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Reports May 1, 2017 | 10:08 AMby Colin McGourty

Shamkir 9: Shak triumphs, Kramnik snatches 2nd

Shakhriyar Mamedyarov retained his Gashimov Memorial title after an anticlimactic final round in Shamkir. His game against Veselin Topalov raced to a draw, meaning only Wesley So could force a playoff if he beat Harikrishna with the black pieces. Soon, however, there was nothing Wesley could hope for but a draw, which he safely achieved. The day was saved, however, by Vladimir Kramnik, who emerged victorious from a complicated 6-hour battle with Pavel Eljanov. That second win in a row for Big Vlad took him up to second place on the tiebreak of most wins.

Shakhriyar Mamedyarov wins Shamkir Chess for a 2nd year in a row, with Vladimir Kramnik making a late dash to take 2nd place | photo: official website

You can replay all the games from the 2017 Gashimov Memorial using the selector below:

Mamedyarov does it again

Shakhriyar Mamedyarov has now won his home supertournament for a second year in a row, with his +2 score built on wins with the black pieces over Wesley So, Pavel Eljanov and Vladimir Kramnik:

After he survived any danger in the final round…

…with a draw against Veselin Topalov, he talked to Eteri Kublashvili for the Russian Chess Federation website:

Shakhriyar, congratulations on your win! What was your mood going into the deciding final round after your frustrating loss to Radoslaw Wojtaszek?

It was probably the first time in the whole tournament that I’d prepared so long. Veselin always takes risks, so I looked at a lot of openings in his style: the Benoni, different King’s Indian setups. I expected that he might sacrifice material and play for a win, so I prepared very carefully, but I had nothing against a draw and wanted to play solid chess, as happened today. We were playing for two results.

It seems both players realised it wasn't going to be a thriller... | photo: official website

Yesterday’s game really was frustrating. It was a blow for me, since I’d been playing fine with Black for the whole tournament, and then I suddenly went and lost so badly! It was terrible.  

You said that your second failed to look at something properly, but you didn’t name him...

No, I’m not going to name him, because it seems to me he’s perfectly well aware of his mistake. But it’s not Rauf Mamedov.

Rauf Mamedov's reputation is intact... | photo: official website

Before the game I like to repeat variations; before the eighth round I did everything as I usually do, but it turned out the variation had a hole in it.

At the press conference you said that you were most pleased with your game against Vladimir Kramnik. Why?

It’s very pleasant to play accurately and well in time trouble, as I did in the game against Kramnik before the 40th and 60th moves. It seems to me that in both cases I played great and I liked my play. That’s why I think that game was my best here.

Apart from that I think that in all my won games – against So and Eljanov – at some point I played great. Of course at times I played very riskily and stood worse.

Here you won against the number one and two seeds. What’s your general score like against Kramnik and So?

It was very tough for me to play against Kramnik from the very start of my chess career. I lost a lot of games to him, including a very important game with Black in the Candidates Tournament, where at some point I was absolutely winning but ultimately lost. But after that our score somehow changed. Out of the last four games I’ve won three. To be honest, Kramnik is one of my favourite chess players - he plays very beautifully and strongly. I’m very glad that at times I manage to play well against him.

Against So, meanwhile, all our games had been drawn. This is the first time I’ve beaten him. By the way, this year ended up like last year, when I beat the top two seeds – Giri and Caruana, and thanks to that won the tournament. (...)

You’re now going to play in Sochi at the Russian Team Championship, then you’ll travel to Moscow for the FIDE Grand Prix. Is that not too many tournaments in a row?

An awful lot! But I really want to play for a strong team at the European Club Cup – that’s very important for me. And I was invited by Siberia, where I’ll play alongside Kramnik. We’re travelling straight there from here and I hope I’ll be able to help the team win both the Russian Championship and the European Club Cup.

Although of course, sometimes when you play well in the first tournament you start to think, why should I play somewhere else? But I don’t have such thoughts – I’ll be happy to play everywhere!

Then a break?

Twenty days of rest before the Grand Chess Tour in Paris.

It’s reported you got engaged. Congratulations!

Yes, thank you.

When are you going to get married?

We have no precise plans for now, but I hope it’ll be soon.

For the remaining players fortunes were mixed. Veselin Topalov was happy with his +1 (“my result is better than my play”), and in fact was so happy he may have forgotten, at least briefly, his feud with Kramnik!

An unexpected social gathering after the tournament was over... | photo: Russian Chess Federation

Karjakin wrote of his 50%:

Mickey Adams and Radek Wojtaszek also finished on 50% after losing and winning one game, with Radek able to claim the scalp of the tournament winner, while Mickey beat World Championship Challenger Karjakin. Wojtaszek wrote on Facebook:

I finished the strongest tournament in which I’ve ever played (average rating: 2765) with 4.5/9, sharing 5-7th place. I had better and worse moments, but I think I can be relatively satisfied with my result. The icing on the cake was beating the tournament winner, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov – one of the best games that I’ve played in my career so far.

Wojtaszek was the only player to beat the champion | photo: official website

Teimour Radjabov had the least memorable event, losing in the first round largely due to mishandling his clock against Pavel Eljanov, then drawing his remaining eight games. The time control was a big factor in the tournament, with Wesley So noting afterwards that it was the first time in two years he’d played without a 30-second increment per move from the start. That led to a blunder in the first game against Mamedyarov that would have been all but unthinkable with more time on the clock.

The unbeaten streak ended in Round 1, but Wesley didn't lose his composure | photo: official website

Wesley noted losing to the eventual winner obviously had a huge impact on the tournament, but after that stumble it was normal service restored:


Wesley was playing near flawless chess when he beat Kramnik and Karjakin and was a little unlucky not to get more against Eljanov and, particularly, Radjabov. He felt that failure to convert an extra pawn in the penultimate round was the real moment at which his hopes of winning the tournament were all but gone. It was a tough call to win with Black in the final round against Harikrishna, and he admitted to missing 17.c6!, after which only White had any winning chances:


Wesley commented that, “Even though it’s no big success it’s a learning experience”, while Harikrishna took to Twitter:

While talking about the time control Wesley noted that Harikrishna would have been very unlikely to lose the tournament’s most memorable game to Kramnik with increments, while Pavel Eljanov might be the tournament leader. That brings us to…

Eljanov 0-1 Kramnik: Comeback complete

Vladimir Kramnik and Pavel Eljanov were the most decisive players in Shamkir, with five decisive games for Kramnik and six for Eljanov. 

The two most combative players in Shamkir met in the final round | photo: official website

Pavel started like a juggernaut, winning his first two games and achieving a winning position against Mamedyarov in the third. That was the moment it all went wrong, though, with Eljanov from that point on spoiling good positions one after another and going on to lose four games with three draws. He reflected:

Eljanov was on the verge of leading 3/3 after beating Mamedyarov in Round 3, but it wasn't to be... | photo: official website

Vladimir Kramnik, meanwhile, showed his intentions when he played the longest two games of the first two rounds and despite being frustrated he kept up that approach - 83 moves, 73, 35, 42 (won), 65 (lost), 69 (lost), 48, 41 (won), 63 (won) - drawing only one of his last six games. His win over Harikrishna was far from any ideal of perfect chess, but involved a magnificent rook sacrifice that was followed up by quiet moves. In case you missed it:

It then seemed Shamkir was going to be a failure for Kramnik when he lost to So and Mamedyarov in consecutive rounds, but he stormed back at the close with wins over Adams and, finally, over Eljanov with the black pieces. Once again Pavel missed his chance:


43.a6! is strong, although there would have been a long way to go. Instead after 43.Ne5?! Kramnik seized his chance to transform the game by pushing his own passed pawn: 43…c4! 44.Qd4 c3! 45.a6 c2! and when Pavel eliminated that pawn with 46.Rc1 Rh1 47.Rxc2 the black queen and rook were suddenly tormenting the white king. In the final position after 63…Nd5 the knight has joined the party:


After e.g. 64.Qc4 Rxb3+! 65.Qxb3 Qa1+ 66.Qa2 Qc3+ the rook on a5 – and the game – would be lost. A bitter end for Eljanov, but a wonderful display of fighting spirit from Kramnik, who moved back up to world no. 3, just behind Wesley So. As mentioned in the interview above, he now plays in the Russian Team Championship in Sochi alongside Mamedyarov.

Mamedyarov is now 2:2 in Shamkir wins with Magnus Carlsen | photo: official website

So that’s all for Shamkir Chess 2017. The good news is that it’s set to be back for a 5th edition in 2018. Azerbaijan Chess Federation Vice President Mahir Mamedov commented:

It’s very hard to raise the category of the tournament, but for the anniversary we’ll have to strive to get the participation of World Champion Magnus Carlsen. I hope that he’ll find a “window” in his busy schedule. After four editions the score is 2:2 – Magnus Carlsen won the first two tournaments, while Shakhriyar Mamedyarov won the third and fourth. Overall, this tournament was full of fighting spirit, which pleased me. I really hope that the next tournament will be just as vivid. 

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