By Thursday all but three of the world’s Top 10 will be in action in Shamkir or St. Louis, but there’s plenty going on before then. 12-year-old Praggnanandhaa is still GM norm hunting, but 13-year-old Nodirbek Abdusattorov, the world’s youngest grandmaster, beat Arkadij Naiditsch in the Sharjah Masters, while 17-year-old Parham Maghsoodloo leads on 5/5. Valentina Gunina took the sole lead in the European Women’s Championship, Nigel Short is suffering in the Thailand Open and Stockfish completed a 59-41 crushing of Houdini.
Caruana, Nakamura and So play in the US Championship that starts on Wednesday in St. Louis, while Carlsen, Mamedyarov, Karjakin and Giri are all playing in Shamkir in the Gashimov Memorial that begins on Thursday. We’ll have plenty of coverage of those two events, but let’s take this chance to have a look at some of the other action taking place in the chess world just now:
China’s Wei Yi, the world’s top junior, had featured at the top of the starting list for the Sharjah Masters, but on the eve of the event his name suddenly disappeared. The disappointment was short-lived, though, since there was plenty more young talent on show.
13-year-old Nodirbek Abdusattorov from Uzbekistan is a player we’ve been following since he was a GM-beating 9-year-old. He’s currently the world’s youngest grandmaster, having achieved that title at the age of 13 years, 1 month and 11 days, a record only beaten by Sergey Karjakin. In Sharjah he enhanced his reputation still further by smoothly outplaying 2701-rated Arkadij Naiditsch for his first 2700 scalp, with the last moments captured on video:
The winner is interviewed in this recap video:
Nodirbek won three more of his first five games, but is on 4/5 after an over-optimistic piece sacrifice backfired when he played Black against Eltaj Safarli. The early leaders on 5/5 were India’s Sethuraman and 17-year-old Parham Maghsoodloo from Iran. The kid is improving fast and managed to beat two 2700-players in consecutive rounds. First Russia’s 20-year-old hope Vladislav Artemiev was swept aside:
42.Bxf5! gxf5 43.Rxg7! Rxg7 44.d5! and White never looked back. Then Parham withstood the attack of Wang Hao and then went on to grind out a win with Black against the top seed.
It’s notable that of the six 2700-players in the tournament only one, Pavel Eljanov, is yet to taste defeat, with 2nd seed Yuriy Kryvoruchko suffering one of the most painful losses imaginable with the white pieces against Adhiban:
Another curiosity of the tournament was the final position of Sindarov-Jones:
It’s White to move and there’s no way to avoid losing the knight, when Gawain Jones would get to demonstrate he knows how to deliver mate with two bishops. Alas for the Englishman, though, this was move 122, and the last capture happened on move 72… so Javokhir Sindarov, another 13-year-old prodigy from Uzbekistan, was able to claim a draw by the 50-move rule!
Replay all the games from the Sharjah Masters:
The 11-round European Individual Women’s Championship is taking place in the Slovakian town of Vysoké Tatry, at the foot of the High Tatras mountain chain that spans the Polish border. After 7 rounds there was a sole leader, two-time European Champion Valentina Gunina.
The Russian grandmaster began in her typical style by creating fire on board against Italian IM Elena Sedina:
Here after 22…Qxc6! Black is on top, with Gunina’s king in real danger in the centre of the board. Elena lost her way in the complications, though, and picked 22…Qxf2+? 23.Kxf2 Nxb1 24.Nxd8, when she either lost on time or resigned. White emerges an exchange up in the ending.
From that moment onwards Valentina didn’t go wrong and took the sole lead by beating Mariya Muzychuk in a nice ending in Round 7.
We should probably have started with this, since the 18th Bangkok Chess Club Open is almost universally acknowledged (ok, at least by our very own GM Jan Gustafsson) as the tournament of the year. Jan himself got off to a shaky start, as his first round opponent, 1984-rated Thuong Cong Duong from Vietnam, could reasonably have brought up the fact that “a pawn is a pawn”. Understandably he was keen on scoring an incredible GM scalp, but ambition led to his downfall when he played 50.c6??
50...Rb2+! meant all was well in paradise for Jan. White resigned, since the only move 51.Ka4 runs into the 51…b5+! fork. It was more or less smooth sailing from there on for our man, who joined Argentina’s Diego Flores and Leandro Krysa in the early lead on 4/4.
Things haven’t gone quite so smoothly for 2nd seed and defending champion Nigel Short. First there was this combination against 2179-rated Japanese player Kenji Hiebert:
36…Rxf2+?! 37.Kxf2 Qg2+ led to a brilliant win after 38.Ke1? Qxg3+ 39.Kd1 h2 40.Rd8+ Kh7 and White resigned with the new queen about to appear on h1 too hot to handle. It turns out, though, that after 38.Ke3!, or even 37.Ke3! a move earlier, the white king escapes and it’s Black who has to give up material to avoid getting mated. 36...Bh5+! was in fact the only non-losing move in the diagram position, which to be fair to Nigel is far from trivial, since after 37.g4 you can now play the rook sac 37...Rxf2+ or 37...Qg2, but 37...Bxg4+ again loses to 38.Ke3.
After that scare it seemed Nigel was back in form in Round 3 against Tuvshintugs Batchimeg, but just when it was time to put the finishing touches to a crushing attack the English former World Championship challenger went astray, and ended up in a weird ending temporarily a rook down. He held a draw relatively comfortably, but it wasn’t his finest hour.
That was all just the prelude to Round 4, though, when Nigel seemed to have done the hard work of taking the world’s no. 1 U12 player, Gukesh from India, into an ending where only Black could win. Then disaster struck:
Watching fans were wondering whether Short's opponent had spotted Nigel forgot to press the clock, and how he reacted. We eventually found out:
The massages and zen(wich) have so far all been for nothing:
Talking of prodigious Indians, Praggnanandhaa, the world’s youngest ever international master, is once again hunting one of the two remaining grandmaster norms he needs to gain that title. His quest has taken him to the Greek island of Crete, where the 12-year-old is playing in the 4th Heraklion Fischer Memorial GM norm tournament. After starting with 4 wins and 3 draws for 5.5/7 he needs to score 1.5/2 in the final two games to achieve a norm.
Replay all the games so far:
Finally, let’s end with the computers. Late last year was a tough time for Stockfish – despite not losing a game some overly solid play saw it fail to make the final of the 10th Season of the TCEC event. Then there was its schooling at the hands of AlphaZero…
Season 11, though, couldn’t have gone much better. It finished 6.5 points clear of Houdini and 9.5 of Komodo in the Premier League to qualify for the 100-game Superfinal, and then that final was an absolute massacre. The new version of Stockfish had decided the match with 15 games to spare and eventually scored 20 wins to its opponent’s 2 for a 59:41 victory.
Perhaps Stockfish’s first win, in Game 5, featured the move of the event (as pointed out by Paco Vallejo):
What human would dare to play, or even consider, 21.Kf1!!, walking straight into the path of the f8-rook just when Black is threatening to open the file? It is true that when the shock wears off you can justify the move logically – for instance, White wants to play b4 now, but that runs into 21…Nxb4 22.Qxb4 Nd3+, forking the queen and king. So the king needs to move, and it turns out f1 is the best square to avoid any forks from Black. Still, what a move!
That’s all for this quick round-up but, as mentioned, stay tuned for an explosion of top level chess action from Wednesday onwards!