Features Oct 15, 2014 | 7:52 PMby Colin McGourty

Winners and Losers: The Baku Grand Prix

Fabiano Caruana solves the problem of what Gelfand and him can do with a joint cheque for 35,000 euros! | photo: Maria Emelianova, FIDE

So the first stage of the 2014/15 FIDE Grand Prix series is over. Five draws in the final round saw front runners Fabiano Caruana and Boris Gelfand finish the job to divide up the lion’s share of Grand Prix points between them, while almost half the field tied for third just half a point behind. Our look at the winners and losers of the event is overshadowed, however, by a feeling of déjà vu. After all, Caruana and Gelfand also tied for first place in the last Grand Prix tournament – back in Paris in 2013!

Let’s get down to business:

The Winners

1. Boris Gelfand

We started our discussion of Gelfand’s heroics at the Paris Grand Prix with, “Life begins at 45!” All we can conclude from Baku is that life continues at 46… Boris’ dazzling miniature against Andreikin in Round 1 was a sign of intent, which he backed up by beating Grischuk in Round 3. Although the Israeli suffered a wobble in Round 9 when he lost to Mamedyarov he bounced straight back to beat the other Azeri in the field, Radjabov, in Round 10.

Year after year Boris Gelfand is ready to give his all at the board | photo: Maria Emelianova, FIDE

They say motivation is one of the reasons why chess performance drops with age, but Gelfand looks set to be the Viktor Korchnoi of his generation – that legend’s win against Caruana at the age of 79 is looking better and better. Sergey Shipov, who commentated in Russian for the Baku Grand Prix broadcast, wrote about Gelfand four years ago:

He continues to work seriously on his chess when almost all of his contemporaries have long since ceased to do so. He follows a fitness regime, plays sport, does everything correctly, while most of his contemporaries… behave like normal people. Where Boris gets the motivation to continue this self-torture is a total mystery.

A clue was perhaps given in the fanatical dedication of his father to his progress, as recounted in the recent film Album 61.

2. Fabiano Caruana

It wasn't quite vintage (of 2014) Caruana, but there are worse places to finish than first! | photo: Maria Emelianova, FIDE

We actually hesitated about this one! True, Caruana had the highest number of wins (four) and finished first:

1Caruana Fabiano2844½4
2Gelfand Boris2748½3
3Karjakin Sergey27676
4Grischuk Alexander2797623
5Svidler Peter2732622
6Tomashevsky Evgeny2701621
7Nakamura Hikaru27646
8Radjabov Teimour27260
9Mamedyarov Shakhriyar27645½1
10Kasimdzhanov Rustam27065½1
11Andreikin Dmitry27220
12Dominguez Perez Leinier275130

The 155 points he and Gelfand earned also leave him in a fine position in the Grand Prix series as a whole. The hesitation, however, is that we’ve ceased to judge Caruana as we do mere mortals. After his Sinquefield Cup streak it was a mild let-down when Caruana failed to win his first three games – in each of which he had a winning position. It seemed he was back on track after wins in rounds 4 and 6 saw him hit Kasparov’s 2851 and thrust him right up into Carlsen’s Elosphere (as Jan Gustafsson described it).

After that, though, Caruana played the Scandinavian Opening against Andreikin and things began to fall apart… or rather, he finished on a 2808 rating performance and lost 5 rating points  Caruana was asked after the final game if he was satisfied with his tournament:

No, not really, I didn’t play very well throughout the tournament and my result was probably better than I deserved, but still a bit disappointing.

So then… a loser? No, for a simple reason – we can’t do that to him again! We labelled him a loser after he finished first at the Paris Grand Prix. In our defence, the shared rather than outright first place there did mean he missed out on the 2014 Candidates Tournament and a chance to play a match against Magnus Carlsen. Now, however, we’re taking this opportunity to right the historical wrong. Caruana is a winner!

3. Chess WAGs

If chess aspires to be a mainstream sport it really needs to adopt some of the mass media features of sport, including WAGs – wives and girlfriends! Where would football (soccer) be without Victoria Beckham or Antonella Roccuzzo for journalists to write about and the paparazzi to photograph? Chess, more than most sports, could do with some female sparkle, and the twelve men sitting on a stage at the Baku Grand Prix were boosted in particular by the constant presence of Sergey Karjakin and Rustam Kasimdzhanov’s wives Galiya and Firuza. They were beautifully photographed, round after round, by official FIDE photographer Maria Emelianova (more photos here).

  • Sergey meets the fans - his wife Galiya and Firuza Kasimdzhanova

  • Firuza was ever-present at the venue...

  • ...supporting her ex-World Champion husband Rustam Kasimdzhanov

  • Galiya and Sergey's manager Kirill Zangalis show utter confidence in Karjakin's position

  • There were reinforcements at the closing ceremony!

4. The Grand Prix website

Even a mother would struggle to love the previous Grand Prix website, which wasn’t helped by the struggle to explain the bewildering system. 

This time, though, AGON have come up with an attractive home for the four events. 

It’s a little rough around the edges – leaving the stats out completely is perhaps not ideal, and at the moment of writing one of the venues is wrong… – but clearly it’s an enormous improvement and a first step to branding the tournaments in a marketable fashion.

5. The time control without increments

In Baku there were no increments – an extra 30 seconds added after you make a move – until you reached move 60, meaning we got to see real time trouble: players leaving themselves barely enough time to physically make the moves before the guillotine fell. Sometimes that happened twice in a game – at move 40 and move 60 – just as in the good old days before the time-management-challenged were given a lifebelt.

Who needs scoresheets! This is from our live broadcast, showing the time usage as Grischuk's flag fell when he spent 2 seconds on his 60th move

Despite the excitement time trouble guarantees fans the time control was likely a result of a copy/paste error from previous World Championship events, since the players are almost universally in favour of increments, but if it does disappear in future at least we got to witness a historic event: the first time time-trouble addict Alexander Grischuk actually lost a game of classical chess on time (rather than simply destroying his position with bad moves!).

6. Evgeny Tomashevsky

Evgeny Tomashevsky doesn't get a lot of supertournament invites, but despite 20 draws in 22 Grand Prix games Emil Sutovsky insisted the Russian has an interesting style, sticking stubbornly to systems he believes in | photo: Maria Emelianova, FIDE 

What, you ask? Didn’t he draw all his games but one and agree to Caruana’s draw offer in a better position in the final game? Well, yes, but this is also a comparative issue. In the Paris Grand Prix Tomashevsky had ten draws and one loss (to Caruana, as it happens), while in Baku he had ten draws and one win! QED 

The Losers

1. Leinier Dominguez

This one was fairly clear cut: five losses, four in a row at the end, no wins and 25 rating points jettisoned. And all that came less than half a year after the Cuban no. 1 hit a career high best of 2768 and world no. 12.

The Fates were enjoying themselves at the drawing of lots | photo: Anastasiya Karlovich, FIDE

The final loss at least livened up a day of draws in Round 11, as Spanish IM David Martinez describes:

1. ♘f3 In this game this move means: "Hey, Leinier, I'll play e4, but only if you play c5".

1... c5 "Come on, then".

2. e4 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. ♘xd4 ♘f6 5. ♘c3 a6 6. h3 One of the preferred variations to combat the Najdorf among the elite.

6... e6 7. g4 ♘fd7 8. g5 b5 9. a3 ♗b7 10. h4 In this moment we're transposing into a Scheveningen (5...e6 instead of 5...a6) where White has chosen the Keres Variation 6. g4! Yes, it would be better for White if he wasn't playing h4 only after h3, but according to Vallejo, who knows a lot, the Keres is so good that you can play it a tempo down and still be doing well... I believe him.

10... ♗e7 11. ♗e3 O-O 12. f4 It was just here that Grischuk deviated from a fine win by Vallejo against Topalov, which helped him conquer the León Tournament in 2012. True, he did this after 35 minutes, so it seems it wasn't a product of home preparation.

12. ♕d2 ♘c6 13. O-O-O ♘xd4 14. ♗xd4 ♖c8 15. ♖g1 ♘e5 16. ♕e3 ♘c4 17. ♗xc4 ♖xc4 18. f4 ♖e8 19. f5 ♗f8 20. f6 e5 21. ♗b6 ♕d7 22. fxg7 ♗xg7 23. ♗c5 ♗f8 24. h5 ♖xc3 25. bxc3 ♖e6 26. ♗b4 ♕c7 27. ♕a7 ♕c8 28. ♖df1 ♗e7 29. ♖f6 ♗xf6 30. gxf6+ ♔f8 31. ♕b6 ♗c6 32. ♖g8+ 1-0 ( 32) Vallejo Pons,F (2697)-Topalov,V (2752) León 2012

12... ♘c6 13. ♖h3 Grischuk moves the rook away from the long diagonal so he can play f5 with no issues. In some lines the rook will also be useful on the third rank to defend the queenside.

13. ♕g4 was played in Mariya Muzychuk - Marie Sebag. The French no. 1 replied forcefully with 13... ♘xd4 14. ♗xd4 e5 15. ♗e3 and could then have played 15... f5! exploiting her lead in development to seize the initiative.

13... ♖c8 14. f5 ♘xd4

14... ♘ce5 was a very interesting option. 15. ♕d2 (15. fxe6 could be met by 15... ♖xc3! 16. bxc3 ♘c5 ) 15... ♘c4 16. ♗xc4 ♖xc4 17. ♖g3 with a complex position.

15. ♕xd4 ♘c5 Now Black threatens e5 and the queen has no good square from which to defend e4. That's why Grischuk makes one.

16. ♗d2 ♖e8 A standard manoeuvre, leaving f8 for the bishop.

16... d5 Breaking in the centre is always an option worth keeping in mind in the Sicilian!

17. O-O-O ♕c7 18. f6 ♗f8 19. ♗d3 ♕b6 Going for the ending, but it seems somewhat better for White. Better was

19... d5! 20. exd5 exd5 , once more with an extremely complex position. Black has various very dangerous plans involving Ne6 followed by d4 or Ne4. On the other hand, White is close to putting two pawns on the sixth rank in front of the enemy king... All three results are still very possible!

20. ♔b1! It's important to move the king so as not to allow Nb3+, losing the queen.

20... ♘a4 21. ♕xb6 ♘xb6 Leinier must have trusted in this ending due to the d5-break, but Grischuk's next move fights against that.

22. ♘e2! ♘d7

22... d5 23. e5 White would follow up by occupying the d4-square and breaking with g6. Although there are no queens on the board it remains dangerous.

23. ♖f1 It's clear that White hasn't abandoned his evil intentions against the enemy king.

23... ♘e5 Yet more proof that Leinier isn't on top of his game. As we'll see, Leinier soon abandons this square to put the knight on c5.

23... ♘c5 , hitting e4 immediately, would have left White with fewer options.

24. ♘f4 ♘d7 Despite the lost tempi it's not so easy to break down the black position!

25. ♘h5

25. fxg7 ♗xg7 26. ♘h5 ♘c5 27. ♖e3 , followed by Nf6, applying pressure, was a more positional option... but Grischuk isn't that kind of guy.

25... g6 26. ♘f4 ♘c5 27. h5 The most direct move! The black position is starting to shake. Once again it was calmer to play

27. ♖e1 and only later break with h5, so that Black might respond 27... h5 28. gxh6 ♔h7 and ok, this holds, but I'd stick with White! I really like the plan of 29. ♖g3 followed by Nh3-g5.

27... gxh5

27... ♘xe4 needs to be met very precisely, but it seems that White gets an advantage after both 28. hxg6

a) 28... ♘xd2+ 29. ♔c1 ♘xf1 (29... fxg6 30. ♔xd2 ♖c7 31. ♖h4 followed by Nxg6 or Nxe6, with an edge. The mysterious rook move is to avoid the unpleasant Bg2, hitting both rooks.) 30. gxf7+ ♔xf7 31. ♖xh7+ ♔g8 32. f7# A cute mate  and

b) 28... hxg6 29. ♗c3! ♘xg5 Going for an extremely long forced line. (29... ♘xc3+ 30. bxc3 and Black can't solve his problems on the h-file.) 30. ♖g3 ♘e4 31. ♗xe4 ♗xe4 32. ♘xg6 ♗xg6 33. ♖xg6+ fxg6 34. f7+ ♔h7 35. ♖h1+ ♗h6 36. fxe8Q ♖xe8 37. ♗d2 and White wins the bishop... but it's not over yet. 37... g5 38. ♗xg5 ♔g6 39. ♗xh6 ♖h8 40. ♖e1 ♔xh6 41. ♖xe6+ ♔g7 42. ♖xd6 and this ending is winning.

28. ♖e1 Now it's time, preventing the black pieces on the queenside from coming to defend due to e4.

28... e5 29. ♘xh5 d5 Leinier obviously isn't going to sit by quietly and instead looks for counterplay, but his position is difficult.

30. ♘g3 ♖cd8? Making it easier for White, but his position was already very tough.

30... dxe4 31. ♗e2 followed by Bg4-f5.

31. ♖eh1! h6 32. ♘f5 The attack is already unstoppable.

32... dxe4 33. ♘xh6+ ♔h7 34. ♘xf7+

34. ♘f5+ is a very elegant way of hunting the king immediately: 34... ♔g6 35. ♘g3 and Rh6+ is mate.

34... ♔g6 35. ♘xd8 ♖xd8 36. ♗a5 ♖xd3 37. cxd3 exd3 38. ♖h6+ ♔xg5 39. ♗d2+ ♔f5 40. ♖f1+ So Grischuk completed his third consecutive win, while Leiner suffered his fourth consecutive defeat. Nevertheless, it has to be said that this game was less about Dominguez's failure than about his opponent, Grischuk, who played with energy and great precision.


There were other players who couldn’t exactly look back on a successful event, but even, for instance, Andreikin could count two wins, one against none other than Caruana.  


We made FIDE winners a year ago, and it could have gone either way this time as well. Back then we said AGON “is a distant memory”, but that company has returned like a phoenix from the flames. The Baku Grand Prix was well run and the reduction of the series from six to four events with all results counting for a player strikes us as an improvement – it’s much easier to follow!

There are some negatives, though. The scheduling clearly went a little haywire, with the next grueling Grand Prix starting days after the last:

There was also a prize fund sting we missed in our article comparing the old and new Grand Prix series – not only is the prize fund each tournament lower, the overall prize fund has gone. Unsurprisingly, the players did spot that and brought it up in post-game press conferences… but that’s not why FIDE are wearing the losers’ cap! The reason: yet again the Grand Prix venues are in a state of flux. First Moscow turned into Khanty-Mansiysk, and now it’s been announced that Tbilisi, Georgia is replacing Tehran.

Baadur Jobava is currently playing a match against Jan Timman, which you can watch live with commentary by Jan Gustafsson and Paco Vallejo here on chess24 | photo: Peter Doggers, Unive website

Frankly, it looks like an improvement. 2594-rated Ehsan Ghaem Maghami would have been heavily outrated and might have had issues playing Boris Gelfand, while his replacement Baadur Jobava (2717) is a fans’ favourite for his dynamic style. Still, it does nothing for the reputation of the World Championship cycle that we’re facing last-minute changes yet again.

3. Interpretations

We noted during the Gashimov Memorial in Shamkir, Azerbaijan that the interpreting often resembled a scene from Lost in Translation, with the amount said in English and Azeri seldom matching:

There were definite hints of that in Baku, while at times loud simultaneous translation drowned out the answers of the players. The obvious solution was to have the press conferences only in English and the words of the interpreter available through headphones, but on the other hand there were enjoyable moments!

For instance, when Hikaru Nakamura pointed out that Bobby Fischer was partly to blame for a lack of interest in chess in the US, the interpreter felt he knew the word Nakamura was searching for:

Nakamura: Secondly, of course, the problem is that there’s Bobby Fischer – 42 years ago now. Unfortunately, after he won that world championship he kind of lost his path in life, let’s put it that way. He was really popular, and I think when that happened it really just killed a lot of the interest from the general public. There’s still plenty of fans…

Interpreter: What killed the interest – him winning the championship?

Nakamura: No, I think what happened after he won. At the time it was the Cold War, US versus the Soviet Union, and he was very popular, but after that to become anti-America, anti-Jewish, all these different things… He kind of came off as being a little bit crazy because of that.

Interpreter: Eccentric.

Nakamura: (smiling) Eccentric would be a nice way of putting it. Unfortunately it’s worse than that.

Interpreter: “To put it mildly”.

Nakamura: So after that I think there was an image problem that chess players are crazy. It’s never gotten back to that level and I don’t think it ever will in America, for that matter. Nevertheless, there still are some strong tournaments, some private sponsors, so there’s interest…

When the interpreter then gave a very long account of what Nakamura had said it was noticeable that the word “eccentric” featured at least twice! (Nakamura starts talking about Fischer at about 18:50 in the video below)

4. Windowless hotel rooms

And finally… we had to include Alexander Grischuk’s nomination for as Room 101

Alexander "I just cannot live without windows" Grischuk on Mamedyarov's right-hand side at the closing banquet | photo: Maria Emelianova, FIDE

He teased us all by remarking in Round 10 that there was a reason for his improvement in the second half of the event. After he’d won the final game he revealed it:

For me the tournament consisted of two parts. In the first part I was completely struggling and playing extremely badly but then I moved to a hotel with windows and it completely changed everything for me. I just cannot live without windows. I felt like I was in a submarine for more than a week. When I was waking up I felt like I was pregnant. I was just feeling so bad every morning and the whole day and my play showed it very clearly… and then I moved. Of course I’m lucky that I won three games out of four after I moved, but still, the level of my play increased dramatically.

We’re not sure what’s left to say after that! 

Commentator Emil Sutovsky would surely have featured among the winners if we could have heard him sing! | photo: Maria Emelianova, FIDE

See also:

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