Magnus Carlsen, with his manager (and IM) Espen Agdestein, recounting his performance at the Vugar Gashimov Memorial:
HT: Ian Lamb
Magnus Carlsen, with his manager (and IM) Espen Agdestein, recounting his performance at the Vugar Gashimov Memorial:
HT: Ian Lamb
In my round 9 post I lamented the possibility that Magnus Carlsen would win the Vugar Gashimov Memorial on tiebreak over Fabiano Caruana in case their last round game was drawn, given that Caruana won their game from the first cycle. Fortunately, Carlsen stepped up like a champion and defeated Caruana convincingly. He finished clear first with 6.5/10, scoring a very impressive 4/5 in the second cycle. All in all it was an impressive performance by the world champion, who bounced back from some adversity at the end of the first cycle when he lost back-to-back games.
Despite the last round loss, it was also a good tournament for Caruana, who finished in clear second with 5.5 points and showed that he may be Carlsen's main rival in the few years to come. (Indeed, it's not impossible that he could have been Carlsen's rival this very year, had he not allowed the short draw against Leinier Dominguez in the final round of the last Grand Prix tournament!)
For everyone else in the tournament except Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, it was a basically good event. Teimour Radjabov, Sergey Karjakin and Hikaru Nakamura all tied for 3rd-5th with 50% scores. For Karjakin it was as 50% as could be, as he drew all ten games. Nakamura played his usual fighting chess, but only managed to defeat the tailender twice while losing both games to Carlsen. As for Radjabov, it was a fine return to his pre-2013 form. He managed to defeat Carlsen and to finish with a plus score against him in the tournament, and only an error on the last move of the first time control (to Caruana in round 8) kept him from being the tournament runner-up.
As for Mamedyarov, the sooner he forgets the tournament, the better.
A short word or two about today's games. Caruana was surprised by Carlsen's 5.c3, and his decision to sac with 5...d5 was questionable; indeed, he questioned it at the presser. Perhaps he wanted to avoid the line Neo-Gruenfeld line 5...cxd4 6.cxd4 d5 7.0-0 0-0 8.Ne5, but then he might have tried 5...Na6 instead. He did achieve some compensation and a complicated middlegame, but Carlsen negotiated the complications much more successfully, and by move 26 or so White was winning. Even before that the momentum had been in Carlsen's favor, and Caruana rightly noted that a (if not the) critical moment came at move 20. Instead of 20...f5, when Carlsen was able to neutralize Black's kingside pawn mass, 20...d4 would have created a real mess on the board. Missing this chance, the game trended in the champion's favor the rest of the way, and he won like a champion.
Nakamura - Radjabov was the sort of Berlin that drives players to 1.d4 and spectators to watch dust accumulate on tennis balls. White allowed Black to fix the kingside pawn structure so effectively that White's majority was rendered useless. After 27.f4, nothing happened, and it happened for a very long time. Radjabov's next 22 moves were spent moving his king's rook around, mostly from h8 to h5 and back again. Over the next 27 moves he added a little variety - Kc8-b7 was another of his greatest hits - but you get the idea. Radjabov called the arbiter over at move 77 to declare a draw by the 50-move rule, and the tournament came to a conclusion. (Incidentally, the arbiter was easy to recognize. He and his assistants were the only people left in the audience, as the other attendees had either left or died of boredom by that point.)
Finally, Mamedyarov - Karjakin was an interesting draw in three parts. In part one, the players blitzed out their moves up until White's 18.g5. In part two the players slowed WAY down. Black spent 29 minutes before playing 18...Nd5 (after which the dreaded 0.00 appeared in the engine's evaluation window). Mamedyarov spent 24 minutes on 19.Bxd7, Karjakin burned a further 24 minutes on 19...Rxc3, and Mamedyarov spent a massive 64 minutes deciding on 20.Bxc3. In part three, with 2-3 relatively minor exceptions, they blitzed out their moves through the perpetual check that ended the game on move 37. Mamedyarov was able to put the tournament in the past, while Karjakin completed his "perfect" score.
While Magnus Carlsen has done most of the running in this tournament, it's Fabiano Caruana who has been stealing the show of late. Not only did he defeat Carlsen in the first cycle, he has won back-to-back games the past two rounds to catch up to Carlsen going into their head-to-head in the last round. Carlsen will have White, and if they draw then, unfortunately, Caruana will only come in second on tiebreaks despite winning in their head-to-head. (At least that was what I had heard; I haven't checked the tournament regulations.)
Why "unfortunate", someone may ask (especially strong Carlsen fans)? For two reasons, neither of which is based on an antipathy towards the young Norwegian. First, because I dislike tiebreaks in general. If they can't just be co-winners, then have a rapid or blitz playoff. Second, if one must have tiebreaks, head-to-head should be the first tiebreaker rather than "most wins". What could be more relevant than that, if we're comparing their tournament performances?
Going into round 8 it seemed that Teimour Radjabov was going to be Carlsen's biggest competition, but Caruana managed to beat him in the former's favorite King's Indian. Caruana enjoyed continuing pressure, but it was only a mistake by Radjabov on the very last move of the first time control that did him in. Radjabov had been in serious time trouble, and it ended one move too late for him to survive. Before the game Radjabov had been just half a point behind Carlsen; after it, it was Caruana who took his spot.
In the other games in that round, Carlsen got nothing against Sergei Karjakin and they drew for the second time in the event, while Shakhriyar Mamedyarov continued his descent into madness with a second loss against Hikaru Nakamura.
In round 9 Caruana won again, this time over - who else - tournament whipping boy Mamedyarov, while the other two games were drawn. Against Carlsen, Radjabov took a page out of his playbook from the London Candidates', parlaying a slightly better but drawn ending into one where he had to suffer. Carlsen dragged the game past move 100 trying to find something before agreeing to split the point. Carlsen never really came close, but Radjabov's overly compliant approach forced him to spend an extra 2+ hours suffering to achieve what he probably could have had without any sweat. Karjakin and Nakamura drew their game as well, leaving both players (and Radjabov too) a full point behind the leaders.
To summarize then, Carlsen and Caruana are both +2 (5.5/9), Karjakin, Nakamura and Radjabov all have 50% (4.5) while the entirety of the minus score has fallen upon Mamedyarov (2.5 points). Here are the last round pairings:
The B tournament ended today, and was won by Pavel Eljanov; his score of 6/9 was half a point better than Alexander Motylev's and a point better than that of Wang Hao and early leader Etienne Bacrot.
The colors may have switched in all the games of the second cycle of the Vugar Gashimov Memorial, but two rounds in all the results have been the same. Magnus Carlsen was the only winner in rounds 1 and 2, and he was the only winner in rounds 6 & 7. The second double-up came out Wil E. Coyote's Hikaru Nakamura's expense. Nakamura came out of the opening with a good position against Carlsen (or at least one both players felt was more comfortable for him), and soon obtained excellent winning chances. Carlsen has not fared well against the 4.f3 Nimzo-Indian in terms of the quality of his positions, but putting him away is another matter.
Nakamura had a nice opportunity for a clear advantage with 26.Nxh5, but played 26.Nxd3 believing that after 26...Nxd3 27.Qe3 Rb7 28.Nxh5 was winning. Indeed it would be if Carlsen played 28...Qxb2 as he had anticipated - 29.f6 would be crushing. But Nakamura had overlooked 28...Qh6, after which White's advantage was but a slight one. All the same, there was no good chess reason for Nakamura to lose, especially after Carlsen's inaccurate 31...Ne5. Time trouble did its damage though, and White's 33rd, 35th, 36th and 37th moves were all imprecise, and by the end of the time control (move 40) Nakamura was in trouble. Maybe there were still some very slim hopes with 42.Nxd6, though after 42...Kg7 followed by 43...Kf6 White's knight is in deep trouble and Black also threatens a lethal attack after ...Rg8. After the move in the game, 42.Nd4, Carlsen had a nice win with 42...b3, which he missed. Still, Carlsen's choice was good enough, and with accurate play he converted the advantage into a win.
As mentioned, the other two games were drawn, so Teimour Radjabov falls half a point behind Carlsen going into round 8. Here are the pairings:
(In case you're curious, in the first cycle Nakamura beat Mamedyarov and the other games were drawn.)
The rest day may have been just what Magnus Carlsen needed, as he commenced the second cycle of the Vugar Gashimov Memorial by defeating Shakhriyar Mamedyarov for the second time in the tournament. This broke his two-game losing streak and brought him into shared first with Teimour Radjabov after the latter drew against Sergey Karjakin. (Fabiano Caruana and Hikaru Nakamura also drew their game.)
The Mamedyarov-Carlsen game was complicated and there were all sorts of differing opinions on what was going on. Mamedyarov's 5.Nf3 (after 4.Qc2 d5 in the Nimzo-Indian) was very rare and a surprise to Carlsen. Jan Gustafsson was entirely unimpressed by this idea commentating on chess24 and thought Carlsen was better throughout; the only question was how much. Mamedyarov was very happy with his position up until he played 22.f5; that was inaccurate and his few succeeding moves included even more serious errors. He correctly felt that 22.Re1 would have been better, but if I understood him correctly he seemed to think he would have had the better chances then. And then there's Houdini, which agrees in part and disagrees in part with both Gustafsson and Mamedyarov. It evaluates the position in the short-term aftermath of 5.Nf3 as at least very slightly better for White, but soon enough Carlsen obtains an edge - one he would have kept even after the better 22.Re1.
To interject based on my own study and experience (admittedly and obviously at a considerably lower level than Carlsen's and Mamedyarov's) I would say that positions where Black plays ...dxc4 and holds the extra pawn while White gets a d4 + e4 pawn center in return are some of the hardest to play in all of chess. They come up in various Slavs, Semi-Slavs, Triangle Systems and even, as here, in openings like the Nimzo-Indian. I even noticed that there were some openings where I handled the structure and the resulting positions pretty well, while there were others where I was relatively clueless. So I'm at least not so surprised by the differences of opinion, and I won't even go so far as to say that Houdini's evaluation was correct. I think the line needs more tests before stable evaluations can be offered.
On to tomorrow's round. Here are the round 7 Pairings, with player scores in parentheses:
It was a great day for the Azeri players at the Vugar Gashimov Memorial: Teimour Radjabov defeated one leader, Magnus Carlsen (who also happens to be the world champion and world #1), while Shakhriyar Mamedyarov defeated Fabiano Caruana, the other leader. After five rounds, the first cycle is complete. Radjabov is at +1 and in clear first, Mamedyarov is -1 and alone in the cellar, and Carlsen, Caruana, Nakamura and Karjakin (the latter two drew today) are all on 50%.
Radjabov is a great King's Indian specialist, and simply did a better job of understanding and assessing the goings-on than his illustrious opponent. Carlsen was unhappy about his 19th move (19.exf5) and confessed that he was wrongly optimistic about his exchange sac. He thought that Radjabov would be without play, but when 28...b5 came it was clear that he was mistaken. Radjabov finished very effectively and was a deserved winner.
For Caruana it was a different story. Mamedyarov was better forever, but Caruana was holding down the fort pretty successfully. The critical moment came at the start of the third and final time control, when Mamedyarov played 61.e4. Black had a choice, to force the trade of queens with 61...Qg6 or to force matters with 61...Qc3. Caruana thought for half an hour and made the right decision from a computer perspective, but from a human point of view it was at least questionable. The former would have led to further suffering, but the position would have been easier to play, much more manageable. Instead, he played 61...Qc3. This draws if one sees everything - the computer gives it a shiny 0.00 evaluation - but Black must find a lot of only moves. When Caruana missed one of them - 67...Qf3! - it wasn't just some sort of inaccuracy. Black was completely lost, and Mamedyarov successfully converted his advantage.
Tomorrow is a rest day, and on Saturday the second cycle begins with these pairings:
If round 3 was a bit irksome for Magnus Carlsen, failing as he did to convert a clearly superior position against Sergey Karjakin, round 4 of the Gashimov Memorial was a flat-out disaster for the world champion. He essayed the Berlin Defense against Fabiano Caruana (come back!!), which in itself may not be foolhardy but is at least dangerous, as Caruana has been in the forefront of White players looking for deep new ideas against the Berlin ending. Carlsen's position was already somewhat unpleasant when he blundered with 24...Kc8??, dropping the c7 pawn for nothing. (Ironically, I just turned on chess24's broadcast at that moment, and in analysis Peter Svidler made the same blunder as well, to Lawrence Trent's surprise.)
Caruana's technique was very good from there up through move 39, but right before the time control Carlsen found a way to create some tactical tricks. Very short of time, Caruana chose a safe 40th move that cost him most of his advantage. Fortunately for Caruana, Carlsen rejected 40...Bc7, which would have let him grovel on a pawn down. Perhaps he felt that it would be hopeless in the long run, and decided to risk a faster loss in a sharper position. With time to work out the details, Caruana finished him off effectively, and thereby caught up with Carlsen in joint first place with 2.5/4.
The day's other games were drawn, and in round 3 the only decisive result was Hikaru Nakamura's victory over Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, who is currently the only player in the tournament with a minus score. Here are the pairings for round 5, the last round of the first cycle (player scores are in parentheses):
And again, he is the only winner. His victim in round 2 of the Vugar Gashimov Memorial was Hikaru Nakamura, who has tried in various ways over the past year or two to psych himself into a full-fledged rivalry with the world champion. So far it hasn't worked, and Carlsen won something like his ninth classical game against Nakamura without a single loss.
Carlsen enjoyed nagging pressure on the white side of a Slow Slav (4.e3) thanks to his good dark-squared bishop, but the advantage didn't grow to deathly proportions until the run-up to the first time control. By the time they finished 40 moves Carlsen was winning, and while it took another 21 moves to finish the job he never let Nakamura off the hook.
Carlsen leads the field by a point or more, as no one else has managed to win a game through two rounds. Fabiano Caruana didn't come close to getting anything against Sergey Karjakin's Berlin Defense, and their game was drawn by repetition inside of 30 moves. As for the Teimour Radjabov - Shakhriyar Mamedyarov game, it's true that they made it move 40 on the scoresheets, but in reality the game was over around move 19, when Black achieved ...c5. After that it was a big swap meet, and the only question was how long it would take until the players managed a repetition.
Here are the pairings for round 3, with player scores in parentheses:
Not wasting any time, world champion Magnus Carlsen was the first player to finish in round 1 (along with his opponent, of course), and the only one to come away with a victory. He is thus the early leader of the Vugar Gashimov Memorial, and in the process pushed his all-time rating record to a new high of 2885.7.
Carlsen's win came at Shakhriyar Mamedyarov's expense, on the white side of a Cambridge Springs. It isn't clear whether he "officially" managed an opening advantage - in other words, whether the engines viewed the position as more than three-tenths of a pawn better for White - but what he did manage was a position where Black's coordination wasn't so smooth. Mamedyarov's dark-squared bishop in particular was a distant spectator from early on, and Black was effectively a piece down when Carlsen's attack started to break through. Mamedyarov flailed a while with 38...Rxf2+, but White had many ways to win and Carlsen wrapped up the point.
That should not be taken for granted, as Fabiano Caruana was also winning his game, but failed to convert. On the white side of an ersatz Hedgehog, Hikaru Nakamura drove the action through the first time control but eventually overpressed. Once Caruana got in 41...a5 Nakamura needed to be precise to hold the balance, and didn't manage to do so. The culprit was the long-winded maneuver from moves 45-48, aimed at maneuvering his knight to c6. By the time he played 48.Nd4 it was too late; 49.Nc6 would drop the a-pawn after 49...Qa1+. So Nakamura correctly played 49.Nb3, and after 49...Nxb3 50.Rxb3 (50.Qxb3 may have been better) 50...Qa1+ 51.Kf2 f5! 52.Re3 fxe4 53.Bxe4 Qe5 54.Kf3 Caruana had his chance. Here 54...Bh5+ would have won; instead, he played 54...Bxf3+? and Nakamura was able to survive despite his vulnerable king.
In the third game Sergey Karjakin had a slight edge against Teimour Radjabov for a long time in a Tarrasch French, but thanks to the latter's good defense the game never got out of control.
Here are the round 2 pairings:
The Vugar Gashimov Memorial starts tomorrow, and the pairings for the A-group look like this:
Play starts at 3 p.m. local time in Baku/Noon CET/6 a.m. ET, and on chess24 Peter Svidler will be giving live commentary.