Shakhriyar Mamedyarov will go into 2018 with a new lifetime best official rating of 2804 after starring as the Kings beat the Princes in the classical section of the Nutcracker Battle of the Generations. The world no. 3 scored three wins and was close to four, but the Kings were prevented from sealing the match by Sergei Rublevsky losing to Andrey Esipenko, Grigoriy Oparin and Vladislav Artemiev. Eight rounds of rapid chess will now decide the match.
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Shakhriyar Mamedyarov has looked out of place so far - a chess destroyer at the top of his game rather than a veteran ready to give the youngsters a subtle lesson or two in positional chess. We already saw how he beat Grigoriy Oparin in Round 1 of the Nutcracker tournament in Moscow, and he continued in the same vein.
15-year-old Andrey Esipenko showed the fearlessness of youth when he sacrificed a pawn to try and attack Mamedyarov, but he was swiftly punished until it was just a question of how the Azeri no. 1 would conduct the execution:
32…Bxg3+! shattered the white king’s protection, with Shak saying afterwards he’d seen the final sequence in full before his previous move. There followed: 33.Qxg3 Qg1+ 34.Kh3 Rd3 35.Bf3 Rxf3 36.Qxf3 g4+ 37.Qxg4 Qh1+ 38.Kg3 Rg1+ White resigns
Peter Svidler played a Banter Blitz session on the day of Mamedyarov’s next win, and commented:
I have seen Shak’s game today and actually Shak has been on fire in that tournament. All three of his games are tours de force. Today’s game was kind of strange because his opponent did something extremely weird in the opening, getting a very poor position by move 10, and then fought bravely for a while but never really completely recovered, but the previous couple of games were straight openings, so to speak, where he would just overpower his opponents, seemingly through sheer will, more than anything else.
The opening weirdness from Daniil Yuffa culminated in playing 8…Bf5?! to defend his e4-knight:
After 9.g4 Yuffa was committed to sacrificing material: 9…Nxf2 10.gxf5 Nxh1 11.Bxh1. The white king was left exposed in the centre of the board, but Black had just given up his active pieces and once again it would be Shak who did the attacking!
25…Kg7? was the fatal mistake, with 26.fxg6! fxg6 first ensuring the coming blow couldn’t be parried simply by recapturing with the pawn:
27.Rxg6+! Kxg6 28.Ne5+ White resigns
In the final game Mamedyarov won a pawn against Vladislav Artemiev, but it wasn’t quite enough to win the game. The unbeaten performance by 19-year-old Artemiev saw him remain tantalisingly close to 2700 - he’ll start the New Year at 2697 – while Mamedyarov goes into the Tata Steel Masters in January as the clear world no. 3:
His thoughts, however, will be on the Candidates Tournament to follow.
The Kings won on all but one of the days of classical chess, with the most convincing performance coming in Round 2, when the undefeated Boris Gelfand and Alexei Shirov scored their only wins. In a tricky Sicilian position Oparin’s decision to go on the attack with 23…a4?! backfired, with Shirov's knight leaving a trail of destruction despite getting pushed back to the seemingly unpromising a1-square!
The only “veteran” to lose a game was Sergei Rublevsky, but as he lost three and had also been losing the first game to Daniil Yuffa he single-handedly evened out the match. The most intriguing contest was perhaps against Esipenko, who fearlessly went for a razor-sharp Caro-Kann:
It tells you something about how tricky the position is that the computer claims 43.Bc1 (44.Ba3, 45.Bd6) now is winning, while 43.Qb5+!? Rc6 44.Bc1 was nowhere near as good. The youngster handled the complications better and eventually managed to swap off queens into an ending that he won in style:
62…Rxd2! ended the game. Rublevsky’s woes were compounded when he lost on time in the final round of classical chess.
Going into the rapid chess the Kings have a 2-point lead, which since the classical chess counted as double is actually a 4-point lead. With 32 games of 15+10 rapid chess to follow, though, it’s all to play for!
The rapid section takes place on Saturday and Christmas Eve. Follow all the action here on chess24 from 13:00 CET each day!
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