Edition No.5 in Shamkir

Opening Ceremony of Vugar Gashimov Memorial in the report of Eteri Kublashvili

The fifth jubilee tournament, dedicated to the memory of the talented grandmaster Vugar Gashimov, who passed away prematurely, was opened in Shamkir on April 18. Chess development is on the rise in the neighboring republic: the national team took the last year’s European Championship, the Azeri chess players show decent performance and results at the Old World’s women's championship underway in Slovakia these days, and many tournaments take place in Baku and other local cities; thus, right after the Shamkir supertournament -Nakhichevan gives start to the traditional open featuring very strong lineup.

The Vugar Gashimov Memorial is superbly organized, as usual. The Shamkir even is served by a team of very-well knit people, hospitality and friendly attitude being the event’s trademark. This year the tournament’s general sponsor is the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan (SOCAR). The organizing committee is headed by the General Director of SOCAR Energy Georgia, vice-president of the Azerbaijan  Chess Federation Mahir Mamedov, whose efforts promoted the 2016 World Chess Olympiad in Baku to the highest of levels, and there are not a few who are ready to call it as nearly the best Nations tournament in the history of chess. The Vugar Gashimov Memorial is co-supported by the Ministry of Youth and Sports of Azerbaijan and the Azerbaijan Chess Federation, while the organizational aspect is taken care of by the Synergy Group, under the auspices of which all supertournament’s previous editions have been held.

Magnus Carlsen, who came to Shamkir first time since 2015, headed for the basketball court immediately upon arrival. It must be a good omen for the world champion. Let me remind you that the first two events were taken by the Norwegian, and then Shakhriyar Mamedyarov took over to became its 2016 and 2017 winner. Their opposition in round one, as well as throughout the entire competition, will be for Azerbaijan as big a deal as the Champions League’s semi-final.

This time Russia is represented only by Sergey Karjakin. Vladimir Kramnik quit for a good reason shortly before the start to be replaced by Radoslaw Wojtaszek. I asked the latter at the press conference if it had taken him long to make up his mind. The Polish grandmaster replied, “It took only seconds to take it up with my wife. It was over after a couple of minutes!” 

Nona Gaprindashvili, the fifth world champion, is a guest of honor at this event. It is a good thing that Shamkir is not that far away from Tbilisi!

This year, the ground floor of the Heydar Aliyev Center hosts an exhibition of pictures from all previous editions of the tournament. It drew attention of all guests and players.

The opening ceremony’s program had two movies: the first about Vugar Gashimov and chess in Azerbaijan in general, while the second one about the first four supertournaments in Shamkir.

The opening ceremony speeches were delivered by Alimpasha Mamedov, Chief Executive of the Shamkir region; Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, FIDE President; Khalik Mamedov, Vice-President of SOCAR; Mahir Mamedov, Director General of SOCAR Energy Georgia; Vice-President of the Azerbaijan Chess Federation, Head of the Organizing Committee; Farid Mansurov, Head of the Sports Department of the Ministry of Youth and Sport of the Republic of Azerbaijan; Hashim Gashimov, Vugar's father, Farid Huseynov, official representative of Synergy Group, and Faiq Hasanov, Vice-President of the Azerbaijan Chess Federation and Chief Arbiter, who carried out a drawing of lots procedure.

The participants have got the following starting numbers:

1. Veselin Topalov, 2. Anish Giri, 3. Ding Liren, 4. Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, 5. David Navara, 6. Rauf Mamedov, 7. Magnus Carlsen, 8. Radoslaw Wojtaszek, 9. Sergey Karjakin, 10. Teimour Radjabov. 

The opening was not without a musical number: a musician Shakhriyar Imanov with two colleagues performed on the folk string instrument "tar”.  He performed his own composition, which was a mix of folk music and melodies of the participating countries.   

The opening was followed by the press conference with grandmasters. I asked Magnus Carlsen about his tournaments schedule pending the match with Caruana, and whether we were going to see him at the Olympiad. The world champion replied that his immediate schedule was very tight: he would play in Stavanger, then in Biel, but was still undecided about the Olympiad.

I asked Shakhriyar Mamedyarov about his coaching staff for this event. He named Vladimir Fedoseev as his main coach but did not answer the question about the duration of their collaboration, just joking it away as being a secret.

Your correspondent conversed with Sergey Karjakin during the festive dinner. The grandmaster shared about his meeting with the director of Artek Alexey Kasprzhak, which he had twitted about on the eve of his departure to Shamkir.

- Artek plans to sign partnership with the Russian Chess Federation, as well as with a number of other sports federations. RCF will receive a quota to be able to send a certain number of children to Artek upon passing qualification. Qualification criteria are still being defined, but one of the ideas is to make it though the stages of the Russian Children’s Cup so that at least the winners are entitled to make it into the summer camp. I am about to launch the Karjakin Cup and will be pleased to see its winners make it into Artek.

Magnus Carlsen's presence prompted me into the second question about launching an application akin to Play Magnus.

- Indeed, at a certain moment there showed up people who were seemingly ready to do it, but then they started claiming some incredible money for the application, and the idea gradually fell apart. However, I think I am going to pull it off anyway. 

Round one games will be played on April 19. It pits some favorites against each other: Shakhriyar Mamedyarov vs Magnus Carlsen and Anish Giri vs Sergey Karjakin. We will also see the games Topalov - Radjabov, Ding Liren - Wojtaszek and Navara - Mamedov. 

I am confident that the Shamkir supertournament in will give us many outstanding games, surprises and, possibly, a fascinating tie-break to wrap it up.

Ljubomir Ljubojevic and Igor Khenkin will comment in English, and Anar Allahverdiyev in Azeri.

Stay with us to keep track of the event!