Teimour Radjabov snatched a surprise lead at the half-way stage of the Gashimov Memorial after inflicting the second loss in a row on an out-of-sorts Magnus Carlsen. It was a day of upsets, as co-leader Fabiano Caruana also lost after stumbling in the seventh hour of play against Azerbaijan's other star, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov. We bring you exclusive analysis of two of the day's games from GM Jan Gustafsson.
Round 5 results
Replay the live commentary
It was 7-time Russian Champion Peter Svidler's final day commentating on events in Shamkir for chess24 and he went out in style with another virtuoso performance. You can view the full show with Lawrence Trent below:
It’s hard to believe that only a couple of days ago the talk was of whether Magnus Carlsen could reach 2900 after starting like a rocket, winning his first two and nearly three games. The loss with Black to Caruana in Round 4 was obviously a blow, but the kind of mishap that could potentially be shrugged off – after all, Carlsen was still leading the tournament and had gained rating points. Round 5, however, really put the cat among the pigeons!
Then in Round 7 he had an absolutely won position as Black against Carlsen, but
let his opponent escape with a draw. Radjabov crumbled, going on to lose the
next two games and then a further four, including an excruciating defeat in the
return game against Carlsen. That helped Magnus win the Candidates Tournament and
later go on to claim the World Championship title, while Radjabov went into
free fall – dropping 80 rating points and out of the world Top 30.
So despite Carlsen’s loss to Caruana the omens didn’t look good for Radjabov. As Norwegian chess24 contributor Tarjei Svensen put it (jinxing his man for the second day in a row!):
Instead we saw a flashback to the Radjabov who famously downed Garry Kasparov as a 15-year-old. He played his favourite King’s Indian Defence, commenting afterwards:
I wanted to have a complicated game where we’d both have some chances for a win
GM Jan Gustafsson takes a close look at the game, including sharing his suspicions as to why Carlsen chose the line he did:
1. d4 For the third time in a row Carlsen starts with this move, which previously brought him two wins against Mamedyarov and Nakamura.
1... ♘f6 2. c4 g6! After Nakamura played a quiet Slav against Magnus in Round 2 the world's amateur strategists rose up in anger and demanded active openings like the King's Indian and the Dutch against the World Champion. Radjabov, who's recently also been trying the Queen's Gambit and the Slav, heard their wishes and returned to his main weapon - the King's Indian.
A rare move in Carlsen's games. Lately he's preferred to develop with
3. ♘f3 followed by g3.
3... d5 is something we've seen enough of in this tournament.
4. e4 And this King's Indian starting position is one that according to my database Carlsen has had only once on the board in recent years. What's he up to?
4... d6 5. ♘ge2⁉ Aha! A rarely played move, with the knight heading to g3 to support the e4. I'd hazard a guess that I've understood the intention of Carlsen and his coach Peter Heine Nielsen in choosing this move, but more on that later.
6... c5 After all, against the Sämisch Variation with 5. f3 Radjabov prefers c5. And in that line the knight often also moves from e2 to g3, so the structures are related. Related, but not identical: the fact that his pawn still isn't on f3 is a real benefit to White in the 5. Nge2 system. He delays the move until he's forced into it and therefore in many lines has an advantageous version of the Sämisch. That's why, as I mentioned above, I prefer e5 to c5 here. 7. d5 e6 8. ♗e2 exd5 9. cxd5 a6 10. a4 ♘bd7 11. 0-0 ♖e8 and only now (11... h5 12. ♗g5! ) 12. f3 This shows one of the nuances - Black would now prefer to have his rook on f8 in order to later support f5. If he'd left it there, however, the white player wouldn't have gone for f3.
7. d5 Forced, as White can't hold the d4-point with the knight on g3. We've ended up with a normal King's Indian position in which the knight on g3 strikes me as a little out of place since it's well controlled by the g6-pawn.
12. f3 in order to prevent it, as suggested by Radjabov after the game.
12... ♘g4! Immediately eyeing the newly-created weakness on f2 as well as threatening f6, so Carlsen already has concrete problems to solve.
13. ♗xg4⁈ It isn't, of course, my place to question the strategic judgement of the World Champion, but I can't make my peace with this move. He gives up his bishop, and even if it's nominally a "bad bishop", it performs the crucial function of keeping an eye on the squares d3, c4, b5, h5 and so on. As a rule of thumb Black rarely has problems in these structures when he can exchange a knight for this bishop. It wouldn't have helped to play
13. ♕e1! f6 (13... ♗h6? 14. ♗xg4 ♗xg5+ 15. hxg5 ♗xg4 16. f3 ♗d7 17. ♘xh5! ) 14. ♗d2 deserved to be chosen, in my view, even if the position after something like 14... ♗h6 15. f3 ♗xd2+ 16. ♖xd2 ♘h6 would by no means be clear.
16. ♔b1 ♔h7 Taking control of the h6-square, which can never hurt. It's not easy to find an active plan for White. f4 merely opens the position up for Black's fianchettoed bishop, while preparing g4 would cost a lot of time due to the g3-knight.
17. ♕c2 Anticipating f5 and putting the queen on the same diagonal as the enemy monarch.
17... a4 Another useful move. If f5 later opens the a1-h8 diagonal for the bishop the option of a4-a3 to loosen up the dark squares will be useful. If White prevents that by playing a2-a3 himself that weakens the b3-square.
18. ♘ge2 The knight was doing little on g3.
18... f5 Well-timed, before White can go on the attack with g4 himself.
19... ♗xf5 comes into consideration here, but I think even Radjabov's generation grew up with the quote that "every Russian schoolchild knows that you play gxf5 here" (Botvinnik, I think). 20. ♘e4 a3 21. b3 ♗xe4 22. fxe4 ♕d7 with approximate equality.
20. ♖h3⁉ A rarely seen plan. The rook covers the e3-bishop after the pawn moves to f4 and has the idea of going to g5 via g3. The alternatives weren't particularly inspiring:
20. f4 was certainly an option, but while 20... e4 is usually considered an error in this structure I'm not so sure here. The normal white plan with h3 to prepare to blow up the kingside with g4 is out of the question for technical reasons with a pawn on h4. After something like (20... a3 21. b3 ) 21. ♗d4 ♖g8 Black seems to be doing well.
20... ♔h8 Getting out of the pin and threatening the enormously annoying f4 followed by Bf5-Bxh3. The reply is as good as forced:
22. ♘xe4⁉ A very binding decision, with Carlsen already setting a course for the following exchange sacrifice. It was worth considering a move like
22. a3 to maintain the tension. The bishop pair and the plan of Rb8-b5 still make me believe in Black's chances, though.
Time for us to get used to the new situation: Black is a whole exchange up. In return the black king is a little airy, White has good control of the light squares and the black bishop is passive. All in all, enough compensation, but given the potential to open up the position in front of the black king with b5 I'd still prefer Black.
27. ♕xe4 ♕d7 Played in 10 seconds. Radjabov had around 15 minutes left here to reach move 40, so the speed of the move is perfectly understandable. It was also well worth already considering dynamic moves like
27... b5 or
28. a3 Taking away the option of a3, but that's not the only way of prising open the position:
28... b5! The opening of the b-file has fatal consequences, but the reply here is forced.
30... c4 Now it's already an exchange and a pawn, plus a long-term powerful attack based on b4. Carlsen has to do something!
33... ♖e8 Everything is covered and White simply lacks the resources to generate any serious threats.
34. ♘h5 would now be met by 34... ♗h4 and exchanging rooks is out of the question. This is one of the big issues with being down material - the option to exchange pieces disappears as every exchange helps your opponent.
34... ♗g5! All the black forces are active and objectively Black is on the verge of victory. The chess world's dominant figure is under threat of losing for a second time in a row!
35. ♘f5 Once again exchanges must be avoided, so Carlsen is forced to put himself in this pin.
35... c6! Played with computer-like precision. (Radjabov was obviously proud of this move in the post-game press conference)
36. ♗d6 The best chance.
36... ♗f4! Again the strongest move. The white forces are overloaded and Carlsen is running out of resources.
39. ♕e1⁉ was perhaps a better last try: 39... ♕d3+ 40. ♔a1 ♗g3⁇ (40... c3 and various other moves win.) 41. ♖xf7 ♗xe1 42. ♘f6! and suddenly Black is forced to give perpetual check, as the mating threats on f8 and h7 can't be parried simultaneously.
40... ♔h7! He keeps playing the strongest moves!
43... g3 was just as good. If required the black king would help the pawns over the finish line.
In my opinion his woes in this game began already with 12. Bxg4 and giving up the bishop. It's good for him that tomorrow is a rest day, before what's sure to be an enthralling second half of the tournament. For Radjabov, meanwhile, it was an impressive achievement after a 6-month break. He not only got a good position but also converted it with computer-like precision. Always this same King's Indian - I was hoping Magnus would show me what to do against it...
It was notable afterwards that although Carlsen realised he must have gone wrong, it was only much too late during the game that he saw the danger – a misevaluation shared by many commentators. He gave a sober assessment when asked where he went wrong:
My first mistake was allowing 12...Ng4, as after that Black is fine. I think also 19.exf5 was too risky strategically. I should just have continued calmly and played a waiting game. Most of all it was just a misjudgement. I really thought that without the exchange I was doing well since I thought there was no obvious way for him to improve his position. Then this b5 stuff came and I just couldn’t find a way to keep control. In time trouble I was missing some stuff, but probably it was objectively winning for Black already so it probably didn’t matter too much.
He was asked how he’d gone from winning two games to losing two games:
Right now I just don’t have any energy and my opponents are playing well. They’re fighting better than I am. I really need a rest day now to somehow try and regroup, because right now it’s not working.
While this game was going on Peter Svidler explained that even in the very late stages he wasn’t sure whether Karjakin had actually left his preparation or was just trying to remember it all. As Karjakin was also slightly worse that provoked a question that probably occurred to a number of chess fans:
As anyone who’s watched Svidler’s Grünfeld series would
understand, this is the kind of question that might be taken personally – it’s one of the minor tragedies of chess how much deep opening preparation
with fantastic ideas ends, when met by best play, in “a tricky ending a pawn
down that I’ve checked very carefully to make sure it can be held…”. Svidler responded:
Well, you're playing Black against a very good player and life isn't perfect…
The standard news instinct at this point would be to give a single diagram for the game and mention how impressive Karjakin’s team is and how well Nakamura reacted at the board, but luckily we have Jan Gustafsson to explain the real significance of the game!
The main reason for commentating on this game is its relevance to opening theory. The players followed a long line which had already been tested in Topalov-Karjakin in the Candidates Tournament, and which seemed to be rich in chances for White. It's interesting, therefore, to see how Karjakin improves on Black's play.
1. ♘f3 ♘f6 2. c4 b6 A constant in Karjakin's repertoire. Nakamura also seems to have come to the conclusion that this line might be good territory in which to test the Russian. Karjakin is fantastically prepared, but not as flexible as some of his opponents when it comes to choosing his weapons.
6. ♘c3 ♗g7 7. d4 cxd4 8. ♕xd4 d6 9. ♖d1 ♘bd7 10. ♗e3 ♖c8 11. ♖ac1 a6 12. b3 0-0 13. ♕h4 And so far still as in the previous game. For details of that game I recommend - with my usual modesty - that you take a look at my commentary in Candidates Round 11: Anand ever closer!
Now for the difference!
13... ♖e8 The old move, which had taken a theoretical back seat due to the white response. I'm sure that's going to change once more after this game.
14. ♗h3 The most promising move. White exploits the fact that the rook remained on c8 to pin the d7-knight.
14... ♗a8⁉ Very rarely played and undoubtedly the result of Karjakin's homework after the Candidates Touranment, as he blitzed out this and the following moves. The nuances of this variation are never easy to explain, but the bishop leaves the unprotected b7-square for the protected a8. It's important to note here that this move prepares the upcoming sequence with b5 cxb5 and Qa5, which with the bishop on b7 would faily to bxa6, attacking the bishop.
14... ♖c7 is the natural move that Black usually chose here in the past. 15. g4! ♕a8 After (15... ♘c5 16. g5 ♘fd7 17. ♘d4 and White has too much space.) 16. g5! ♘e4 17. ♘a4 he still has concrete problems to solve, which was the reason for the decline in the popularity of 13...Re8.
15. g4 Once again the critical move. White plans to gain more space with g5, cramping the black forces.
15... b5! The point of Ba8, and a position that will undoubtedly be studied in detail by theoreticians. The following are a few initial ideas:
16. cxb5 The most obvious move, taking the pawn. Just as critical is the alternative
16. g5 ♘h5 and now the point is 17. c5 which renews the attempt to reap the benefits of pinning the d7-bishop. However, not only the bishop is pinned but also the c5-pawn (xc3). That gives Black time for 17... ♖c7 18. b4! dxc5 19. bxc5 e6 and this position requires closer examination. There's no question Karjakin had done that, but a first glance suggests the white position after 20. ♘e4 is ok.
16... ♕a5 This double attack justifies Black's previous play. Karjakin was still in blitz mode.
17. g5 was again tempting here: 17... ♖xc3 18. ♖xc3 ♕xc3 19. gxf6 ♘xf6 20. bxa6 and White has an extra pawn. After 20... ♕c2! 21. ♖e1 ♘d5 , however, the position remains totally unclear. (21... ♕xa2 22. ♕a4 ♕xa4 23. bxa4 should likewise be playable for Black.)
17... ♗xf3 The start of a very concrete sequence of moves that demonstrates how substantial Karjakin's homework was. The crude
17... axb5 could still be considered, based on the nuance 18. g5 ♗xf3 19. exf3 ♘e5! 20. ♔g2 ♘fd7 and Black holds his pieces together. 21. ♗xd7 ♘xd7 22. ♘d5 might not have appealed to Karjakin, though.
19... g5! Investing a pawn in order to lure the white queen to the g5-square so White can't advance his pawn to that same square. Not the most obvious of moves!
20. ♕xg5 axb5 So Black is a pawn down and his king has been weakened. In return, though, he's not only gained a lot of time on the clock, but also some real assets: b4 will follow in order to win more space, the white king is also weak, the bishop on h3 looks a bit silly and Black has the potentially beautiful d5 and e5-squares for his knights.
21. ♕e3 A very natural move that somewhat slows down the pace of the game. It looks critical to force play with
21. ♘d5 ♖xc1 22. ♖xc1 (22. ♗xa5? ♖xd1 23. ♘xf6+ exf6 24. ♕e3 is a very funny variation: 24... ♖c8! 25. g5 ♖cc1 and Black comes first.) 22... ♕xa2 23. ♘xf6+ exf6 24. ♕e3 Black gets his pawn back, but his structure is in ruins. Nevertheless, after 24... ♕a8! this position is also far from clear.
22... ♘d5 This natural move is the first of the game for which Karjakin had to use any serious time, from which we can conclude that his home analysis was over. Good work, but there's still a game ahead!
24... e6 Nakamura still has an extra pawn, but the centralised black forces and his own weaknesses promise full compensation. He therefore rightly decides to return the pawn for activity.
28... ♖c8⁉ , with maximum activity, was perhaps even more promising than immediately winning back the pawn.
29. ♘g3 An important resource for White. The knight comes back into the game and thanks to the threat of Nxh5 it also helps the somewhat sad bishop on h3 to rejoin the fold.
29... ♕xf2+⁈ Pretty, but probably not the best move. Without any great need Karjakin liquidates into an ending in which thanks to the bishop pair and a soon-to-be-repaired structure only White can be better.
32. ♔f3 hxg3 33. hxg3 Only White can be better here, but it's by no means a decisive advantage and we've spent plenty of time admiring Karjakin's endgame prowess both in the Candidates Tournament and here in Round 2 against Magnus. He holds the position without any particular trouble. So then, a "boring" draw. In terms of opening theory, however, this game had enormous significance, since Black had lately been under some pressure in this line. I'll have to keep looking for an antidote to 14...Ba8...
34. ♗f1 might have offered more chances.
34... ♗f8! The ensuing brief slugfest solves all Black's problems.
39... ♘g5+ would also be enough to draw.
The final game to finish was a curious affair. Mamedyarov also got in some preparation with 6.Bg5 against Caruana’s Grünfeld – a move he said he’d prepared for the Candidates Tournament. After that, however, he didn’t seem overly impressed with his play, although he managed to hold on to an edge until deep into the game. Caruana defended well, but finally cracked on move 67.
In this extremely complex position Mamedyarov has sacrificed a bishop for two pawns, but he both has hopes of promoting them and various mating threats. Caruana chose 67…Qxc4?, but after capturing on h5 Mamedyarov brought his queen back to g6 and pressed home the victory.
The narrow path to a draw was instead 67…Qf3! when, as Mamedyarov himself noted afterwards, there seems to be no way for White to make progress due to the pressure on f4. If White plays 68.e5 it can be met by 68…Qh3+ and perpetual check. Shakhriyar said they were exhausted by this stage, but Caruana disagreed – simply saying he was short on time and missed Qh3+.
Caruana’s mood probably wasn’t helped by the press conference. Mamedyarov's long descriptions of the game in Azerbaijani were punctuated by much shorter translations into English - a little like this:
And then when Caruana was questioned himself things didn't necessarily improve. An unintentionally funny sequence went:
Did beating the World Champion the day before affect you? For instance, did you sleep well?
Yes, I did.
Did beating Carlsen affect you?
No, I don’t think so.
What about Magnus?
Maybe it’s better to ask him. It’s not my job to control his games.
That left Caruana, and in fact all the foreign pre-tournament favourites, stuck together on 50%, with the top and bottom of the table taken by the local players:
So the cliché that it’s all to play for is in this case absolutely true! Anyone could still win, although Magnus will need to regroup fast before he faces Mamedyarov and Nakamura with Black in the next two rounds – will they be out for revenge after losing their games against the World Champion in the first half of the event?
Friday is a rest day, so Round 6 starts at 12:00 CET on Saturday - don't miss our live commentary with GM Jan Gustafsson and IM Lawrence Trent!
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