubled in the endgame and repetition was reached on move 56, pushing her into =2nd on 3.5/6 and stamping out Zatonskih’s chances of winning the event.

Paehtz 0.5-0.5 Anna Muzychuk

The prospect of playing the same color against siblings at an event is a daunting one and GM Elisabeth Paehtz handled the pressure well. Sticking with her pet King’s Indian Attack which she played against Mariya and Lee, Paehtz sacrificed material early to push GM Anna Muzychuk towards a theoretical position where White could have elected to repeat moves.

Paehtz came to the game armed with extensive theoretical knowledge. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Saint Louis Chess Club.

Deciding against peace, Paehtz tried her best to capitalize on Muzychuk’s awkward king position, but alas, the tables turned, courtesy of White’s queen moving no less than 13 times in 27 moves! Fortunately for Paehtz, Black’s king was still a weak point and the German GM was able to secure a repetition.

Paehtz’s post-match interview shed instructive insight into how prepared she was for this encounter.

Dzagnidze 0.5-0.5 Tan

When it comes to their fighting spirit, GM Nana Dzagnidze and Tan are two of the most belligerent in the field however their round six game petered out after a sharp line in the Queen’s Gambit Declined forced pieces off the board.

Tan ponders her next move. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Saint Louis Chess Club.

The middlegame pawn structure arising from the Tartakower, Makogonov Variation (not to be confused with the combative King’s Indian Defense counter attributed to the same honorary GM Vladimir Makogonov), features three pawn islands for Black and dominant central pawns whose strength is considered double-edged. 

With more time than she started left on the clock after 13 moves, Dzagnidze confidently shut down any chance of Tan extending her lead and her opponent jumped at the opportunity to secure a draw by repetition on move 30.

Lee 0.5-0.5 Krush

The advantage of youthfulness came to the fore in round six as Lee was involved in another game that lasted more than five hours. In this all-American showdown, a concrete line of the Catalan Opening led the players to a same-colored bishop endgame by move 30.

While such endings can often prove more decisive than opposite-colored bishop endings, the twelve pawns on the board acted as a progress blockade. On a mission to turn her Cairns Cup into an endurance event, Lee played on for 60 moves, poking and prodding at Krush’s pawn structure before repeating on move 91.

No public announcement has been made about the U.S.’s 2024 Olympiad teams however Lee’s recent results and fourth ranking in the U.S. women’s FIDE rankings put the 14-year-old right in contention alongside Krush who has played in every Olympiad since 1998.

Deja vu. Lee and Krush have dueled many times at the Saint Louis Chess Club. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Saint Louis Chess Club.

Although a single loss would rip the tournament standings wide open, Tan will fancy her chances of winning the event as she finishes with two Whites. An exciting round nine pairing against the tempestuous Kosteniuk does stand in her way though…

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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