Day Of Daring Fights But Resting Zatonskih Still Leads
Khotenashvili scored her fourth straight win and trails the leader by just half a point. Photo: Austin Fuller/Saint Louis Chess Club.

Day Of Daring Fights But Resting Zatonskih Still Leads

| 36 | Chess Event Coverage

In a day of intense fighting games, contenders for the throne appeared on the horizon to challenge the leader IM Anna Zatonskih by lessening her lead to half a point after the seventh round of the Cairns Cup 2023. As Zatonskih stayed on 4.5 points (from six games) after the seventh round with her due rest day, GM Bella Khotenashvili (4 points) and GM Irina Krush (3.5 points) are poised to fight intensely for the title in the remaining two rounds, with all of them having two more games in hand to play. GM Elisabeth Paehtz, too, remains on 3.5 points but with only one more game to play, having a rest day on the day of the eighth round.

It was the fourth straight win for Khotenashvili and the first win for Krush after three games. It also proved to be a difficult round for Paehtz and GM Alexandra Kosteniuk, as they suffered defeats against Khotenashvili and GM Nana Dzagnidze and fell behind in the title race.

While the GM Zhansaya Abdumalik vs. IM Gunay Mammadzada encounter ended in a short draw from a sharp Sicilian Defense, the other three games saw intense fights from the get-go, where players with the white pieces seemed to have thrown caution to the wind in favor of playing for a win at all costs with sharp opening systems. All of them further progressed to complicated middlegames and, finally, technical endgames, where the better sides had different levels of advantage.

The Cairns Cup continues with round eight on Sunday, June 11, starting at 11:20 a.m. Pacific/20:20 CEST.

How to watch?
You can watch live games of the Cairns Cup 2023 on our Events Page. The rounds start each day at 11:20 a.m. Pacific/20:20 CEST.

The day warmed up quite early in St. Louis, as the spectators were delighted to see a willingness for an all-out fight from the start in all the games of the day:

An early gamble of 4.e4!? from Dzagnidze.

A fighting 15.a4!? by Krush in a non-standard Carlsbad position.
A theoretical but daring 7.e4 in a modern QGD structure by Khotenashvili.

A spectacular but theoretical 13.Rxd7 by Abdumalik.

Khotenashvili vs. Paehtz

"I am surprised myself, but it feels really good!" were Khotenashvili's words when she was asked about her fourth victory in a row at the post-game interview. This win was achieved mainly due to the energy with which she conducted the game, starting with 7.e4, as shown above.

I am surprised myself but it feels really good!

Bella Khotenashvili on her fourth win in a row.

Dzagnidze vs. Kosteniuk

Dzagnidze had suffered three losses in a row before the game and looked like someone who was prepared to do whatever it took to shrug off her indifferent form. She seemed to be living dangerously from the opening stages and won the game, while Kosteniuk seemed to be having a difficult day at the office:

After the game, Dzagnidze revealed that she had still not overcome the effect of Humpy's withdrawal from the tournament, "(After) I won this game with Koneru (in the fourth round) (and) after three hours (when) I got the message from the chief arbiter that my result (was) canceled, I was so shocked I wrote immediately that I didn't agree (with) this and this is absolutely unfair...." She also expressed disappointment with the way she played against Khotenashvili and explained, "I think it was the influence of the previous day. After that... I am trying to survive."

Dzagnidze, still reeling under the effect of her win over Humpy not being counted for a point in the tournament. Photo: Austin Fuller/Saint Louis Chess Club.

Afterward, she explained her point of view even more elaborately: 

Krush vs. Harika

Krush innovated in the opening with 15.a4 and played a near-flawless game against the formidable GM Harika Dronavalli. When IM Almira Skripchenko praised her opening concept as "mesmerizing," Krush remarked, "The computer liked this move!" revealing that she had come well-armed for the game. This crucial victory is our Game of the Day, analyzed by GM Dejan Bojkov:

Krush: "Mesmerizing" preparation in her win against Harika. Photo: Crystal Fuller/St. Louis Chess Club.

Abdumalik vs. Mammadzada

Abdumalik tried one of those sharp variations of the Sicilian Najdorf where both players need to find correct moves to hold a draw by repetition after White's exchange sacrifice. The game was drawn just after an hour of play. But the curious factor is that at least three games have ended in a draw with the same moves as the game.

After three losses at the beginning of the tournament, this was the fourth draw in a row for Abdumalik. She has only a game left to play in the tournament in the next round, against Zatonskih, as she has a free day in the last round. All in all, it looked like the youngster did not mind making such a short draw.

With Mammadzada, it was expected that she would fight hard in this game in view of her placement in the tournament's standings and the fact that she is scheduled to play two tough opponents, Krush and Dzagnidze, in the remaining two rounds. But having played a sharp variation of the Sicilian Najdorf, she probably didn't have much choice but to go with a forced sequence of moves to allow the draw.

Mammadzada: Forced to play a forced sequence of moves leading to a draw. Photo: St. Louis Chess Club.

Results - Round 7

White Black
Dzagnidze 1 - 0 Kosteniuk
Krush 1 - 0 Harika
Abdumalik 0.5 - 0.5 Mammadzada
Khotenashvili 1 - 0 Paehtz


The next two rounds are going to be the most interesting. The leader Zatonskih with the white pieces in the penultimate round faces the tail-ender Abdumalik, while in the last round with the black pieces, she plays Krush, which is expected to be a crucial game. With Black in the penultimate round, Khotenashvili plays Kosteniuk and with White will play Harika in the last round. Krush plays Mammadzada in the penultimate round. With all the possibilities which might take place in the next two rounds, the Cairns Cup 2023 just got extremely interesting for the spectators.

The Cairns Cup 2023 just got extremely interesting. Photo: Crystal Fuller/Saint Louis Chess Club.

In a rare case of candor, even the arbiter (!) was unable to hide his glee in looking forward to the next two rounds:

Pairings - Round 8

White Black
Kosteniuk  -  Khotenashvili
Harika  -  Dzagnidze
Mammadzada  -  Krush
Zatonskih  -  Abdumalik

The Cairns Cup 2023 takes place June 3-13, 2023, at the Saint Louis Chess Club. The format is a 10-player round-robin. Fans can look forward to a chess tournament similar in style to the prestigious Sinquefield Cup with the 10 best female players from around the world competing in the World Chess Hall of Fame for a $180,000 prize fund.

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