Veselin Topalov is the sole leader of the Gashimov Memorial on the first rest day after he brought an end to the draw curse by scoring consecutive wins over Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and David Navara. He now has to look over his shoulder, though, since Magnus Carlsen is also off the mark. Both the World Champion’s choice of opening and the way he played the game to beat Radek Wojtaszek in Round 5 was a silent tribute to Vugar Gashimov.
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After 15 draws in the first three rounds the fourth day of action in Shamkir didn’t get off to the most auspicious of starts:
Magnus Carlsen quipped, “We’re both in the lead, what’s not to like?” while Teimour Radjabov explained he’d done better with the black pieces against the World Champion and, given the importance of rating points, couldn’t simply play for the crowd: “You’re entertaining the public and then you don’t get any invitations in the end!”
When discussion of the game was over the questions took their daily lurch into theatre of the absurd as Ljubomir Ljubojević, 35 years ago the world no. 3 behind Garry Kasparov and Anatoly Karpov, brought up the issue of muggings in big cities and whether the players had taken up martial arts to defend themselves. Hilarity ensued:
When it came to questions from journalists or others in the room Magnus was asked why he’d skipped the press conference the day before after his draw against Rauf Mamedov. He could have invented a diplomatic answer, but decided to take the bull by the horns:
Frankly speaking, I was a bit tired and disappointed after the game, and these press conferences have so far been really drawn-out affairs and any thought of whatever fine might be was more bearable than sitting through another after a difficult game. So that's my too honest answer!
Some have criticised Magnus’s intervention for “arrogance”, but the problem he was drawing attention to was a real one that almost everyone who’s watched the press conferences would agree with. As World Champion he could get away with raising it, as could local star Radjabov, who agreed and said that while it’s ok to “torture” the players after a short draw like the one they’d just played (the press conference was longer than the game) it would be better overall to streamline the experience.
Spoiler alert: that hasn’t happened yet! Later in the day Ljubo was asking not only about muggings but about whether the players like chess studies, while during Round 5 the topic of the day was whether the players would play a tournament where the prizes were paid in Bitcoins:
Radjabov showed expert knowledge, while Mamedyarov gave a quintessentially Azeri answer, "I'd prefer to play for oil!"
Meanwhile back in Round 4, the spectre of draws loomed large as Carlsen and Radjabov laughed during their press conference when they saw that Karjakin-Navara had already reached a drawn pawns and bishop ending. The first serious think took place on move 38, though David Navara revealed afterwards that he’d been in more danger than it seemed. It was only on the morning of the game that he’d spotted a dangerous try for White in a long theoretical line of the Caro-Kann. He was going to share the discovery with his second after the game, but didn’t need to, as it all appeared on the board!
That was when the day stopped looking drawish, though. Shakhriyar Mamedyarov was on top in an old line of the Open Ruy Lopez after he seemed to find the way to defuse Veselin Topalov’s ferocious attack:
25…Bxe6! 26.fxe6 Rxe6 left Black temporarily with 4 pawns for a piece, but it remained very complicated. 29…b4! was probably the path to victory for Black, but Shak had missed that after 30.Bd8 Qb5 31.Ng5 h6 32.Qf2...
...he had 32…R6e7!
In the game after 29…Re4 the balance almost imperceptibly swung in White’s favour, until the queens had come off and on only move 42 Mamedyarov felt compelled to resign, with his remaining two pawns for the piece doomed to drop off eventually. It was a shock for Shakhriyar, who joked the next day, “it’s not easy this situation – you win and you’re first, you lose and you’re last!”, though it was no more than Topalov deserved after having missed much clearer wins against Anish Giri and Ding Liren.
Speaking of those two… in by far the longest game of the day it seemed as though Ding Liren’s persistence would pay off but, as against Wojtaszek in Round 1, he missed a study-like win at the very end:
7-piece tablebases confirm that 64…a6 or 64…Ka3 are mate-in-28, while after 64…Kc5 65.Ke5 the white f-pawn was able to advance, supported by the king, and force a relatively simple draw. Another bitter miss for Ding Liren, though he hasn’t got too much to complain about at the moment – the last time he lost a classical game of chess was against Giri on August 9th last year during their 4-game match.
Wojtaszek-Mamedov also finished in a draw, though Rauf Mamedov was pressing with the black pieces for most of the game.
In a situation where he was desperate to end a run of four draws Magnus couldn’t have asked for a better opponent than Radek Wojtaszek. The Polish no. 1 has beaten the World Champion – in Tata Steel 2015, where he also beat Fabiano Caruana – but Magnus had won their four other previous games, with no draws. An interview after beating Wojtaszek in the Tromsø Olympiad suggested his approach:
The main point is that Wojtaszek has been the second of Anand many times. His main strength is in the openings and he plays better in complicated positions than more closed positions. So I thought let's play something more closed and less theoretical, and take it from there.
The opening in fact may have been something of a tribute to Vugar Gashimov (1986-2014), the brilliantly inventive Azerbaijan player who died tragically young and in whose honour the tournament is held. Carlsen’s choice of 1.e4 c5 2.Nc3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Qxd4 Nc6 was a line in which Vugar had played the most notable games (as you could see in the Database tab of our live broadcast - here sorted by average rating):
Here, though, Magnus played not the standard 5.Bb5, as Gashimov had always played, but the near novelty 5.Qd2!?, while after 5…Nf6 6.b3!? the position had never been seen before – yet more evidence that classical chess is still very far from being exhausted!
Wojtaszek had expected before the game that he would be surprised, but it didn’t help, and he was kicking himself afterwards for choosing a strange plan with 9…h5!? and 11…h4!?
He commented, “When I played this h5-h4 I saw that it will be a bad day”, and Magnus confessed, “Frankly speaking I relaxed, because I thought such a position should win itself”. There was soon a potentially dramatic move in the position:
This time it was Carlsen’s time to kick himself:
My intuition told me that 17.Nd5 was winning, but I couldn't calculate it till the end. I thought there was no need. I thought I could win prosaically, but of course that's a terrible attitude. I was aware of that.
In this case, though, the move he chose, 17.g4!, was also very strong – in the screenshot Sesse hasn’t analysed the other moves in any detail yet, and when it did the advantage was still around two pawns.
The next time Magnus played 20.g4?!, though, some self-criticism was warranted, since it allowed 20…Nd4!, and suddenly Wojtaszek was back in the game:
The knight move clears a path down the c-file, and now Black is threatening to take on b3 or c2 and win the knight on c3. White has to be careful, as Magnus was with 21.Re3, but he admitted to having missed 21…Kf8! in reply. Alas, Wojtaszek was also in time pressure and wasn’t able to maintain the same level of resistance. His 25…Re5? (25…Qc5! 26.Qg3 e5!) ran into 26.e5! and the game was essentially over even before he miscalculated with 27…Rh1?
After 28.Rxh1 Bxh1 29.Rh2! the bishop can't retreat due to a quick mate with Rh8+ and Qg5+, while the last tactical shot 29…Rxe5 also ran into 30.Rh8+ Ke7 31.Qa7+ and Wojtaszek cut short his suffering by resigning:
Elsewhere there were quiet draws in Mamedyarov-Giri and Mamedov-Karjakin, a draw but after serious pressure from Black in Ding Liren-Radjabov, and Veselin Topalov wove some more magic!
The scenario was very familiar, as he sacrificed a pawn against David Navara for compensation that looked unconvincing, with the Czech no. 1 seemingly in control. More or less imperceptibly, though, Navara went astray. He noted that in playing 27.a3 he’d missed 27…Rxd1+ and that 29.Nf1?! was a mistake, while a few moves later Black was taking over:
34…a5! broke up White’s overextended queenside, and although Navara was upset with how he played the remainder of the game it doesn’t seem as though he did much wrong. Veselin Topalov’s ability to find dynamic chances in seemingly quiet positions is reminding us of his heyday just over a decade ago, when he was the world no. 1 in the post-Kasparov era.
For now he’s leading Shamkir Chess going into the rest day:
Sergey Karjakin’s rest-day activities don’t seem too strenuous so far.
It’s possible that he’ll play football later with his Round 6 opponent, Magnus Carlsen, though Anish Giri isn’t planning on joining:
Karjakin-Carlsen will be a warm-up for Carlsen-Topalov in Round 7, which is currently looking as though it could decide the tournament. Follow all the Shamkir Chess action from 13:00 CEST on Wednesday!
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