- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 12, 2019

With a six-time U.S. women’s champ, a four-time U.S. women’s champ, a former women’s world champion, and top female stars from Russia, Georgia, India and France gracing the field, the 1st Cairns Cup tournament that just hit the midpoint at the St. Louis Chess Club is easily the strongest women’s event ever held on these shores.

The nine-round invitational, with a generous $150,000 prize fund, has been explicitly organized to showcase the talents of some of the world’s best female stars and inspire more girls to take up the game. St. Louis Chess Club founder Rex Sinquefield and his wife, Dr. Jeanne Sinquefield (Cairns is Dr. Sinquefield’s maiden name), are to be commended for sponsoring the event, which we’re hoping will become a regular date on the calendar for years to come.

Unlike many male-dominated elite events, which can degenerate into massive drawfests if the players aren’t in the mood, women’s chess tends to be more of a cut-and-thrust affair, with a far higher overall percentage of decisive games. Two excellent clashes occurred in Sunday’s Round 5, starting with Russian former women’s world champ GM Alexandra Kosteniuk exciting seesaw battle with Georgian GM Bela Khotenashvili.

An unbalanced position arises out of this Grunfeld Defense, and things heat up quickly on 18. Ra5 h6 19. Ne4?! (Be3!? Nc8 20. Ne4 Qxb2 21. f3! threatens the cagey 22. Rf2!, trapping the Black queen) Qh4 20. f3 f5 21. Nc4 Qb4! (Black rightly prefers active counterplay to passive defense) 22. Qd2 (it’s also a mess on 22. Nxb7!? Rb8 23. Nxa6 Qd4+ 24. Qxd4 Bxd4+ 25. Kh2 Rxb7 26. Rd1) Bd4+ 23. Kh1 Bxc5 24. Qxh6!.

Black — not for the last time in this game — declines the implicit draw offer of 24…Qxa5 25. Qxg6+ Kh8 26. Qh6+, but after 24…Rf6?! 25. Bd2 (Bg5?! Rdf8 26. Bxf6 Rxf6 27. Raa1 Bxd6 28. Rxc1 Bf4 29. Qh4 g5 30. Qf2 Bxc1 is strong for Black) Qd4 26. Bc3 Qd3, White could have tried 27. Rxc5! Qxf1+ 28. Kh2, setting up threats such as 31. Rxe6! Bxe6 32. Nxe6+ Kg8 33. Ng5 R6f7 34. Qh8 mate.

In mutual time trouble, Black again wrongly declines the draw with 34. Rc1 Qxb3?, and White decisively breaks on top with 35. Bxf6+ Rxf6 36. Rxc5 Qd3 37. Rcc1 Qxd6 38. Rfd1 Qe7 39. Qf2 e5 40. Qc5! Qxc5 41. Rxc5 Rc6 42. Rxc6 Bxc6 43. Ne6+ and the knight is successfully extricated. Kosteniuk expertly cashes in her extra material, and after 53. b3 Bb5 54. Na2, Black resigns as the White knight will get to c3 and the Black pawn on e2 can’t be saved.

Sunday’s round also saw the best combination so far of the event, engineered by Russian GM Valentina Gunina over French women’s No. 1 GM Marie Sebag. We pick it up from today’s diagram, where Sebag as Black has just let her guard down with 20…Qc7-d7.

White alertly responds with 21. Bh3! Qxb5 22. Qxf7+ Kd8 23. g6! (an excellent line-clearing idea) h6?! (tougher was 23…Be7! 24. Bg5 Bxg5 25. hxg5 hxg6 26. Rad1+ Nd5 27. exd5 Rxh3, hoping to hang on) 24. Bxh6! gxh6? (just losing — 24…Be7 was again the only hope) 25. Rad1+ Nd5 27. g7 Bxg7 27. Qxg7 axb3 (Re8 28. Rf7 wins) 28. Rf7! (instantly decisive and far superior to the tempting 28. Qxh8+!? Kc7 29. Rf7+ Kb6 30. Qxh6+ Qc6 31. Qxc6+ Bxc6 32. exd5 Rg8+ 33. Kh2 Nxb2 34. Rd2 Nc4; the threat now is 29. Rd7+ Kc8 30. Qxh8 mate) Qc5+ 29. Kh2 Ke8 30. Rf8+!, and Black conceded as 30…Qxf8 31. Qd7 is mate.

With a blazing start, Kosteniuk holds the lead at the halfway pole at 4½-½, a half-point ahead of Gunina and six-time U.S. champ GM Irina Krush.

Kosteniuk-Khotenashvili, 1st Cairns Cup, St. Louis, February 2019

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 d5 4. Nf3 Bg7 5. e3 O-O 6. cxd5 Nxd5 7. Bc4 Nb6 8. Bb3 c5 9. O-O cxd4 10. exd4 Nc6 11. d5 Na5 12. h3 Nxb3 13. axb3 e6 14. d6 Bd7 15. Nd4 Qf6 16. Ndb5 a6 17. Nc7 Rad8 18. Ra5 h6 19. Ne4 Qh4 20. f3 f5 21. Nc5 Qb4 22. Qd2 Bd4+ 23. Kh1 Bxc5 24. Qxh6 Rf6 25. Bd2 Qd4 26. Bc3 Qd3 27. Raa1 Rdf8 28. Qh4 Kg7 29. Rad1 Qc2 30. Rc1 Qd3 31. Rcd1 Qe2 32. Rde1 Qd3 33. Rd1 Qc2 34. Rc1 Qxb3 35. Bxf6+ Rxf6 36. Rxc5 Qd3 37. Rcc1 Qxd6 38. Rfd1 Qe7 39. Qf2 e5 40. Qc5 Qxc5 41. Rxc5 Rc6 42. Rxc6 Bxc6 43. Ne6+ Kf6 44. Nd8 Bd5 45. Nxb7 e4 46. fxe4 fxe4 47. Nc5 Ke5 48. Nxa6 e3 49. Nb4 Bc4 50. Kg1 e2 51. Re1 Ke4 52. Kf2 Nd7 53. b3 Bb5 54. Na2 Kd3 55. Rxe2 Black resigns.

David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by email [email protected].

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