Reports Apr 27, 2014 | 7:47 AMby Colin McGourty

Shamkir, Rd 6: Carlsen back in the lead

Order was restored to the chess universe as World Champion Magnus Carlsen ended a run of two defeats with victory over Shakhriyar Mamedyarov in the sixth round of the Gashimov Memorial. We have Jan Gustafsson’s exclusive commentary on that curious game, as well as a Peter Svidler anecdote on Carlsen’s killer instincts on the football pitch. The day’s other two games were relatively tame draws, enabling Carlsen to join Teimour Radjabov in pole position.

Round 6 results 

Mamedyarov  ShakhriyarAZE 0 - 1Carlsen MagnusNOR
Caruana FabianoITA  ½ - ½Nakamura HikaruUSA
Radjabov Teimour AZE  ½ - ½Karjakin SergeyRUS

Replay the live commentary

Withdrawal symptoms after Peter Svidler's return to St. Petersburg were eased by the return of the chess24 "dream team" of IM Lawrence Trent and GM Jan Gustafsson. You can watch their full commentary on Round 6 below:

Let’s start with the supporting cast. If you took Carlsen (3 wins, 2 losses) and Mamedyarov (1 win, 3 losses) out of the equation the A Tournament in Shamkir wouldn’t have seen a single decisive result, even if it hasn’t exactly been for a want of trying.

Caruana 1/2 – 1/2 Nakamura

Hikaru Nakamura (1 win, 4 draws, 1 loss) has yet to achieve lift-off in Shamkir | photo: Ahmed Mukhtar, official website

Just because they’re draws doesn’t mean that they’re boring.

That was Hikaru Nakamura in response to a question on why both players were supposedly acting cautiously in Shamkir. An exhibit for the defence might be the sharp and unbalanced position after Caruana’s 20.e6:

But the long forced sequence that followed led to an ending which Nakamura held with no great difficulties. The game (remember you can replay all the games with computer analysis here) ended in an amusing repetition as Hikaru stoutly refused to take Fabiano’s kamikaze rook:

Radjabov 1/2 – 1/2 Karjakin

On the rest day Karjakin and his girlfriend Galia stopped to smell the roses | photo: Ahmed Mukhtar, official website

Sergey Karjakin still seems somewhat groggy after his fine performance in the second half of the Candidates Tournament. He drew all but one of his games on top board at the Russian Team Championship but, as we reported at the time, some of them were by the skin of his teeth! In Azerbaijan it took huge willpower not to crumble under Carlsen’s onslaught in Round 3, while in Round 6 he was left defending a rook ending a pawn down after a slight inaccuracy in a quiet opening. No harm was done, however, with the game ending in a cute stalemate:

Mamedyarov 0 – 1 Carlsen

Magnus makes some final adjustments before battle commences | photo: Ahmed Mukhtar, official website

This was overwhelmingly the game of the round, and just what Carlsen needed after his previous woes. The question of whether to stabilise by playing for a draw (the old Botvinnik (?) wisdom after two losses in a row) or go all-out to beat the bottom-placed player, was taken out of his hands by his opponent’s choice of opening.

Mamedyarov insisted it was deliberate (Houdini gave him moral support with a consistent evaluation of +0.2-0.3 for White) but it left him more or less needing to mate Carlsen’s king to justify his play! To be fair, he wasn’t all that far away in the end, but he blew his chances in a single move.

GM Jan Gustafsson gives us the lowdown on a highly entertaining game:

1. d4 No surprise. Mamedyarov always remains true to his variations and is one of the few, if not the only, world class player who invariably starts with this move. He even as good as never plays the closely related 1. Nf3 and 1. c4.

1... ♘f6 2. c4 e6 In the recent past Carlsen has also remained true to this move-order and the related Nimzo-Indian/Queen's Gambit/Queen's Indian variations.

3. ♘c3 ♗b4 So far so familiar, and at this point Mamedyarov usually varies between his two favourite variations.

4. ♕c2

4. f3 is the other move that occurs in Mamedyarov's games. However, after he was outprepared in this line by both Aronian and Karjakin during the Candidates Touranment it's no surprise that he returns to his main weapon. Especially since Carlsen himself has usually had to face 4. f3 recently and must therefore have found a way to deal with it - in the current tournament he got a very promising position against Karjakin. 4... 0-0 (4... c5 5. d5 b5 6. e4 0-0 7. e5 ♘e8 8. f4 exd5 9. cxd5 d6 10. ♘f3 c4 Mamedyarov-Karjakin, Khanty-Mansiysk 2014) 5. e4 (5. a3 ♗xc3+ 6. bxc3 ♘h5 7. ♘h3 f5 Karjakin-Carlsen, Shamkir 2014) 5... d5 6. e5 ♘fd7 7. cxd5 exd5 8. a3 ♗xc3+ 9. bxc3 f6 10. exf6 ♕e8+! 11. ♕e2 ♕f7 12. fxg7 ♖e8 Mamedyarov-Aronian, Khanty-Mansiysk 2014

4... d5 One of the main moves and a speciality of Carlsen's coach Peter Heine Nielsen, who's there on the scene.

4... d6 was Carlsen's choice in his last outing against Qc2. In that game he faced Mamedyarov's compatriot Radjabov but needed to win (it was the penultimate game of the 2013 Candidates in London and the older among you may remember the head-to-head race between Carlsen and Kramnik) .

5. ♘f3 The first surprise - but what a surprise! This move is as good as never played at the top level and is simply considered bad. It involves a pawn sacrifice, but one which requires none of the typical concessions Black is often expected to make in exchange. It would be interesting to know how and why Mamedyarov hit upon this move. Theoretical duels, meanwhile, take place in the lines

5. cxd5 ♕xd5 (5... exd5 6. ♗g5 is just as popular) 6. ♘f3 ♕f5 and

5. a3 ♗xc3+ 6. ♕xc3 ♘e4 (6... 0-0 leads in this position to Kramnik's old and trusted variation, which usually arises after 4...0-0.) 7. ♕c2 c5

Carlsen: I was basically out of book on move 5, so any preparation I did was for nothing. That’s fine. It’s more interesting when we just play chess and not everything is decided by preparation.

5... dxc4! A pawn is a pawn, and White won't readily win this one back. Years ago Carlsen here preferred the move

5... 0-0 Was Mamedyarov somehow speculating that the World Champion would once more fail to snap off the pawn? 6. cxd5

6. ♗g5 The ensuing position could have arisen from the familiar Vienna Variation: 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 d5 4. Nc3 dxc4 5. Bg5 Bb4. At this point hardly anyone would happen upon the move 6. Qc2.

6. a3 is perhaps a better attempt to justify White's recent moves, but after 6... ♗xc3+ 7. bxc3 c5 Black at the very least faces no problems. The queen on c2 looks a bit out of place in all of these lines.

6... b5! Cementing the pawn on c4. Don't believe your computers here, as oddly enough in these and similar situations they remain on White's side for a few moves longer. Black has an extra pawn and a simple plan: Bb7, Nbd7, c6 and a6 if needed. Here's another comparison to illustrate why this variation isn't good for White: in the Anti-Moscow Gambit after 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 d5 4. Nc3 c6 5. Bg5 h6 6. Bh4 dxc4 7. e4 g5 8. Bg3 b5: 

Black has had to drastically weaken his king position in order to be able to enjoy this pawn. In this game nothing of the sort was required.

7. a4 c6 The only move to prevent the black pawn chain from being blown up.

8. g3

8. ♗xf6 is a tricky try, with the idea 8... ♕xf6 (8... gxf6! 9. axb5 cxb5 10. ♕e4 ♕d5 ) 9. axb5 cxb5 10. ♕e4 and the rook on a8 has been caught. Even this isn't fatal, but it's not necessary - 8...gxf6 is a good move. 10... ♕g6 11. ♕xa8 ♕c2 with sufficient counterplay to compensate for the pawn.

8... ♗b7 9. ♗g2 ♘bd7 10. 0-0 ♕b6 Both sides have established their planned setup, but my evaluation that "only Black can be better here" hasn't changed. The white forces of Bg2, Bg5, Qc2 and now e4 are all over the place, as if Mamedyarov wanted to play the Catalan, Nimzo-Indian and Semi-Slav all in the same game. Black, meanwhile, is making only logical moves. And he's simply a pawn up...

11. e4 a6 12. ♖fd1 h6 Not an absolute necessity, and in combination with the next move this opens up a very interesting tactical resource for White. There was nothing wrong with

12... 0-0 13. e5 ♘d5

13. ♗e3 0-0 Objectively a mistake, after which White has a pretty trick to secure the draw. Instead just the natural

13... c5 kept Black on top, and after 14. d5 he can transpose to the game with 14... 0-0

14. d5 The obvious move. White is endeavouring to open up the position and complicate play to offset his material disadvantage. The hidden chance was

14. e5! ♘d5 15. ♗xh6 which Carlsen himself pointed out in the press conference. 15... gxh6 16. ♕d2 White exploits a pretty geometric motif to create play due to the double threat of Nxd5, winning a piece, and Qxh6 with an attack on the king. I can't find anything better than 16... ♕d8 (16... ♗xc3 17. ♕xh6 ♖fe8 18. ♘g5! is curtains ; 16... ♔g7 17. ♘xd5 ) 17. ♕xh6 ♕e7 18. ♘g5 f6 19. ♕g6+ ♔h8 20. ♕h6+ with perpetual check.

14... c5

14... ♗c5 was also quite possible.

15. a5! This is a story that regularly repeats itself when I look at Mamedyarov's games. He handles the opening poorly, knows less than his opponent and is doing badly. Then he pulls himself together, keeps finding the best chances, complicates the game and can beat anyone. What a player he'd be if he also worked on his serve...

15... ♕d8 The World Champion commits another inaccuracy. Even if it looks strange the modest a7-square was the one to choose!

15... ♕a7! 16. dxe6 fxe6 In contrast to the game the d7-knight isn't pinned here, so that 17. ♘h4 can be answered strongly with (17. e5 ♗xf3! 18. ♗xf3 ♘xe5 19. ♗xa8 ♕xa8 will end badly.) 17... ♘e5

15... ♗xa5 16. dxe6 fxe6 17. e5! illustrates Mamedyarov's idea. 17... ♗xf3 18. ♗xf3 ♘xe5 19. ♗xa8 ♖xa8 20. ♘e4 with complex play.

16. dxe6 fxe6 17. ♘h4! Now this is possible. White has managed to create a couple of weaknesses in the black camp and also has the plan of f4 followed by e5. As of this point there's good reason to talk of an "unclear position" and "compensation for the pawn".

17... ♗xc3

17... ♕e8? 18. e5 ♗xg2 19. exf6 ♗b7 20. fxg7 loosens the black king's protective shield and explains why Carlsen first parts with his bishop.

18. bxc3 ♕e8 19. f4!

19. e5 can now comfortably be absorbed with 19... ♘d5

19... ♖d8 With the bishop pair and the black pawn mass immobile on the queenside there are now plenty of factors working in White's favour. Black also currently has dangerously little space for his heavy pieces (xd8, xe8, xf8). White is ok!

20. h3 Taking away the option of Ng4 and preparing g4.

20... ♖f7 Carlsen attempts to coordinate his forces by clearing the f8-square for the knight. The rook can enter into play via d7. This operation nevertheless comes only at the cost of the extra pawn on c5.

20... e5 was already worth considering here.

21. ♖d6 I also like this move. White prepares Rad1 or Re1 so as to bring his rook into play. Black has to do something before his opponent continues his march, so...

21... e5 22. f5 Laying waste to all the hard work of the previous moves. Suddenly the once passive Black forces will be as active as wildfire and the white position rapidly collapses. It was essential to leave the f5-square free for the knight. At the same time the e4-pawn had to be protected, so...

22. ♖e1! and anything can happen. The perils of the black position are illustrated by something like 22... exf4 (22... ♘f8 23. ♘f5 ; 22... ♘h5 , with chaos, is the computer's recommendation. 23. ♕d2 ♘xg3 24. fxe5 ♕xe5 25. ♘g6 ♕e8 26. e5 ♗xg2 27. ♕xg2 ♘f5 28. ♗f2 is a conceivable right mouse button variation - just don't ask me who's better and why. "Unclear" ) 23. ♗xf4 ♘f8 24. ♘f5! and the white activity assumes alarming proportions - e5 is in the air.

22... ♘f8! Suddenly everything goes like clockwork. The active rook is exchanged, its black colleague can invade via d7 and d3, the queen will go to c6 or a8 in order to attack e4, and even the knight on f8 can quickly enter via h7 and g5. The difference now is that the white knight on h4 lacks access to f5 and can only stand by and watch.

23. ♗xc5

23. ♖ad1 put up a little more resistance: 23... ♖xd6 24. ♖xd6 ♖d7 25. ♗xc5 ♕d8! 26. ♖xd7 ♘8xd7 27. ♗b4 ♕a8! and e4 falls. Black is clearly on top.

23... ♖xd6 24. ♗xd6 ♖d7! Suddenly nothing works anymore. Black is simply too active.

25. ♗xf8

25. ♗b4 ♘8h7! with Ng5, Rd3 and xe4 to follow.

25... ♕xf8 26. ♖d1

26. ♕f2 ♖d3 also can't save the situation.

26... ♕c5+ 27. ♔h2 ♗xe4! and Mamedyarov had seen enough. 28. Bxe4 Rxd1 29. Qxd1 and the powerful threat of Qf2 will prove decisive. Even exchanging queens is fine for Black now as all endgames will easily be won. 

A surprisingly rapid collapse from Mamedyarov after he'd fought his way back into the game. Carlsen didn't make his usual dominant impression, and with 0-0 and Qd8 inaccuracies crept into his play and allowed Mamedyarov back into the game. Nevertheless, the win will undoubtedly give him a boost, and despite the collective outcry of the chess world over his two losses he's still in shared first place in the tournament. 

So then, enough talking and writing about chess for one day.

Time for chicken and then the long NBA playoffs night. It gets going with the dissection of another favourite who's lately scored only 1/3. Come on, Indiana Pacers, someone has to stop the Heat! You have to beat Atlanta today. Tomorrow it's back to chess.


In all the post-game press conferences the main questions were not about chess but the “friendly” football session on the rest day.

Caruana, Karjakin, Radjabov and Nakamura were all forced to defend their absence… e.g. Nakamura:

I don’t play football, I just follow it. I play hockey or tennis, but I’m not going to touch soccer. It’s not my sport.

They were even asked if they knew the score (amazingly they didn’t…), but Karjakin did concede that Carlsen’s team defeating Mamedyarov’s might have had some significance:

Maybe it was very important for him to win in some game – doesn’t matter if it’s football or chess – so maybe yes.

The captains at the coin toss - at least this referee escaped the day unscathed! | photo: Ahmed Mukhtar, official website

Carlsen himself commented:

It was fun playing football yesterday. I really needed a positive experience after the last couple of games. Maybe I took it too seriously at times. It was fun and I got a win today and now I feel like I’m on track to do well in the tournament.

Too seriously? As another player explained:

Radjabov: The only thing I know is that he almost killed the Chief Arbiter.

Elmira Mirzoyeva: He’s alive.

Radjabov: Still, it was a scary moment.

74-year-old Faik Gasanov is not only the tournament’s Chief Arbiter but also the Vice President of the Azerbaijan Chess Federation. In hindsight it may have been unwise to take to the pitch against a player over 50 years his junior... The following before and after sequence was captured by Evgeny Surov for Chess-News:

Magnus’ will to win on the football pitch recalls an anecdote Peter Svidler related to Moscow News in the run-up to last year’s Anand-Carlsen match:

I once played a match against him on Spitsbergen, many years ago – 2006, to be precise. We played two “long rapid” games, but for the rest of the time we had nothing much to do, and on the Russian side of the island while we were waiting for the banquet we played futsal with one goal. There were five or six of us, including the then President of the Norwegian Chess Federation and his girlfriend, a very fragile creature – it seemed a puff of wind might blow her away.

Back then Peter defeated 15-year-old Magnus 1.5-0.5 | photo: Dan Celius, ChessBase

Then someone left and the play began to break down. So I suggested a round-robin penalty tournament – each of us would shoot against everyone else. Everyone agreed, including the girl. And that was when Magnus first demonstrated to me what would later become absolutely obvious to everyone – his absolute champion’s will to win. As we were shooting from quite close range everyone tried to go for placement – everyone, but not him. For all four of his penalties, including against the girl, Magnus took a 10-metre run-up and, as they say, let rip. He plays football pretty well, and therefore injuries were avoided – he wasn’t aiming at people. Still, the spectacle was pretty terrifying, and it stuck in my memory.

Magnus still looks pretty terrifying from the penalty spot today! | photo: Ahmed Mukhtar, official website

The rest day came to a more peaceful end, with Azerbaijan’s 2012 Eurovision singer Sabina Babayeva performing while the tournament players and guests ate and drank (video by Evgeny Surov):

So after an eventful tournament so far Carlsen is back in shared first place with Radjabov, Mamedyarov has sunk further and the other players are locked on 50%.

1Radjabov Teimour2713AZE 1½  ½ ½½ ½3.5
2Carlsen Magnus2881NOR0 0 ½ 11  13.5
3Caruana Fabiano2783ITA ½1½½ ½ 03
4Karjakin Sergey2772RUS ½ ½ ½½ ½  ½3
5Nakamura Hikaru2772USA½0 ½ ½ ½ 13
6Mamedyarov Shakhriyar2760AZE½ 0 0  1 ½ 02

Sunday is yet another chance for Nakamura to end his awful sequence of results against Carlsen (9 losses, 0 wins). The last time he had the white pieces against Carlsen in Zurich he came incredibly close to winning, although the World Champion didn’t seem too concerned when talking to the Norwegian media:

Don't miss our live commentary with GM Jan Gustafsson and IM Lawrence Trent!

See also:

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