Reports Apr 8, 2019 | 8:54 AMby Colin McGourty

Shamkir Chess 7: A Magnus masterpiece vs Giri

Magnus Carlsen is the sole leader of the 2019 Gashimov Memorial after scoring a brilliant win over Anish Giri in Round 7. In what seemed a quiet position the World Champion sacrificed a pawn for an attack that quickly became unstoppable, and although Giri avoided losing a miniature he was swept aside in the endgame before losing on time. The other four games were drawn with relatively little incident, meaning everything now rests on Karjakin-Carlsen in Monday’s penultimate round.

Magnus Carlsen is beginning to look like his favourite player - himself from 3-4 years ago! | photo: official website

You can replay all the games from the 2019 Gashimov Memorial in Shamkir using the selector below:

And here’s the day’s commentary, including the post-game interviews with the players. Evgeny Miroshnichenko has now arrived in Shamkir to commentate on the remaining rounds:

Carlsen 1-0 Giri: Game of the year?

It took 5 years before Magnus wiped out a negative classical score against Giri, but with wins in the last two editions of Shamkir Chess he now has a healthy 3:1 scoreline | photo: official website

Historically Anish Giri has been one of Magnus Carlsen’s toughest opponents, so it has to have been particularly sweet to win a game like this against the Dutch no. 1. In the opening nothing foretold the drama that was to follow. Magnus played the English Opening (1.c4) and both players agreed that Giri’s decision to exchange off knights on move 14 looked normal. 16.Qh5 was the first sign that White might have some real ambition for the game, and then after 16…c6 things suddenly exploded:

17.f4! came as an unpleasant surprise for Giri, whose 15…Bc5-d6 had been directed at a different move:

This move Bd6 in hindsight was counterproductive. I was preparing for d4, but then f4 came!

Things escalated very fast. Given what followed Giri felt he should have replied 17…f5, but he went for 17…exf4 and after 18.gxf4 he took a fateful decision:

He accepted the sacrifice of the e-pawn with 18…Qxe3+, noting, “I saw it’s probably not working, but I’m already desperate at this point”. The curiosity is that to the surprise of the players the computer claims 18…Kh7! is actually fine for Black, though Giri had dismissed it as “just strategically lost”.

Magnus played 19.Kh1, and one watching French Grandmaster saw similarities to Carlsen’s equally beautiful win over Richard Rapport from Wijk aan Zee this year.   

The difference in that game, however, was that Magnus confessed later to Jan Gustafsson that he actually blundered the e-pawn, creating an accidental brilliancy he couldn’t be satisfied with. This time it was very deliberate, and in fact 19…Rd8 was the losing move. It’s tough to believe, but the ugly 19…f6! would still give Black good chances of surviving the coming onslaught. Instead after 20.Rce1 Qc5 21.f5! in the game Giri could only hope for mercy from his opponent:

It’s too late for 21…f6, which would now run into the crushing 22.Bxf6! The game continued 21…Bf8 22.Be4 Rd5 (Giri was at least putting up a good fight!) 23.Rf3 b5 24.Rg1 Ra7 25.Bf6!

If Black did nothing White would just up the pressure on the g-file, so Giri responded 25…g6. At that moment it was already possible for Magnus to crash through with 26.Rxg6+!, but rather than risk missing something in the tactics he spent just 18 seconds on playing 26.Qh3, leaving Giri with 3 minutes to his own 28. Then after 26…Rd6 there was a last chance to win in a tactical maelstrom:

Magnus said afterwards he was trying to get 27.d4! to work - and it does! – but he commented, “I just couldn’t calculate it all the way”. It would have been easy to go astray. For instance, after 27.d4 Rxd4 28.fxg6 Rxe4:

As you can see, here only 29.Qxc8! is clearly winning, while the plausible taking on f7 with check might throw away the win.

In the game Magnus instead went for a line that swapped off queens, which Giri called “pretty prosaic” and Carlsen agreed was “extremely prosaic”: 27.Qh4 Rxf6 28.Qxf6 Be7 29.Qxc6 Qxc6 30.Bxc6 Kg7 31.fxg6 fxg6 32.d4:

White is a clear exchange up, has a passed pawn and a safer king, but if Giri had time to think he might have played a move like 32…Bf6! and at least posed some technical difficulties – though you would have to bet on Carlsen’s technique vs. the world here. Instead, with under a minute and no increment before move 40, Anish went for pseudo-active moves that just accelerated the end: 32…a4?! 33.d5! b4?! 34.Be8! (a move that had to be prepared with d5, so Black didn’t have Bb7) 34…Bg5 (there’s no choice, as 34…g5 runs into 35.Rf7+!) 35.h4 and it was game over, though Giri managed to make four more moves before his clock ran out:

Spanish Grandmaster Pepe Cuenca has analysed the game for us!

That win means that Magnus almost losing his no. 1 spot at the start of the year looks like a distant memory now, as on 2853.1 he’s 36.7 points ahead of 2nd place Fabiano Caruana.

In Shamkir Magnus is half a point clear of Karjakin and 1.5 points ahead of the rest of the field, so that two draws in the final rounds would mean only Karjakin could still stop him winning a 4th Shamkir title. Sergey still has the fate of the title in his own hands, however, since he has the white pieces in their Round 8 clash.

No-one distracts from the game of the day

The remaining games in Round 7 in Shamkir paled in comparison to that drama. Anand-Grischuk ended first, with Alexander’s novelty on move 15 of an Anti-Berlin (15…Nc5 instead of the 15…Nf6 played by Karjakin, Harikrishna and Giri) only leading to a forced draw.

Events on the board didn't spoil the good mood of either player | photo: official website

Navara-Karjakin was the most important game for the standings but, unfortunately for Sergey Karjakin, David Navara again managed to get in some opening preparation, with a pawn sac he described as “nothing special but it’s at least fairly new”. The game was full of little tactical tricks:

For instance here, it looks as though Black can win a piece, but 17…Qxb5 18.Qxb5 Rxb5 is met by 19.Bc6! Instead Karjakin went for 17…Nxe5 18.Bf4 Bf6 when the computer likes 19.Nd6! for White, happily giving up the b2-pawn. In the game after 19.Nc3 Bb7! the game soon fizzled out into a draw.

This looked on paper like Karjakin's best chance to fight for first place, but Navara's opening woes in the first few rounds seem to be a thing of the past | photo: official website

Radjabov-Topalov was a complex and at times spectacular Scotch Game, but there seems to be no stopping Teimour’s drawing streak in Shamkir, which now stretches to 24 games. He hasn’t won there in 39 games and almost 5 years since beating Carlsen back in 2014.

Radjabov looking anywhere but at Topalov's jacket | photo: official website

Mamedyarov-Ding Liren was the last to finish. Mamedyarov got Ding thinking on move 6 after employing an opening he’d previously used only in blitz games (over the board and online). 

Ding Liren is among the 6-player group on 50% with very slim chances of winning the event | photo: official website

The players disagreed about the assessment of the position, but eventually it seemed to have simplified to a unremarkable drawn ending… only for the position to flame into life once more. In the end it was study-like:

White would be losing if not for 37.g4! hxg3 38.h4! Kd5 39.Kf3 Kc6 40.Kxg3 a5 41.bxa5 b4 

Again White needs to hurry! 42.h5! gxh5 43.f5 and both players queened a pawn. Even at the end there are nuances:

Mamedyarov pointed out he loses if he exchanges queens on b5, while if he exchanges on c5 it’s just a draw. The game ended with a repetition. Mamedyarov noted afterwards that although he’s a professional it’s been tough to recover from the loss in the game he was winning against Anand in Round 3. He called that encounter, “one of the most interesting of my life”.

One bad tournament won't stop Mamedyarov being a big favourite among the local fans | photo: official website

Mamedyarov isn’t quite in last place, since that honour goes to Giri on -3, while on +3 Magnus Carlsen is close to tournament victory:

Monday’s penultimate round sees the big one, Karjakin-Carlsen. The World Champion knows that draws in his last two games will guarantee him at least a playoff for first place, so the onus will be firmly on Karjakin to play for a win (in the final round he has Black against Mamedyarov). Will he do so? Well, you wouldn’t expect him to burn any bridges if he doesn’t gain an edge in the opening, but he did show in the New York match that he is capable of piercing Carlsen’s defences. If Magnus wins, of course, he's won the tournament with a round to spare.

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

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