Has there ever been a more perfect movie than Carol Reed’s 1949 classic, ‘The Third Man’? During the key scene of an uneasy ride on a giant Vienna Ferris wheel, Harry Lime (Orson Welles), the evil yet charismatic anti-hero, tries to justify his nefarious activities by what’s now become known in movie lore as the “cuckoo clock” speech: “In Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace – and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”
That scene gets me every time, but I’d like to think – and hope! – that the Swiss gave us a little more than just the cuckoo clock. Certainly, chess-wise, the Swiss have given us one of the finest and longest-running summer traditions, namely the annual Biel Chess Festival, which has now reached its 51st edition, and where this year’s marquee event of the Accentus Masters is headed by none other than the World Champion, Magnus Carlsen – but he’s not having it all his own way.
The cuckoo in the nest for the world champion has proved to be the formidable performance of Azeri world #3, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, who seems to have found a rich vein of form and he holds a big lead going into the penultimate round. And with a further brace of wins in rounds six and seven against Nico Georgiadis and David Navara respectively, Mamedyarov extended his lead to a full point over Carlsen.
And in round seven, Mamadyarov and Carlsen drew with Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Peter Svidler – and now the frontrunners are set to meet in what could well be the title-deciding, big penultimate round clash on Tuesday. Carlsen now has the unenviable task of trying to beat a resolute opponent with the black pieces to keep alive his slim chance of winning the tournament. But this is a really big ask, as – so far – this has been an impressive +4 performance from Mamedyarov, whose rating in the process has spiked 11-points in the unofficial live ratings, and he’s closing in on World Championship Challenger Fabiano Caruana’s world #2 spot.
1. S. Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan) 6/8; 2. M. Carlsen (Norway) 5; 3. P. Svidler (Russia) 4.5; 4. M. Vachier-Lagrave (France) 4; 5. D. Navara (Czech Republic) 3.5; 6. N. Georgiadis (Switzerland) 1.
Photo: When Shakh attacks…there’s blood at the board | © Lennart Ootes / Biel Chess Festival
GM Nico Georgiadis – GM Shakh Mamedyarov
51st Accentus Biel Masters, (6)
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Be2 A more positional way to battle the Najdorf – and one that was championed through the 1970s and early ’80s by Bobby Fischer’s successor, Anatoly Karpov, who had many, many memorable python-like positional squeezes with this system. 6…e5 7.Nb3 Be7 8.Be3 Be6 9.Nd5 In Karpov’s day, the idea was to play a4 and f4 – but nowadays, there are several newer ways for White to play this line, this being one of them, that attempts to put a lock on the d5 square and not to over-commit White’s kingside pawns. 9…Nbd7 10.Qd3 Bxd5 11.exd5 Rc8 12.c4 0-0 13.0-0 Ne8 The intent is clear: Black wants to launch a King’s Indian Defence-style attack with …f5. 14.Qd2 b6 15.Rac1 Clearing the way for the strange, somewhat misplaced re-routing of the White knight with Nb3-a1-c2, with the potential of resurfacing again on b4 or a3 to try to undermine and unbalance Black’s queenside pawn structure. 15…a5 Looking to stop White getting a big clamp on the queenside with Na1 followed by b4! and then back again with Nb3. 16.Na1 f5 Also possible is the slower approach with 16…g6 17.b4 Ng7 18.bxa5 bxa5 19.Bd3 Nc5 20.Bc2 a4 that worked out well for Black in Carlsen-Grischuk, Sinquefield Cup 2015. 17.f3 It may have been wiser for Georgiadis to dampen the kingside assault with 17.f4!? 17…f4 18.Bf2 Bh4 19.Bd3 Bxf2+ 20.Qxf2 Nc5 21.Bc2 g6!? I loved Mamedyarov’s prophylactic rationale for this move, simply explaining during the press conference that “If I play …g6, I can always play …g5. If I play .. .g5, I can never play …g6 anymore.” And this clever play took Georgiadis by surprise, as he was hoping for 21…g5 22.Nb3 Nxb3 23.Bxb3 Ng7 24.Bc2 where he thought the long b1-h7 diagonal would offer good chances for White to stay competitive in the game. 22.Rfe1 Ng7 Mamedyarov’s ploy of delaying …g5 snuffs out any problems down the long diagonal, and now gives him time to concentrate on getting his pieces better placed first before launching into the kingside assault. 23.Be4 Qd7 24.Nc2 Nf5 25.b3 Kh8 Mamedyarov doesn’t want to rush in here, and plays on his opponent’s mounting troubles with the time-control with this innocuous looking King’s Indian Defence-styled move, clearing the way for a potential …Rg8 to support the …g5 push. Either way, by Shakh cunningly not releasing the tension, Georgiadis has to think rather than react – and this soon becomes his undoing. 26.Rb1 Ng7 27.Na3 Nf5 28.Nb5 Rf6 Another KID-style move, over-protecting d6, and making way for further ideas later of potentially mobilising the attack with …g5, …Rg8, and…Rh6 etc. In any event, after 28…Ne3, Mamedyarov felt the simplest solution was 29.Rxe3! fxe3 30.Qxe3 where he felt White was OK. 29.a3 g5 30.Nc3? It’s a double-edged position, and the Swiss tailender cracks under the pressure, not fully realising that his Nb5 was playing a vital role in saving his position. He had to play the forcing 30.Bxf5 Qxf5 31.b4! axb4 32.axb4 Nd3 33.Qc2! And in the time-trouble, this is perhaps what Georgiadis had missed in his calculations, as now it gets somewhat “murky” after 33…g4 (Not 33…Nxe1? 34.Qxf5 Rxf5 35.Nxd6! and White is winning.) 34.Rbd1 gxf3 35.Qxd3 Qxd3 36.Rxd3 fxg2 37.Rc3 f3 38.Kf2 Rcf8 where safest for White looks like 39.Nxd6!? Rxd6 40.Rxf3 Rxf3+ 41.Kxf3 b5 and a likely drawing rook and pawn ending. 30…Nd4! [see diagram] Both Black knights now take-up commanding outposts. 31.b4 axb4 32.Rxb4 If 32.axb4? Nxe4 33.Nxe4 Rg6 White will have to give up the c-pawn, as after 34.Rec1 g4 35.fxg4 Qxg4 the Black attack will soon be crashing through. 32…g4 33.Qh4? A further blunder that soon hastens White’s demise, but there no time for 33.Rxb6 with strong attacking moves such as 33…g3, 33…Rg8 and 33…gxf3 at Black’s disposal. 33…Nxe4 34.Nxe4 Rg6 35.fxg4 Nc2 36.Rxb6 Nxe1 37.Nf6 There’s no hope anyway. If 37.Qxe1 Qa7! 38.Qf2 Rxc4 wins easily. 37…Qg7 38.Rxd6 Rh6 39.Qxe1 Rxf6 0-1 Georgiadis resigns, with the body count showing Black to be a whole rook up.