Starting from round 2 the event heated up and decisive results have abounded. Even many of the draws have been interesting – at least when they haven’t involved all-Azeri pairings.
In round 2, Hou Yifan had an advantage against Eltaj Safarli on the white side of a Winawer French, but didn’t manage to convert. On the other hand, the top player most associated with draws these days, Anish Giri, managed to defeat Sergey Karjakin. In fact, nothing much was happening in their game until Karjakin’s 33…Qg4 followed by 34…Rhe8, walking himself into a tactical disaster. After 35.f5! gxf5 36.Nf2 Qg6 37.exf5 the best Black could do was enter an ending with two rooks against a queen, and with as many weak pawns as Karjakin had the result was a foregone conclusion. Pavel Eljanov has had some great results over the past year, but this tournament doesn’t look like it’s going to be one of them. Fabiano Caruana was pressing early on with Black, combining queenside play (with his passed a-pawn and later with a rook on the b-file) with control of the a8-h1 diagonal and penetration by his queen on the kingside. Eljanov needn’t have lost, but as often happens under sustained pressure the defender eventually lets something slip – especially in time trouble. Eljanov’s just before the time control allowed Caruana’s heavy pieces to penetrate to the first rank, and the game ended several moves later. Rauf Mamedov and Teimour Radjabov went through the motions to draw in 20 moves. Finally, Pentala Harikrishna won very easily against Shakhriyar Mamedyarov. Harikrishna took the space that Mamedyarov offered, used it to penetrate Black’s porous position, and soon material fell.
In round 3 Mamedyarov bounced back with a win over Eljanov. The game was more or less equal until the last move of the time control, 40…Rd7?! (though perhaps Eljanov’s 36…d5 was a risky choice that put him in a situation where accuracy was required) Instead 40…Rd6 would have maintained equality. After this inaccurate move Mamedyarov engineered a nice kingside breakthrough and won with a passed h-pawn. Caruana cruised to a second straight win, defeating Hou Yifan on the white side of an Open Ruy. In her world championship match against Mariya Muzychuk Hou faced the Open Ruy several time; perhaps as a result of her work on the opening in that match she has decided to give it a try here. Caruana produced the first novelty, however, and quickly obtained an advantage. Things weren’t too bad for the women’s champion until 27…h5, whereupon her position collapsed. Radjabov-Giri looked like it could have been an all-Azeri battle (i.e. a very easy draw) – which was the case in Safarli – Mamedov. Karjakin – Harikrishna was another story. Like Mamedyarov, Karjakin recovered from his loss in round 2 with a win to get back to 50%, dragging Harikrishna back down to the same score. Harikrishna’s 12…h6 was provocative, and Karjakin accepted the provocation with 13.Bxh6. Karjakin’s assessment was better than his opponent, and after a series of exchanges White’s two rooks and six pawns proved stronger than Black’s rook, bishop, knight, and three pawns. Converting the advantage wasn’t easy, but Karjakin did it.
Round 4 saw perhaps the first outright blunder of the event, Harikrishna’s 24…Qxd4 against Giri. His position was uncomfortable before that, but it was dead lost afterwards, and he resigned three moves later. Radjabov and Safarli did the patriotic thing and draw speedily; at least the game was entertaining for a while. Caruana stayed half a point ahead of Giri by winning his third game in a row, this time with Black against Mamedyarov. Mamedyarov’s hyper-aggressive opening idea fizzled, and although he enjoyed the nominal material advantage of rook and two pawns against two bishops, the power of the bishop pair is often supreme in such cases. Eventually it proved so in this game as well, helped along by Mamedyarov’s erroneous 30.Re7+ and some further mistakes to boot. It was not a great game by Caruana, but with the win he maintained his lead and leapfrogged Vladimir Kramnik into second place in the Live Ratings. The last two games, Hou Yifan-Mamedyarov and Eljanov-Karjakin, were both good fighting draws.
In round 5, only one game was drawn (Mamedyarov-Mamedov – the usual story); in the remaining games it was mostly the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. Hou Yifan went for another Open Ruy against Karjakin (though a different line), and while she may have won the theoretical battle (25…d3 seems a little better for Black) she lost the war, getting ground down in an ending. Caruana won his fourth game in a row, this time at Radjabov’s expense. In a Rossolimo with opposite-sides castling White’s attack was much faster than Black’s after Black failed to play 16…b4 and White took advantage with 17.b4! Caruana misplayed the position near the end and gave Radjabov a chance to keep fighting, but after 33…Bf5? White finished in style with 34.e6! Rxg4 35.exf7 Rxd4 36.Ne8! Giri also won again, staying just half a point behind Caruana. Safarli – Giri’s victim – may have expected that Black’s pawn duo on e4 and f5 was bound to collapse, but it remained long enough to give Giri a winning attack. Finally, Harikrishna got back to 50% by giving Eljanov his third defeat of the tournament. White’s kingside attack was very dangerous but only enough for equality until 26…exd4. After a forced sequence White wound up with a queen and four pawns against two rooks and four pawns, but White had connected passers while Black’s pawns were all weak. Once the time control was reached White had queen and three pawns vs. the two rooks and a single pawn, and with no counterplay available to Black he decided to call it a day.
All the decisive games in the tournament up to now are here, with my comments.
Tuesday is a rest day, and on Wednesday the round 6 pairings are as follows:
- Giri (4) – Eljanov (1)
- Hou (1.5) – Harikrishna (2.5)
- Mamedov (2) – Karjakin (3)
- Radjabov (2) – Mamedyarov (2.5)
- Safarli (2) – Caruana (4.5)