Reversal of Fortunes: Voided Victories, From 0-2 to 2nd, Last Seed Leads

Reversal of Fortunes: Voided Victories, From 0-2 to 2nd, Last Seed Leads


In a shocking turn of events, defending champion GM Humpy Koneru withdrew from the Cairns Cup 2023 after round four, greatly affecting the standings for GMs Alexandra Kosteniuk and Nana Dzagnidze―two of the players who were previously chasing after first.

The lowest rated player in the event, IM Anna Zatonskih, kept her clear lead in round five with a balanced battle vs. GM Harika Dronavalli. Additionally, GM Bella Khotenashvili survived Dzagnidze’s hunt when the Georgian number one overlooked her opponent’s best defense. With her third win in a row, Khotenashvili is now in clear second―despite beginning the tournament on 0-2.

The Cairns Cup continues after the rest day with round six on Friday, June 9, starting at 11:20 a.m. Pacific/20:20 CEST.

How to watch?

You can watch live games of the FIDE Women’s Grand Prix on our Events Page. The rounds start each day at 11:20 a.m. Pacific/20:20 CEST.

After round four, the defending champion Humpy withdrew due to medical reasons. Tony Rich, the Executive Director of the St. Louis Chess Club, shared more on the situation:

“It’s always unfortunate when a player has to withdraw from a tournament. Humpy came to us yesterday and expressed her desire to withdraw from the event due to medical reasons. She’s such a great person and a professional player. I know that was a hard decision for her to make at the time, but obviously health comes first.”

“We support her completely in her decision. I hope she’s got safe travels back. We’re flying her back home today, and I hope she gets there relatively quickly, and she’s able to rest and recuperate. We look forward to inviting her back to the next tournament.”

Before the start of round five, Humpy’s withdraw sent the standings into turbulance, creating an especially unfortunate situation for a couple of the competitors. Because the Indian grandmaster left the event before the halfway point, all of her previous results have been nullified. This most affects Kosteniuk and Dzagnidze―the players who scored victories against Humpy in rounds one and four―who both dropped from sharing second to tied for sixth from this change alone. 

The 12th women’s world champion shared her feelings on this new development:

“I didn’t only lose one game. I lost two games yesterday, apparently, which is complete nonsense. Of course, I knew of such a rule. But I’ve been playing chess for more than 30 years and never has such a situation actually happened in my tournament.”

“This rule is so ridiculous because when you win a game, it’s like your property. You suffered through it. You fought. You prepared. It’s like 10 hours of your life you dedicated to your game. You won it. And then somebody says: You know, it’s not yours anymore.”

When you win a game, it’s like your property. You suffered through it. You fought. You prepared. 

And then somebody says: You know, it’s not yours anymore.

-Alexandra Kosteniuk

“I know it’s a tricky situation. It’s very hard to find the ideal solution, but there should not be a situation where your point or half a point is taken away. I was very, very disappointed.”

“It’s not only about points. The fact that we spent so much time preparing and playing, and the other players, they are just getting a free extra day. For me, playing a third tournament in a row, I’m running on energy so much, and then points are getting stolen from me. It just feels unfair.”

Dzagnidze vs. Khotenashvili

In the all-Georgian matchup, Dzagnidze set off a powerful hunt after Khotenashvili’s king. Can you find how?

After a series of precise moves to progress her attack, Dzagnidze made an error, trying to set up one more preparatory move instead of capitalizing on her aggressively-placed pieces. Seizing the opportunity to save her king on the run, Khotenashvili shut down out the white queen and safeguarded the squares around her centralized monarch, emerging a knight for a pawn ahead. 

As commentator IM Nazi Paikidze observed as Dzagnidze played on a while down a knight, gradually accepting the fate of the game: “It’s devastating when your brilliant game disappears in one move.”

This dramatic battle is our Game of the Day with analysis coming soon by GM Dejan Bojkov.

Caissa giveth and Caissa taketh away. After benefitting from a blunder last round, Dzagnidze spoiled her attacking masterpiece with one today. Photo: Crystal Fuller/St. Louis Chess Club.

Zatonskih vs. Harika

Zatonskih opted for a solid approach and early queen trade in the Queen’s Gambit Declined. Though Harika refused a draw in the ending and searched for chances, Zatonskih found a way to simplify further, dispelling any of Black’s remaining hopes at an edge.  Test your endgame abilities. How did Zatonskih eliminate any risk of losing her lead?

Krush vs. Paehtz

Surprisingly, these experienced competitors have only faced each other once previously, and it ended in a draw. Paethz opted for a rare idea in the Queen’s Gambit with 3…h6, pausing development to prevent Bg5. 

After the game, GM Elisabeth Paehtz shared her opening strategy: “Our goal was to get Irina out of the opening very quickly and just to play ourselves. And actually with h6, I think I managed to.”

Paehtz’s unusual choice of line did seem to set GM Irina Krush slightly off balance as Paehtz was the one looking for chances at an advantage with the black pieces. Ultimately, the players traded a number of pieces and drew. Paethz admitted that she wanted to play on in the final position but didn’t see a good way to do so. 

Abdumalik vs. Kosteniuk

GM Zhansaya Abdumalik seemed intent on drawing today, perhaps still reeling from her 0-3 start, even after stopping the bleeding with a draw in round four. She headed into a drawish line that rapidly trades pieces in the Four Knights Game. In fact, she used the exact same variation that Harika and Humpy used to draw in round three, following the game up to move 20, and starting to repeat moves just seven moves later. 

Kosteniuk, still unsettled from the events of yesterday, was relieved: “You can never be disappointed by a fast draw with black after you lose with white in the previous day.”

Results – Round 5


Dzagnidze 0 – 1 Khotenashvili
Krush 1/2 – 1/2 Paehtz
Zatonskih 1/2 – 1/2 Harika
Abdumalik 1/2 – 1/2 Kosteniuk

After the rest day on Thursday, Kosteniuk and Krush―the two fallen leaders from before round four―will face off. Though tied for third, they can still make a run for first. Both players have five games ahead of them while Zatonskih, Khotenashvili, and Paehtz, the players ahead of them, have only four more rounds to play. 

Pairings – Round 6


Paehtz  –  Dzagnidze
Kosteniuk  –  Krush
Mammadzada  –  Zatonskih
Harika  –  Abdumalik

All Games – Round 5

The Cairns Cup 2023 takes place June 3-13, 2023, at the Saint Louis Chess Club. The format is a 10-player round-robin. Fans can look forward to a chess tournament similar in style to the prestigious Sinquefield Cup with the 10 best female players from around the world competing in the World Chess Hall of Fame for a $180,000 prize fund.

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