On Sunday Fabiano Caruana rebuffed Shakhriyar Mamedyarov’s attack the way others swat flies to join Boris Gelfand in the lead after four rounds of the Baku FIDE Grand Prix. All the other games were drawn, although it was far from the quiet round commentator Emil Sutovsky had predicted going into the rest day, with Rustam Kasimdzhanov and Hikaru Nakamura in particular missing huge chances against Peter Svidler and Alexander Grischuk. In this report we look at how all the players are faring after the first part of the tournament.
One of the big changes (see the rest here) in the 2014/5 FIDE Grand Prix series is that all of a player’s three results count for the final standings. That’s a welcome relief for anyone trying to make sense of the series, but also means there’s no margin of error for players hoping to play a World Championship match. Only the top two finishers qualify from the Grand Prix series for the 2016 Candidates Tournament, so a single bad tournament is likely to eliminate a player from the running.
It was important, therefore, to get off to a good start in Baku, but as we can see from the standings not everyone managed!
Let’s take the players in turn:
Who else! Fabiano continues to play at his new level (GCMG – God Calls Me God, as Peter Svidler quipped during the Sinquefield Cup) and has now moved to within 14 points of the previously untouchable Magnus Carlsen. He could have been still closer, since he had winning positions against both Boris Gelfand and Hikaru Nakamura, but he did enough to move into the lead on 3/4 by beating Shakhriyar Mamedyarov.
Spanish IM David Martinez takes a look at a highly-entertaining game (pro tip: if you ever face Fabiano Caruana at the board, don’t try to outcalculate him!):
1. d4 Caruana is usually an e4-player, but he's shown on many occasions that he varies his first move depending on his opponent. A fine example is in his games against Mamedyarov. This is the third time they've met in 2014 when Caruana has started with 1. d4, and now the third consecutive win!
A tendency to adapt his style to exploit his opponent's exploit weak points is one of the characteristics of the Italian-American star, setting him apart from many of his great contemporaries and predecessors. For instance, Carlsen almost always dries out games to reach his kind of position (in 2014 he's experimented with more complex positions, though without great success). Kasparov would again and again look for dynamic play, and while you couldn't say the same for Kramnik his openings weren't usually too hard to predict, even if his style has become more universal in recent years. A precursor of Caruana's style could be Paco Vallejo or, given the extreme variation in his openings, Vassily Ivanchuk.
10. ♘e5 ♘fd7 11. ♘d3 ♗g6 12. h4 ♖g8 13. hxg5 hxg5 14. ♗d2 dxc4 15. ♕xc4 ♕a6 16. ♘c1 ♕xc4 17. ♗xc4 ♘b6 18. ♗e2 ♘8d7 19. e4 ♗e7 20. ♘b3 f5 21. f3 a5 22. a4 e5 23. exf5 ♗f7 24. ♗d1 ♘c4 25. ♘e4 g4 26. ♗c3 gxf3 27. gxf3 O-O-O 28. ♔f2 exd4 29. ♘xd4 ♘c5 30. ♗e2 ♘xe4+ 31. fxe4 ♘d2 32. ♗xd2 ♖xd4 33. ♔e3 ♗c5 34. ♗c3 ♖g3+ 35. ♔f2 ♖xc3 36. bxc3 ♖xe4+ 37. ♔e1 ♗c4 38. ♖h2 ♖e5 39. f6 ♗xe2 40. ♖xe2 ♖f5 41. ♖e8+ ♔c7 42. ♖a8 ♗f2+ 43. ♔e2 ♗h4 44. f7 ♖xf7 45. ♖xa5 ♖f2+ 46. ♔e3 ♖c2 47. ♖a3 ♗e7 48. ♖b3 ♖a2 49. ♖e5 ♗d6 50. ♖f5 ♔b8 51. ♖f7 ♗c7 52. ♖b4 ♖h2 53. ♔d3 ♖g2 54. ♖e4 ♖g3+ 55. ♔c2 ♗a5 56. ♖ee7 1-0 Caruana,F (2783) -Mamedyarov,S (2760), Shamkir 2014.
11... ♗xf3 12. gxf3 b6 (12... ♘bd7 , looking to play e5, makes little sense as White will switch plans: 13. ♕a4 e5 14. ♗d2 and castling long.) 13. cxb6 axb6 14. e4 , with h4 to follow. The black weaknesses on the kingside will soon become very obvious.
12. ♕c2 ♘bd7 13. b4 ♗e7 14. ♗b2 Both sides have completed the development of their pieces, though without deciding where to castle. White's position is more comfortable since he can choose between various breaks, either on the queenside with b5, in the centre with e4 or, less likely, on the kingside. Black, meanwhile, doesn't have such clear options. The possible b6 may, in the long run, favour White, allowing him to preserve the space advantage the c5-pawn gives him. A central break is unappealing since that's what the b2-bishop is waiting for. Mamedyarov instead chooses to open the kingside but, as we'll see, his pieces aren't really ready and in only a few moves it backfires on him.
14... ♗g6 was more solid and better.
17. ♘e2! This knight is heading to f4 to defuse the potential black attack. Mamedyarov is unwilling to resign himself to that and instead decides to sacrifice the exchange in order to maintain the initiative.
17... ♖dg8 18. ♘f4 ♖xf4 19. exf4 ♗xf3 20. gxf3 ♕xf4 Black has won a pawn for the exchange, but the compensation isn't enough since his minor pieces lack good squares. The ideal situation would be for one of them, and especially a knight, to make it to f4, but Caruana has the possible approach routes well-covered.
There's no doubting Black has some pressure, but it's not worth a whole rook. Once again the bishop is keeping a close eye on any potential knight jumps and it seems as though the activity has come to an end. But no - Mamedyarov keeps on sacrificing!
This was a game that was almost won in the opening by Caruana, who no doubt had some help from perhaps the world's best chess coach, Vladimir Chuchelov. His pupil isn't only well-prepared in theoretical lines but also, game after game, shows a great comprehension of the ensuing positions, allowing him to generate winning chances with apparent ease.
Could Caruana even topple Carlsen before the event is over?
If anyone can interfere with Caruana’s destiny to play a World Championship match it currently looks like being an Israeli grandmaster more than twice his age. Gelfand played that role in the last Grand Prix held in Paris in 2013, and has started in formidable form in Baku. His preparation brought him a win on a silver platter against Andreikin and posed Caruana huge problems, while his determination and dynamic play pushed Grischuk into a loss on time and had Dominguez on the ropes in Round 4.
It's asking a lot to maintain this level, but on the other hand Gelfand has already navigated games against the top two seeds.
For a player of his talent and ambition, Hikaru Nakamura must be disappointed not to have mounted a serious World Championship challenge in his career so far. Although Baku has been a bumpy ride for him – he survived a worse position against Svidler, a lost one against Caruana and missed big winning chances against Grischuk…
...smoothly outplaying Andreikin means Nakamura is still perfectly poised to challenge in the current Grand Prix.
For three rounds Svidler looked in fine form in Baku – two effortless draws with Black against Nakamura and Radjabov and, on the surface at least, an equally effortless win with the white pieces against Mamedyarov. That picture was slightly spoiled by a strange debacle in Round 4 – when Peter suddenly found himself a pawn down for no noticeable compensation against Rustam Kasimdzhanov.
Opposite-coloured bishops and time trouble saved the day, and Svidler was back in top form in the entertaining press conference that followed.
The Russian Champion is highly-motivated to play in a third Candidates Tournament in a row, so it would be wrong to rule him out of the running in the Grand Prix series.
It’s 12 games, 12 draws for this trio. At least for the first two the picture could have looked a little different – Kasimdzhanov was losing to Dominguez and beating Svidler, while Tomashevsky survived a 100-move ending against Dominguez – but it’s likely all three are happy with a solid start.
Although no longer working full time for a chess website seems to agree with Rustam – beating Naiditsch, Ivanchuk and Kramnik in consecutive rounds at the Olympiad wasn’t too shabby – he still hasn’t had that much experience of strong closed tournaments of late. The same, though extended to his whole career, applies to Tomashevsky, while Radjabov is perhaps still in recovery mode following his disastrous London 2013 Candidates Tournament – having Caruana-coach Vladimir Chuchelov on his team now should do no harm.
His start in Baku has been similar. In the first round he imploded in time trouble against Caruana, in Round 2 he had a miraculous escape against Grischuk, but by Round 3 he’d returned to 50% by outplaying Dominguez. After a quiet draw in Round 4, Karjakin can look to press on in the remainder of the tournament. His desire to play a World Championship match was very clear when Carlsen’s hesitation meant the real prospect that Karjakin could replace the Norwegian in Sochi next month. That wasn’t to be, but Karjakin will do everything he can to gain a match in the new cycle.
It would be a brave man who bet on second seed Alexander Grischuk to win even one of his three Grand Prix tournaments given the time control – with an increment only added after move 60. When you survey the damage so far you see the time trouble addict failed to score an open goal against Karjakin in Round 2 and lost on time to Gelfand in Round 3. It could have been worse, as Grischuk’s opening against Nakamura didn’t go entirely according to plan!
I played the worst possible line against the King's Indian because my friend recommended it to me... He said 15.Rc1 was a very strong novelty but a few moves later I thought for almost an hour and couldn't find any way to play. Black just slowly starts to mate me.
Grischuk's position, and particularly the bishop on h2, became almost comically bad:
This is perhaps the most ugly position in my whole chess career... it's actually worse than it looks!
The extravagant time usage meant Grischuk took (just) over a minute for only two of his last 12 moves before the time control, though as it turned out Nakamura was unable to find a win.
Grischuk once described former World Blitz Champion
Dominguez as the fastest player he’d ever seen making moves at the board. In
Baku, however, Dominguez has also suffered on the clock. He missed a clear win
and took a draw in a promising position against Kasimdzhanov due to time
pressure, missed wins playing on increment in a 100-move ending against
Tomashevsky and then crumbled when short of time against Karjakin. At least he
went into the rest day on a positive note, as he managed to hold a difficult
position against Gelfand.
As we pointed out after he stumbled into a known losing line
against Gelfand in Round 1, Andreikin hadn’t played any classical chess in 2014
apart from the Candidates Tournament. He went down in similarly abject fashion
in Round 2 against Nakamura, but since then he’s been on top in his two draws
with Mamedyarov and Radjabov. Perhaps the Candidates Tournament is in fact a
good omen – there he started with two losses in the first four rounds, but then
finished with two wins and no losses in the remaining nine!
Apart from the non-game against Radjabov in Round 1 local hero Mamedyarov has been worse in every game, and can’t complain about his haul of two losses and a draw. He might also look to the Candidates Tournament, where he started with two losses in three rounds but then scored 3 wins, 6 draws and 1 loss to finish in a very respectable fourth place.
On the other hand, a different omen is this year’s Gashimov Memorial in Shamkir, where he started badly but continued to sink, finishing with 5 losses, 4 draws and 1 win to end a full two points adrift of the field. In the live commentary Emil Sutovsky noted that playing at home is definitely not an advantage for Mamedyarov, who’s been known to enjoy the hospitality of friends and well-wishers a little too much.
In any case, we can be sure there’s a lot more fighting chess to come, with the action starting again at 15:00 local time (11:00 London, 12:00 Paris, 06:00 New York) on Tuesday 7th October. You can replay all the games so far, and watch the action live with computer analysis and video commentary here on chess24.
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