Magnus Carlsen smoothly outplayed Shakhriyar Mamedyarov in Round 2 of the 2015 Shamkir Chess tournament to join Vladimir Kramnik and Wesley So in the lead. All the other games were drawn, though none was entirely without interest. So survived his first encounter with Kramnik, Vishy Anand learned from Spassky’s mistakes to hold Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, while Anish Giri’s attempts to beat outsider Rauf Mamedov were blunder-strewn and ended in an amazing oversight by his opponent.
For once there’s no question which was the standout game of the day. Carlsen seems to have limited his traditional shaky start to a supertourament to the first half of his game against Anand in Round 1, while in Round 2 he exploited an opening mistake from Mamedyarov with ruthless efficiency.
IM David Martinez takes a look at the game, explaining the opening setup that the Azerbaijan no. 1 should perhaps have gone for:
1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. ♘f3 ♘f6 4. e3 g6 The Schlechter Variation, a combination of the Slav and the Grünfeld, has the dubious honour of being the opening I find dullest, surpassing even the Bogo-Indian. The extremely closed positions that usually arise lead to manoeuvring games where there's little contact and even less to watch. Despite all that, I have to say that as an option to play against a 2863 player it strikes me as more than acceptable.
5. ♘c3 ♗g7 6. ♗e2 O-O 7. O-O b6 8. a4 a5⁈ After thinking for 9 minutes Mamedyarov pushed this pawn two squares, which can be considered a normal move but nevertheless gives up the chance of employing the "Great Wall of China", which will perhaps be the Berlin Wall against d4 in future years. God help us. It starts with
8... a6 and involves the idea of meeting 9. a5 with 9... b5 and then e6... and then moving the knight to play f6 or f5... And even Carlsen would struggle to break through That's been employed successfully by Chinese players such as Li Chao, Ni Hua and Wang Hao, hence my "inspired" idea of calling it "The Great Wall of China"!
10... ♗b7 11. ♗a3 ♘c6 12. ♖c1 ♖c8 followed by Re8, e6 and Bf8. White can put his knight on e5, followed by f4, and claim a slight advantage, but the black position would still be difficult to break down.
14... ♗d5 In that case I think Carlsen would first have opted to exchange the blockader with 15. ♗c4 and then break open the black centre, either with f3 or even with g4. In any case, that would have made White's life a bit harder than it was in the game.
18. b4! Opening up the queenside is now decisive.
25... ♗a8 26. ♗c3 ♘d7 27. ♗xg7+ ♔xg7 28. ♘xd7 ♕xd7 29. ♕e5+ With Rc7 coming next. The ease with which Carlsen won this game while "doing nothing" is impressive. You only appreciate the difficulty of such a game when you realise that he defeated someone rated over 2750 in this manner... It's only easy for him!
After the game both players lambasted the move 10…Ne4? and thought White was both better and had a much easier position to play. More memorable press conference moments included a question on whether Carlsen is distracted by having a constant police guard in Azerbaijan – “I think you can get used to anything” – and then the big one: why does he no longer have a bottle of orange juice with him on the table:
It’s a simple matter. I’m not drinking orange juice anymore!
The earth shuddered on its axis
And now for the draws.
The first game to finish was Adams – Caruana, where Adams played the Anti-Berlin and perhaps made the understatement of the tournament so far:
The Berlin is a pretty solid opening anyway, so it’s not clear how to attack it.
He tried an idea he said he’d wanted to get at some point, but Caruana refuted it almost immediately with the “very effective” (Adams’ words) plan of 9…c5, 10…Nb8, 11…Nc6, 12…Nd4:
That elegant manoeuvre left Black on top, but it was the slightest of pulls and, when responding to a “What would Carlsen do?” question at the end, Fabiano said that even if the World Champion had played on the result would have been the same. Watch the full press conference below:
Wesley So said after his first game against Kramnik that he’d grown up studying the former World Champion’s games and feels they have a similar style. The queens only lasted 9 moves on the board, but the position that arose was still highly complex, with Magnus’ second Jon Ludvig Hammer commenting:
Kramnik said he’d had the position after 11.Bxe4 in his preparation, but had stopped there at a general assessment that it was “a little bit better for White”.
Although he felt So's 11...Bg7!? here was an inaccuracy and soon switched to “squeeze” mode, all of his wizardry came up against cool calculation from his opponent, who showed no fear. Kramnik commented on that:
The worst thing that can happen in chess is that you lose, which isn’t the end of the world. Why be afraid?
To a question on whether he was playing cautiously he first pointed out that he was ready to play a complicated middlegame and then quipped:
I’m not trying to play cautious chess, it’s just that my chess is boring and cautious – what can I do?
Wesley, who spent a long time analysing the game with his opponent both at the board and in the press conference, also rubbished the suggestion, pointing out that he’d been under heavy pressure and “somehow I managed to defend with exact play”.
The players went on to explain why they’re not representing their countries in the World Team Championship that starts tomorrow – So had agreed to play in Shamkir before it was known the US would play, while Kramnik felt his presence wasn’t critical to Russia’s chances of success and had wanted to play in Azerbaijan both because of Vugar Gashimov and what he’d heard of the tournament’s organisation.
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Vishy Anand took longer to draw, but made a dash for the press conference room before Kramnik and So could finish analysing. Their game was a potentially dramatic encounter that never quite caught fire.
First Vishy Anand sprung a surprise as early as move 7, with the near-novelty 7…Bf5:
You could get an idea of how common that idea was from our “Opening tree” tab on the live broadcast, which uses a database of games from relatively high-rated players. This is what it showed after 7.Bh4:
No Bf5 in sight. Maxime was also caught out:
I felt I was well-prepared, but then 7...Bf5 came on the board and suddenly I didn’t know anything.
In the play that followed, though, it was eventually Vishy who seemed to be running more risks. You could glimpse how his mind works from the fact he remembered a famous Karpov-Spassky encounter - Game 11 of their 1974 Candidates Semifinal:
1. d4 ♘f6 2. c4 e6 3. ♘f3 d5 4. ♘c3 ♗e7 5. ♗g5 h6 6. ♗h4 O-O 7. e3 b6 8. ♗e2 ♗b7 9. ♗xf6 ♗xf6 10. cxd5 exd5 11. O-O ♕d6 12. ♖c1 a6 13. a3 ♘d7 14. b4 b5 15. ♘e1 c6 16. ♘d3 ♘b6 17. a4 ♗d8 18. ♘c5 ♗c8 19. a5 ♗c7 20. g3 ♘c4 21. e4 ♗h3 22. ♖e1 dxe4 23. ♘3xe4 ♕g6 24. ♗h5 ♕h7 25. ♕f3 f5 26. ♘c3 g6 27. ♕xc6 gxh5 28. ♘d5 f4 29. ♖e7 ♕f5 30. ♖xc7 ♖ae8 31. ♕xh6 ♖f7 32. ♖xf7 ♔xf7 33. ♕xf4 ♖e2 34. ♕c7+ ♔f8 35. ♘f4
Anand pointed out that the e4-break in that game had left Black with a useless knight on c4, while Karpov’s knights went on the rampage. Vishy added the lesson:
At least I was aware of the problem, so I thought I wouldn’t allow it so smoothly.
When Maxime eventually did play 37.e4!?...
…it only led to the rapid liquidation of the whole queenside and a draw.
The final game to finish was a very strange affair. There was no doubt Anish Giri saw it as a must-win game to have White against the rank outsider, especially after his Round 1 disaster, but he went astray and was hit by 23…g5!
In the play that followed, though, the advantage swung from side to side. Giri was appalled with the game, and commented afterwards when Elimira Mirzoeva suggested he show the “critical moments”:
It’s a little painful for me to show critical moments because at all critical moments I made mistakes. At other critical moments I escaped. I hope it will be a good wake-up call for me, also literally, because I felt a bit sleepy throughout the game, but it’s no excuse for playing badly.
The theme of sleeplessness in Shamkir has been constant, and Mamedov admitted he’d been exhausted by the end of the game – so much so that he missed something astoundingly obvious in the final position:
The only thing I’m thinking just now is 56…Nxf4 - how could I have missed that move?
Of course Giri would still almost certainly have drawn, but he admitted it would have been no fun to play on without pawns.
Watch the entertaining press conference in full:
So a relatively quiet day leaves us with three leaders on 1.5/2, Kramnik, So and Carlsen, and three players tied in last place on 0.5/2, Giri, Mamedyarov and Adams.
In Round 3 all eyes will be on Caruana – Carlsen, which would be a huge game even without a bizarre subplot that Magnus pointed out when he lost to Arkadij Naiditsch in Baden-Baden:
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