Shakhriyar Mamedyarov took down world no. 2 Fabiano Caruana on the bloodiest day yet in Bucharest. Shakh’s 3rd win in a row took him up to world no. 5 on the live rating list and also gave him a 1-point lead going into the final two rounds after co-leader Alexander Grischuk collapsed in time trouble against Levon Aronian. The day’s other winner was Anish Giri, who ground down Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in a drawish ending and later declared “chess is just about luck - there’s really nothing else!”
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If Fabiano Caruana was going to win the Superbet Chess Classic there was no better way to go about it than to defeat and catch leader Shakhriyar Mamedyarov. The world no. 2 had the white pieces, but it turned out to be a game that was almost entirely dictated by Shakh, who said his mood was transformed after playing risky chess paid off against Constantin Lupulescu.
Shakh played the Berlin, but as he explained afterwards to Cristian Chirila:
Today I think I played an absolutely different Berlin! One time Vladimir Kramnik told me I started to play the Petroff, but he said, it’s not Petroff, it doesn’t look like Petroff when you play every time an attack! And today I played a Berlin, a move Vladimir Kramnik style, g5.
First off it was Fabiano who kept things lively with the 4.d3 Anti-Berlin, but Mamedyarov’s 5…Nd4!? was already a rare line that saw White sink into a 15-minute think. It wasn’t long until we got that quintessentially Shakh move, 9…g5!?
For the second day in a row Shakhriyar’s opponent rushed at a critical moment, with Fabi taking just over 3 minutes to go for 10.Ne2!? “I think he was not very happy and he started to play fast,” said the Azerbaijan star, though after 10…Bb6! Fabi thought for 23 minutes before playing 11.c3!?, after which the rest of the game was a struggle to survive for White.
Shakh thought that long think might have been because Fabi spotted that after 11.Ng3 Rg8 12.Be3 g4 13.h4 Black has 13…Nh5!
14.Nxh5 is met by 14…Qxh4!, with one point that after 15.Bxb6 axb6 the a4-bishop as well as the h5-knight are attacked. Nevertheless, that line would have been a lot better than Fabi got in the game.
Fabi might have saved himself a lot of pain if he’d met 9…g5 with the counterblow 10.Nd5!
When Shakh was shown that afterwards he asked what would happen after 10…Bd7?, only to be shown 11.Bxg5! and Black is busted. There’s little doubt he would have played one of Black’s better responses, but in each case it seems as though White keeps an edge.
The game was an ordeal for Fabi, though his attempted defence made a big impression.
Rather than wait for Shakh to methodically round up his e and g-pawns, Fabi sacrificed them with 24.e6! fxe6 25.g6! hxg6, a bold idea that in fact gets the computer’s stamp of approval. His opponent was understandably a little concerned.
I start to think if Fabi will play this game draw, it will be brilliant defence… e6, g6, different level!
But although Fabi stabilised for a while, he was always worse, and Mamedyarov eventually found a nice way to liquidate into a simpler won endgame.
40…Rh1+! 41.Kxh1 Bxg2+! 42.Rxg2 Rxc7 and although after 43.Rxg6+ Black only had one extra pawn, it proved sufficient for a comfortable win.
That win was even sweeter for Mamedyarov since it came on the same day his co-leader lost.
“Of course after yesterday’s play I was very angry at myself, so it’s good to get back some of the confidence and come back to 50%,” said Levon Aronian after this game, referring to his calamitous loss to Shakhiryar Mamedyarov in the previous round. What had gone wrong there?
I knew it very well, but I started inventing new ways to play for Black, which is not a very good idea! Instead of 19…Bd7 I knew that both Qb6+ and b5 are sufficient for a draw, and I drew like that a zillion times in a blitz game.
This time there would be no opening regrets for Levon, who admitted his 6.a3 and later 10.d5!? exd5 11.Nxd5 was more about playing the man.
I thought just to play something he might not expect, this a3. Of course 10.Qe2 is the main theoretical move, 10.d5 is not a particularly great move, but I just thought that we’ll get something similar to these Queen’s Gambit positions, but it’s important to take advantage of Sasha’s desire to think! Generally if you want to beat Grischuk you have to lure him into time trouble, because he’s very good with no time trouble.
Levon commented of his play, “I’m not particularly proud”, but noted that 11…Bd6! was the way to equalise. Instead Grischuk fell 40 minutes behind on the clock before playing 11…Be7!?, after which Levon felt his position was already very pleasant.
At the critical moment of the game Grischuk was down to just 3 minutes to Aronian’s 43.
The computer says 21…Re7! is just a draw, but after the natural-looking 21…Nd4? White was completely on top, and after 22.Nxd4 Bxd4 23.Rad1! Bc5? (23…Be5! was the last chance) 24.Bb1! the white attack was overwhelming. At least time trouble meant the agony was short-lived.
Levon summed up how he felt:
It feels great, especially when you get such an easy game. You don’t get such an easy game in such a strong tournament.
For the first time in Bucharest we got three wins on a single day, though it was hard imagine this game would end decisively after 27.Bxd5.
Anish Giri had an extra pawn, but his kingside was in ruins and he had no expectations of managing to win the game. He said afterwards:
I’m very happy. I’m a very experienced player, and the more experienced I get the more I realise chess is just about luck, there’s really nothing else!
Of course you make your own luck in chess much more than in almost any other activity, and in this case Anish explained that he had the initial goal of simply preventing any immediate liquidation into a clear draw. Then he got some help when Maxime decided to trade down into an opposite-coloured bishop endgame. Giri was shocked, but had one explanation:
He either suffers for two more hours, and then who knows, or maybe if it’s a draw, it’s just a draw.
It may well have been a draw, but if it was Maxime didn’t find it, and it was a bad day for the French School of Suffering — a term Magnus Carlsen invented to describe Maxime’s appetite for defending miserable positions.
The remaining two games were drawn, but couldn’t have been much more different. Radjabov-So was a sharp struggle, but Wesley pointed out both players were prepared until around move 18, which was the point at which a series of exchanges saw the game fizzle out into a draw. It was the first game to finish, and means Teimour has now played seven draws without any real incident in Bucharest, while Wesley is in joint 2nd place, a point behind Mamedyarov.
The other draw was the longest game of the day and ended with bare kings on move 75. 19-year-old Bogdan-Daniel Deac was pushing with the black pieces against his Romanian colleague Constantin Lupulescu, but a tense struggle never became seriously unbalanced.
The day’s action left Shakhriyar Mamedyarov a full point clear of Alexander Grischuk and Wesley So.
That means there are chances of Shakh wrapping up victory with a round to spare when he takes on Anish Giri with the white pieces in Sunday’s Round 8. Grischuk-Caruana and So-MVL are the games involving Mamedyarov’s pursuers.
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