No Leaders or Tailenders

Eteri Kublashvili reports from round three of the Vugar Gashimov Memorial 

Round three of the Vugar Gashimov Memorial has also failed to have anyone scoring the first goal, giving us a total of 15 draws all in all. 

While the games were underway, I had a conversation with Vladimir Fedoseev, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov's second here at this event. 

- Is it your first visit to Shamkir? What is your opinion about how the event is organized, your impressions of the city? Have you had time to walk around the place yet? 

- It is actually my second visit. I was here in 2015 with Shakhriyar, even if we did more leisure time than business activities back then. We try to do our footwork every day, our goal being 10km per day. Shamkir is a clean and neat city, its fresh air and nice sights making our goal a sheer pleasure. I am not feeling well today and will definitely fall short of the goal set.  

The level of organization is habitually high. This tournament draws tremendous attention locally, and the audience hall admitting 500 persons is always a full-house, which is no longer a frequent sight nowadays. It is great that Shamkir is a pleasant exception in this regard. It is also worth mentioning that all participants are equipped with everything necessary and that the hotel staff helps in all everyday situations. Thus, my internet connection was unstable and I asked something to be done about it, the immediate reaction being that a good cable has been run that allows for a reliable and trouble-free connection. 

- How does it feel being a supergrandmaster’s second?  Is it only Shakhriyar that you have collaborated in such a capacity?

- This is a very unusual and demanding work. At the moment I collaborate only with him, and I cannot disclose more than that.  

- What is your opinion about massive draws in the first two rounds? Is is something normal for the elite chess?

- I think it is. The level of defensive play and resistance is on the rise, making it ever so difficult to get any edge out of the opening. Meanwhile, when taking into account that whole teams are recruited to look into the theory, catching the opponent unawares is fantastically difficult. Therefore, a draw is a normal phenomenon, provided that the game is not devoid of some positive content. 

- My last question is circumchessic. Who will you root for in the semifinal matches of the Champions League? 

- For Liverpool and Real Madrid. I'm rooting for Ronaldo as the world’s best football player of recent years and for Salah as a football phenomenon for the entire Muslim world. 


The chess part will be described by me in the order in which the games finished.  

The first to finish was the duel between two European players. David Navara and Radoslaw Wojtaszek handled the opening into 6. g3 Najdorf. In the middlegame black sacrificed a pawn on d6, which gave him active play and pressure against the c2-pawn. White would not persist further and repeated moves. The game ended by repetition on move 27. 

I asked the grandmasters at the press conference if they had time to read or watch anything during their free time.  

David Navara admitted that despite having brought some books with him he unfortunately never had no time for reading. He is more into listening to the music on his computer and taking walks around the place. “It is just that preparation takes up almost all the time, even if you are unlikely to see it from today’s game,” joked the grandmaster.   

Radoslaw Wojtaszek said that he watches sports programs and the TV series "Suits”.  

A theoretical duel in the 4. Qc2 line of the Nimzo-Indian Defence was seen in the game Mamedyarov – Karjakin. There was a moment when Sergey burned 24 minutes from his clock, whereas Shakhriyar's play was fast. White clearly managed to catch the opponent unawares, but Black’s precise play thwarted all threats, and the game between friends and grandmasters ended in a draw. However, this game is not as simple as that, therefore I applied to Sergey for some clarifications. 

Sergey Karjakin: 

I had a game in this line against Wesley So at the latest Candidates Tournament. It was a quick draw back then. Then Wesley opted for 13. b4 in lieu of today's 13. 0-0-0. As far as I recall, the main move here is 13. Bxc4, they also play 13. Nxc4.

Mamedyarov – Karjakin

Shakhriyar's move 13. 0-0-0 took me by surprise. I am almost confident that this is not the engine’s first line. This is a very interesting approach, something I did not expect at all. The move 13…с3 suggests itself, but the problem is that it runs into an incredible 14. Kb1: although Black is not in any sort of danger, but Ne4 is going to give him initiative. When I played 13…Qf5, I though I had everything under control, but after 14. Ne4 0-0 15. Bxc4 Ne5 the 16. g4 move was a wake-up call for me. As opposed to that, I counted on either 16. Be2 Bd7, or some other moves, upon which I am OK. The text reduced me to taking on g4, since 16…Qg6 is unpleasantly met by 17. h4, and it is of importance that 17…Nxc4 runs into 18. h5. I had to capture for that reason, but the position arising after 16…Nxg4 was not the one I wanted to get initially.  All in all, I am happy that nothing overly bad befell me in this game. I found the f5-Qf7-e5-Be6 maneuver, upon which I think I am only slightly worse, objectively speaking; however, there is nothing terribly wrong about my position. 

After the game Shakhriyar was upset about not having played 26. Bf3 in lieu of 26. Bc6, which could have been followed by something like 26…Bb3 27. Rc1.  It seems like a more precise continuation. I do not think it is that critical, though, because White is only slightly better anyway. Meanwhile, after 26…Bb3 I am ready to meet any move with f4, and it is already White who needs to come up with something creative. It all ended in a draw upon massive liquidations.  

Anish Giri resorted to the Exchange French as White against Teimour Radjabov. Black was up a pawn and comfortable out of the opening, but White’s initiative was enough to maintain the balance. When Giri won back the material the position equalized, and the game ended in a draw after Black’s move 40. 

Rauf Mamedov vs Magnus Carlsen was also a draw. The Azeri grandmaster has challenged the world champion only once over the board (not taking into account the online game!); he lost that game. After the game Rauf admitted that Carlsen’s choice of the Pirc defense was a surprise to him. According to Mamedov, he was out of book after move twelve, but he managed hold his own in this complex and sharp setup. Magnus was pressing in his trademark style, trying to gradually outplay his opponent, but Rauf was precise and parried all Black’s attempts. The opponents battled it out until the lone kings.  

Let me add that Magnus did not show up for the press conference.  

Veselin Topalov’s game was a second fail in a row, which is likely because he is a rare guest in the supertournaments nowadays.  Ding Liren and Topalov contested in the Slav Defence in what was a viscous struggle typical of this opening. White was slightly better, but the Chinese player opted for an incorrect plan, which allowed his opponent to take the initiative over. Black gradually achieved a winning position, but misfired at a critical moment.

Ding Liren - Topalov

Winning was 42…Ng4! Topalov himself said that he must have gone crazy at the moment. He saw that 43. f3 should be met by 43…Qb8!, but was confused by 44. Qb2 Qxg3+ 45. Qg2. However, he realized later that he was winning after 45…Qe1. “I cannot explain what has happened to me,” said he.  

Indeed, after 42…Nxf2? and the forced 43. Kxf2 Ne4+ Ding Liren came up with a computerish 44. Ke2!, giving Black a choice of two possible checks. When it turned out that neither White could convert his being up a piece, nor Black could break through, a draw was agreed.  

It has given us yet another day without decisive games. Let us wait and see what the subsequent rounds will have in store for us.  

Round four pairings are:  

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