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On Chess: All-Women Cairns Cup Tournament Is Back For 2020

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Lennart Ootes | St. Louis Chess Club
The 2019 Cairns Cup winner, WGM Valentina Gunina.

For the second year in a row, the St. Louis Chess Club will host the Cairns Cup, which is set to be the highest-rated all-female tournament in chess history.

Ten of the most elite female chess players from around the globe will compete in a round-robin format from Feb. 6-17. A whopping $180,000 prize fund is up for grabs, with first place receiving $45,000.

Chinese superstar and reigning women’s world champion Ju Wenjun leads the star-studded field. At the time of this writing, Ju is competing in the 2020 Women’s World Championship match against Aleksandra Goryachkina.

The match will conclude at the end of January shortly before the Cairns Cup begins. While the outcome of that match is yet to be determined, Ju will enter the Cairns Cup as the top seed and undoubtedly one of the clear favorites.

Having won last year’s inaugural event with a stellar 7/9 score, Valentina Gunina will return this year with the hope of defending her title. The Russian woman grandmaster (WGM) will be seeded eighth in this year’s highly competitive field. 

The world's top women chess players gathered in St. Louis for the inaugural Cairns Cup in 2019.
Credit Crystal | St. Louis Chess Club
The world's top women chess players gathered in St. Louis for the inaugural Cairns Cup in 2019.

Chess fans can look forward to her creative and aggressive style of play, as she has the potential to create dynamic positions and play for a win in every game.

The WGM participants include Humpy Koneru (India), Mariya Muzychuk (Ukraine), Kateryna Lagno (Russia), Harika Dronavalli (India), Nana Dzagnidze (Georgia), Alexandra Kosteniuk (Russia) and Irina Krush (USA).

Rounding out the group is 16-year old Carissa Yip, who recently fulfilled all of the requirements to receive her international master title. While Carissa can be considered an underdog as the only non-WGM in the event, she is no stranger to high-level tournaments in St. Louis.

She has competed in multiple U.S. Women’s Championships since the age of 12 and recently dominated the U.S. Junior Girls Championship with a stellar 7.5/9. As she joins WGM Irina Krush representing the American contingent, she will certainly have a lot of local support as she faces the world’s elite.

The Cairns Cup very much fulfills the St. Louis Chess Club’s mission to inspire more women and girls to play chess. While chess can still be considered a male-dominated sport, many women devote their lives and careers to excelling at the game.

The Cairns Cup will not only showcase some of the best play in women’s chess but will also help professionalize the game for top female players. During the rest day midway through the event on Feb. 12, the St. Louis Chess Club will host an All-Girls Merit Badge Workshop, giving girls in the local community an opportunity to learn the game on a deeper level.

Daily live commentary will be broadcast online by a familiar team of GMs, Yasser Seirawan and Alejandro Ramirez, along with WGM Jennifer Shahade. All of the action can be followed at USChessChamps.com as chess fans in St. Louis and from around the world look forward to what will be an exciting and historic event.

Eric Rosen is an international master and works as a freelance photographer and journalist, covering chess events around the world. He is also a member of the St. Louis Chess Club, a St. Louis Public Radio partner.

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