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    Entries in 2018 Gashimov Memorial (7)

    Saturday
    Apr282018

    Shamkir, Rounds 8 & 9: Carlsen Beats Giri in Round 8, Draws Ding Liren in Round 9, and Wins the Tournament

    The man is the world chess champion for a reason. More than one reason, even if we construe those reasons broadly. One reason is that (most of the time) he plays the best chess, and the other is that (most of the time) he's the best player in clutch situations. Even having a mediocre tournament starting with four draws, Magnus Carlsen flipped the switch, won three out of his next four games, and took clear first.

    When we left off in round 7 he had just defeated the previous tournament leader, Veselin Topalov, and took over the lead himself. Topalov, Anish Giri, and Ding Liren were all half a point behind. In round 8 Carlsen again took matters into his own hands when it came to his main rivals, and he defeated Giri with Black in an impressive game. Not only did this do wonders for his status in the tournament, but it also gave him the advantage in his head-to-head battle with Giri (in Classical chess) for the first time in their rivalry. (I've annotated the game here.)

    Meanwhile, Topalov lost his second straight game, this time with White against Radoslaw Wojtaszek. That eliminated him from contention, but Ding Liren stayed close with a win against Rauf Mamedov. Ding was the one pressing in the game, but it was headed for a draw until Mamedov's 37...Kh6. (37...Kf6 should hold.) He took perfect advantage of the error and won, and since he was due to play Carlsen in the next round, his fate remained in his own hands.

    It was not to be. Carlsen had the white pieces and played one of the dullest lines available to ensure that Ding would have no winning chances. Cynical, sure, but highly recommended: the point is to win the tournament. So by the end of the event it was a fine tournament for both Carlsen and Ding, both of whom are undefeated in Classical chess for the whole of 2018.

    In other results from round 9: all the games were drawn quickly except for Sergey Karjakin's game with Topalov, which was neither quick nor drawn; Karjakin won in 49 moves. (Had they drawn, there would have been a six-way tie for 3rd-8th.) After a great start, Topalov lost his last three games and even lost rating points by the end. (As for Carlsen, he managed to gain four tenths of a rating point, which will be rounded down to the status quo ante come May 1.) And in round 8, there was one other decisive game not mentioned above, and that was David Navara losing his fourth game in a row.

    Final Standings:

    • 1. Carlsen 6/9
    • 2. Ding Liren 5.5
    • 3. Karjakin 5
    • 4-7. Radjabov, Mamedyarov, Wojtaszek, Giri 4.5
    • 8-9. Mamedov, Topalov 4
    • 10. Navara 2.5

    Thursday
    Apr262018

    Shamkir, Round 7: Carlsen Beats Topalov, Takes Over First Place

    The guy is world champion for a reason, it seems. Despite having a seemingly lackluster tournament while Veselin Topalov has generated most of the excitement, Magnus Carlsen's win in round 7 of the Gashimov Memorial has put him in clear first with two rounds to go, half a point ahead of Topalov, Anish Giri, and Ding Liren. Topalov was doing fine out of the opening and through the early middlegame, but 22...dxc5 and 25...Rd8 were pieces in a dubious plan that led him astray. After Carlsen's 27.Be4 serious accuracy was required from Topalov, and when he played 27...Bxc4 rather than the necessary 27...Kf8 he was lost. There were glitches in Carlsen's technique prior to the time control, but after Topalov's 38...Bxh5 Carlsen was winning again, and made no further errors.

    Giri drew with Black against Rauf Mamedov to remain half a point out of first, and Ding made it a three-way tie in second by defeating tournament punching bag David Navara. Everyone experiences bad form at times, and in this tournament it's his turn.

    The Carlsen-Topalov game (with some commentary) can be replayed here. Here are the pairings for round 8:

    • Radjabov (3.5) - Karjakin (3.5)
    • Topalov (4) - Wojtaszek (3)
    • Giri (4) - Carlsen (4.5)
    • Ding Liren (4) - Mamedov (3.5)
    • Mamedyarov (3) - Navara (2)

    Wednesday
    Apr252018

    Shamkir, Round 6: Giri Joins the Winners' Club

    It may be impossible to repair the damage at this point (though an enterprising reader like Chuckles is welcome to work out for us how if at all a 10-way tie for first is still possible), now that Anish Giri has also won a game, at the expense of David Navara who is now at -2. Navara was never doing well on the black side of an Advance Caro-Kann, but apparently thought he had found an ingenious tactical solution to his problems when he played 23...Bc2.

    If so, he was completely wrong. His move would work if after 24.Rxc2 Rxc2 25.Qxc2 Nd4 White would move the queen. Then Black would have at least equality, and against most moves he'd even be winning. But 26.b6 wins for White, and 25.b6 is even better. For that matter, 24.b6 is also excellent, and was the move chosen by Giri, after which Black's position was thoroughly and irrevocably lost.

    Veselin Topalov led entering the round, and he still does, but he was unable to add to his lead. He found a small improvement on the white side of a Sveshnikov Sicilian, but Rauf Mamedov played well and obtained a typical kind of Sveshnikov draw with opposite-colored bishops.

    The World Champion was content to play for a draw against Sergey Karjakin with the Marshall Gambit, and he achieved it easily enough. He followed a 2017 game of his against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave up until move 20, and seemed to have no problems after that. He's still half a point behind Topalov, and tied with Giri in second place.

    Ding Liren enjoyed a small edge against Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, but couldn't convert it into anything serious.

    Finally, Teimour Radjabov and Radoslaw Wojtaszek contested a deeply theoretical Poisoned Pawn Variation (is there any other kind?), and followed email games practically to the very end. Wojtaszek passed the memory test, and the game was drawn.

    Here are the games (with some comments). Round 7, tomorrow, looks like this:

    • Mamedyarov (2.5) - Radjabov (3)
    • Navara (2) - Ding Liren (3)
    • Mamedov (3) - Giri (3.5)
    • Carlsen (3.5) - Topalov (4)
    • Wojtaszek (2.5) - Karjakin (3)

    Tuesday
    Apr242018

    Shamkir, Round 5: Topalov Wins Again; Carlsen Wins Too

    After Veselin Topalov spoiled all the amity of the Gashimov Memorial by winning a game in round 4, Magnus Carlsen decided in round 5 that he too would be a spoilsport.He played a funny anti-Sicilian sideline (2.Nc3 d6 3.d4) against Radoslaw Wojtaszek, and it worked beautifully - at least once Wojtaszek played 11...h4? Carlsen missed various improvements, but still won pretty easily. (As you can see for yourselves; I've annotated the game here.)

    Meanwhile, Veselin Topalov won again, this time defeating David Navara. Topalov sacrificed a pawn in return for the bishop pair, and it paid off in the end. Topalov is at plus-two, but he could have been plus-four. A good finish over the last four rounds could give him one of his best results of the 2010s.

    Now that there have been three decisive games out of 25, the players need a rest, and that's what they'll get on Tuesday. Wednesday the action resumes, with the following pairings for round 6:

    • Radjabov (2.5) - Wojtaszek (2)
    • Karjakin (2.5) - Carlsen (3)
    • Topalov (3.5) - Mamedov (2.5)
    • Giri (2.5) - Navara (2)
    • Ding Liren (2.5) - Mamedyarov (2)

    Sunday
    Apr222018

    Shamkir, Round 4: Topalov Spoils Tournament Perfection By Winning

    Veselin Topalov had a winning position in two of his first three games, but in keeping with the thoroughgoing amiability of the Gashimov Memorial had sportingly allowed his opponents to save the game and make a draw. That same splendid spirit of friendship was on display today, too. Teimour Radjabov and Magnus Carlsen drew their game in 19 moves, while the other games not involving Topalov went a bit longer before the players split their points.

    Ding Liren had plenty of chances to win against Anish Giri, the last one coming on move 64 when either 64...a6 or 64...Ka3 would have eked out a win. Sergey Karjakin and David Navara played an interesting game that never got fully out of either player's grip, and the same could be said of the draw between Radoslaw Wojtaszek and Rauf Mamedov.

    But Topalov, tsk, tsk, tsk. Shakhriyar Mamedyarov outplayed him - with Black - but showed the true spirit of the tournament by letting Topalov off the hook. And then when Mamedyarov makes an error, how does Topalov repay him? By capitalizing on it and winning! Very disappointing. It's not too late to fix things, however. In the next round Mamedyarov plays Giri and Topalov plays Navara, and in the round after that Giri and Navara play. So if Mamedyarov wins and Topalov loses, they get back on track, then Giri just needs to beat Navara in the next round to get everyone back to a comfy 50%.

    Here are the full pairings for round 5:

    • Ding Liren (2) - Radjabov (2)
    • Mamedyarov (1.5) - Giri (2)
    • Navara (2) - Topalov (2.5)
    • Mamedov (2) - Karjakin (2)
    • Carlsen (2) - Wojtaszek (2)

    Saturday
    Apr212018

    Shamkir, Round 3: More of the Same

    Five more draws, believe it or not! That makes it 15 out of 15 thus far. Also in keeping with the pattern of the first two rounds, four of the five games were straightforward draws, while in the fifth one player should have collected the full point. Today it was Veselin Topalov, who missed a simple win against Ding Liren after the first time control. Topalov with Black was worse in the early middlegame, but near the end of the time control started putting the pressure on Ding. It may not have been enough to win, had White played 42.Bf3. After 42.Bf1, however, the obvious 42...Ng4 would have won a pawn and wrecked White's kingside structure. The only move that would theoretically punish 42...Ng4 is 43.f3, but that only makes things worse after 43...Qb8. It's hard to believe that two great players like Ding Liren and Veselin Topalov could have missed that. Maybe they continued their calculations with 44.Qb2 Qxg3+ 45.Qg2 and stopped there, but 45...Qe1 isn't that hard to see either, and then White is out of tricks. Whatever they missed, it was a big opportunity for Topalov.

    Here are the pairings for round 4, tomorrow: Radjabov-Carlsen, Wojtaszek-Mamedov, Karjakin-Navara, Topalov-Mamedyarov, and Giri-Ding Liren.

    Saturday
    Apr212018

    U.S. Championship and Shamkir (Gashimov Memorial): Catching Up

    I've been doing a little traveling, partially but mostly not chess-related, so I haven't had anything to say about the two major events that started this week, the U.S. Championship and the Gashimov Memorial. I won't say too much now, either, just enough to get the ball rolling (or ready to roll tomorrow).

    We begin with the Gashimov Memorial in Shamkir, which features a stellar field including World Champion Magnus Carlsen, world #2 (#3 on the live list, but still officially #2) Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, 2016 World Championship finalist Sergey Karjakin (and co-runner up in the 2018 Candidates, along with Mamedyarov), Ding Liren, Anish Giri, and five other 2700+ rated players. Round 3 is on Saturday (today, for most of you), and sees the players in a ten-way tie for first (and last), as all ten games in the first two rounds were drawn. Most of the draws were "correct", with neither player in serious trouble, but there were two exceptions. Ding Liren should have beaten Radoslaw Wojtaszek in round 1, and Veselin Topalov failed to convert a decisive material advantage against Giri in round 2.

    Here are the round 3 pairings: 

    • Giri - Rajdabov
    • Ding Liren - Topalov
    • Mamedyarov - Karjakin
    • Navara - Wojtaszek
    • Mamedov - Carlsen 

    In the U.S. Championship there have been many decisive results: nine in three rounds. In round 1, defending champion Wesley So and Varuzhan Akobian both won with the black pieces, against Yaroslav Zherebukh and Alexander Onischuk (who tied for first last year, only losing to So in a playoff), respectively. Fabiano Caruana only managed a draw against the barely-15-year-old Awonder Liang (though with Black), while Hikaru Nakamura got nowhere on the white side of a Scotch against Ray Robson.

    In round 2, So and Akobian won again; this time they both had White. Their victims were Onischuk and Liang, respectively. Caruana also won, beautifully crushing Aleksandr Lenderman, and Robson managed a win against Zviad Izoria. Nakamura again had White, this time against Zerebukh, but was unable to achieve anything against the Petroff.

    In round 3 So and Akobian were finally held to draws, with neither player coming close to winning or even having a real advantage. So had Black against Liang, and with the exception of a brief period around move 30 was always on the way to a comfortable draw. Akobian had to defend for many moves against Lenderman, but good defense in time trouble led him reach an easily drawn position in the second time control. Caruana caught up with them in shared first after defeating Jeffery Xiong with the black pieces. All three have 2.5/3. The day's other winners were Zherebukh, who took advantage of multiple errors by Robson just before the time control; and Sam Shankland, who defeated Izoria after the latter self-destructed for no obvious in time trouble. As for Nakamura, it was yet another draw - and not a particularly comfortable one as he was in some danger with Black against Onischuk.

    Here are the pairings for round 4, on Saturday: 

    • Caruana (2.5) - Izoria (.5)
    • So (2.5) - Lenderman (1)
    • Akobian (2.5) - Xiong (1)
    • Robson (1.5) - Shankland (2)
    • Nakamura (1.5) - Liang (1)
    • Zherebukh (1.5) - Onischuk (.5)