Juli 21, 2024

Cairns Cup 2024 begins in St. Louis

The fourth edition of Cairns Cup hosted by the Saint Louis Chess Club began on Thursday, June 13. The ten-player Round Robin features seven players in the top 25 of FIDE’s June top players list as well as eight-time U.S. Champion GM Irina Krush, reigning American Cup winner IM Alice Lee, and the reigning Cairns Cup champ IM Anna Zatonskih.

The returning champion: Anna Zatonskih looks to defend her 2023 Cairns Cup title
Lennart Ootes/SLCC)

The highest rated player in the field is Chinese GM Tan Zhongyi. Tan is coming off her victory in the 2024 FIDE Women’s Candidates in Toronto two months ago, and should be the favorite once again. Of course, Zatonskih won the tournament last year as the lowest rated player in the field, so ratings are not all that matter. 

Tan Zhongyi is treated to a jaw-dropping move from Nona Gaprindashvili
Crystal Fuller/SLCC)

Interestingly, only one other player from Toronto is in this year’s field: Ukrainian GM Anna Muzychuk. Muzychuk had a difficult event in Toronto, finishing tied for seventh (out of players) with a 5½/14 score, failing to convert and hold several promising positions. Anna will be joined by her sister Mariya in St. Louis.

In addition to Tan, the Ukrainian sisters, and the three Americans, players from four other federations will be represented in this year’s Cairns Cup. GM Harika Dronavalli will be the lone Indian player in the field, while GM Elisabeth Paehtz will represent Germany, GM Nana Dzagnidze hails from Georgia, and GM Alexandra Kosteniuk now plays under the Swiss flag. 

The field at the opening ceremony (Photo: Lennart Ootes/SLCC)

This star-studded line-up promises to produce another year of fighting, decisive chess. The ten players will be competing for their share of the $200,000 prize fund, with the winner earning $50,000. 

Before the official start of the tournament, the players competed in an „Ultimate Moves“ battle of team chess, with players rotating in and out of blitz games. It took just seven games for „Team A“ to win the ten-game match 5½-1½, with the team of Tan, Anna Muzychuk, Harika, Kosteniuk, Lee, and Zatonskih enjoying the victory. 

Photo: Lennart Ootes/SLCC

For those wondering why a ten-player tournament featured six of its participants in one group, that would be because special guest Georgian GM Nona Gaprindashvili was in attendance for the opening ceremony, and joined Team B along with commentator and former U.S. Women’s Champion IM Nazi Paikidze. 

Dr. Jeanne Cairns Sinquefield, our co-founder, announced the Cairns Chess Queens Award, a $100k award for up to 5 American women who achieve the title of Grandmaster within the next five years. Congratulations to GM Irina Krush, who is honored to be the first American woman to receive this award!

Photo: Lennart Ootes/SLCC

The award came as a complete surprise to Krush — who is the only woman to have earned the GM title while playing for the United States — at least in part because Krush earned the title 11 years ago!

As far as who the next recipients of this award might be, of course the 14-year-old Lee comes to mind. But, remember, Zatonskih earned her first GM norm last year at this very tournament, and a repeat victory would net a second. 

Elisabeth Paehtz celebrates with Krush during the award announcement
(Photo: Lennart Ootes/SLCC)

Stay tuned for coverage on Chess Life Online, featuring updates after every third round from WGMs Tatev Abrahamyan, Begim Tohirjonova, and more.

Games are available with live commentary courtesy of SLCC from GM Yasser Seirawan and IMs Nazi Paikidze and Jovanka Houska.

Written by JJ Lang / uschess.org

Photos: Saint Louis Chess Club / Austin Fuller, Lennart Ootes and Crystal Fuller

Official website: uschesschamps.com/2024-cairns-cup/