“Chess, like literature, music and the arts, often suffers a premature loss,” once wrote English chess writer Harry Golombek. And back in early January 2014, the chess world was genuinely shocked to learn of the premature death of one of the world’s very top players, Azerbaijan’s Vugar Gashimov, at the age of only just 27, following his long and very brave battle against brain cancer.
The tributes were led by Magnus Carlsen – and such was Gashimov’s standing with his peers, the World Champion, and many other elite players in the world’s Top-10, responded almost immediately in agreeing to play in a memorial tournament in his honour just a few months after his death, that was held in his native Baku, in Azerbaijan.
Now the 6th Vugar Gashimov Memorial is underway again, only now the annual memorial takes place in Shamkir – and true to form, Magnus Carlsen is back again to pay tribute to his friend and fellow rival, as he heads the ten-player field. The full line-up is: Magnus Carlsen (Norway), Ding Liren (China), Anish Giri (Netherlands), Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan), Vishy Anand (India), Alexander Grischuk (Russia), Teimour Radjabov (Azerbaijan), Sergey Karjakin (Russia), Veselin Topalov (Bulgaria) and David Navara (Czech Rep.).
Historically, this has been one of Carlsen’s ‘favourite’ tournaments, where the World Champion has always scored well – and after four rounds, Carlsen looks to be ‘in the mood’ with a strong and assured start, as he eased his way into the sole lead on 3/4 with back-to-back wins in rounds two and three over Anand and Navara respectively.
Not only that, but Carlsen has also extended his unbeaten streak now to 45 games, as he once again crosses the 2850 barrier on the unofficial live ratings.
1. M. Carlsen 3/4; 2-3. Ding Liren, S. Karjakin 2½; 4-6. V. Anand, T. Radjabov, V. Topalov 2; 7-10. A. Grischuk, S. Mamedyarov, A. Giri, D. Navara 1½.
Photo: Magnus Carlsen looks to be “in the mood” with a strong start to the Gashimov Memorial | © Shamkir Chess
GM Magnus Carlsen – GM Vishy Anand
6th Gashimov Memorial, (2)
Queen’s Gambit Declined
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Nc3 Be7 5.Bf4 More common in the QGD is 5.Bg5, but this flexible move is not as innocent as it looks, and was Carlsen’s choice in last year’s title match against Fabiano Caruana. 5…0-0 6.e3 c5 7.dxc5 Bxc5 8.Qc2 Nc6 9.a3 Qa5 10.Rd1 This is standard fare in this line – but there was a phase when GM Gregory Kaidanov’s daring 10.0-0-0!? was popular, even played at the highest echelons, such as the Speelman-Short Candidates Match quarter-final 30 years ago in London – that was used to such devastating effect by Speelman – and subsequently also played by Garry Kasparov. 10…Rd8 The strategic retreat with 10…Be7 had been the standard move here – but Anand follows the route that served Caruana well against Carlsen last year in London. 11.Be2 Ne4 This gave Caruana instant equality against Carlsen in their title match – but has Carlsen found a better way to continue than he did in the match? 12.cxd5 Carlsen played 12.0-0 against Caruana, but after 12…Nxc3 13.bxc3 h6 14.a4 Ne7 his American title-challenger had no real problems in securing a draw. But has the World Champion found a better way to play the position? 12…Nxc3 13.bxc3 exd5 14.0-0 h6 15.a4 The position is almost identical to Game 2 against Caruana – but the big difference for Carlsen is that he’s avoided …Nc6-e7xd5, and now has an isolated d-pawn to bite on. 15…Bd6 16.Bxd6 Rxd6 17.c4 Be6 18.c5 Rdd8 19.Rb1 Nothing dangerous, but it’s just all a little awkward for Anand with the isolated d-pawn and Carlsen’s space advantage on the queenside. And in truth, this is the sort of dream Carlsen position where he likes to squeeze his opponents. 19…Qc7 20.Qb2 Rab8 21.Nd4 Nxd4 22.Qxd4 Carlsen rightly keeps the pressure on Anand’s isolated d-pawn, as it’s not so easy for him to free his game having to defend the d-pawn. 22…b6 The only move to stay competitive. If Anand doesn’t play this, then Carlsen will mobilise his rooks to build on his queenside space advantage. 23.cxb6 Rxb6 24.h3 Rc8 25.Rfd1 Qc3?! Your first instincts, when faced with a potential Carlsen grind-o-rama, is to seek trades to ease the pressure – and this is true in this position, but here, this move just plays into Carlsen’s hands. But after the accurate 25…Qc5! 26.Qxc5 Rxc5 the game will soon be heading for a draw. The difference of the squares the queens are traded on soon become clear. 26.Qxc3 Rxc3 27.a5! A move that could have been avoided with the more accurate trade of queens on c5. It’s not a game-winner, but it is just one of those creepy little Carlsen moves in a near-to-equal position that he specialises in, attempting to force his opponent into a blunder – and Anand cracks under the pressure. 27…Rxb1 28.Rxb1 Rc5?! “Carlsen fear” is obviously praying on Anand’s mind here, as the five-time ex-champion adds to his mounting problems with a very weak move. It’s a good rule of thumb in chess that the best place to put a rook in the ending is behind a pawn, and here, more accurate was 28…Ra3! 29.a6 g6 30.Rb7 Ra1+ 31.Kh2 (White has to play with care, as the tables get turned after 31.Bf1? d4! and suddenly white is in big trouble.) 31…Ra2 32.Bd3 Ra3 33.Bb5 Ra5 34.Be2 Ra2 which secures the draw, as moving the bishop away from the rook attacks will only lose the a-pawn. 29.a6?! Anand isn’t the only one with the monopoly on blunders here. More accurate for Carlsen was 29.Rb8+! Kh7 (The alternatives are worse: 29…Bc8? 30.Bg4!; 29…Rc8? 30.Rb7 Ra8 31.Bb5!) 30.a6 Rc1+ 31.Kh2 g6 32.Rb7 Rc2 33.Bb5 and the a-pawn will soon fall. 29…g6?! You are drinking at the Last Gasp Saloon, and there’s only one saving chance here – and Anand missed it. After 29…Bc8! Black keeps the balance as the rook can’t now get to b7.And now if 30.Rb8 g6 31.Ra8 Rc7! and Black is more than holding the position, as after …Kg7, suddenly the a6-pawn becomes vulnerable. 30.Rb7 Rc1+ 31.Kh2 Rc2 32.Bb5 Anand still thought he was saving the game here after 32…Rxf2 but what he’d missed was that 33.Rxa7 d4 34.Ra8+ Kg7 35.Rd8! and suddenly there is no …Bd5 saving resource. Hence his next move – but it all over now, as we segue into a nice technical rook ending win. 32…Rb2 33.Kg3 Bc8 34.Rb8 Kg7 35.Rxc8 Rxb5 36.Rc7 Ra5 37.Rxa7 Kf6 38.Ra8 Ra3 39.Kh2 h5 40.a7 [see diagram] 40…Ra2 Some may well think that Anand’s resignation in a few moves looks to be alarmingly premature, but we have reached a technical win, and Carlsen demonstrated the technique needed to win with a little impromptu masterclass during the press conference: 40…h4 41.g4! hxg3+ 42.fxg3 Ra2+ 43.Kg1 Ra3 44.Kf2 Kg7 45.Ke2 Ra2+ 46.Kd3 Ra4 47.Kc3 Kf6 48.Kb3 Ra1 49.Kb4 Kg7 50.Kc5 Kf6 (A quicker way to lose is with 50…Ra5+ 51.Kb6! and white will get in Rd8 and soon pass the a-pawn.) 51.Kxd5 Kg7 52.h4 Ra3 53.e4 Ra1 54.e5 Ra3 55.g4 Ra1 56.h5 gxh5 57.gxh5 Ra3 58.h6+ Kh7 59.Ke4 Ra1 60.Kf5 Ra6 61.Kg5 Rg6+ 62.Kf4! Ra6 63.Kf5 and Black is in zugzwang, as any move with the rook on the a-file will be met by Kf6xf7 winning. 41.h4 Kf5 42.f3 Ra1 43.g3 Kf6 44.Kg2 Ra3 45.Kf2 Ra2+ 46.Ke1 1-0