Shakh in Wonderland - First Move Chess -First Move Chess

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The World Chess Championship challenger, Fabiano Caruana held on to his slender lead come the end of day two of the latest Grand Chess Tour leg of the St. Louis Rapid & Blitz tournament held at the now-fabled St. Louis Chess Club on Sunday – but after a bizarre oversight on the final day three of the rapid, the local hero found himself being overshadowed and then overtaken by Hikaru Nakamura and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, who now both carry forward what could well be a vital lead into the concluding two days and eighteen rounds of blitz.

At the start of day three and round seven, Caruana looked all but set to extend his lead at the top, having a commanding position against Cuban wildcard Leinier Dominguez. But after spotting a ‘winning’ tactic in a frantic and equally mutual time scramble that was going to seal the points with a decisive knight fork, Caruana only realised he had simply lost a rook, as the knight that was poised to give the fork was, in fact, pinned to his king and therefore an illegal move.

And that blackout proved a costly affair for Caruana, who followed his first loss in the tournament with a brace of draws to cede his lead to the surging Nakamura and very much in-form Mamedyarov, who both ended the rapid event tied at the top on 12/18, a point ahead of Caruana, in what’s now set to become a very close three-horse race going into the deciding two days of blitz.

While Caruana stole the show on the opening day with a sublime display of attacking chess, it was Mamedyarov turn to take all the plaudits on the final day with an equally brilliant and wonderful show of brute force attacking chess, as the Azeri wisely rejected an invitation to a draw by repetition to go on to beat the normally solid Sergey Karjakin, who for once failed to live up to his moniker of “Minister of Defence”.

Rapid final standings:
1-2. H. Nakamura (USA), S. Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan) 12/18; 3. F. Caruana (USA) 11; 4-6. L. Dominguez (Cuba), S. Karjakin (Russia), L. Aronian (Armenia) 9; 7-8. M. Vachier-Lagrave (France), W. So (USA) 8; 9-10. V. Anand (India), A. Grischuk (Russia) 6.
(The rapid scores two points for a win and one for a draw)

Photo: The critical moment when Mamedyarov ponders and then rejects the draw against Karjakin | © Lennart Ootes / GCT

GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov – GM Sergey Karjakin
St. Louis Rapid & Blitz GCT, (7)
English Opening
1.c4 Nf6 2.Nf3 e6 3.e3 Be7 4.Nc3 0-0 5.b3 b6 6.Bb2 Bb7 7.Qc2 c5 8.Ng5!?!N Very inventive play indeed! This isn’t exactly a noted big theory line, and more common has been standard moves such as 8.Be2, Re1 or a3 – but Shakh now pulls a very big rabbit out of the hat with his novelty that takes us on a wild, wild ride. 8…h6 If anything, 8.Ng5 would have made Karjakin have a good think, and waste a valuable few minutes on the clock – and the Russian comes up with the most obvious reply, not realising he’s about to fall down a rabbit hole. 9.h4!? Suddenly it gets very complex and very quickly! But this is a common attacking theme, as the knight can’t be captured due to the opening of the h-file and the queen and rook ganging up to mate on h7. 9…Re8 10.0-0-0 Nc6 Also a good option was 10…d5 – but Karjakin has the right gut instincts here, just wanting to finish developing his pieces. 11.a3 Kf8 Clearly, the Ng5 and the mating threats on h7 is a worry for Karjakin – but he could try and ignore it and start his own attack with 11…Na5!? 12.Bd3 d5 13.f4 b5!? and let the chips fall where they may, with both sides going ‘all-in’ on the attack. 12.Nh7+ Kg8 13.Ng5 The only realistic continuation after his earlier, enterprising play. And besides, after 13.Nxf6+?! Bxf6 14.h5 d5 the troublesome knight has gone, and Black now has the easier time of it here. 13…Kf8 14.f4! Shakh ponders and the declines the open invitation to a repetition with 14.Nh7+ Kg8 15.Ng5 Kf8 16. Nh7+ etc – but where would all the fun be in the game ending like that? 14…Rc8 15.Bd3 d5? It all looks fraught with danger for Karjakin, and even flicking in some interference with 15…Na5 doesn’t help any, as again 16.Bg6! comes anyway, as 16…Nxb3+ 17.Kb1! (Not 17.Qxb3? fxg6 18.Qc2 hxg5 19.hxg5 Kf7! 20.gxf6 Bxf6 and Black has all the bases covered, and may well even have the better long-term prospects.) 17…fxg6 18.Qxg6 hxg5 19.hxg5 and Black also looks to be doomed. When all is said and done, Black may well have to look at the possibility of 15…Ng4 and taking the fight on from here. 16.Bg6! [see diagram] A powerful second sacrifice that soon sees Black’s position set to collapse. 16…hxg5 17.hxg5 Ng8 18.Bh7?! It’s very easy to get carried away in such positions, but the all-seeing, all-knowing engine soon tells us that White missed the better and more clinical 18.cxd5 exd5 19.Qf5! forcing 19…Bf6 20.gxf6 Qxf6 21.Qxf6 Nxf6 22.Bf5 Rcd8 23.Nb5 and White’s minor pieces are far, far superior. 18…Nf6? Who could blame Karjakin for falling further down the rabbit hole with this blunder, but it takes either a very brave person or the very unbeating heart of a playing engine to find the big ‘Alice in Wonderland fantasy defence’ of 18…Bd6!? 19.Bxg8 d4! (Certainly not 19…Kxg8? 20.Qh7+ Kf8 21.Nxd5!! exd5 22.Bxg7+ Ke7 23.Bf6+ winning on the spot.) 20.Nd5! exd5 21.Qf5 Rc7 22.Rh8 Bc8! 23.Qh7 dxc4 24.Qh5 Bg4! 25.Bxf7+ Ke7 26.Rxe8+ Qxe8 27.Bxe8 Bxh5 28.Bxh5 cxb3 and excellent drawing chances. 19.gxf6 Bxf6 20.g4 Without as much as a second thought, Shakh simply continues to pile on the pressure with his relentless attack. 20…Ke7 21.g5 Bxc3 22.dxc3! Much more clinical than capturing with the bishop, as this opens the d-file for White’s rook to potentially come into the attack, as Karjakin’s hapless king attempts to stagger over to the queenside in search of a safe haven. 22…Rh8 23.cxd5 exd5 24.c4! This seals Karjakin’s fate, as the only way to avoid the immediate opening of the d-file allows Shakh’s queen to move swiftly in for the kill. 24…d4 25.Qe4+ Kd6 26.exd4 Kc7 27.dxc5 Qe8 28.Bxg7 1-0 Karjakin resigns, as there’s no way now to avoid a heavy loss of material.

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