Cairns Cup Begins Today in St. Louis

The fourth Cairns Cup begins Thursday, June 13, hosted by the Saint Louis Chess Club. 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 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. 

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. 

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. 

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. 

Following the blitz battle, the players went off to the opening ceremony, which proved to be a bit more than purely ceremonial this year. In addition to honoring Gaprindashvili (who was inducted into the World Chess Hall of Fame in 2013 as the first woman to be awarded the title of grandmaster by FIDE, and Women’s World Champion from 1962 to 1978), Dr. Jeanne Cairns Sinquefield also announced a new initiative on behalf of women’s chess in America.

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. 

Main organizer and director of the tournament – Tony Rich, a member of the FIDE Commission on Women’s Chess. Chief arbiter of the event – IA Anastasia Sorokina, Chair of the FIDE Commission on Women’s Chess, Australia. Deputy Chief Arbiter – IA Chris Bird, USA.

The games begin today at 1 p.m. CDT, and are available with live commentary courtesy of SLCC from GM Yasser Seirawan and IMs Nazi Paikidze and Jovanka Houska.

Text:  JJ Lang

Photo: Lennart Ootes/SLCC