Fabiano Caruana has ended a streak of seven games without a win by pouncing on a mistake to beat Boris Gelfand in Round 7 of the Tashkent Grand Prix. There was a less welcome first for Anish Giri, who fell to Sergey Karjakin after ambitious opening play backfired. The other games were drawn, although a wild sacrifice by Baadur Jobava made his encounter with Maxime Vachier-Lagrave arguably the game of the round. Hikaru Nakamura and Dmitry Andreikin continue to lead.
Tashkent Grand Prix Round 7 (click on a result to replay the game with computer analysis)
As in the previous Grand Prix in Baku the all-Azeri battle between Teimour Radjabov and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov made a mockery of the no draws before 30 moves rule aimed at encouraging fighting chess. The friends simply blitzed out the required moves to share the point.
The only other relatively uneventful draw was the battle of
the Russian Dmitrys. Jakovenko had struggled with Black in the same line
against Alexander Grischuk, so decided to play it with White. The result? He
struggled with White, but was never in danger of losing. Andreikin was happy with
the draw that keeps him unbeaten and on top of the table in Tashkent.
The other leader, Hikaru Nakamura, said he chose the Dutch Defence (1.d4 f5) against Rustam Kasimdzhanov since the latter was struggling in the tournament and he felt obliged to play for a win.
The ensuing battle was certainly sharp, with both players happy with their position. Kasimdzhanov thought his opponent’s 25…g5 was weakening…
…but he couldn’t prove anything. A hard-fought 36-move draw.
Baadur Jobava once more introduced some glorious mayhem to the proceedings in Tashkent. He played the Caro-Kann against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave with an offbeat sixth move. Let’s not entirely believe Baadur that his 6…h5!?, played in 25 seconds, was an “over-the-board inspiration”, but you have to admire anyone who can put his pawns on h5 and g4 by move 9 with Black against a Top 15 player (and live to tell the tale).
On move 14 Baadur went into a 36-minute think before sacrificing yet another bishop, this time for a single pawn. 14…Bxc2!?
It was beautiful that after 15.Qxc2 Jobava’s follow-up was merely to push a pawn – 15…a5 – a few moves later he’d won another pawn and had full compensation, but then things began to get much more murky. Maxime got the upper hand and was in with good chances of regaining the overall lead in the Grand Prix, but it was never easy. For instance, the computer suggests the last moment for White to preserve a big advantage was here after 31….Ke7:
32.Ng4! - instead of Maxime’s 32.Rf1 - was apparently the move, although the computer lines and unusual material balance might leave you feeling somewhat dizzy. A draw was agreed on move 38.
Both of the day’s wins were ultimately decided by a tactical blunder, but that’s where the similarity ends. While Caruana-Gelfand was a quiet strategic struggle, things quickly got out of hand in Karjakin-Giri.
Karjakin was coming off the back of two consecutive losses and might not have been averse to following the old Soviet wisdom of consolidating with a draw. In fact he noted he was at least considering a 3-fold repetition like the one Hikaru Nakamura took in a similar position after 16 moves against Giri at the Tromsø Olympiad:
Karjakin played a rare move and Giri regretted his response:
Giri: I played the worst possible line.
Karjakin: I didn’t know 8…h5.
Giri: For a good reason!
As early as move 13 the computer was suggesting wins for Karjakin:
13.Ndxb5! was apparently the way to go, and the black king is in trouble. It’s fiendishly complicated, but Giri noted he would be getting what he deserved:
This is sick, but the fact that White is winning here is not a surprise… all the black pieces are on the back rank.
What followed was less than convincing from either player, though perhaps Giri’s downfall was that he began to get overly optimistic, reasoning that if he could survive the obvious danger his two bishops would give him an edge. Instead the end came on move 28. Giri said in the post-game press conference that he couldn’t fathom the reason Karjakin took with his queen on b5 (he suspected a plan to sacrifice on f5), but after 28…e5? 29.Qa6!...
…he immediately realised he'd fallen into a “cheap trap”. It’s amazing how helpless Black is in this position against all the threats, with avoiding one knight fork just meaning you stumble into another. Replaying the game with our broadcast software is highly recommended – note you can make moves on the board and see new computer analysis for each move (premium users get first priority, but all moves will be evaluated!).
Giri had to give up the exchange and the remaining moves were blitzed out more in inertia than hope.
So that leaves us with Caruana-Gelfand, a game than might prove crucial for the overall Grand Prix standings. Remember, these players shared the points for 1st-2nd place at the Baku Grand Prix, but have both failed to fire in Tashkent, with 18 games in 26 days perhaps taking a particularly heavy toll on 46-year-old Boris Gelfand.
The opening of their game in Round 7 hasn’t been heaped with praise elsewhere, for which Caruana himself may be somewhat to blame. In his notes based on the post-game press conference Mark Crowther writes of 10.Bd3:
Caruana couldn’t explain why he went for this very tame variation.
That may not tell the whole story, though. When we suggested this game to our annotator, IM David Martinez, he was initially reluctant, since it was the final day of the European Youth Chess Championship in Batumi and as a coach of the Spanish players he had the closing ceremony, a bumpy bus ride to Turkey and a flight back to Spain ahead of him. A few minutes later, though, he was hooked, writing on Skype: “Caruana’s opening is wonderful!”
What had he spotted?
11... ♕g6? is the move you can see recommended by the computer chess engine Stockfish in our broadcast, but if you look a little deeper... it loses! 12. ♗xf5 ♕xg2 13. f4 ♕xh1 14. ♕f2 and the black queen is trapped on h1 in a form very similar to what happened in Anand's crucial win against Gelfand in the 2012 World Championship match:
A brilliant idea from Fabiano!
12... ♕g5 13. ♔f1 , followed by Nf3, h4 and Rh1-h3. The white position is solid and his plans are straightforward, so I think White should be able to press. (13. ♘f3⁉ ♕xg2 14. ♔e2 with some compensation, although I don't think this is needed.)
18. h3 Avoiding mates on the first rank.
19... ♕e6 A slight inaccuracy that gives White more chances to fight for an advantage.
19... ♕d7 was more solid, aiming to take on c5 with the rook and keep b7 defended.
20. dxc5! The action begins. The following sequence is almost forced.
24... ♖xa5 And the critical mistake! Gelfand is losing a pawn to a tactical trick.
33. ♕xe4 ♖f8 34. ♕d5+ ♔h7 35. ♖f7 A fascinating game featuring an extremely novel idea from Caruana. He steered towards the typical Rubinstein Variation centre in the Capablanca Variation, and after getting a slight advantage a couple of imprecise moves from Gelfand were enough to allow Fabiano to claim his first win of the 2014 Tashkent Grand Prix.
So although the day’s results changed nothing at the top Boris Gelfand has now joined Rustam Kasimdzhanov in last place, while Caruana is only a point off the lead with four rounds to go. He takes on Kasimdzhanov in Round 8.
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