Cairns Cup Displays Koneru's Great Comeback Alongside Yip's Potential
Humpy Koneru receiving the first prize. Photo: Nigarhan Gurpinar/

Cairns Cup Displays Koneru's Great Comeback Alongside Yip's Potential

| 9 | Chess Event Coverage

The 2020 Cairns Cup will be remembered for two players in particular. While GM Humpy Koneru scored her third big victory after a two-year hiatus from chess, WGM Carissa Yip showed great resilience and potential.

During the Cairns Cup, we brought daily coverage with brief news recaps. In this more in-depth report on the tournament, we look more closely at the different storylines and provide a thorough GM analysis of three games.

Koneru's Great Comeback

Koneru took a break from chess starting from September 2016.  She gave birth to her daughter Ahana and took care of her before returning to the chess arena at the 2018 Batumi Olympiad.

After winning the Skolkovo Grand Prix and the Women's World Rapid Championship in 2019, her victory at the Cairns Cup made it clear once more: she is back.

To further support that—perhaps somewhat obvious—claim, one only needs to look at the current live ratings. Koneru also overtook Ju to become world number-two again:

Koneru Ju Wenjun Live Ratings
The women's top 10 after the Cairns Cup. Image: 2700chess.

"After my second-round loss, I did not expect to make it all the way to the top," said Koneru following her Cairns Cup victory. "This was quite a strong tournament and very similar to the Women’s Grand Prix. There were rounds in the Cairns Cup that did not have a single win, which shows the strength of this year’s field."

The 32-year-old Koneru lives in Vijayawada, the second-most populous city in the state of Andhra Pradesh in south India with a population of about 1.5 million. These days she combines her motherhood with her chess career—and that's going very well.

In an interview with ESPN India, conducted shortly after she won the rapid title, Koneru said that now, as a mother, she is more patient, tolerant and forgiving toward her own form and results.

"It's changed my outlook toward what I want out of tournaments. Earlier I'd be all worked up from day one, obsessing about winning any event I went to. Now I don't even check the standings until perhaps the penultimate round. I don't stress myself out and can enjoy my game a lot more."

Humpy Koneru Cairns Cup
Koneru at the closing ceremony. Photo: Nigarhan Gurpinar/

I don't stress myself out and can enjoy my game a lot more.

—Humpy Koneru

Koneru also made a comeback in this particular tournament, as she lost one game early. It was against GM Mariya Muzychuk, who remained the only player to beat the tournament winner and finished in a tie for third place with GM Alexandra Kosteniuk.

The game was played in round two, and it was a special one. In fact, Muzychuk became the first winner of the Brilliancy Prize.

Mariya Muzychuk Brilliancy Prize

Brilliancy prizes, for the best game in the tournament, used to be quite common at over-the-board chess tournaments but are quite rare these days. We feel that's a pity and want to fill this void by introducing our own prize. We intend to give one for each major tournament from now on.

The prize is awarded 50 percent by the choice of the content team, and 50 percent by the members (taken from the poll on our site). It's a purely honorific award, although we might do something special at the end of the year for the player who wins the most. 

The winning game is Muzychuk's win against Koneru, which saw not one but two rook lifts. (It defeated Ju vs. Yip, given below, by a small margin.)

Mariya Muzychuk Cairns Cup
A fine game by Muzychuk. Photo: Nigarhan Gurpinar/

Back to Koneru. While she once was helped by her father (a national-level player), now she works on her chess mostly alone. While she has stated in an interview with the Deccan Chronicle that she needed to catch up on this particular area after her comeback, it seems that her openings are at a very decent level right now.

While still on only a 50 percent score after four rounds, the basis for Koneru's tournament victory was her win in the next round as Black against early leader GM Nana Dzagnidze. The Indian's Queen's Gambit looked very solid here in what was a tremendous fight.

Game analysis by Dejan Bojkov

Dzagnidze Koneru Cairns Cup
Dzagnidze vs. Koneru. Photo: Nigarhan Gurpinar/

Koneru also won her game the next day against Kosteniuk, and after a draw with GM Irina Krush in the penultimate round, she defeated last year's winner GM Valentina Gunina, who finished in last place this time.

Part of Koneru's success was the stumbling of her main rivals in the phase when it mattered. Initially, Women's World Champion Ju Wenjun seemed to have the best cards for tournament victory. However, first she spoiled a winning position in round seven against Dzagnidze, and then she lost to the youngest participant, 16-year-old Yip.

Yip's Great Potential

It was really a tournament of two faces for Yip, who suffered four straight losses but then finished with three wins and two draws. What a turnaround!

Yip, from Massachusetts, is one of America's biggest talents now. In October last year, she became the youngest girl in the U.S. ever to fulfill the requirements for an IM title, which should finally be awarded later this month by FIDE.

Carissa Yip Cairns Cup
Carissa Yip at the closing ceremony: "I guess my highlight would be all the friends I made along the way; it really touched my heart!" Photo: Nigarhan Gurpinar/

On the official broadcast during the final round, GM Garry Kasparov talked about Yip based on his experience of working with her as part of the Kasparov Chess Foundation's Young Talents program: 

"The last time I saw her at our session, a couple of months ago in New York, I was truly impressed. That's why I was shocked about her abysmal start, losing four games. Actually I am not surprised that she had such a big comeback, and I have to say, yesterday's game [against Ju] was a really good one."

I was truly impressed.

—Garry Kasparov on training Carissa Yip

The highlight of her tournament was, of course, that win with the black pieces against Ju.

Game analysis by Dejan Bojkov

Playing such a strong second half after her bad start was, for Kasparov, a big sign of Yip's potential: "The combination of talent, hard work and strong character, that's the sign of a good champion."

Interviewed by's Nigarhan Gurpinar after the last round, Yip said: "The second half of the tournament was totally insane. I have no idea how it happened."

So what about that jacket? Does she consider it a lucky jacket? "Definitely. I have to wear it in future tournaments," Yip said. 

Yip interviewed by's Nigarhan Gurpinar after the last round.

The second half of the tournament was totally insane. I have no idea how it happened.

—Carissa Yip

Despite her loss against Yip, Ju could still be satisfied with her tournament. She had dropped back to third place, half a point behind Kosteniuk, whom she defeated in the final round in a game where the Russian former world champion still had a chance to catch Koneru.

It was the first time that Ju played the Berlin Endgame, and it was quite a nice first attempt. Asked where Kosteniuk went wrong exactly, Kasparov commented: "I'm not the person to give advice on the Berlin!"

Game analysis by Dejan Bojkov

2020 Cairns Cup | Final Standings

# Fed Name Rtg Perf 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 Pts SB
1 Koneru, Humpy 2580 2622 ½ 0 1 ½ ½ ½ 1 1 1 6.0/9
2 Ju Wenjun 2583 2581 ½ ½ 1 ½ 1 ½ 0 ½ 1 5.5/9
3 Muzychuk, Mariya 2552 2544 1 ½ 0 ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 5.0/9 21.75
4 Kosteniuk, Alexandra 2504 2549 0 0 1 0 ½ ½ 1 1 1 5.0/9 19.75
5 Harika, Dronavalli 2518 2509 ½ ½ ½ 1 ½ ½ ½ ½ 0 4.5/9 21.5
6 Lagno, Kateryna 2552 2506 ½ 0 ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 ½ ½ 4.5/9 19.5
7 Krush, Irina 2422 2480 ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ 0 1 0 4.0/9 19.25
8 Yip, Carissa 2412 2482 0 1 ½ 0 ½ 0 1 0 1 4.0/9 16.75
9 Dzagnidze, Nana 2515 2471 0 ½ ½ 0 ½ ½ 0 1 1 4.0/9 16.25
10 Gunina, Valentina 2461 2350 0 0 0 0 1 ½ 1 0 0 2.5/9

The second Cairns Cup was a 10-player round-robin with a prize fund of $180,000. It took place February 7-16 at the Saint Louis Chess Club.

The next major women's event will be the third FIDE Women's Grand Prix, March 1-14 in Lausanne, Switzerland. Koneru won't be playing in that one, but the field does include Ju Wenjun, Aleksandra Goryachkina, Alexandra Kosteniuk, and Anna and Maria Muzychuk.

You can find all upcoming major tournaments at

See also:

News reports:

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