In a simply stunning and dominating performance that was eerily reminiscent of Garry Kasparov in his pomp, late in life another top Azeri player, Shakhiryar Mamedyarov, finally fulfilled all his early promise by scoring the biggest-ever victory of his career, as he rattled and rolled World Champion Magnus Carlsen into a dramatic endgame blunder in the penultimate round, to convincingly win the 51st Accentus Biel Masters title in Switzerland by a substantial margin.
And he did it with more than just a touch of élan, scoring 5 wins and four draws to secure first place ahead of his nearest rivals going into the final round. And in the final round, Mamedyarov, easily drew with Peter Svidler, to finish undefeated on a massive +5 score of 7.5/10, while Carlsen and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave beat tailenders Nico Georgiadis and David Navara respectively, to share second place. And Mamedyarov’s live rating in the process has spiked to 2817, now just 5 points adrift of Carlsen’s World Championship Challenger, Fabiano Caruana, the world #2.
From a very early age, Mamedyarov – the only player to have been crowned World Junior Champion not once, but twice! – clearly showed he had the right stuff to be a potential world title challenger. In 2007, after winning several strong tournaments, he reached the heights of world #4 and looked set for a crack at the title – but his progress then stalled, after he would inexplicably find ever-more bizarre ways to press the self-destruct button.
But over the past 18 months or so, Mamedyarov, 33, has been on the upswing with a series of reliable performances, which he attributes to giving up alcohol and settling down by getting married – and it all seems to be paying off big-time for the big man who goes by the moniker of “Shakh”.
1. S. Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan) 7.5/10; 2. M. Carlsen (Norway) 6; 3-4. M. Vachier-Lagrave (France), P Svidler (Russia) 5.5; 5. D. Navara (Czech Republic) 4; 6. N. Georgiadis (Switzerland) 1.5.
Photo: It’s a big victory for the big man! | © Lennart Ootes / Biel Chess Festival
GM Shakhiryar Mamedyarov – GM Magnus Carlsen
51st Accentus Biel Masters, (9)
King’s Indian Defence/Grünfeld Defence
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.g3 Bg7 4.Bg2 0-0 5.Nc3 d6 6.Nf3 c5 7.0-0 Nc6 8.e3 Avoiding the big, mainline Yugoslav/Panno Variation with 8.d5 Na5 – but the more restrained 8.e3 simply allows a transposition into a Grünfeld-type set-up, which Carlsen opts for now. 8…d5 9.cxd5 Nxd5 10.Nxd5 Qxd5 11.Ne5 Qd6 12.Nc4 Qc7 13.d5 Rd8 14.Bd2 Nb4 15.Bxb4 cxb4 16.Rc1 a5 17.a3 bxa3 18.bxa3 a4 Generally speaking, trying to beat Mamedyarov with the Black pieces is a tough ask – but in this current form he’s in, an impossibility to try and win this with Black. And here’s the dilemma for Carlsen: he needs to beat Mamedyarov to stay in with a chance of winning the title, so he has to create some sort of unbalanced chaos where all three results are a possibility. But here, Mamedyarov just has an easy game, and the more Carlsen tries to unbalance, the more untenable his position becomes. 19.Qd3 Bf5 20.e4 Bd7 21.Qe3 Ra6 Awkward, but Nb6 simply has to be stopped. 22.e5 Mamedyarov has a big space advantage with his more harmoniously developed pieces and his advanced pawns – but Carlsen refuses to give up the chance of complicating the game to try and bring his bishop-pair into the game. 22…b5 23.d6 Qb8 24.dxe7 Re8 25.Rfd1! Stronger and more accurate than 25.Nd6 Rxe7 26.Qd2 Be6 where Black’s pieces are indeed coming to life. 25…Rxe7 26.Qc5 Qf8?! Better was 26…Bf8 but after 27.Nd6 White has a massive stranglehold on the position. By playing 26…Qf8, although he loses a pawn, Magnus at least maintains the attack on e5 prevents Nd6. It’s not much, but some crumb of comfort. 27.Ne3! The attack on the bishop leaves Black struggling for survival now – the World Champion here is systematically being outplayed and ground down, and to such an extent you would perhaps be forgiven into believing that Carlsen is the one playing White! 27…Be6 28.Qxb5 Raa7 29.Nd5 Bxd5 30.Rxd5 Reb7 31.Qd3 Rb8 32.h4 Qe8 33.Qd4 Qe7 34.f4 Bf8 35.Kh2 Rab7 36.Qxa4?! This is the only misstep from Mamedyarov in the game – and arguably also the whole tournament. Carlsen’s survival instincts are legendary, and here, he doesn’t hesitate to trade queens after this little inaccuracy, as it only offers nothing but instant relief in what had become an extremely difficult position to defend. If Shakh was intent in trying to make the world champion suffer further, then he should have kept the queens on the board and played 36.Rd6! and Black is faced with an extremely difficult position, as all of White’s pieces command the board. If now 36…Rb2 37.Kh3! where now, to stop Bd5 and a big hit on f7, it looks like Black is forced into the dodgy 37…Rxg2 (The alternative is 37…Qe8 but that just forces White’s pieces to squares they really want to go to! Now, after 38.Bc6 Qc8+ 39.Rd7 the f7 square can’t be defended.) 38.Kxg2 Qb7+ 39.Rdc6 Bxa3 40.R1c2 Qb3 41.Qd7 Bf8 42.R6c3 Rb7 43.Qd4 Qb1 44.Rc8 with a near winning advantage. 36…Qxa3 37.Qxa3 Bxa3 You could practically feel Carlsen’s relief by now – he’s only a pawn down, but he’s traded queens, all the pawns are on the same side of the board and there are opposite coloured bishops on the board. 38.Rcd1 Be7 39.Kh3 Rc7 40.h5 gxh5! Yes, admittedly a very ugly move to make in the endgame – but as ugly and awkward as this looks, this is Carlsen finding all the right saving moves to stay in the game. 41.f5 f6 42.e6 Rb3! 43.Rd7 Rbc3 44.Ra1 Kg7 45.Ra8 Kh6! White is so close to winning – but Carlsen (at least we thought) had it all worked out. 46.Re8 Bb4 47.Rb8 Be7 48.Be4 R3c4 Only the unbeating heart of a playing engine spots the ‘easy’ way for Black to draw, and that is with the stunner 48…Re3!! 49.Rxc7 Bd6 where the skewer on the rooks and the windmill threat with …Rxg3+ saves the game for Black. The game could have ended now with 50.Rg8 Bxc7 51.e7 Rxe4 52.e8Q Rxe8 53.Rxe8 Kg5 54.Re7 Be5 55.Rxh7 Bd6 56.Rb7 If White keeps the rook on the h-file, Black will simply keep repeating …Be5-d6 and no progress can be made. 56…Kxf5 57.Rd7 Be5 and this is just going to end in a draw. Of course, we all saw that, didn’t we? It is possible that Carlsen might also have spotted this – but he has opted for a move that is more human, and just as good a way to draw this position. 49.Bd5 R4c5 50.Be4 Rc4 51.Bd5 R4c5 52.Rb7 Rxd7 53.Rxd7 Ra5 54.Bc6 There’s nothing else to play, as 54.Rxe7 Rxd5 55.Rf7 Rxf5 56.e7 Re5 57.Rxf6+ Kg5 is just a drawn rook and pawn ending. 54…Ba3 55.Rf7 Re5 And this is the simpler, more ‘human’ save that Carlsen opted for. 56.Kh4! [see diagram] Preventing …Kg5 picking off the f-pawn and an easy draw. 56…Bc1?? Calamity! Just when you praise Carlsen for bravely holding on for so long and under extremely difficult circumstances, he goes and inexplicably cracks with a monumental blunder. It is hard to think just what was going through his mind right now, as after 56…Bc5! 57.Rxf6+ Kg7 58.Rf7+ Kh6 59.Bf3 (We enter the realms of study-like solutions after 59.Bd7 with 59…Bd6 60.f6 as its easy to miss that 60…Kg6! is equal.) 59…Be3! with the idea of …Bg5 to set-up a fortress saves the game. One easy example being 60.g4 Bg5+ 61.Kg3 h4+! 62.Kg2 Re3 and simply Re5-e3 etc. 57.e7 1-0