The world elite get set to do battle with the 2018 season of the Grand Chess Tour about to get underway next month, with the first event held in Leuven, Belgium, with the Your Next Move Rapid and Blitz tournament being hosted at the the town’s historic City Hall, that will run through 12-16 June. Other events will follow in Paris and Saint Louis – and in an innovation this year, the four top-scoring players will then go forward to contest the final at the London Chess Classic.
The World Champion, Magnus Carlsen, will not be defending his tour title this year, but his US title challenger Fabiano Caruana will head the nine regular tour players competing for the title and total prize fund pool of $1.2 million. The full tour line-up (in rating order) is Fabiano Caruana (USA), Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan), Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (France), Sergey Karjakin (Russia), Wesley So (USA), Hikaru Nakamura (USA), Alexander Grischuk (Russia), Levon Aronian (Armenia) and Viswanathan Anand (India).
Wildcards are again in play in the GCT, with Anish Giri (Netherlands) picked for the YNM Leuven Rapid & Blitz; and former world champion Vladimir Kramnik the Paris Rapid & Blitz. The wild-cards for the Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz and the Sinquefield Cup, also in Saint Louis, have yet to be selected and will be announced later in the year – but laying down his early marker for a spot is Sam Shankland, the newly-minted U.S. Champion.
His rating is rapidly rising with one bravura performance following another, and he’s now become the hottest property in chess right now. And building on his stunning success in the U.S. Championship a few weeks ago, Shankland is now tearing up the field at the 53rd Capablanca Memorial in Havana, Cuba, and leads with an undefeated score of 6.5/9, a point clear of Aleksey Dreev of Russia going into the final round.
Another victory is now certain for Shankland; and with it, he’s up nearly 14 Elo points on his U.S. Championship victory, to 2713.7 on the unofficial live ratings, and climbing a further 14 spots to world #30. If this keeps up, the popular Bay Area grandmaster is going to be a shoo-in for a GCT wild-card spot.
Standings: 1. S. Shankland (USA) 6.5/9; 2. A. Dreev (Russia) 5.5; 3. D. Anton (Spain) 5; 4-5. A. Rakhmanov (Russia), Y. Bacallao (Cuba) 3.5; 6. L. Bruzon (Cuba) 3.
Photo: Sam Shankland |© Lennart Ootes (St. Louis Chess Club)
GM Sam Shankland – GM Lazaro Bruzon
53rd Capablanca Memorial Elite, (7)
Queen’s Gambit Declined
1.Nf3 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 d5 4.d4 Nbd7 5.Bg5 Be7 6.cxd5 Nxd5 7.Bxe7 Qxe7 8.Rc1 c6 9.e4 Nxc3 10.bxc3 In essence, we have a Grünfeld Exchange set-up, but without the dark-squared bishops on the board. And with it, with nothing to ‘bite on’ down the long g7-a1 diagonal, White retains a lasting space advantage with little chances of his pawn center being undermined. 10…0-0 11.Bd3 c5 12.0-0 Rd8 13.Re1 Nf8 14.Qd2 Bd7 15.d5 Shankland seizes his chance, with the d-pawn now becoming a bone stuck in Bruzon’s throat. 15…exd5 16.exd5 Qd6 17.c4 h6 18.Qb2! In just a couple of moves, Shankland has gained a considerable space advantage – and yet again he ruthlessly goes on to convert the win. 18…b6 19.Nd2 Another good move, with the threat being Ne4 and a gloriously centralized knight. 19…Re8 20.Ne4 Qf4 Some may well have preferred here to trade queens to lessen the threat but after 20…Qe5 21.Qxe5 Rxe5 22.Nd6! White’s endgame advantage is clear for all to see, and Black forced into 22…Rxe1+ 23.Rxe1 Ng6 24.Re3 Nf4 25.Be4 where his pieces are all awkwardly placed, and not working as a unit as the White pieces. And at this level of chess, a grandmaster should be able to convert White’s advantage. 21.Re3 Ng6 22.Rce1 The pressure is mounting for Bruzon, as Shankland – with little effort – simply puts his pieces on all the best available squares. 22…Ne5 23.Be2 Ng6 24.Bh5 Ne5 25.Qc3 Bg4? Bruzon cracks under the relentless Shankland pressure. As difficult as the position is for the Cuban, he simply had to accept he faced a big uphill battle to stay in the game and should have gone with 25…Ng6 26.Bxg6 fxg6 and let his opponent do all the work to press home the win from here. 26.Nd6! [see diagram} There’s no way for Bruzon now to avoid the mess he finds himself in: he’s either resigned to a bad endgame or a heavy loss of material. 26…Red8 If 26…Bxh5 27.Nxe8 f6 28.Re4! Qf5 29.f4 Nf7 30.Qa3! and Black is on the verge of collapse. 27.Qxe5 Qxe5 28.Bxf7+! Kf8 29.Rxe5 Rxd6 30.Be8 Bd7 31.Bxd7 Rxd7 Bruzon has lost a pawn, but has managed to get down to a double rook ending – but his only real hope here of saving the game is by trading off a set of rooks, and take his chances with the notoriously drawn rook and pawn ending – but Shankland isn’t going to play ball here. 32.a4 Threatening to wreck havoc on the queenside with a5, rendering all of Black’s pawns weak and easily picked off. 32…a6 33.Rb1! Rb8 34.g3 Rdb7 A good practical shot was 34…b5 but after 35.axb5 axb5 36.Rxb5 Rxb5 37.cxb5 Rb7 this rook and pawn ending is lost, as after 38.d6! Rxb5 39.Kg2 Rb8 40.Rxc5 Rd8 41.Rd5 Rd7 42.Kf3 White will simply shuffle his king over to the queenside with Ke4-d4-c5-c6 to win 35.d6 Rd8 36.Rd5 Bruzon’s last hope was Shankland straying into 36.Rxc5? bxc5! 37.Rxb7 Rxd6 38.Rc7 Rd1+ 39.Kg2 Ra1 40.Rxc5 Rxa4 with excellent drawing chances, as Black’s rook is active and his a-pawn will most likely be traded for the c-pawn, leaving a technically drawn rook and pawn ending of 3 v. 2 on the same wing of the board. 36…Kf7 37.f4 Not only stopping Black playing …g5 for a little breathing space on the kingside, but also opening up a direct path for the White king to come up the board. 37…Ke6 38.f5+ Kf6 39.Kf2 Rdb8 40.Kf3 1-0 Black resigns in face of the easy White winning-plan of Kf4, h4, g4 and g5+ etc.