Chocolates for Valentina

It’s a Happy Valentine’s Day indeed for GM Valentina Gunina. She wakes up this morning as the sole leader in the 2019 Cairns Cup after seven rounds of play.

Rd 7 Results, 2019 Cairns Cup

Standings after Round 7

Gunina, who has won her last four games, defeated IM Anna Zatonskih in Round 7 after what appeared to be a fairly sleepy opening. Gunina believed that Zatonskih stood better after 11. … Ne4 and thought that the game would be drawn, but play sharpened quickly, especially after Zatonskih’s enterprising exchange sacrifice on move 27. Gunina better navigated the mutual time pressure and took the full point in 48 moves.

Valentina Gunina (photo by Lennart Ootes)

Gunina’s play has been impressive throughout the Cairns Cup. Her fifth round victory over GM Marie Sebag, which I am officially dubbing the “Cairns Cup Eternal” (“Immortal” and “Evergreen” already being taken!), earned her two boxes of chocolates from the commentary team. It also inspired this delightful and delicious rendering of the key position at the Saint Louis Chess Club, courtesy of CLO Senior Digital Editor Jennifer Shahade.

Here’s that Round 5 brilliancy once more, this time with extensive annotations. Viewers who are familiar with .pgn files may want to download the embedded pgn by clicking on the button on the far right of the replayable board (screenshot below). The game will then be available for study in your PGN reader of choice.

Click on the ‘download’ button as shown for the .pgn!

GM Alexandra Kosteniuk, who was tied for first going into the round, could only draw with GM Harika Dronavalli. The game followed theory for sixteen moves, and soon it was Dronavalli who was playing for two results. But despite being two pawns up, the Indian GM could not overcome the drawish nature of the opposite colored bishops, and Kosteniuk saved the half point. She is at 5.5/7, half a point behind Gunina with two rounds to go.

Kosteniuk-Dronavalli (photo by Austin Fuller)

GM Irina Krush entered Round 7 in clear third place, and despite her loss to GM Bela Khotenashvili, she remains there at 4.5/7. Krush came out of the opening well, but things quickly spiraled out of control and by move 25 Khotenashvili had a significant advantage.  Krush’s kingside was soon tied in knots and after 44.Nc5! the end was near.

Khotenashvili-Krush (photo by Austin Fuller)

IM Elisabeth Paehtz will rue her near-miss against GM Marie Sebag. 33.Ra3 doesn’t look like a slip, but it allowed Sebag enough counterplay to hold a tricky technical rook ending. 33.Ra7! would have been crushing.

And IM Zhansaya Abdumalik nearly added another victory to her column, but it turns out that one square can make a big difference. If Abdulmalik had played 28.Rf4 instead of 28.Rf3, she would have had excellent chances to defeat GM Nana Dzagnidze. Instead the wily Russian Grandmaster was able to weave a perpetual and split the point.

Pairings for Round 8

Abdumalik gets Black against Gunina in today’s Round 8, while Dzagnidze takes the White pieces against Kosteniuk. The two tournament leaders will meet in the final round on Friday.

Tune in to at 12:50pm CST to follow all the action!


  1. Awesome tournament with its elite players from Europe that aren’t normally in the USA (Sebag, Paehtz, etc.), the generous prizes, and the leaders meeting in the final round! Any of the World’s top 50 would be good to have — underrated young ones such as IM Bulmaga from Romania for example would be excellent to invite since she’s a fighter…congratulations to the winner and 2nd and 3rd place as well _ GM Krush went up 8 spots in the world rankings which is excellent and hard to do with one tourney full of elite competitors.

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