Gunina Wins Inaugural Cairns Cup
Cairns Cup winner Valentina Gunina takes home $40,000. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Gunina Wins Inaugural Cairns Cup

| 38 | Chess Event Coverage

In the all-decisive and all-Russian clash, Valentina Gunina held Alexandra Kosteniuk to a draw and won the $40,000 first prize of the inaugural Cairns Cup in St. Louis. Irina Krush came third thanks to beating Harika Dronavalli.

"I’m so happy but I didn’t realize it yet, so I need time!" said Gunina after her last game. She seemed to be suppressing a smile when she shook hands with Kosteniuk, confirming the draw, but her victory at the first Cairns Cup simply hadn't sunk in yet.

With her continuous smiles and exciting playing style, which culminated in her brilliant round five win, Gunina had become a public's favorite. The Russian grandmaster, who turned 30 just two days before the first round, delivered on the final day by holding her main rival Kosteniuk to a draw.

It was yet another thriller of a game, clearly affected by fatigue and emotions.

Kosteniuk Gunina Cairns Cup 2019
A tense phase of the game between Kosteniuk and Gunina. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Gunina: “I was so nervous. My brain just stopped. As yesterday, I was so exhausted. My brain just said: ‘OK darling, you wanted to play this game, but I don’t want to play’ and just stopped!”

Gunina Cairns Cup 2019
Gunina: "My brain just stopped!" | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Having played many Caro-Kanns in the past, Gunina went for 1...e5 as she wanted something new on the board. Out of book after 8.a3, she was still more than fine out of the opening, and just better by move 26.

Having survived a scary moment there, Gunina underestimated her chances later on. It's also not easy playing for a win when a draw is enough, and that draw was reached in the end.

Kosteniuk Gunina Cairns Cup 2019
Kosteniuk's draw offer is accepted and Gunina wins the Cairns Cup. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

“These last two games were a mess. I played so solid before and now I’m just too exhausted,” Gunina stated. A tough tournament for her is over, and she thanked a lot of people, including the ones who had helped her obtaining her visa to the U.S.

Besides three European Championship title, three Russian Championship titles and her  2016 London Chess Classic Super Rapidplay Open victory, this was one of Gunina's best achievements in her career.

Gunina Wins 2019 Cairns Cup
Nobody smiled as much as Gunina this week! | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Irina Krush wasn't in contention anymore after suffering two straight losses, but with a final round win over Harika Dronavalli she nonetheless claimed third place.

Having been under pressure for most of the game, Harika blundered a tactic right after the time control and the tactics continued to favor White.

Krush Harika 2019 Cairns Cup
A good final game by Krush vs Harika. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Nana Dzagnidze came fourth after winning the all-Georgian battle vs Bela Khotenashvili. The latter gave herself a weak pawn on d5, which became a decisive factor after another inaccuracy on move 30.

Khotenashvili Dzagnidze 2019 Cairns Cup
Khotenashvili vs Dzagnidze, a clash between team mates. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Anna Zatonskih didn’t have a great tournament but she felt very happy that she could finish with a nice win vs Marie Sebag. After playing her 14th move, Zatonskih went into the confession booth and said she was setting up a trap, which her opponent fell for!

Zatonskih 2019 Cairns Cup
Anna Zatonskih set a successful trap vs Marie Sebag. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Elisabeth Paehtz eventually ended in last place after losing her fourth game in the final round. Her 28th move was probably wrong, after Zhansaya Abdumalik steered the game to a win with a steady hand.

Abdumalik Paehtz 2019 Cairns Cup
Abdumalik showed more of her talent in her last-round game with Paehtz. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

2019 Cairns Cup Final Standings

The Cairns Cup was a new, 10-player women only round robin that took place February 6-15 in St. Louis. At stake was a $150,000 prize fund with the top three finishers receiving $40,000, $30,000, and $20,000, respectively.

Each round was streamed live daily at 1 p.m. Central Time (8 p.m. CET, 2 p.m. New York, 11 a.m. Pacific) with the expert commentary team of WGM Jennifer Shahade, GM Yasser Seirawan, and GM Maurice Ashley, as well as a Russian language broadcast with IM Almira Skripchenko and WGM Anastasiya Karlovich on On site there was live commentary with WGM Tatev Abrahamyan and IM Tania Sachdev at the Kingside Diner in St. Louis.

Replay the round nine live broadcast of the Saint Louis Chess Club.

Gunina Kosteniuk 2019 Cairns Cup
Team mates Gunina and Kosteniuk were in good spirits before the start of their game, and after. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/
Cairns Cup 2019 playing hall
The Cairns Cup playing hall. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

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Peter Doggers

Peter Doggers joined a chess club a month before turning 15 and still plays for it. He used to be an active tournament player and holds two IM norms.

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