It has now become an accepted – and to be very much welcomed – practice for many top international opens to offer a lucrative women’s prize to attract many of the world’s top female players to take part. The latest to win such a major prize was last year’s world title challenger, Tan Zhongyi, who, with a very powerful finish, scooped one of the biggest prizes of her career by capturing the £15,000 women’s prize at the Gibraltar Masters.
The Chinese GM fought tenaciously for the women’s prize going down the home stretch, winning her last three games to finish as the only female player in the field on a score of 7/10 – a remarkable run considering that she defeated higher-rated GMs Grandmaster Sebastien Maze and Aleksandar Indjic in the last two rounds.
And this week, a little bit of history – or perhaps that should be “herstory” – will be in the making, as some of the world’s top players will descend on Saint Louis Chess Club in the US midwest to compete in the inaugural Cairns Cup, the only elite-level tournament dedicated for the top female players from around the world. The nine-round classical chess tournament, that runs February 5-16, brings together one of the strongest international fields ever assembled in women’s chess, and equally with one of the largest prize funds for an all-female tournament.
One of the world’s top (open) elite tournaments is held in the Saint Louis Chess Club, namely the Sinquefield Cup, named after chess patron Rex Sinquefield who founded the now world-famous and renowned Chess Club – and now his wife is getting in on the act with her own tournament! Part of the mission of the Saint Louis Chess Club is to promote the game to women and girls, and they named the Cairns Cup in honour of Chess Club co-founder Dr. Jeanne Sinquefield, whose maiden name is Cairns.
Much like the Sinquefield Cup, the Cairns Cup features 10 of the best female players doing battle for the richest prize ever in the female game, with a $150,000 prize fund on offer; with the three top finishers receiving $40,000, $30,000 and $20,000 respectively. The full line-up (in rating order) includes: Alexandra Kosteniuk (Russia), Nana Dzagnidze (Georgia), Valentina Gunina (Russia), Bela Khotenashvili (Georgia), Elisabeth Paehtz (Germany), Marie Sebag (France), Harika Dronavalli (India), Zhansaya Abdumalik (Kazakhstan), Irina Krush (USA) and Anna Zatonskih (USA).
And much like the Sinquefield Cup, each round of the Cairns Cup will receive the full VIP media treatment 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.
Photo: Dr. Jeanne Sinquefield opens the inaugural Cairns Cup | © Crystal Fuller / Saint Louis Chess Club
GM Aleksandar Indjic – GM Tan Zhongyi
Gibraltar Masters, (10)
1.e4 e5 2.Bc4 The venerable Bishop’s Opening, one of the oldest opening lines in chess. After laying dormant at the top level for the best part of a century, the ‘great Dane’ Bent Larsen successfully revived it in the 1960s and 70s. Although it can have a separate agenda, more often than not – though not in this case – it is used as a conduit into the Giuoco Piano. 2…Nf6 3.d3 c6 The Berlin Defence in the Bishop’s Opening is characterised by Black fighting to take a grip in the centre with pawns on d5 and e5. 4.Nf3 d5 5.Bb3 a5 6.a4 Bb4+ 7.Bd2?! Unadventurous, to say the least! More common for White – and more of in the spirit of what Larsen intended when he revived the opening – here is 7.c3 Bd6 8.Bg5 Be6 9.Nbd2 Nbd7 10.d4!? and an interesting fight ahead for both sides. 7…dxe4 8.Ng5 0-0! The best solution to White’s tepid play – just get on with developing pieces and castling to safety. 9.Bxb4?! Tan really has to be pleased the way the game is going, as she has the better position and faces no problems. That said, even the better approach for White after 9.Nxe4 Nxe4 10.dxe4 Na6! and knight coming to c5 offers Black the better prospects. 9…axb4 10.Nxe4 Nxe4 11.dxe4 Qxd1+ 12.Kxd1 Nd7 This is now Tan’s game to lose, as she’s better developed with her rooks connected, and the knight coming to c5 will be the dominant piece on the board. 13.Nd2 Nc5 14.Ke2 Rd8 15.Ke3 Be6 A nice touch from Tan, as the forced trade of bishops leaves her with an even more commanding outpost for the knight on d4. 16.Bxe6 Nxe6 17.a5 White has almost ‘sleepwalked’ into a bad position – and so bad that he’s woken up to the fact by going now for an approach that risks stranding the a-pawn. The radical punt was probably because he didn’t much fancy 17.Nf3 f6 18.b3 c5 19.Rhd1 Nd4 with Black having all the lasting pressure. 17…Ra6 18.Nc4 Nd4 19.Rac1 f6 20.g3 c5 21.c3 White’s play comes with risks, but it is better than giving Black time to play …Nc6 and doubling rooks on the a-file to pressure the vulnerable a-pawn. 21…bxc3 22.Rxc3 Nb5?! This is the only misstep in the game from Tan. Better was 22…Nc6 23.Ra3 but Black can’t ever make any real progress here, as after 23…Rda8 24.Nb6 Rd8 25.Nc4 it is hard to see who Black can make anything of his advantage here – and this could well explain Tan’s decision to ‘mix it’ to keep things more complicated, and taking a gamble to win the £15,000 Women’s Prize. 23.Rd3? Tan’s gamble pays off instantly! It’s not so clear what she does after 23.Rb3! Nd6 24.Nxd6 Rdxd6 25.Rxb7 Rxa5 26.Rc1 as the double rook ending looks fine for White. 23…Rxd3+ 24.Kxd3 Nd4 There’s really not much in the position, but Black has the slightly better of it with her more dominant knight – but that alone is never going to win the game. 25.Rd1 Kf7 26.Kc3 Ke6 27.b3 g5 28.g4 Ra8 Given a couple of free moves here, Black would like to play …h5, exchange pawns on g4, and then play the ultimate rook lift with…Rh8-h3-f3-f4 targeting all of White’s kingside pawns. 29.h4? At the critical moment, White cracks, and doesn’t like the idea of allowing Black’s rook getting into the game as outlined in the note above – but this approach seals his fate. The best try to stay in the game was with 29.b4!? cxb4+ 30.Kxb4 and there’s no time for …h5, xg4 and bring the rook to the kingside via …Rh8, as White will quickly target the weak Black b-pawn – and if that falls, White will likely be winning. 29…gxh4 30.Rh1 Nf3 31.Rh3 Ng5 32.Rxh4 Nxe4+ 33.Kc2 Ng5! [see diagram] This has worked out well for Black: Tan has won a pawn and with her knight backtracking to g5 to protect h7 – and now there’s no stopping an even better rook lift with …Ra8-d4-f4 to target White’s kingside pawns. 34.Rh1 Rd8 35.b4 It’s too little too late now, as Black is ready to strike – and strike fast! 35…Rd4! 36.Kb3 cxb4 37.Rc1 Ne4 Even stronger than 37…Rxg4 38.Kxb4 h5 39.Kc5, as now if 38.Kxb4 Nd2! forces a winning king and pawn ending. 38.Nb6 There’s no hope left now. If 38.Kxb4 Nd2 39.Kb5 Nxc4 40.Rxc4 Rxc4 41.Kxc4 f5! 42.gxf5+ Kxf5 43.Kb5 h5 and the h-pawn is faster. The rest now is academic. 38…Nxf2 39.g5 fxg5 40.Rc7 Nd3 41.Rxh7 e4 42.Kc2 e3 43.Rh3 b3+ 44.Kc3 Re4! There’s no way to stop the e-pawn. 45.Kxd3 e2 0-1