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Dead draw? Not really! Humpy squeezes blood from stone in the sixth round of Cairns Cup 2020

by Satanick Mukhuty - 14/02/2020

Sometimes Caissa, the goddess of chess, rewards you more for your grit than skill. This was clearly seen in the two decisive games of round six today at the Cairns cup 2020. On one hand Koneru Humpy managed to grind down her opponent Alexandra Kosteniuk from a seemingly dead position, and on the other Carissa Yip took down Valentina Gunina in a long and complex tactical melee. Humpy and Ju Wenjun have now emerged as the new leaders with 4.0/6 points each, while Kosteniuk and Nana Dzagnidze follow at their heels just half a point behind. We bring you a detailed pictorial report from St.Louis, Missouri.

Koneru Humpy has always been a bitter nemesis of the former Women's World Champion Alexandra Kosteniuk and the sixth round of the ongoing Cairns Cup 2020 proved no exception. Humpy's peerless technique and persistence to keep the fight going overpowered the Russian phenom once again. Out of a dynamic opening and a tense middlegame, the two veterans reached what seemed like an absolutely even knight ending. But as they say, not all equal positions are necessarily drawn! Humpy kept pushing for her chances and the lifeless symmetry of pawns was soon broken. Kosteniuk witnessed in horror as her opponent's passed a-pawn ran down the board scot-free. Thereafter, to spare herself of further woes, she decided to call it a day on move 60.

Humpy leapfrogged Kosteniuk in the standings with her sixth round victory and now shares the lead with the reigning World Champion Ju Wenjun | Photo: Austin Fuller

Koneru Humpy - Alexandra Kosteniuk, Round 6

The position above was reached from the Rubinstein variation of the Nimzo-Indian defense and Black's 10...Ne4?! was a slight inaccuracy where the Indian could have seized a stable advantage. The best move here is 11.cxd5 and now 11...Bxf1 12.Bb4 Nd6 13.Kxf1 exd5 14.g3 Rc8 15.Kg2 Qd7 16.Qxd7 Nxd7 17.Bxd6 cxd6 18.Nd2 etc gives White a permanent edge in terms of healthier pawn structure and more active pieces. And something like 12.Rxc3 Bxf1 13.Kxf1 exd5 14.Qc2 c6 15.Ke2 a5 16.Rc1 is also very pleasant with the major pieces completely dominating the c-file.

White maintains a static edge after both 18.Nd2 and 16.Rc1 of the variations pointed out above.

In the game Humpy chose to develop and went 11.Be2. This isn't the ideal move simply because it allows Black to retort with 11...c5 which equalizes on spot and leads to complex play. Kosteniuk however eschewed this c7-c5 idea and went for the quick simplification with 11...Nxc3 12.Rxc3 dxc4 13.Bxc4 Bb7 14.Be2 Rc8.

Now the Indian had the chance above to make things more complicated with 15.O-O Nd7 16.Ba6 Bxa6 17.Qxa6 e5 18.Qb7 or 15...c5 16.dxc5 Rxc5 17.Rxc5 Qxc5 18.Rd1 but she too went for a full-fledged liquidation with 15.Qc2 c5 16.dxc5 Rxc5 17.Rxc5 Qxc5 18.Qxc5 bxc5 which immediately produced an endgame.

White had two pawn islands as opposed to three of Black's and was probably the better side. But converting a full point from here was certainly difficult..

...And after the bishops were traded off the task became all the more uphill.

But the balance was soon tilted as the white king closed in on Black's pawn on a7!

The testing moment came after 38.Nd2 ... It is Black to play, what do you think is the best move?

Well, the white king is too near the a7 pawn and Black's knight is too far away so this is clearly a critical position where absolute precision is called for. Apparently 38... Ne3 is the only move that holds. The point is after 39.g3 Nc2 40.a4 f6 41.Ka6 Kc5 the black king too is just in time to pick up White's a-pawn. In the game Alexandra erred under considerable time pressure with 38... Nc3+?! and after 39. Kb4 Ne2 40. Nc4+ Ke6 41. Kb5 g6 42. Ka6 the Indian was in charge. 

The game was already out of the Russian's hands in this position. White was all set to eliminate Black's a-pawn and then roll down her own!

And after some careful maneuvering the obvious plan was set to motion.

The above was the final position where Kosteniuk resigned.

The moment when the former World Champion resigned has been brilliantly captured by Lennart Ootes! Check out the full analysis of this instructive encounter below.

Carissa Yip registered her second victory in the event by beating Valentina Gunina to jump out of the bottom-most spot! | Photo: Austin Fuller

Carissa Yip - Valentina Gunina, Round 6

Valentina surprised her young opponent today in the opening itself by going for the offbeat Alekhine defense. The above position was reached after both players navigated through much complications and used up substantial portions of their time. Perhaps, the best move here would have 19.Bxf7 but Carissa went for the curious 19.Rc1 thus giving up a pair of pawns but for what?

Well, after 19...Qxa3 20.Bh3 White was simply hoping to make use of all the open lines leading to Black's king. Qd4, for instance, was an immediate idea. Also the fact that White's king was super safe on g1 meant she could go full out on the other side of the board.

The American's idea soon bore fruit and she generated enough counterplay to push her opponent on the back foot. Can you find the best move for Black in the above position?

26...Nc8 is surprisingly the only one move that holds things together for Black. It mainly defends the critically weak a7 square. In the game Valentina captured 26...Qxc4 and slipped into grave trouble as White managed to infiltrate the eighth rank. With much ups and downs, the game went on for 54 moves before the Russian resigned.

Photo Gallery

Ju Wenjun was up against Harika Dronavalli and this encounter ended peacefully after solid showing by both players | Photo: St. Louis Chess Club

Harika was in her element today and played a near flawless game to hold the reigning World Champion to a draw | Photo: St. Louis Chess Club

By far the most uneventful of all the encounters was that between Kateryna Lagno and Nana Dzagnidze where the queens were traded as early as move 10 and a draw was agreed to by move 30 | Photo: St. Louis Chess Club


Irina Krush faced some serious difficulties out of the opening against Mariya Muzychuk but miraculously managed to salvage a draw. "I was just handily outplayed in the opening and middlegame...It was hard to avoid some knockout blows", she said after the game | Photo: St.Louis Chess Club

Standings and next round pairings

Standings - Humpy is now atop the leaderboard!

Round seven starts from 12:30 am IST (Saturday). Follow the games live here.