Reports Apr 27, 2018 | 7:39 PMby Colin McGourty

Shamkir Chess 8: Carlsen beats Giri to close on title

Magnus Carlsen beat Anish Giri in the penultimate round of the 2018 edition of the Gashimov Memorial and now needs only to draw with White against Ding Liren in the final round to win a 3rd title. The Chinese no. 1 benefitted from a late blunder by Rauf Mamedov, while Veselin Topalov’s hopes were ended by a defeat to Radek Wojtaszek. The violence continued as Shakhriyar Mamedyarov condemned David Navara to a 4th consecutive loss, while only Radjabov-Karjakin was nothing to write home about.

Vugar Gashimov's father gets Giri-Carlsen underway | photo: official website

A quiet tournament suddenly exploded into life in Round 8 of Shamkir Chess:

You can watch the day’s action, including some “memorable” press conferences, below:

Carlsen moves ahead of Giri

For years Giri had a plus score against Carlsen, but now he has all the bragging rights again | photo: official website 

It’s taken 7 years and 20 classical games, but Magnus Carlsen now has a plus score against his Twitter arch-rival Anish Giri. The Dutch no. 1 considers opening preparation his super power against the World Champion, but on this occasion it let him down. Carlsen had beaten Topalov on the white side of a c4 e5 English the day before, and now switched colours. Things were relatively normal until 8…a5, an old move that had last been seen in a top level game in Nepomniachtchi 1-0 Aronian from the 2017 Geneva Grand Prix, a tournament in which Anish played. Things began to get weird from that point onwards, as the players continued to follow the game for the next seven moves despite Giri spending an hour on his clock (Magnus limited himself to one serious think on move 12). Anish was aware of the game, but summed up:

I don’t remember what I planned to do - I don’t think I planned to follow this game. Unprepared it’s not a good idea to enter this line!

Giri for once found himself out-prepared by the World Champion | photo: official website

Magnus agreed:

Practically speaking most people would take Black in such positions, I’m sure.

This is the position after 15…e4:


Here Nepomniachtchi played 16.Rb1, but Giri remembered enough of the game to know that it was unlikely to be plain sailing there – some crazy positions occurred before Nepo went on to win. For instance:


Giri instead went for a novelty, 16.Kh1, which seems to be perfectly playable. In fact after 16…Qd7 the computers suggest a slight edge for White if he finds 17.g4!?, but instead Giri played 17.Rb1 and soon ended up with a position that looked scary but which Magnus perhaps correctly assessed as, “more ugly than bad”. What followed was extremely murky, though Giri did well not to let his position fall apart and even admitted to becoming optimistic that he could do more than just tread water and hope to survive. 36.d5!? was one move he suggested after the game (and it gets the computer stamp of approval), but he couldn’t calculate it all in time trouble. The irony, though, was that when he finally did have time after the time control he spent 29 minutes on a move that lost more or less on the spot, 41.Rh3?


Magnus didn’t take too long to execute the winning 41…Qd5+! 42.Kg1 Qe4 32.Qb4 Rf6 and Giri resigned. The position was very difficult in any case, though – you can see that 41.Rh3 was partly a defensive move, since Anish had realised that his first intention 41.Rd3 fails to 41…Qd5+ 42.Kg1:


42…Rf1+! 43.Kxf1 Qh1+ 44.Ke2 Qxh2+, winning the queen.

For more details of that mind-boggling game check out Niclas Huschenbeth’s video analysis:

The win for Carlsen took him to a +1 score against Giri, with just a couple of top players remaining who he doesn’t have an edge against:

In general he’s having a decent year as he prepares for a World Championship match!

The press conference got edgy when Ljubomir Ljubojević tried to get Magnus to respond to a question of the day about fake news:

I will repeat my answer from before: it’s very difficult after the games to take on the issues of the world, and I’m sure that people, chess fans and others, maybe some are interested in hearing our opinions on these things, but I do not think this is the right setting to get the most coherent answers.

It's Ljubo's world - we just live in it | photo: official website

Ljubo shrugged that off and pressed on, though it has to be admitted the press conference at least produced some interesting quotes. Back on topic, Magnus commented on how he’s now winning games again:

I wouldn’t say that my level of play has necessarily changed. I think it’s been pretty mediocre throughout, but at least now I’m getting some more chances. That’s the way it sometimes goes. People get more tired and make more mistakes, but for me I can only focus on myself.

Giri’s answer on fake news saw him saying that he didn’t feel there was anyone out there bullying him, except… “The most mean person in my case is Magnus to me, but I'm handling that!"

A question on whether AlphaZero was changing people’s attitude to chess saw Carlsen respond that it would change nothing:

I think for a long time now the casual chess fan has the opinion that we suck at chess from looking at Stockfish and other engines.


An unstoppable force meets an unmovable object?

If Ding Liren had drawn his game against Rauf Mamedov he would have gone into the final round clash with Magnus Carlsen knowing he needed to win with the black pieces to force a rapid playoff. In a sense, nothing changed after he won the game - he still has to win, but now there’s no chance of a playoff. If Carlsen draws or wins he’ll take the title, while if Ding Liren wins he’ll claim his first Shamkir Chess trophy.

Unbeaten in 68 games and up to world no. 5 - Ding Liren is on quite a run! | photo: official website

Ding deserved his luck, since he was pushing for the whole game against Mamedov, but he got the win thanks to a horrible blunder just when the position was looking very drawish. Rauf said afterwards he has a tradition of losing on the 27th April, the day after his birthday, and as you can see from the notation in our broadcast, his losing move was the one he took the least time over in the whole game – a single second of madness:


37…Kf6 should draw, but 37…Kh6?? was losing material to 38.Kg3! After 38…Rfxf2 39.Rh8+ Kg5 40.h4+ Kf6 41.Rf8+ the rook on f2 is lost. In the game after 38…Rf6 39.h4 g5 40.Rh8+ Kg6 41.Rg8+ Kf5 42.Rxg5+ Mamedov resigned:

This time he’d lose a rook to 42…Ke6 43.Re5+ Kd6 44.Ra6+.

Elsewhere the only dull game was Radjabov ½-½ Karjakin, where perhaps only the statistics are fun. Both players have drawn all eight games so far in Shamkir, Sergey Karjakin noted he drew all 10 games in the first ever Shamkir Chess, while Teimour Rajdabov is approaching an unenviable record of not having won a game in the last three Gashimov Memorials he’s played.

A quiet tournament after his Berlin heroics for Sergey Karjakin | photo: official website

There was also a curious pattern in another game, as for the second year in a row Radek Wojtaszek won in the penultimate round to balance out an earlier loss. In 2017 he beat Mamedyarov with the white pieces, while this year he ended any hopes of winning the tournament for Veselin Topalov. Wojtaszek said he “was afraid to play another Sicilian” (his one loss was to Magnus in that opening) and switched to the Ruy Lopez, which worked out to perfection. 

Radek Wojtaszek was invited late but again hasn't looked out of place in this company | photo: official website

Veselin was unfamiliar with the latest theory and Black already had an overwhelming position by the time he got to play 23…e4!


Black soon invaded the white position, and it was remarkably similar to the easy win Ding Liren had scored against Navara the day before. After dominating the start of the tournament, Veselin is back to 50%, where he has five more players for company.

Topalov's enterprising play deserves more reward, but perhaps the veteran ran out of steam a little after his first tournament in so long | photo: official website

That leaves Mamedyarov-Navara, which was another game that indicated tiredness is beginning to take its toll on the players. Shakhriyar said he wanted to play “a nice, interesting game”, and he got his wish. He was able to use a Candidates novelty in a razor-sharp line of the Grünfeld where White launches his h-pawn down the board. 

David Navara was still his usual self in the post-game press conference, but it's been a rough few days for the Czech no. 1 | photo: official website

Shak couldn’t remember the details, though, and in better form Navara might have had good chances of seizing the initiative. Instead he ended up in a tricky ending where he committed a clear blunder with 23…Be7?


24.Rxh7! simply picked up a pawn, since 24…Kxh7 runs into the 25.Ng5+! fork. After 24…Rb8?! Mamedyarov could more or less have won on the spot with 25.Nd5!, but after 25.Rc7!? he still got the job done in the end, with some help from his opponent. David Navara has now lost four games in a row, and is perhaps happy that he can’t lose more than five. In the last round he has White against Radjabov.

The standings therefore look as follows before the final round, which starts one hour earlier than usual:  


The only game that matters for the title is Carlsen-Ding Liren, since as you can see no-one else can catch them. It’s very simple – unless Ding Liren wins with the black pieces Magnus will be the champion for a 3rd time. The money must be on a comfortable and relatively quick draw, though Ding Liren is up to world no. 5 and on quite a run himself!

Tune in to all the Shamkir Chess last round action from 12:00 CEST on Saturday!

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