Driving the Rook Crazy

Eteri Kublashvili reports about Round 1 of the sixth Vugar Gashimov Memorial

Same as last year, the tournament has started with five draws even if White seemed definitely for choice in three games.

Making move one in Radjabov – Carlsen was Chief Executive of the Shamkir region Alimpasha Mamedov. Although the encounter ended in a draw, the home player had chances to upset the world champion. 

The middlegame arising from the Two Knights Defence saw Black undertake central activities that rather played into White’s hands. Carlsen believes the key moment arising in the following position:

Radjabov – Carlsen

The world champion favored 26. Bc4 as giving White a substantial edge in lieu of 26. Nxe5 leading to mass trades. After 26…Nxe5 27. Rxe5 dxc3 28. Rxe8 Rxe8 29. bxc3 Qxd3 White still had an opportunity to play with queens on the board (30. Qc7) to put the opponent up against some practical challenges, but the Azeri GM's opting for 30.Qxd3 resulted in a draw deep in the rook ending. 

After the post-mortem the GMs were asked many non-game related questions. Thus, Magnus was sounded out on the subject of getting married. “Right now I am married to the game,” concluded the world champion following a brief lyrical foreword. 

The first to finish their game were Sergey Karjakin and Ding Liren, in which the Russian claimed to having opted for the most principled line in Giuoco Piano. The opponents proved well-prepared and were following in the footsteps of the Chinese player's games against MVL and Van Foreest. At move 16 Black chose the strongest continuation, sidestepping from well-trodden paths and taking logical decisions as the game progressed but without burning any bridges, which lead to a draw after Black's move 24.

Answering additional questions, Sergey, who is known to welcome changes in the overall world championship cycle in general, noted that he does not think of the Grand Swiss tournament as an optimal format for qualification into the Candidates as too unpredictable in case of one of the leading players having winning chances in the event and his opponent not. 

Ding Liren shared that this year's focus of his would be the Grand Chess Tour series as giving him definite chances of qualifying into the Candidates in terms of ELO rating. The Chinese GM also shared his impressions of the world team championship. According to him, certain players’ performance not going well for them ended up dragging the entire team down. Anyway, it is with warm feelings that he remembers the tournament in Nur-Sultan for a very good team togetherness that they had been enjoying.

Alexander Grischuk and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov ended in a draw out of the Berlin. Not a frequenter in this variation, Shakhriyar noted his success in taking the opponent by surprise. With no key moments happening anytime in the game, a draw became the most logical outcome.

I asked Alexander Grischuk if he had noted any major difference in approaching to chess and life in general between himself and a younger generation of players – his teammates – at the World Team Championship. The GM’s answer was that a younger generation’s way of life is entirely beyond him, but not so much in chess. “They are excellent guys, we just seem to be so different,” was summed up by Alexander.  

A miraculous save happened in Anand – Navara. Viswanathan Anand opened with a rare line of Najdorf, literally dragging his opponent into a home prep. White came up with a kingside play to snap two pawns, adding yet another one to it later on. However, his centralized king was vulnerable to the opponents’ pieces, giving Black sufficient counterplay. David's stubbornness in a bad position aggravated by time pressure paid off as White blundered a rook sacrifice idea resulting in a perpetual check.

Anand – Navara

White's placing the queen to e7 resulted in an immediate 41…Rd1!+ with a draw. “Honestly, this move was not on my radar until Viswanathan came up with 41. Qe7?, but once it happened I executed the idea without any delay,“ highlighted David at the press conference. 

Anish Giri got a better position as White against Veselin Topalov in the Anti-Berlin. White having space superiority required that Black came up with precise defensive moves. However, while pushing queenside pawns White ended up missing Black's counterplay at the other flank. Capitalizing on opponent’s inaccuracy, Veselin Topalov came up with a timely g4-advance, sacrificing a pawn later, but managing to make life difficult for his opponent, which was enough to make a draw.

Pairings of round two:

Topalov - Navara, Carlsen - Anand, Mamedyarov - Radjabov, Ding Liren - Grischuk, Giri - Karjakin.