Zatonskih Clinches Cairns Cup Day Early, Earns 1st GM Norm

Zatonskih Clinches Cairns Cup Day Early, Earns 1st GM Norm


IM Anna Zatonskih clinched the Cairns Cup 2023 with a day to spare on Sunday. She defeated GM Zhansaya Abdumalik in penultimate round to reach an undefeated plus four―1.5 points ahead of the field. With this victory, Zatonskih has also secured her first GM norm along with the $45,000 first prize.

In the Game of the Day, GM Alexandra Kosteniuk won an exciting battle vs. GM Bella Khotenashvili to leap up on the scoreboard into a tie for second. 

The Cairns Cup concludes with round nine on Monday, June 12, 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.

Two competitors were major contributors to Zatonskih’s early victory: Kosteniuk and IM Gunay Mammadzada, who held off Khotenashvili and GM Irina Krush respectively―Zatonskih’s two closest rivals.

Mammazada vs. Krush

In a Classical Sicilian with the kings castled to opposite sides, Mammadzada and Krush rammed their flank pawns up the board towards the enemy monarchs, racing to create attacking chances. Though the Azerbaijani international master seemed to have the swifter siege, Krush discovered a vital counterattacking resource. 

The American grandmaster soon gained the initiative and an extra pawn, but it was Mammadzada’s turn to defend resiliently, guiding the game into a theoretically-drawn opposite-color bishop ending.

A fight from start to finish, ultimately ending Krush’s chances at first. Photo: Crystal Fuller/St. Louis Chess Club.

Kosteniuk vs. Khotenashvili

An Open Ruy Lopez took an unexpectedly double-edged turn when Kosteniuk and Khotenashvili both rushed their queenside passers down the board in the middlegame. Though Kosteniuk had the upper hand in the pawn race, for one move, Khotenashvili overlooked a stunning tactical shot to save the game. Can you find what she missed?

Ultimately, Kosteniuk allowed her opponent to queen first―creating a position with four queens on the board―before winning decisive material in their dazzling time-scramble finish. 

This wild duel is our Game of the Day with annotations by GM Dejan Bojkov coming soon. 

After tumultous tournament, Kosteniuk has fought her way back towards the top of the standings, joining the tie for second. Photo: Bryan Adams/St. Louis Chess Club.

Zatonskih vs. Abdumalik

Despite an early queen trade, Zatonskih found a way to generate a surge of dynamic play in what seemed like a relatively static position. Try out the tournament winner’s shoes, how did she do it?

With more activity and a better pawn structure, Zatonskih pressed as they headed into the endgame. Though Abdumalik improved her position by activating her king, Zatonskih was unfazed, declining a repetition to continue to pursue the full point. The 44-year-old international master enhanced her position little by little, eventually finding a way though her opponent’s defenses in the knight vs. bishop ending.

Zatonskih shared her mindset for the final ending: “I didn’t think it was winning. I thought it was much better, great chances, and I will play this game another 30-50 moves.”

She was ecstatic when she learned that she clinched both the tournament and a GM norm: “Very happy. Wow, unbelieveable. Yes, the best achievement in my chess career definitely, the best in many years. […] Ketevan Arakhamia became a GM at the age of 40, she’s one of my role models.”

Harika vs. Dzagnidze

GM Harika Dronavalli vs. GM Nana Dzagnidze was a sharp fight out of the opening, but as the smoke cleared the game rapidly liquidated. Dzagnidze emerged with an extra pawn in the rook ending, but with just pawns on the kingside, it wasn’t enough to convert. 

Results – Round 8


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


Though Zatonskih has captured first, she will face her longtime rival, Krush, in a thrilling matchup in the final round. Krush, Kosteniuk, and Khotenashvili still have much riding on their respective games as they duke it out for the $35,000 second prize. 

Pairings – Round 9


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

All Games – Round 8

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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