The first Women’s International Chess Congress was held in 1897 in London to coincide with Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee – but not without a public outcry! In those pre-suffragette days, many readers of the esteemed newspaper The Times of London, openly scoffed about the prospect of women playing competitive chess in the letters page, believing that the tournament would descend into a farce, not merely due to the expected low standard of play, but also because the “weaker sex”, as one reader glibly put it, “…would come under great strain lifting the leaded, wooden chess pieces.”
Victorian male chauvinist jibes aside, England’s Mary Rudge found this no obstacle as she entered the annals by becoming the first woman to win an international tournament. Although she was hailed as the “unofficial” world champion by virtue of her dominating 18½/19 performance, we had to wait a further 30 years for the first official Women’s World Championship, also held in London, in 1927, as a side event during the first Chess Olympiad, and won by Vera Menchik, a Hall of Famer who was very much the Judit Polgar of her day.
World championship cycles and team tournaments like the Women’s Chess Olympiad have long been key events for women to play in, but, unfortunately, top-level all-female round robins are pretty few and far between – and this is why it has to be applauded that the Saint Louis Chess Club is leading by example by staging the 1st Cairns Cup with some of the best female players doing battle for a record $150,000 prize fund.
And perhaps inspired by the media attention and the record tournament prize fund on offer, the opening round of the Cairns Cup proved to be a very exciting affair with lots of great chess on show, not to mention fighting spirit, with lots of aggressive playing what turned out to be a bloody affair, with four decisive games and one solitary draw! The highlight of the opening round was former world champion and top seed Alexandra Kosteniuk’s putting it on the line with a very risky line of the Modern Benoni, as she eventually outplayed Elisabeth Paehtz.
The Cairns Cup also gets the full VIP media treatment throughout with live daily coverage from their expert commentary team of WGM Jennifer Shahade, GM Yasser Seirawan, and GM Maurice Ashley, as well as a Russian language broadcast with IM Almira Skripchenk and WGM Anastasiya Karlovich on www.uschesschamps.com.
1-4. V. Gunina (Russia), I. Krush (USA), Z. Abdumalik (Kazhakstan), A. Kosteniuk (Russia) 1½/2; 5-7. M. Sebag (France), D. Harika (India), B. Khotenashvilli (Georgia) 1; 8-9. A. Zatonskih (USA), N. Dzagnidze (Georgia) ½; 10. E. Paehtz (Germany) 0.
Photo: Great determination and concentration from Alexandra Kosteniuk, as she overcomes the difficulties to win her opening round game in the Cairns Cup | © Crystal Fuller / Saint Louis Chess Club
IM Elisabeth Paehtz – GM Alexandra Kosteniuk
1st Cairns Cup, (1)
Modern Benoni, Fianchetto Variation
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.g3 c5 4.d5 exd5 5.cxd5 d6 6.Nc3 g6 7.Bg2 The Fianchetto Variation against the Benoni was Viktor Korchnoi’s choice in one of the most anticipated match-ups of the 1982 Lucerne Olympiad when he played the rising Garry Kasparov – and the pyrotechnics came thick and fast in a truly wonderful battle. 7…Bg7 8.Nf3 0-0 9.0-0 Re8 10.Bf4 h6 In the Benoni, Black always has to be careful when White plays Bf4 – if you react wrongly, and allow White to get in Nd2 and e4, then suddenly Nc4 comes with big, big threats to d6. So with that in mind, Kosteniuk just gives herself an opportunity to shunt the Bf4. 11.Re1 g5 12.Bd2 Bf5 13.h4 g4 14.Nh2 Qb6 This is a very risky move to play – but apparently, Kosteniuk didn’t like what she was seeing in her preparation with the other, more recommended moves, so felt she had no other option other than to gamble with this move. 15.e4 Bg6 16.e5! Paehtz cuts straight to the chase with the recommended hit against …Qb6 – and it always a worrying sign for Black players in the Benoni when White gets e5 on the board, especially early in the game! 16…dxe5 17.Nxg4 Nxg4 18.Qxg4 f5 19.Qe2 The best move by far – Paehtz retains options of playing h5, and from e2, possibly a very annoying chance of getting in Qc4+. 19…Nd7 20.h5 Bh7 21.g4?! Paehtz blinks and starts to go astray now, almost as if she suddenly took fright of the complications she saw in front of her at the board. The best – and the most obvious – move was ‘going for it’ with 21.d6!? e4 (Taking on d6 is far too dangerous, as White’s pieces boss the position after 21…Qxd6? 22.Rad1! e4 23.Bf4 Qe6 24.Nb5! with a big advantage.) 22.Nb5! Ne5 23.Nc7 Qxd6! 24.Nxa8 Rxa8 25.Bf4 Qd5 with a double-edged position with chances for both sides. 21…e4 22.gxf5 Bxf5 23.Bf4 Nf6 24.d6 Kh7! Paehtz may well have thought she was doing herself a favour by breaking up Black’s kingside pawns on f5 and e4 – but now, after this simple move, she suddenly realises that all she has succeeded in doing is opening up lines of attack to her own king. 25.Qd2? The tables well and truly turn after this further inaccuracy – Paehtz had to continue playing aggressively and make use of her d-pawn to create some chaos in the position, as that’s the only way she will prevent her kingside being stormed. It’s always easy saying so with one of the latest engines crunching the tactics away in the background, but the best way to continue was with 25.Rad1!? and the idea of playing d7 and Rd6 cutting right across Black’s position with an equally vicious attack on the Black king. And now, if 25…Bg4 26.Bxe4+! Black looks to be in serious trouble, as 26…Rxe4 (The alternative isn’t any better. If 26…Kh8 27.f3 Nxe4 28.Nd5! Qc6 29.Ne7 Ng5 30.Bxg5! (Not 30.Nxc6? Nh3+ 31.Kh1 Rxe2 winning.) 30…Bxf3 31.d7!!) 27.Qd3! c4 28.Qc2 Bf5 29.Nxe4 Nxe4 30.Rxe4 Re8 31.Rxe8!! Bxc2 32.d7 Bxd1 33.d8Q Qxd8 34.Rxd8 Bf3 35.Rc8 Bc6 36.Rc7 Kg8 37.Bc1 and White will win the ending with the material and positional advantage. 25…Qc6 26.Rad1 Rad8 Kosteniuk has been ‘gifted’ the needed time to coordinate and consolidate her pieces and gang-up on the d-pawn – and in its wake, White’s h5 pawn simply can’t be defended. 27.Nd5 Nxh5 28.Bh2 Bd4 If Kosteniuk is allowed to easily get …Rg8 in now, White’s position will surely collapse. 29.Ne7? Easier said than done with Nd5 hanging in a complex position, but Paehtz’s only chance of salvation was with 29.b4!? Qxd5 30.bxc5 and it is not so clear if Black can win here, as 30…Qg8 31.Qxd4 Bh3 32.Bg3 Nxg3 33.fxg3 Qxg3 34.Re2! looks to be holding, as Black can’t play 34…Bg4?! 35.Rb1! b6 36.Rb3 and now White has the upper-hand. 29…Rxe7! The exchange sacrifice soon settles matters, as Black’s attack on the White king now comes in like a tsunami. 30.dxe7 Rg8 31.e8Q Qxe8 32.Kh1 Rxg2! [see diagram] And the second exchange sacrifice delivers the coup de grâce. 33.Kxg2 Qg6+ 34.Bg3 Bg4 35.Qc1 Bf3+ 36.Kh2 Nxg3 0-1 There’s no way to stop the mate with …Qh5+.