There were two decisive results in the antepenultimate round of the Vugar Gashimov memorial tournament in Shamkir, and there should have been three or even four.
There was only one non-game in the round, and surprisingly it wasn't the all-Azeri match between Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Eltaj Safarli. Why exactly this was a real game while all of the other intra-national games featuring the home players were short, effortless draws is a mystery to me, but Mamedyarov came to play. Unfortunately for Safarli, he played a very poor game and was in trouble after just 12 moves. Mamedyarov dominated for a long time, but his knight misadventure 32.Nc6 and 33.Nd8 gave Safarli a couple of chances to save the game. Perhaps due to time pressure, he didn't succeed, and Mamedyarov was winning easily by the end of the time control.
The one short draw was instead between Sergey Karjakin and Teimour Radjabov, and there wasn't much to see there. The other two draws were full of life, however, and that includes the game between Fabiano Caruana and Anish Giri. Caruana entered the round half a point ahead, and with a win the tournament would have been on ice. The players seemed to be prepared almost to move 30, but then the adventures started. Giri's foolhardy 31st move exposed his king to grave danger, and he was very fortunate that Caruana didn't venture Qf7 on either move 35 or 37. (Time pressure?) Luckily for Giri, Caruana allowed a threefold repetition, and the question of first place remains open.
The other draw was less significant for the top places, but was an interesting battle all the same. Pentala Harikrishna managed to draw with Rauf Mamedov, but despite having the white pieces he was in trouble for a long time and probably lost at one or two moments.
Finally, in the battle of the tailenders Pavel Eljanov escaped the cellar by defeating Hou Yifan, who is now in last place half a point behind Eljanov and Safarli. Eljanov played very aggressively and it paid off, and the game finished with an attractive, study-like win.
The two decisive games, plus Caruana-Giri, are here (with my comments).
The round 8 pairings look like this:
- Giri (5) - Hou Yifan (2)
- Mamedov (3) - Eljanov (2.5)
- Radjabov (3) - Harikrishna (3.5)
- Safarli (2.5) - Karjakin (4)
- Caruana (5.5) - Mamedyarov (4)