Maitres Warming Up for Fight

Eteri Kublashvili reports from round one of the 5th Vugar Gashimov Memorial.

As we have mentioned in our previous report, round one in Shamkir has had some favorites pitted against each other. With photo and video cameras trained on them, the first symbolic moves for Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Magnus Carlsen were made by the fifth world champion Nona Gaprindashvili and Chief Executive of the Shamkir region Alimpasha Mamedov. 

However, no fireworks have happened in this encounter. The opponents treated the opening in a rather flexible manner. The game seemed gravitating towards the KID, but on move five Carlsen developed his knight on c6 without a prior d6, which the professional players view as a very rare continuation. The position acquired the outlines of the Grunfeld structure, and the opening up of the center was followed by a forced sequence of massive trades. The game lasted about two hours and, were it not for a ban to agree draws prior to move 40, the opponents could have signed a peace treaty much earlier than that. A draw was agreed on move 41.  

Shakhriyar highlighted his intent to play solid chess against Magnus, taking into account his previous losses to him in the Vugar Gashimov memorials. Shakhriyar admitted feeling exhausted after the Berlin event, but in general not being disappointed with the second place as the tournament had been an interesting one, in which Fabiano Caruana deserved to be a victor. 

You correspondent asked the world champion if he was keeping track of the USA Chess Championship. The Norwegian’s anticipated response was that he didn’t watch online but gave it a look the following day.  

“It is never boring to watch the tournament listing the world’s best players, let alone featuring my rival for the upcoming world championship match,” noted Magnus.  

Another battle of favorites seemed progressing towards a decisive result, but it was not to be: the encounter Giri – Karjakin ended peacefully. Black employed a rare plan in the 4. Qc2 line of the Nimzo-Indian Defence, another instance of committing the knight to c6, and there followed an interesting fight afterwards. Sergey refrained from committing his king’s position for long but ended up castling queenside.  However, such a complex grandmaster battle is best narrated about by the participant himself, so I asked Anish Giri to comment briefly on the developments. 

Anish Giri, “I should have been on the alert for 10...Nc6, but, unfortunately, my preparation was far from a smooth one. I mismanaged my time yesterday, keeping company with others for somewhat too long. This is why my preparation went astray, which resulted in my simply forgetting to refresh this line and performing other than well over the board. At some point I started disliking my position, but 20...Qa6 looks strange and, to my mind, is a weak move. I was into bad luck of having not had enough time (there is no increment prior to move 61 – E.K.), and it all ended by repetition that I could not back out of. In lieu of 22. Qe3, stronger was 22. Nb5, which I spotted only when the queen move was already on the board, and there was no way I could go back to that position”. 

Giri – Karjakin

Both commentators and the engine agree with Anish in that 22.Nb5 is superior to 22. Qe3. It takes Black a certain amount of precision in this position. A rough line is as follows: 22. Nb5 Qb6 23. a3 a6 24. Nc3 Nc6 25. Bxc6 Qxc6 26. Qe3 Qc4 27. Rd1, and White is going to try his best to capitalize on the weakness of the kingside pawns of Black’s. 

A very combative draw happened in the game Navara – Mamedyarov. The opening was an accelerated Dragon, and White sacrificed a pawn on f7 in the middlegame. Judging by the press conference, David was prepared for this line, but still could not recall everything there was to recall. Nevertheless, White kept sacrificing, encouraged by the black king being in the open and the black pieces being tied up along the open f-file. Black forcibly traded a queen for a pair of rooks and a minor piece, but his centralized king was an easy target for the white queen. This is how balance was maintained, and a draw by repetition was agreed after Black’s move 39. 

Veselin Topalov and Teimour Radjabov were battling it out in the Berlin, but the game was far from boring. The opponents demonstrated deep theoretical preparation and good grasp of the position, which filled the game with an interesting content. There was a moment when White sacrificed a pawn to get more than sufficient compensation for the missing material, but Black’s tenacious defense secured him a draw.   

Close to winning his game was Ding Liren, a first-timer of Shamkir Chess. The Chinese grandmaster clearly outplayed Radoslaw Wojtaszek in the middlegame. White literally strangled the opponent on the queenside, grabbing the a-file and breaking through on the opposite side of the board. This is a classic of the genre. The Polish grandmaster put up a decent resistance, but it seemed like gearing up towards the decisive result into the seventh hour of the battle. The Chinese managed to pin his opponent hand and foot and was poised to win a bishop but ended up missing a simple tactical rejoinder.

Ding Liren – Wojtaszek 

49. Ke3?

Anyplace but here! Winning is both 49. Ke2, and 49. Kf2 to move the king away from the center and out of reach of the black queen. Meanwhile, 49…Qd8! allowed Black to bail out via a perpetual. 50. Bxb7 Qg5+ 51. Kxe4 Qf4+ 52. Kd5 Qf3+ 53. Kxd6 Qf6+ 54. Kd5 Qf3+ 55. Kxe5 Qg3+ 56. Kf5 Qh3+, etc. 

All in all, the warm up did without a blood draw, but it is just a beginning. Round two parings: 

Radjabov - Mamedov, Carlsen - Navara, Wojtaszek - Mamedyarov, Karjakin - Ding Liren, Topalov - Giri.