Cairns Chess Queens Award: $100,000 for new U.S. Grandmasters


The Cairns Cup is the strongest women’s chess tournament in the United States. Cairns is the maiden name of Saint Louis Chess Club co-founder Dr. Jeanne Sinquefield. The Cairns Cup is part of the club’s mission to promote the game of chess to women. On June 12, Jeanne Sinquefield announced a new initiative for U.S. women chess players.

Dr. Jeanne Cairns Sinquefield and GM Irina Krush
Photo courtesy of Saint Louis Chess Club

Money for GM titles

According to a post on X by the Saint Louis Chess Club, Dr. Jeanne Sinquefield announced the Cairns Chess Queens Award, a $100,000 award for up to five American women who achieve the title of grandmaster (GM) within the next five years. As Irina Krush of the United States already has achieved the GM title, Krush got a $100,000 check.            

The Cairns Cup

The Cairns Cup is a ten player round robin with a $200,000 prize fund. It is in its fourth year, having previously been held in 2019, 2020 (before the pandemic), and 2023. In 2024, Round 1 is June 13, with rounds at 1 p.m. Central Daylight Time each day following except for a rest day on June 18. Round 9, the last round, is on June 22, with June 23 set aside for a playoff, if necessary. For round times and how to watch games live, see

Ultimate Moves

Before the Cairns Cup’s opening ceremony on June 12, the Saint Louis Chess Club hosted Ultimate Moves, an exhibition event featuring former Women’s World Chess Champion Grandmaster Nona Gaprindashvili, IM Nazi Paikidze, and the Cairns Cup field.

The players were split into two teams, A and B. Team A: GM Tan Zhongyi, GM Anna Muzychuk, GM Harika Dronavali, GM Alexandra Kosteniuk, IM Alice Lee, and IM Anna Zatonskih, who is the defending Cairns Cup Champion. Team B: GM Mariya Muzychuk, GM Nana Dzagnidze, GM Elisabeth Paehtz, GM Irina Krush, Gaprindashvili (special guest), and Paikidze, who will be a Cairns Cup commentator.

The Saint Louis Chess Club website describes Ultimate Moves as a “fun and casual” event. Talking, even trash talking, was encouraged. Zatonskih remarked that she was glad that Gaprindashvili, age 83, was playing so that she, at age 45, was not the oldest player in the room.

Commentator IM Jovanka Houska asked players, on their time, what they thought of their positions. That was a big ask, since each team played with 5 minutes plus a two-second increment. Yet players usually managed a one- or two-word response to Houska despite the pressure of their clocks ticking.

After five moves, the next woman in the line-up took the playing chair. For example, in round 1, the game began with Gaprindashvili as White for Team B and Zhongyi as Black for Team A. After they played five moves, they stood up and the Muzychuk sisters played five moves for their respective teams. Video of the match is here:

Since the match was best out of 10 games, it ended when Team A reached 5.5 points to Team B’s 1.5 points.

An Ultimate Move

In the first game’s rotation of players, Mariya Muzychuk (Team B) always sat in the playing chair against her sister Anna (Team A). Team B had White in this first game. In the diagrammed position, which occurred about midway through game one, White’s position looks terrible. Black’s rook is on its seventh rank, threatening to win White’s a-pawn. White’s rooks are uncoordinated. However, Mariya found an ultimate move, saving the game. The sequence can be found at 14:22 in the YouTube video of Ultimate Moves. Can you spot what Mariya played for White?

Fighting Spirit

Is Game 1 of Ultimate Moves a sign that the upcoming games in the Cairns Cup will be closely fought and instructive? Tune in and find out! Cairns Cup Commentators are Houska, Paikidze, and GM Yasser Seirawan. And, as mentioned, all the details are here:

The International Masters in the Cairns Cup field who are American, Lee and Zatonskih, now have extra incentive to show their fighting spirits. If they become grandmasters in the next five years, each will receive a $100,000 Cairns Chess Queens Award.

WIM Alexey Root, PhD

Alexey Root is a Woman International Master and the 1989 U.S. Women's chess champion. Her peak US Chess rating was 2260. She has a PhD in education from UCLA. You can find her books on chess on

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