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The top tournaments seem to be coming thick and fast these days – and with little or no rest between them. And with it, the hype continues for the upcoming World championship match in London, between Norway’s Magnus Carlsen and America’s Fabiano Caruana continues, with both title combatants leading the field in rivaling top tournaments that get underway this week in St. Louis and Shamkir.

Hard on the heels of his tumultuous twin triumphs at the Berlin candidates tournament and the Grenke Chess Classic (ahead of Carlsen) in Baden-Baden, Caruana will be going for a remarkable hat-trick of tournament victories in less than two months, as the newly-minted world championship challenger not only heads the field but is now also the big pre-tournament favourite to win the 2018 U.S. Championship that will run April 17-30 at the Saint Louis Chess Club and Scholastic Center.

The twelve-player, all-grandmaster line-up, includes: Fabiano Caruana, Wesley So (defending champion), Hikaru Nakamura, Alex Onischuk, Ray Robson, Sam Shankland, Varuzhan Akobian, Jeffrey Xiong, Alex Lenderman, Awonder Liang, Yaroslav Zherebukh, and Zviad Izoria. And apart from the $194,000 prize-fund on offer, there’s also the “$64,000 Fischer Bonus Prize” for any player who scores a perfect 11-0; a feat achieved by Bobby Fischer when he won his 1964 U.S. title.

Not to be outdone, Carlsen is also in action again this week, with the world champion heading the field for the fifth edition of the Vugar Gashimov Memorial, in Shamkir, Azerbaijan, that runs 19-28 April – a wonderful and fitting tribute to the talented young Azeri grandmaster, Vugar Gashimov (once rated as high as world #6), who tragically died aged just 27 in January 2014, following complications from a brain tumor.

There’s a prize-fund of $124,000 on offer, and the field for the ten-player round-robin includes: Magnus Carlsen (Norway), Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan), Anish Giri (Netherlands), Ding Liren (China), Sergey Karjakin (Russia), Veselin Topalov (Bulgaria), Teimour Radjabov (Azerbaijan), David Navara (Czech Republic), Radoslaw Wojtaszek (Poland), and Rauf Mamedov (Azerbaijan).

Originally in the line-up was top Russian Vladimir Kramnik – but after an exhausting experience at the candidates’, a flare-up of an old illness forced the ex-world champion to regretfully withdraw from the tournament. His replacement was Radoslaw Wojtaszek of Poland, who last year won the best game prize for his brilliant penultimate round win over tournament victor Mamedyarov.

Photo: Radoslaw Wojtaszek v Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, 2017 | © Shamkir Chess

GM Radoslaw Wojtaszek – GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov
4th Vugar Gashimov Memorial, 2017
Anti-Grünfeld
1.Nf3 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 This is arguably one of the most dangerous ways for Black to face the Grünfeld. The dilemma for the discerning Grünfeld aficionado is that they would really like to play 3…Bg7 (and possibly even …0-0) and only play …d5 after White has played d4 – but here, if 3…Bg7, White cuts across his plans with 4.e4 and we get instead a King’s Indian Defence. 3…d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.Qb3 This line has become a thorn in the side of Grünfeld players. By delaying d4, this prevents the standard Grünfeld reply of …Nxc3, and instead hones in on a direct attack on the Black king. 5…Nb6 The point behind White’s 5.Qb3 is that if the Grünfeld player goes on automatic pilot with 5…Nxc3, then 6.Qxc3! and suddenly Black is in a big mess, as he can’t fianchetto his bishop, yet his rook is under attack, and will have to play the weakening 6…f6 7.e4! and already White has a big advantage. 6.d4 Bg7 7.e4 Bg4 It’s far too dangerous to take the pawn, as White gets an easy and powerful attack after 7…Bxd4?! 8.Nxd4 Qxd4 9.Be3 Qf6 10.Bb5+ Bd7 11.a4! 8.Bb5+ c6 Again, Black can’t play 8…Bd7 as after 9.Bxd7+ N8xd7 10.0-0 0-0 11.Rd1! and White has more space, the center and the prospects of an easier game. 9.Ng5! A venomous little divergence, as f7 is not so much the target but an unlikely attack on Black’s castled king. 9…0-0 10.Be2 Bxe2 11.Nxe2 Na6 The d-pawn is taboo, as after 11…Bxd4? there comes the sudden switch in direction with the ‘Caveman attack’ of 12.Qh3! h5 13.g4! and Black will be in deep trouble defending his king. And this sudden queen switch to h3, coupled with g4, becomes the theme of Wojtaszek’s brutal attack. 12.Qh3 h6 13.Nf3 h5 Mamedyarov opts to go ‘all-in’ by keeping the queens on the board and facing the direct Caveman attack. Alternatively, he could have gone passive with 13…Qd7 14.Qxd7 Nxd7 15.Be3 which would have at least avoided the direct assault on his king, but would have given White an easy game with no weaknesses simply by putting his rooks on d1 and c1. 14.Rg1 If this isn’t a signal of intent, then I don’t know what is! Left to his own devices, Wojtaszek is going to follow up with g4 and bludgeon his way through to Mamedyarov’s king. 14…Nb4 15.g4! There’s no turning back now with the rook already on g1 – White has to act swiftly, else Black will be able to consolidate his position to defend the kingside attack. 15…Qd7 There’s no time to take the rook. If 15…Nc2+ 16.Kf1 Nxa1 17.gxh5 Qc8 18.Qh4 and it’s hard to see a defense to the Black king being caught in the crossfire – one possible line being 18…Nd5 (If 18…Nd7 19.Nf4! Nf6 20.hxg6 is winning.) 19.Ne5! Bf6 20.Bg5! with an overwhelming attack on the Black king. 16.Qh4 Nc2+ 17.Kf1 Nxd4 There’s no real difference. While 17…Bf6 looks better, after 18.Bg5! White has a very dangerous attack, as he threatens to rapidly rip Black’s kingside wide open. 18.Nexd4 Bxd4 19.gxh5 Bf6 20.Bg5! Bxb2 21.Re1 Qd3+ 22.Kg2 f6!? The die is cast – but Mamedyarov at least gets full credit for setting up a nice trick that many White players, perhaps zoned in looking for a spectacular quick mating kill, could easily have fallen for. 23.Bh6! [see diagram] Wojtasezek isn’t seduced by the lure of the ‘spectacular quick mate’, as it’s a dastardly table-turner with 23.hxg6?? Qxf3+!! 24.Kxf3 fxg5+ and Black wins. 23…g5 24.Nxg5! Rf7 Taking the knight led to a quick mate after 24…fxg5 25.Qxg5+ Kh8 26.Bxf8 Rxf8 27.Qh6+ Kg8 28.Kh1+ Kf7 29.Qg6#. 25.Nxf7 Kxf7 26.Re3! Stopping Black playing …Rg8+, which can easily be met now with Rg3. 26…Qc2 27.Rg3 The rest of the game needs no further comment; White has defused all the Black tricks…and now he moves in for the kill. 27…Bd4 28.Rg7+ Ke6 29.Qg4+ Kd6 30.Be3! Bxe3 31.Qg3+ 1-0

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