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On Chess: Humpy Koneru Is Crowned Champion In A Tightly Contested Second Edition Of The Cairns Cup

2020 Cairns Cup winner Humpy Koneru with St. Louis Chess Club co-founders, Rex Sinquefield and Jeanne (Cairns) Sinquefield.
Crystal Fuller | St. Louis Chess Club
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2020 Cairns Cup winner Humpy Koneru with St. Louis Chess Club co-founders Rex Sinquefield and Jeanne (Cairns) Sinquefield.

For the second year in a row, the St. Louis Chess Club hosted the Cairns Cup, which featured 10 of the best female chess players in the world.

The tournament marks the strongest-ever all-female event to be held on American soil. Over the course of nine rounds, the elite field battled in an all-play-all format for a whopping prize fund of $180,000. The games played throughout the event were highly combative and produced many notable storylines.

Woman grandmaster Humpy Koneru from India emerged as the champion after narrowly edging out the competition.

In the final round, Koneru played her compatriot Harika Dronavalli to a quick and solid draw. This boosted her final score to 6/9 but did not guarantee her clear first place.

In another crucial final-round matchup, former women’s world champion Alexandra Kosteniuk of Russia faced off against the current women’s world champion, Ju Wenjun of China.

In order to catch up to Koneru and force a playoff, Kosteniuk was in a must-win situation. The clash was incredibly hard fought, but it was Wenjun who won brilliantly in a strategic battle. With this result, Koneru clinched the crown on the sidelines and earned a sweet $45,000. Wenjun finished in clear second place with a score of 5.5/9 and took home $35,000.

Clarissa Yip (right) defeated reigning Women's World Champion Wenjun Ju (left) in an absolute masterpiece at the 2020 Cairns Cup.
Credit Lennart Ootes | St. Louis Chess Club
Clarissa Yip (right) defeated reigning women's world champion Ju Wenjun (left) in an absolute masterpiece at the 2020 Cairns Cup.

As the youngest participant in the field, 16-year-old WGM Carissa Yip from Boston made headlines for her memorable performance. After starting the tournament with 0/4, it wasn’t clear if the youngster was going find her way onto the scoreboard.

However, Yip managed to stage an epic comeback in the second half of the event. She finished with a sensational 4/5 and racked up wins against fellow American Irina Krush, 2019 Cairns Cup Champion Valentina Gunina, as well as Wenjun, who defended her women’s world championship title just last month. Yip finished in a tie for 7th place and earned $8,000 in prize money.

At the closing ceremony, Krush had this to say about Yip’s comeback: “I think that’s something that’s going to be remembered for a long time. It’s not easy to play the strongest tournament of your life for the first time and to have it start in such a disappointing way. It’s a really good lesson that you just have to keep going and keep fighting and things always have a chance to turn around.”

After her performance at the Cairns Cup, Yip is now ranked among the top 50 female players in the world. To add icing to the cake, Yip is set to receive her international master title at the end of this month, which will make her the youngest female IM in the country.

Over the course of the Cairns Cup, the St. Louis Chess Club produced daily live broadcasts for a global online audience. The expert commentary team of Yasser Seirawan, Jennifer Shahade and Alejandro Ramirez provided entertaining move-by-move analysis for the club’s YouTube Channel.

Additionally, Anastasia Karovich and Almira Skripchenko provided Russian commentary, while Tatev Abrahamyan and Cristian Chirila provided commentary for a live audience at the Kingside Diner as well as the Chess Club’s Twitch Channel.

The Cairns Cup was organized with the goal of professionalizing women’s chess and inspiring more young girls to pursue the game. With the perpetual excitement and drama that unfolded over the nine rounds of play, chess fans were certainly given a treat.

Jeanne Sinquefield reflected on the successful event:

"Last fall, the Sinquefield Cup had 80% draws. There were under 50% draws in this tournament. We had some great games, upsets and so much fun. Thank you for showing the world how much more fun women’s chess is."

Eric Rosen is an international master and a Webster University graduate with a B.A. in Interactive Digital Media. Originally from Skokie, Illinois, Eric now lives in St. Louis and works many jobs relating to chess. He is also a member of the St. Louis Chess Club, a partner of St. Louis Public Radio.

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