Reports Mar 31, 2019 | 9:31 PMby Colin McGourty

Shamkir Chess 1: Anand lets Navara escape

Vishy Anand missed a beautiful cheapo that allowed David Navara to escape alive from a game where he looked doomed both on the board and on the clock. All five games of the first round of the 2019 Gashimov Memorial in Shamkir were eventually drawn, though not without a fight. World Champion Magnus Carlsen was in serious danger against Teimour Radjabov, while both players spent time living dangerously in Giri-Topalov. Karjakin-Ding Liren was sharp but brief, while only Grischuk-Mamedyarov was instantly forgettable.

David Navara pulled off a great escape against Vishy Anand | photo: official website

It’s just over five years since the immensely talented and much-loved Azerbaijan Grandmaster Vugar Gashimov passed away, and this is already the 6th tournament held in his honour. 

The round began with a minute's silence for Vugar | photo: official website

The first five editions in Shamkir, Azerbaijan have been won by Magnus Carlsen (2014, 2015 and 2018) and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (2016 and 2017), with the World Champion winning every time he’s played. They were both in action as Round 1 was contested on Sunday, and you can replay all the games using the selector below:

Giri doesn't look overly impressed with the theoretical battle | photo: official website

Two of the games were over almost before you could blink, with the spectacular start of Karjakin-Ding Liren becoming less exciting when you realised it was heavy theory for both players. Ding Liren chose the same Giuoco Piano line which he’d played against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in the game where the Frenchman ended his 100-game unbeaten streak. He then picked the 10…Nh7 that he’d chosen to beat Jorden van Foreest in Wijk aan Zee earlier this year. Once again it was Ding who managed to pull the first surprise, with the novelty 16…Re8 instead of 16…Bxf3 against Jorden:

It wasn’t a complete surprise, though, with Sergey commenting, “I didn’t make a big preparation” for the move. The small preparation proved enough, and after 17.Qd2 Bxf3 18.Bxf3 gxh4 19.Bf4 Qf6 20.Bxh5 Ding Liren needed to find a single precise move:

20…Qg7!, preventing Bg4 from White, was the move, but perhaps “find” is inappropriate, since the world no. 3 barely paused for a moment during the game. It ended in a repetition with 21.Bh6 Qf6 22.Bf4 Qg7 23.Bh6 and so on.

Karjakin was looking Karpovian in Shamkir on Monday | photo: official website

Ding Liren said afterwards that he’s skipping the FIDE Grand Prix series this year since he wants to focus on playing as a Grand Chess Tour regular for the first time (it must help that he’s favourite to qualify for the 2020 Candidates Tournament by rating). Karjakin admitted playing both would be tough, but commented:

When you’re concentrating on chess and you don’t have time for anything else for some players it can be good – and I hope for me it will be good!

Alexander Grischuk was immediately in thug-life mode | photo: official website 

If that game didn’t get the pulses racing Grischuk-Mamedyarov was positively comatose. On move 17 of a 5.Re1 Berlin, in a position where all 20 games in our database had been draw, Grischuk made a new move that was if anything more drawish than usual. It was Game 12 of the Carlsen-Karjakin match in New York all over again, minus the excitement of the situation, and ended in a quick repetition on move 37.

The good thing about the game was that we got to hear a typically entertaining summary from the plain-speaking Grischuk, though not everyone approved:

It should be noted Alexander is probably not entirely serious when it comes to relaxing at chess tournaments (just think of his time-trouble agonising over decisions), though anyone who watched his broadcasts during the Carlsen-Caruana match will know he has a few distractions at home!

Magnus Carlsen took on local hero Teimour Radjabov in the first round | photo: official website 

The remaining games were all tense battles, with Magnus Carlsen living dangerously when he played 15…d5!? against Teimour Radjabov:

Teimour felt his opponent was “overpushing”, with Magnus agreeing, “clearly d5 was just too ambitious”. He made a rare admission to having “completely misjudged” the ensuing position, with Black left with surprisingly weak hanging pawns in the middle of the board after 16.Nxf6! Qxf6.

The game was highly double-edged and could also have swung in Black’s favour, but Radjabov found what he called the “very strong” 24.Bb3!

Taking on d3 is inadvisable, with Black left with crippled pawns and a weak d-file after, for instance, 25.Rad1 Bc4 26.Bxc4 dxc4 27.Qg4, while after 24…Qd7 25.Qg3! in the game Magnus decided the time had come for drastic actions with 25…d4!?

Perhaps this was the moment when Radjabov’s chances slipped away, since he went for mass exchanges with 26.Nxe5!?, and at remarkable speed the game fizzled out into a draw. Instead 26.Bc4! poses serious problems for Black, with 26…e4!? still likely to lead to lively piece play rather than total liquidation.

Magnus had time for some autographs | photo: official website 

Afterwards a relieved Magnus was as sharp as usual in the press conference. To the question of whether he was disappointed to have been given five Blacks in the tournament and only four games with White:

It’s a bit of a weird question to answer after the first round, because after the first round everyone has four Whites and four Blacks!

Should we change the tournament format so that everyone has the same number of games with each colour pieces?

I don’t think we should make the game more even than it already is!

He even came up with a good quip when asked about marriage…

Although that game only threatened to explode, Anand-Navara had decisive result written all over it almost from the start. Czech no. 1 David Navara has himself admitted he doesn’t have the comprehensive opening repertoire of the very best players, and he regretted his choice of the Sicilian Dragon immediately when Vishy went for 7.f3. That’s been employed by Anand’s compatriot Karthikeyan Murali, including against Hikaru Nakamura in Gibraltar earlier this year, but David was surprised and fell into a 25-minute think.

Topalov observes Navara-Anand | photo: official website 

By around move 15 it was already looking grim for Black, with Vishy admitting he felt he would just comfortably reel in the full point. That impression was boosted by terrible time trouble for Navara, who noted he was no longer used to the time control without increment (until move 61) that’s used in Shamkir. He got down to under a minute for 8 moves, then 12 seconds for 5 moves, when it was becoming a physical struggle simply to make the moves in time.

It was a highly tactical position, though, and tricky for both players. A foreshadowing of the drama to follow came when Vishy played 33.Ra4?

33…Rb1+! 34.Nxb1 Qxa4 gave Black hope again, though by the time Navara made the time control, with 1 second to spare, the computer evaluation suggested his position was hopeless again:

The more you look at the position, though, the trickier it gets for White. If Vishy was going to escape all the potential checks he would have to walk, as he noted, a “tightrope”. Instead, though, he stumbled immediately (or at least after 10 minutes of calming down and refocusing), with 35.Qe7?

The 5-time World Champion had fallen for the same trick again – this time with 41…Rd1+!!

The only move not to lose a piece is 42.Nxd1, but then after 42…Qd4+ Black has what GM Jonathan Tisdall called “a neat Christmas tree perpetual”. Black simply gives check from a1 or g1, depending which way the king runs, then returns to d4. Vishy conceded the draw immediately and soldiered through the post-game press conference.

David Navara had every reason to smile | photo: official website 

That wasn’t quite the end of the day’s action!

For most of the Anti-Berlin game the question was whether Anish Giri could turn a large spatial advantage against Veselin Topalov into a win, but he confessed to losing the plot when he tried simply to reach the time control before taking more decisions. A 40th move pawn trade was dangerous, since he noted, “the h-file is huge for him, and I was lucky to hold”. Just how close it came was illustrated by the move 45…g3:

White’s only move not to lose was 46.Nxf6!, and after 46…Qh2+ 47.Kf1 Qh1+ 48.Qg1 Qh4 49.Qd4 the players took a draw by repetition.

Anish Giri and Veselin Topalov were in good spirits after the game | photo: official website 

So in the end no-one has raced out of the blocks, but Carlsen-Anand is already a classic encounter in Round 2. There was no English commentary on Day 1 in Shamkir, with regular Shamkir commentator Ljubomir Ljubojević reported to have had trouble with his passport in Turkey on the way to the event, but Arkadij Naiditsch is expected to be commentating in English on Monday.

Tune in to all the action from 13:00 CET live here on chess24!

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