Reports Apr 9, 2019 | 9:31 AMby Colin McGourty

Shamkir Chess 8: Magnus wins 4th Shamkir title

Magnus Carlsen has won the 2019 Gashimov Memorial in Shamkir with a round to spare after winning a flawless game with Black against Sergey Karjakin in Round 8. “It’s been a great ride”, said the World Champion, after a second game in a row played in what he called an “interesting dynamic attacking style”. That meant that although Alexander Grischuk and Ding Liren beat David Navara and Veselin Topalov respectively to join Sergey in 2nd place they can no longer challenge for the top prize.

Everything's looking up for Magnus Carlsen | photo: official website

Replay all the games from the 2019 Gashimov Memorial using the selector below:

And here’s the day’s live commentary from Evgeny Miroshnichenko:

Karjakin 0-1 Carlsen: Winning in style

Karjakin has beaten Carlsen on the biggest possible stage, but this wasn't going to be his day | photo: official website

Magnus Carlsen’s record in Shamkir Chess is now played four, won four, and this year’s victory couldn’t have been more impressive. The win against Anish Giri in Round 7 looked hard to top, but Magnus noted, “I was a little bit upset that I didn’t manage to finish it off in the right way”. He was referring to his going for an ending just when he could have crashed through tactically, but in Round 8 he showed absolutely no mercy to his opponent.

Once again Magnus stuck to his World Championship preparation, meeting 1.e4 with the Sveshnikov Sicilian that had led to the best games of the match against Fabiano Caruana:

The opening had already given him a win in Shamkir, when he played 8…Nb8 against David Navara, entering the battleground in which Games 8 and 10 in London had been fought. In that case what was building up to be a tense battle was interrupted by Navara blundering on move 18. Karjakin’s team no doubt had deep preparation in store, but Magnus decided to vary with 8…Ne7. Magnus commented:

Last time against Navara I played Nb8, but I decided to switch it up here. I think [Sergey] was a bit surprised by my choice, since I hadn’t gone for this particular line since the 12th game of the match with Caruana.

That wasn’t entirely true, since Magnus also played 8…Ne7 in the 2nd tiebreak game in London, then against Jorden van Foreest in the game that ended his drawing streak in Wijk aan Zee (a game we’ll return to). Sergey at first didn’t blink and continued to play fast, though there was an interesting psychological moment, as Karjakin had the chance to take a draw by repetition. It was similar to the dilemma Caruana faced in London:

Sergey would have remained half a point behind the leader and with some awkward questions to answer after the game, but he’d still be in with a chance of the title in the last round and would have a strong grip on second place. If those thoughts crossed his mind, however, it wasn’t for long, as he repeated twice then continued playing. Magnus commented:

Considering the time trouble he got later in the game it was a wise choice to repeat early on. Obviously with the tournament situation I didn’t mind a draw early on.

Part of the reason for the time trouble that followed was the strange fact that after Sergey played the first new human move of the game, 15.Bg5 (instead of Fabi’s Be3), he then stopped for 20 minutes after 15…Qb8, a move we had already seen before:

The game followed that computer clash with 16.Be2 a6 17.Nc3, until Carlsen’s 17…Qc7 instead of Nf4 was finally a new move. After 18.g3 Be7 19.Be3 e4 we got the moves that summed up the opening. Sergey decided to castle kingside, in contrast to Caruana and Jorden van Foreest, but just as in that latter game Magnus offered up his h-pawn by also castling:


Jorden never took the pawn and got crushed anyway, while after 26 minutes Karjakin decided to go for it with 21.Bxh5. Magnus would later comment, when asked why he draws so many games in World Championship matches but shows he can beat the same players in tournaments:

I think you can see that the game today was a special case because Sergey needed to win, so he played riskily, which allowed me to use my strengths in kind of an open battle, and in World Championships I’ve gotten the chance to do that less often, so I think that’s one of the reasons. When people take more risks it becomes more open and it’s good for me.

When you're the best and you know it you welcome a fight | photo: official website

At this point White still had over an hour and a decent position – even an excellent position, if you believed the computers, but as Magnus said, it’s also about psychology:

Obviously you have to play well, you have to play good moves, but I think when looking at the games with computers it’s hard to understand what’s actually going on in the minds of the players. When I look at chess I try to look as little as possible with the computer, because I know that once we get past the preparation phase then it’s not really relevant what the computer says and it’s more about psychology and everything. This particular opening is a typical case. If you turn on the computer early on it will say that White is better, but it doesn’t say whether the position is easier to play for White or Black. Once he got out of the opening then it feels like, yeah, he’s a pawn up, but it feels like the stakes are kind of higher for him. I’m going for mate, and he has to survive. Yeah, I think psychology is definitely a huge part of the game. It’s one of the reasons why this particular line is doing well.  

Magnus posed serious questions with 21…Ne5 22.Be2 Qd7!, and for a while Sergey found good replies: 23.Qa4 Qc8 24.c5!? (“not unreasonable”, said Magnus, though perhaps giving back a pawn with 24.Qd1 was safer) 24…dxc5 25.Bxe4 c4:


This was the first point in the game when Sergey went clearly astray. Magnus explained:

I wanted to keep the initiative and I liked 25…c4 – I could also play b5, forcing him to go into this pin, but I wasn’t so sure. I thought it would be better to have the pawn on c4. Here I think he should definitely play 26.Qc2. It looks strange to pin himself, but I don’t think there was a better choice. I was intending Re8… I thought I had excellent compensation, but it’s still a tense position. I think 26.Nc3?! is a mistake, and he just underestimated my plan. As far as I could judge from his body language he was resigned to a draw at this point.

Magnus guessed that Sergey expected 26…Bd3 27.Bxd3 Nf3+ 28.Kg2 Nxh4+ and Black gives perpetual check with his queen, but instead Magnus was tempted by 26…b5! 27.Qd1 b4 28.Na4:


Magnus:

28.Na4 is very, very ugly, because it’s quite likely that this knight will never move again – that’s what happened in the game.

The critical moments were coming one after another now, and the position after 28…Be4! 29.Qd4 Qf5 may have decided the game:

Here Sergey opted for 30.f4?!, but although knight moves are by no means bad for Black Magnus found the more powerful 30…Qg6!, a move easy to overlook - as Evgeny Miroshnichenko did in his non-computer-aided live commentary. The last best chance to survive was 30.f3!, giving a pawn to somewhat stem the black initiative. Magnus:

I’m sure it was his best chance, because after 30.f4 he’s more or less just busted. He’s not down material, but the difference in strength of the pieces is just too massive.

The last chance to prolong the game came after the queen returned to f5 - 31.Bf2 Nd3 32.h5 Qf5:

“Now he absolutely has to take on d3”, said Magnus, who felt that Sergey could at least try to put up a fight in the potential endgames after 33.Bxd3, while in the game 33.Bg4? Qxg4 34.Qxe4 Bd6! was simply hopeless. For a second day in a row Carlsen’s opponent was struggling physically to make the time control in a position that was in any case hopeless. Sergey resigned on move 39:

For a full commentary on the game check out Spanish Grandmaster Pepe Cuenca’s analysis:

That result means that Magnus has now played in four Shamkir Chess tournaments – 2014, 2015, 2018 and 2019 – and won them all, though there’s still something to shoot for in the final round. In 2015 he scored an unbeaten +5, so he still needs to beat Alexander Grischuk to match that performance:


This year hasn’t been bad for the World Champion so far:

And that result took him to 2856.7 on the live rating list, over 40 points ahead of Caruana and matching a certain Garry Kasparov’s highest ever live rating. These are rarefied heights!


Magnus stayed around for a long time after the game answering questions from Eteri Kublashvili and journalists, and there was a lot to enjoy.

On his best game this year in Shamkir:

I thought today’s game, I don’t know if it was very good, but it was at least very interesting, and the game yesterday was interesting as well against Anish, although I was a little bit upset that I didn’t manage to finish it off in the right way. Certainly the last two games have been fun. I’ve been able to win or at least to play in an interesting dynamic attacking style. It’s not the way I usually win games, so it’s been a lot of fun frankly, the last two days – it’s been a great ride!

Magnus looked right at home in Shamkir | photo: official website

On the difference between Magnus in his first Shamkir in 2014 and now:

I think there’s certainly a difference in style. I definitely play differently now than I did then. I think I know a lot more about chess than I did five years ago. I was higher rated then, so the evidence doesn’t suggest that I’m a better player now, but I feel like I know more, and I can do more, and I have more options. I have a wider array of weapons than I did back then.

On the “threat” of younger chess players like Firouzja and Artemiev:

There are many. Wei Yi was tipped to be the next big thing, and he could still be it, so I don’t know. I’m mostly concerned with those I play in the top tournaments, but I think they’re both wonderful talents and already great players. It’s funny that Alireza actually came here to the first Shamkir tournament as a fan and now he’s the next big thing, so I’m happy for him, and Artemiev as well is a very original, interesting player and we’ll see how far he can go, but I don’t feel the threat anytime yet.

Are we living in the Carlsen era?

I think we have already for a few years already, frankly, so yeah!

On playing the GRENKE Chess Classic next:

I’m playing in Germany just in one and a half weeks from now, so it’s going to be very little rest, but it’s good. When you have a good result you want to keep going!


Grischuk and Ding Liren catch Karjakin

The dream is over for Alexander Grischuk | photo: official website

Once again the rest of the day’s action paled in comparison to the central game, but we still got a couple of wins that could have been significant. As Alexander Grischuk commented:

Regarding the tournament I’m of course deeply upset about the result in the Karjakin-Carlsen game, as now it kills the dream for me and I have no chances to win the tournament.

He plays Black against Magnus in the final round and, if Karjakin-Carlsen had ended in a draw, could have forced a playoff by beating Magnus. That’s now not possible, but victory over David Navara in the penultimate round means he’s guaranteed to end the event on at least 50%, not bad considering he commented, “I was so tired at the beginning that I was afraid I’m going to lose every game!”

Grischuk put his win over Navara down to the “very unnatural” and “over-ambitious” 10…Nh6!? that his opponent played in a Caro-Kann:


Grischuk wondered what crime he’d committed to deserve such punishment, while Navara felt that so far he’d also done nothing wrong, but that later fatigue affected his play:

I just became tired towards the end of the tournament – I started miscalculating… I just spent too much time and just missed some ideas.

The knight on h6 jumped to g4 and was then sacrificed on f2, but despite some complications Navara only gained a rook for two minor pieces, which proved insufficient.

It's been a rough tournament for Giri and Mamedyarov, but they've maintained their sense of humour | photo: official website

The two draws in Round 8 can be passed over with little comment. Radjabov-Anand was a dry 33-move draw that never threatened to be anything else, while Giri-Mamedyarov was a messy encounter between the tournament’s two out-of-form players. Anish joked in the post-game press conference that the lines Shak was showing demonstrated how badly they were both doing, with a draw ultimately a fair result.

The loss to Navara derailed Ding Liren's tournament, but his chances of qualifying for the 2020 Candidates Tournament by rating look better than ever | photo: official website

The day looked like being relatively short, but Topalov-Ding Liren went on, and on, and on. At some point Veselin should easily have made a draw, but the game would eventually come down to a Rook vs. Knight ending:


White would be getting mated if not for 80.e8=N+. It soon became clear that the Chinese no. 1 was deadly serious about playing this ending for a win, and why not! A public service announcement:

Topalov thought he’d survived when he claimed for a 3-fold repetition on move 90, but a glance at the digital score showed that 90…Rf7+ (with check) had only been played twice. It took the arbiters longer to adjudicate, but when they finally reached the right decision the game went on, and it suddenly stopped being a draw on move 96:


The general priniciple Miroshnichenko explained is that White should keep his king and knight close together, but here 96.Ng7 was losing, while 96.Nc7 is still a draw! Topalov was given one more chance when after 96…Kf6 97.Nh5+ Liren played 97…Ke6. As you can see, it’s tough, and 98.Kg7! is only a draw again, but after 98.Kh7 there were no more hiccups from the world no. 3, who won in 110 moves:

He didn’t wait for 110…Kg6, winning the knight, since if it goes to a safe square Black of course plays 111…Rd8#

That leaves the standings with a round to go as follows, with Ding Liren tied with Karjakin and Grischuk in 2nd place:


Ding Liren perhaps has the best chance of claiming clear second place, since he has White against Giri, while Karjakin is Black against his friend Mamedyarov and Grischuk is, as we mentioned, Black against Carlsen. It remains to be seen if Magnus will go all-out to match his best Shamkir performance and perhaps hit 2860 on the live rating list. During the Carlsen-Caruana commentary Grischuk talked about how games against the World Champion are special for him and he doesn’t understand the approach of those who are just happy if they can get an uneventful draw.

Tune in to all the action from 12:00 CET - one hour earlier than usual! live here on chess24!

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