Reports Apr 17, 2015 | 8:50 PMby Colin McGourty

Shamkir R1: So & Kramnik lead as Carlsen escapes

Wesley So crushed Anish Giri in the first round of Shamkir Chess 2015 to win his third game in a row since the forfeit loss in St. Louis. He was joined in the lead by Vladimir Kramnik, who kept his head in a time scramble against Michael Adams, but the big story of the day was Anand-Carlsen. The World Champion blundered a simple trap and needed all his tenacity to escape with half a point. Fabiano Caruana also suffered with Black, but was up to the task of defending a rook vs. rook and bishop ending.

Wesley So, remaining calm at the centre of the storm | photo: Shamkir Chess

This year’s Gashimov Memorial has already provided us with great entertainment. In the first round there were two wins, two thrilling draws and even the one uneventful draw was still mission accomplished for Azerbaijan’s Rauf Mamedov, who got off the mark with a comfortable 3.Bb5 Sicilian draw against French no. 1 Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, rated 111 points above him.

At least for one round Rauf Mamedov is ahead of Anish Giri and Michael Adams | photo: Shamkir Chess

Winning the tournament would surely be mission impossible for Mamedov, but an English IM felt another film franchise might be an option:

Carlsen: “I got away with one today”

Carlsen and Anand meet yet again | photo: Shamkir Chess

That was the first game to finish, but the first real action was sensational. Magnus Carlsen continued his policy from the most recent World Championship match of playing fast against Vishy Anand, and seemed to have it all worked out with the new move 14…Bg6 in the Marshall Attack. Then, all of sudden, computers screamed out that he’d blundered with 19…Qd7?

Not for the first time, they were right, and on this occasion Vishy didn’t overlook the trick. Instead, after 11 minutes’ thought, he whipped out 20.Nd5!, with the pretty point that 20…Bxe1?? 21.Nf6+! gxf6 22.Qxf6 will be mate on g7 or h8.

Carlsen remarked on Twitter afterwards:

Perhaps we can offer some assistance, since we just added 900 new puzzles to our Tactics Trainer, with more to follow soon 

Fortunately, perhaps, there was 20…f6, which limited the damage to a healthy extra pawn. The position soon became the purest of technical endgames, which is not really the battleground on which you want to take on Magnus Carlsen. After the game Magnus identified 26.Ne3 as an inaccuracy:

It’s not pleasant to get such a bad position, and if he’d played 26.Nb4 the game would have had a different result.

Things didn't go badly in the game, with Vishy appearing to do everything right and be on course for exacting revenge for his past endgame suffering against Magnus. He couldn't see a way to break through, though, and in his frustration he attempted to calculate a long forced sequence. 47.Kf5? let his opponent off the hook:

47…Bxf3?? runs into 48.Kg6!, but Magnus wasn’t about to fall for a cheap trick for a second time in the same game. Instead he found the best move 47…Rc6!, which is the point where Anand later admitted, "I think I’ve messed it up". 48.Ke5 Bxf3 49.Nf5 followed and Carlsen again came up with the goods, playing 49…g5! The advantage had gone, and it was perhaps good that Anand could almost immediately force the draw rather than letting his opponent emphasise the lost advantage - World Championship match style - by playing on.

You can watch the post-game press conference below:

Caruana: "My mind just completely blanked"

Mamedyarov came close to repeating his win with the white pieces over Caruana in the first edition of the tournament | photo: Shamkir Chess

World no. 2 Fabiano Caruana, meanwhile, had almost as painful a first day. In complete contrast to Carlsen he didn’t seem at all in control in the opening. After Shakhriyar Mamedyarov played 5.Bf4 in the Grünfeld he sank into a 20-minute think, before finally playing 5…c5. Is it really possible to play a new move on move 5 of an opening that Peter Svidler needed 12 hours to explain? Well, not exactly – Mamedyarov’s move had been seen well over a thousand times… 

Caruana explained:

It’s a huge line and I’ve spent a lot of time looking at it, but I just couldn’t remember anything. Maybe it’s a symptom of my long break from playing chess. My mind just completely blanked in the opening and I couldn’t remember a single move, which is pretty terrible.

Queens were exchanged, but Caruana admitted he’d underestimated White’s play and the “strong move” 14.Rd2:

The root cause of Caruana’s distress was that he couldn’t take the c5-pawn with 14…Rxc5 due to 15.Nb3! He was left in a miserable position with no counterplay until he took a bold decision on move 30:

30…Bxb5! He explained his reasoning:

It was a difficult moment. I had very little time and I thought I might just slowly lose without any chances… I’m taking a lot of pawns and White is a little bit uncoordinated.

He picked up two pawns for the piece and could have held comfortably if not for a moment of time-trouble panic:

39…Rf4! was the drawing move he wanted to play, but down to 30 seconds he instead saw ghosts, and after 39…Rxg4?! 40.Rxf3 Rh4?! 41.Rf2 he commented:

Here I realised I was very close to just losing. At least there was no clear way to draw so I was just kicking myself.

He held his nerve, though, and eventually a rook vs. rook + bishop ending:

You can watch the full press conference below:

The theme of time was very much an issue in Kramnik – Adams as well, and it needs to be pointed out that the Shamkir tournament is unusual in having no increment until move 61. That makes time trouble a real threat to the players, though it's also great fun for us fans! 

Adams: "He still played quite a decent game and I didn't"

Vladimir Kramnik chose the Catalan and followed his play in a draw against Vishy Anand in the 2014 Candidates Tournament up until Michael Adams deviated with 13…Qc6. That got Kramnik thinking, but not a lot, since he later noted he'd “looked at it a bit, also at home”. After 20.Kf2 he felt the drawish appearance of the position was deceptive:

Kramnik identified 20…a5 here as a “tempting” mistake, and eventually in the play that followed he was able to round up the a-pawn and leave only his passed c-pawn on the board. 

Kramnik is halfway towards putting his no. 1 seeding - and two Whites in the first two games - to good use! | photo: Shamkir Chess

It's well-known that Kramnik’s passed pawns always queen, and though the rest of the game was a blur the outcome was never in doubt:

38.d4! with the idea 38…exd4 39.Ke2! and the king supports the pawn, was a nice logical end to the encounter, although Adams actually lost on time.

Afterwards Kramnik talked about his difficulties sleeping and acclimatising after a long trip to Shamkir. When Adams was asked if similar issues had hindered him he refused to use it as an excuse:

We came on the same flight, so I guess we have the same kind of schedule. He still played quite a decent game and I didn’t – that was the difference.

What perhaps does make it harder for Adams is that he was confirmed as a participant much later than the other players after the late withdrawal of Teimour Radjabov, so he’ll have had less time to hone any opening weapons.

Watch the players in the press conference:

Wesley So: "I learned a lot from my losses"

The two youngest players in the tournament may go on to battle each other for decades to come | photo: Shamkir Chess

If anyone might be expected to suffer from jet lag and general exhaustion it’s Wesley So, but ever since the forfeit in St. Louis gave him an impromptu rest day he’s been on fire, winning his next three games. In the post-game press conference he still felt the forfeit had been harsh, although he prefaced his remarks with, “I have nothing against the chief arbiter Tony Rich or the St. Louis Chess Club”. But he confirmed the events had added to his motivation:

I’ve just got to play my game. There were a lot of criticisms regarding that incident and my poor performance in the US Championships, so this is the best way for me to show that I fight every game and I just give my best. There are some people who don’t want to see you succeed.

His Round 1 game against Anish Giri was truly bizarre. 

On move 6 Wesley thought for nearly 29 minutes before playing a novelty, 6.Kf1, which immediately paid off. 6…Nc5?! 7.Nf3 already had Giri despairing of his position:

He later commented:

I spent too much time. I was considering resigning, but then I saw 7…Ne6 and the game went on.

Giri explained it was only his opponent’s uncastled king that made the black position playable, but things soon began to fall apart, with Wesley smoothly ratchetting up the pressure. It’s not often you see a top chess player, and Giri started the day as world no. 7, in such a dire position:

Now that’s what you call a pin  The remaining moves were desperation and parried with minimal effort. It was sweet revenge for So, whose chances of winning Tata Steel Chess earlier this year were derailed by a single loss to Giri. He commented:

Anish beat me a lot in the past and they were hard losses. I learned a lot from my losses.

Motivational scribbles may be a bad idea, but Wesley So is doing something very right! 

You can watch the full press conference below:

Giri, meanwhile, at least didn't lose his sense of humour, resorting to a pun:

In Round 2 Wesley faces another tough test, since he has the black pieces against co-leader Vladimir Kramnik. In Tata Steel earlier this year Magnus Carlsen gave his view on So:

I think he’s a good player. I think he’s not one of the very best yet and he still needs to get more experience, but you can get far even at this level with a very good tactical eye and excellent preparation. That’s what he’s showing. He’s doing well. I think also the field suits him. I don’t know if he would be quite as comfortable playing more of the old guys like Vishy and Kramnik and so on. But by all means his result here speaks for itself.

The moment to test himself against the “old guys” has arrived!

As if we needed to add any more fuel to the fire, Evgeny Surov conducted a Russian interview with Kramnik today and asked about the forfeit incident. Although Kramnik called it "sad and ridiculous" and said he wouldn’t have been distracted or contacted the arbiter himself, he did side with the arbiter in enforcing the forfeit if warnings had been given. Of course Kramnik knows a thing or two about forfeits himself, since he was on the wrong side of the most famous one in recent chess history - during the 2006 World Championship match against Veselin Topalov.

With no B Group this year the players have the impressive stage all to themselves | photo: Shamkir Chess 

There’s no shortage of other action to look forward to, including Magnus Carlsen playing Mamedyarov, who he beat 2:0 in Shamkir last year. Don’t miss the show, live here on chess24 from 12:00 CEST each day.

You can also watch on our free mobile apps:


See also:

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