Reports Apr 20, 2015 | 8:54 PMby Colin McGourty

Shamkir R4: Wesley So breaks clear as rivals draw

Wesley So did what his more experienced rivals have failed to do so far in Shamkir – beat outsider Rauf Mamedov – to take the lead on 3.5/4. World Champion Magnus Carlsen did everything in his power to keep pace, but even an exchange sacrifice against Michael Adams wasn’t enough to upset the balance. The other draws were relatively quiet affairs, though Kramnik and Anand at least gave exposure to some spectacular theory.

Wesley So, who knows he's about to win, checks out Magnus Carlsen's battle with Michael Adams 

Wesley So has now repaired all the rating damage done during the US Championship and the ease with which he outplayed Rauf Mamedov reminded IM David Martinez of Carlsen and Kramnik. He was also baffled by Mamedov's choice of opening, declaring 1-0 as early as move 5:

1. e4 c5 2. ♘f3 ♘c6 3. d4 cxd4 4. ♘xd4 g6? Ok, this is a huge exaggeration, but are there really still people left who want to play with Black against the Maroczy? And even more so against a player with the positional understanding of Wesley So! I think it might be at least more advisable against more dynamic players such as Maxime Vachier-Lagrave or Vishy Anand.

5. c4! 1-0 

5... ♘f6 6. ♘c3 d6 7. f3 ♗g7 8. ♗e3 O-O 9. ♗e2 We're in one of the main lines, which has been considered to give White a slight edge since long before So was born.

9... ♘h5 When I saw that Mamedov was playing the Accelerated Dragon I thought: "He must have a surprise up his sleeve". And here we have it! A move that's barely been played and never between grandmasters. Mamedov wants to jump to f4 with the knight, taking advantage of the pressure on d4. What struck me, though, was that So responded in only 9 seconds!

10. g3! A good move for various reasons: 

  1. It demonstrates how ultra-prepared So is - how can he have looked at this line? How can he remember it so well? Doesn't he need even a few seconds to review it? Why are you so good, So? 
  2. The move, although logical, isn't one of Stockfish's first options, so Mamedov now began to think - the trapper was trapped! 
  3. It prevents the knight jump and its only drawback - the weakness of h3 - isn't so easy to exploit, as we'll see.

10. O-O ♘f4 would allow Black to exchange off the bishop on e2, with rough equality.

10... ♘xd4 11. ♗xd4 ♗e6

11... ♗h3 doesn't pose many problems for White. For example: 12. ♗xg7 ♔xg7 13. ♕d2 and g4 is already threatened, since the f4-square is covered. The bishop would have to go back or get trapped: 13... ♖c8 14. g4 ♘f6 15. ♖g1 with Rg3 to follow.

12. f4 ♘f6 13. O-O After the little tricks in the opening we've returned to the familiar scenario: a small but persistent edge for White.

13... ♖c8 14. b3 ♕a5 15. f5! So takes preemptive action against any breaks by his opponent by seizing the initiative immediately. It's important to note that although the e5-square is weakened there's no route by which the black knight can get there.

15... ♗d7 16. a3 Continuing to strangle his opponent.

16... e6

16... b5 is the kind of counterplay Black is dreaming of, but after 17. b4 , followed by cxb5, he'd wake up to the reality... life a pawn down.

17. b4 ♕d8 18. fxg6 fxg6

18... hxg6 19. e5 is similar to the game. Mamedov wants to use the f-file in order to exchange a pair of rooks and alleviate the pressure.

19. e5! dxe5 20. ♗xe5

20. ♗xa7 is the machine's suggestion, but one no human would take seriously due to 20... b6 although Stockfish goes on to demonstrate that the bishop isn't so bad there: 21. c5 ♗h6 22. ♗xb6 ♗e3+ 23. ♔h1 ♕e8 followed by Bd4 and Nd5, with good compensation.

20... ♗c6 21. b5 ♘e4 22. ♕xd8 ♖cxd8 This makes White's task easier, since it's possible to liquidate to a highly technical ending. It would have complicated matters to play

22... ♖fxd8 when the following line is more or less forced: 23. bxc6 ♘xc3 24. cxb7 ♘xe2+ 25. ♔g2 ♖b8 26. ♗xb8 ♖xb8 27. ♖ae1 ♘d4 28. ♖b1 The white pawn on b7 is a real nuisance but the black minor pieces can find fixed positions in the centre. A win for White would be much less trivial.

23. ♖xf8+ ♖xf8 24. ♗xg7 ♔xg7 25. ♖c1 ♘xc3 26. ♖xc3 ♗d7 27. c5 If you want to practice your endgame technique I recommend you play this position with White against the computer, or a friend who's willing to suffer. There's nothing better than targetted practice (with later analysis) to notice a clear improvement after only a few sessions.

27... ♖c8 28. a4 ♔f6 29. ♔f2 White's plan is clear: create a passed pawn on the queenside and queen it, but it's important to first bring the king into the action - especially as the black king is threatening to make a dash for d4!

29... ♔e5 30. ♔e3 Thou shalt not pass!

30... ♗e8 31. ♗f3 ♖c7 32. ♔d3 So brings his king to c4 in order to free up the rook and also prepare for a future invasion via c5.

Wesley knows he's got him!

32... g5 33. ♔c4 h5 34. a5 All together now.

34... g4 35. b6 axb6 36. axb6 ♖d7 37. ♖e3+ ♔f6 38. c6 It's over.

38... bxc6 39. ♗xc6 ♖d8 40. ♗xe8 ♖xe8 41. b7 The ease with which So won this game is something I think is only within reach of two other giants of modern strategic chess: Carlsen and Kramnik.


Afterwards Rauf Mamedov was in no mood to talk, but fortunately Wesley was more than happy to take over. He was asked about whether the forfeit incident in St. Louis had “made [him] mad”:

Probably that motivated me because on my last tournament I had a lot of losses and I lost almost half my games, so that kind of motivated me to work harder. I was trying to figure out why that happened and what my weaknesses are and I tried to solve them – it’s daily work.

He was pressed for more details about that work and kept talking, but he’s already learned the super-GM trait of not actually giving away any trade secrets!

I just decided to forget about the past and move on. I figured out some of the weaknesses I have and I work every day with a board and analyse some games. I think it’s just important that you keep fighting every game and you focus every single game and not care what other people say… I had a lot of critics and people not really wishing me well. I just decided to completely forget about what anybody says and focus on my games. I think that’s also what Vishy Anand does during his World Championship matches. I think he doesn’t go online and check what other people say.

Vishy Anand is up next, and Wesley said he was “very excited” about his first encounter with the former World Champion. He was also thrilled to be leading a tournament featuring three World Champions and quipped:

I wish the tournament was over, but fortunately it’s not.

You can watch the full press conference below:

The key game elsewhere was Adams – Carlsen. 

Wesley So is breathing down Carlsen's neck, but that's nothing compared to Vishy's gaze | photo: Shamkir Chess 

Magnus wasn’t going to do his World Championship second any favours – the Englishman had lost two games in three, so like any wounded animal he had to be targeted. Carlsen played 3…g6 against the Ruy Lopez and soon reached exactly what he said he wanted afterwards – “a complicated game”. He had an edge in space and a passed d-pawn in exchange for a fairly ramshackle king and a backward d-pawn, but as the game developed it was clear the World Champion was the one playing for a win. He couldn’t see a way to break through, though, and after a 31 minute think he went for 25…Rg4 26.g3

26…Rxh4!? He commented:

This was perhaps a tad risky, but I didn’t see any other way to play for something… I just didn’t think my chances were too great if we just play slowly. He’ll unravel with g3, Ng2 and I can’t really get to the knight on h5. It seemed that it’s easier for White to play.

Black still retained an edge after the sacrifice, but as the time control approached Carlsen was down to only a minute to make a few moves. He settled for a repetition and summed things up:

I really tried hard to find something that probably wasn’t there.

Afterwards he was asked about how things were going so far:

I don’t think the quality of the games has been too great, but my score is more than satisfactory with three black games. It’s looking good.

Continuing the theme of asking about his food and drink a local journalist wondered why Magnus brought a personal cook along with him to Azerbaijan (the unspoken question was more along the lines of, “how on earth can you not be satisfied with our Azerbaijan cuisine?”):

It’s good for me and my team to get some of our food that we really enjoy. It improves the mood.

Adams, meanwhile, was happy to have played his best game so far, which wasn’t really saying a lot. “The trend is good”, he noted wryly.

Watch the full press conference below:

Elsewhere more than a draw never looked likely. Caruana played a razor-sharp Grünfeld against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, and when the Frenchman found himself taken somewhere he hadn’t checked recently he steered towards a safe draw, with Caruana admitting that towards the end, “mainly we’re trying to get to move 40”.

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave has had a quiet tournament so far, but that might change against Carlsen in the next round | photo: Shamkir Chess

Caruana hadn’t entirely recovered from his defeat the day before, noting:

I knew it would be a tough start because I have three Blacks. Yesterday was really unnecessary. Even if I didn’t get anything in the opening I should have just finished the game. It was a dead draw.

Maxime explained that his four draws hadn’t been through choice:

I haven’t really shown fighting spirit because of the openings.

Both Mamedyarov and Giri have three draws and one loss to show for the first four rounds | photo: Shamkir Chess

The opening to Giri-Mamedyarov didn’t promise much either. Azerbaijan’s no. 1 played unusually solidly and offered an early queen exchange, though after that things did heat up, for a while:

Here Giri went for the neat pawn sacrifice 23.d5! exd5 24.exd5 Qxd5 Re5, when White’s chances looked decent against Black’s uncoordinated army. Mamedyarov soon managed to exchange queens, though, and the subsequent disappearance of all queenside pawns marked the end of the game.

Even before the press conference it's Vlad doing all the talking! | photo: Shamkir Chess

That leaves one draw that perhaps warrants more comment, though it was hard to avoid a feeling of déjà vu. When Kramnik had White against Anand in the London Chess Classic last year, Jan Gustafsson felt compelled to ask whether it was “the most exciting game you’ve ever seen” or a “bore draw”, concluding it was probably a bit of both:

The point was that the spectacular theory had almost all been seen before, or at least buzzed around computer circuits. So it was in Shamkir. Kramnik played 5.g3 against the Slav for the second time, joking:

I like the Catalan and I’m trying to play it against everything.

Things soon got crazy - one snapshot:

Kramnik, who sacrificed a knight on e6, now puts his bishop en prise, to which Vishy of course responded 14…N5f6. When the dust had settled in a few moves there was an endgame that Kramnik described as “terribly dangerous for Black”, but Vishy didn’t look too ruffled. The denouement came when Kramnik played 26.Ng6:

He was highly critical of the move and kept suggesting alternatives (26.f3, 26.Kf1, 26.h4) but it was by far the computer’s top choice, leaving Anand to find an only move, 26…c5! – he did, and the game finished in a harmless opposite-coloured bishop endgame.

Vlad's struggling so much to find what to do with White he almost plays 1.Nc3... | photo: Shamkir Chess

As in London the players also talked a lot in the post-game press conference. Kramnik was feeling humble when asked about Vishy’s score against him:

+2 or +3. It’s not great for me. Maybe Vishy is one of my most difficult opponents in my career. I haven’t won a classical game for a long time, which is of course a bit uncomfortable. Maybe one day I’ll manage.

After their demonstration of modern computer preparation the players parried questions about computers, with Anand rejecting the suggestion they had damaged chess:

In my opinion chess has never been more interesting! I don’t know if it’s that I’m able to understand everything that happens in every game, or quickly, but over the board play has become very dynamic… It’s not like people weren’t complaining about preparation before the computers came along. The fear of chess being played out is as old as the hills.

Kramnik agreed, but noted there were some drawbacks to the modern era:

We have to work three times more than at the time when I started chess… At the beginning of my career you could build a repertoire and play it for a couple of years, but now it’s different.

He particularly lamented how difficult it is now to prepare with White, adding, “it’s always a headache when I have White vs. Vishy!”

Watch the full press conference below:

With one round to go before the rest day it’s Wesley So, who won all three of his Whites in the first four rounds, who’s out in front, with Carlsen and Kramnik the only other players to win a game in Shamkir so far:

In Round 5 the focus will be on how So handles Anand with Black, while there are also the youthful battles Caruana – Giri and Carlsen – Vachier-Lagrave.

Watch all the games live here on chess24 from 12:00 CEST. You can also watch on our free mobile apps:


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