Interviews May 3, 2015 | 11:21 AMby Colin McGourty

Mamedov: “The loss to Carlsen did me good”

Rauf Mamedov was by far the lowest-rated player in the recent Shamkir Chess tournament and did in fact finish last, but his seven draws and two losses were anything but a bad result in his first supertournament. In an interview after the event he talks about what it was like to face the giants of the game and how losing to Carlsen on his birthday was a useful wake-up call for the Nakhchivan Open.

Only a last-round blunder against World Champion Magnus Carlsen prevented Rauf Mamedov finishing above some top grandmasters in Shamkir | photo: official website

After his baptism of fire in Shamkir, Rauf Mamedov won his first game in the Nakhchivan Open yesterday in some style, with 41.Bf8+! crushing any illusions Black may have had of escaping:


After 41...Rxf8 42.Rh1+ mate was unavoidable. 

His Turkish opponent, FM Koksal Ege, was rated only 2381, but beating “weaker” opponents isn’t always easy. Just ask fellow Nakhchivan players Rustam Kasimdzhanov (a draw vs. a 2394 player), Etienne Bacrot (a draw vs. a 2394), Tiviakov (a draw vs. a 2379), Adhiban (a draw vs. a 2372), Khalifman (a draw vs. a 2361) or Gupta (a draw vs. a 2339), or what about Maxime Vachier-Lagrave’s spectacular loss to 2410 rated FM Nicola Altini in the Italian League this weekend.

Rauf Mamedov before his first ever supertournament game - against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave | photo: official website

In an interview with T. Tushiev for Echo.az Mamedov talked in detail about his experience in Shamkir, agreeing with Mamedyarov that what sets the best players apart is how good they are as psychologists. The interview begins with Rauf assessing his tournament:


Of course it’s very tough to play your first supertournament, but if it wasn’t for the blunder in the final round game against Magnus Carlsen I think my performance could be assessed as normal. As it is, I really don’t know - probably it was also normal, but it could, of course, have been better.

It seemed to me you performed very decently and with the exception of one game you didn’t have any really bad positions.

Yes. The only game in which I was really beaten rather than losing myself was against Wesley So. At the start the American was playing very well and, you might say, he bulldozed me. But overall, all the games were very interesting.

Wesley So's fine win over Mamedov was his third win in four games and took him into the sole lead - we analysed it in depth here | photo: official website

Of course it was hard for me to pose opening problems for my opponents, since they have a wide opening repertoire, although you might say that in the game against Anish Giri I let a certain edge slip. It seems to me that before time trouble I might have set him bigger problems and I don’t know if he’d have found a way out.

The most memorable games were against Fabiano Caruana and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, when I had to find only moves.

After the tournament my coach Alexander Khalifman and I discussed it and we came to the conclusion that during the tournament I made only a few bad mistakes.

I can recall the critical mistake in the game against Carlsen, various stages of the game against Giri and the start of the game against Shakhriyar, but the game against Caruana really did end up being spectacular and interesting. I recommend chess fans take a look at it.


Mamedov unleashes the spectacular 23.e6!

You didn’t feel nervous at the start of the tournament?

I did, especially given the fact that the lowest rated (apart from me) participant in the tournament was almost 100 points above me. But honestly, during the tournament I already began to get used to it and I felt normal.

When they asked Fabiano Caruana at the press conference why he hadn’t gone for some offbeat system in the game against me he responded, “Rauf is a good chess player, after all, and not one it makes sense to play dubious openings against”.

Caruana found Mamedov a worthy opponent! | photo: official website

So it seems to me they didn’t consider me “cannon fodder” (smiles). For example, I basically played a normal game against the World Champion Magnus Carlsen.

It was clear the Norwegian was simplifying the position and I think if I’d “lived to see” move 40 the game would have ended in a draw. If instead of 34...Qe5 I’d played 34...Re5 then it wouldn’t have been so difficult to make a draw.


34...Qe5?? ran into 35.Qf7!, with Mamedov resigning on the spot

Were you nervous playing a classical game against the World Champion for the first time?

By that point I’d already got used to it and realised that I can compete with them, even with the World Champion. Of course beating them is tough, but it’s possible not to succumb to then. I think, above all, they’re psychologists. As Shakhriyar accurately said, Carlsen is also a World Champion in psychology. He plays in a way where it seems as if it’s already a draw, but in actual fact he continues to pose certain problems.

Not a particular fun birthday press conference for Mamedov | photo: official website

Incidentally, in the game against Vladimir Kramnik it seemed as though you had an edge at some point?

Yes, there was such a moment, but Kramnik is a great master. The position was more or less dull and a draw in that game was, of course, appropriate.

In the Russian Team Championship Kramnik faced the same "harmless" setup against his Berlin Defence he'd encountered against Mamedov... and lost to Shirov! Then he once again bounced back the next day by beating Svidler | photo: Russian Chess Federation 

Frankly I was a little surprised by Vishy Anand, because playing with Black against me he simplified the position. After that I thought that Vishy would try to seize the initiative, but it seems he decided that a draw in that game was a normal result. 


Here after Mamedov's 26.Qg5 the players repeated the position with Nf6-d5-f6 and Qg5-g3-g5

If he’d beaten me he could almost have matched Magnus in terms of points. However, it probably wasn’t worth taking a risk in that game, since his position might just have got worse.

We can say it was natural that Magnus Carlsen took first place in Shamkir, but was it a surprise to you that Vishy Anand took second place?

For me it was no surprise, because out of all the players in the Gashimov Memorial Anand was the strongest in terms of lifetime achievement during his chess career. Vishy is a great champion who’s claimed the chess crown five times. Of course Magnus is now the leader of world chess, but in terms of overall results he hasn’t yet overhauled Vishy.

It seemed Mamedov feared the worst against Anand! | photo: official website

And what do you think about the poor result of Vladimir Kramnik?

It seems to me that his head dropped after the loss to Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, which was the reason for his following defeats to Caruana and Carlsen, although those are the kind of chess players it’s not an embarrassment to lose to.

Nevertheless, I also think Kramnik is a great chess player, since after three losses in a row he managed to pull himself together and beat the strong Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. Three defeats in a row could break anyone, but not Kramnik.

It’s known that in Shamkir you were helped by the Azerbaijan team captain Alexander Khalifman. Previously you mainly worked with him in team events. How did your cooperation go during a supertournament?

I think Khalifman and I chose a normal strategy for the tournament. If not for the two defeats… Although I consider the loss to Wesley So as him actually beating me, while against Carlsen I’d say he didn’t outplay me but I lost the game. Regarding Alexander Khalifman, I think we’re very lucky that he’s the Azerbaijan team’s main coach. He takes his job very seriously.

For example, while the games were underway in Shamkir Khalifman didn’t sit in the playing hall but prepared in the hotel room for the following round. In my view that indicates professionalism.

What conclusions did you draw for yourself based on the Gashimov Memorial?

Probably the main conclusion is that such “simple” chess players as myself, Eltaj Safarli, Gadir Guseinov and Vasif Durarbayli can compete as equals with them if we can climb - the ratings we have now don’t reflect what we’re capable of. We can play better.

Vugar Gashimov's father, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Rauf Mamedov at the closing ceremony | photo: official website

You’ve had a packed schedule in the first half of 2015. You’re playing almost without a break and this weekend you’re playing in the Nakhchivan Open. Do you have energy left for that tournament?

I think the last-round loss in Shamkir Chess to Magnus Carlsen did me good. It was really bitter and painful for me – moreover, it happened on my birthday – but on the other hand, if I hadn’t lost that game I would have been a little too relaxed in the Nakhchivan Open, I think.

When you draw with Black in a game against Magnus Carlsen you could suffer from a certain complacency, but now, after such a defeat, I want to play more calmly and carefully in Nakhchivan and achieve a good result. The Nakhchivan Open is a very strong tournament where I haven’t yet managed to finish in the top three. Eltaj and Gadir have won prizes, but I haven’t yet.

This year the line-up is good, with the majority of our national team players, but also players such as Etienne Bacrot, Rustam Kasimdzhanov and Hou Yifan. So there’s going to be very serious competition.


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