The Shakh Attack - First Move Chess -First Move Chess

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The iconic “Duuun dun … duuun dun…” music composed by John Williams for Jaws was just as responsible as filmmaker Steven Spielberg’s imagery for scaring people out of the water in 1975, and continues to be the soundtrack for shark imagery. It’s also a signature tune you feel would work well for Shakhriyar Mamedyarov for when the big Azeri #1 goes on a feeding frenzy in elite chess events.

With all the ‘blood-in-the-water’ intensity of what we’ve come to regard as a ‘Shakh Attack’, Mamedyarov ripped through the field of the Grand Chess Tour’s Superbet Chess Classic Romania in Bucharest going down the homestretch, with three successive victories, one of which included a massive win in round seven, as he completely outplayed world #2 Fabiano Caruana to take the sole lead.

And after beating Constantin Lupulescu, Levon Aronian and Caruana in successive rounds, there was just no catching Mamedyarov as he eased to outright victory with two draws for an impressive +3 unbeaten score of 6/9, leaving the chasing pack a full point behind in his wake.

Now with Mamedyarov’s overwhelming victory in one of the few over-the-board elite-level tournaments to run with the pandemic lockdown easing, the Azeri now jumps three places in the unofficial live rating list, gaining +12.4 rating points and set to become the new World #5 come the publication of next FIDE Elo Rating list in July. In stark contrast, the biggest loser in the Top 10 is Caruana, who uncharacteristically failed to break 50% in the tournament and shed -14.4 rating points, though he still hung on to his World #2 spot behind Magnus Carlsen.

Final standings:
1. Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan), 6/9; 2-4. Levon Aronian (Armenia), Alexander Grischuk (Russia), Wesley So (USA), 5; 5-6. Anish Giri (Netherlands), Teimour Radjabov (Azerbaijan), 4½; 7-8. Bogdan-Daniel Deac (Romania), Fabiano Caruana (USA), 4; 9-10. Constantin Lupulescu (Romania), Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (France), 3½.

GM Fabiano Caruana – GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov
Superbet Chess Classic Romania, (7)
Ruy Lopez, Berlin Defence
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6 4.d3 Bc5 5.Nc3 Nd4 6.Ba4 c6 7.0-0 d6 8.Nxd4 Bxd4 9.h3 g5!?!N Mamedyarov’s provocative ad hoc novelty – it seems the Azeri was inspired at the board with a similar set-up in Aronian-Kramnik, Candidates 2018 – all but knocked the ‘rhythm’ out of Caruana, with the US world #2 a bit confused trying to deal with Black’s flash attack. 10.Ne2 It looks dangerous to chop on g5, but it all seems to fizzle out, as witness 10.Bxg5 Rg8 11.Bh4 Bxh3 12.Nd5!? Rxg2+ 13.Kh1 Ng4!? 14.Bxd8 Rh2+ 15.Kg1 Rg2+ and a draw by repetition. And perhaps this is what knocked Caruana, who was looking to play catch-up with the leaders. That said, Caruana only spent something like 3 or 4 minutes on his reply of retreating his knight, and it looks as though he didn’t even consider ‘mixing it’ with the provocative knight option of 10.Nd5!? that forces 10…Rg8 (Not 10…Bd7?! 11.Bxg5! and now the complications favour White, ie 11…cxd5 12.Qf3!) 11.c3 Bb6 12.Qf3 Nxd5 13.exd5 g4 14.Qg3 Kf8 15.h4 and White has the attack and the advantage. It could well be that being hit by the on-fire Mamedyarov’s TN, Caruana could just have mistakenly taken it at face value that Black ‘had something’, where, in fact, it looks suspiciously as if he didn’t! 10…Bb6 11.c3 It was here that Mamdyarov explained in his presser that he suspected that, in opting for 10.Ne2, Caruana had originally intended to play 11.Ng3 Rg8 12.c3 g4 13.h4 but that he had missed the stunning 13…Nh5!! 14.Nxh5 Qxh4 15.Ng3 Qxg3 16.d4 Qh4 and White is in big trouble. 11…Rg8 12.d4 Nxe4 The alternative 12…g4 looks tempting, but Mamedyarov explained that he didn’t like that after 13.h4 Nxe4 14.Ng3 Nxg3 15.fxg3 exd4 16.cxd4 White could easily play Kh2 and then put his bishop on f4 with a competitive game. 13.Bc2 d5 14.Bxe4 dxe4 15.dxe5 Qxd1 16.Rxd1 g4 17.h4 g3 18.Nd4 Bd8! A backward retreating winning move is regarded as one of the hardest moves to spot in the game, and here, Mamedyarov firmly believed that Caruana had missed this one. 19.fxg3 Rxg3 20.Re1 Rg4 21.Bg5 Bxg5 22.hxg5 Ke7 23.Rad1 Bd7 24.e6 fxe6 25.g6 hxg6 As Mamedyarov himself explains, “I started to think if Fabi will draw this game, it will be a brilliant defence! 24.e6 and 25.g6 is absolutely a different level.” 26.Nb3 e5! Mamedyarov finds the winning set-up. 27.Na5 The point is that 27.Nc5 Bf5! and the b-pawn isn’t really hanging due to the winning threat of …Ra8-b8xb2 and there’s no stopping …Rgxg2+ and a mate coming. 27…Be6 Stopping the rather annoying Nc4 that could well be awkward for Black to deal with. 28.Rd2 Rb8 29.b4 Kf6 30.a4 Rg3 31.Rxe4 The alternative was a bit trickier, but Mamedyarov was ahead of the tricks, showing in his presser that after 31.Rf2+ Bf5 32.Rxe4 Ke6 33.Rc4 b6! 34.Nxc6 Kd5 35.Nxb8 Kxc4 and the e-pawn is going to quickly run down the board supported by the king, rook and bishop. 31…Bd5 32.Rh4 Rxc3 33.Rh7 b6 34.Nxc6 Bxc6 35.Rc7 Rc1+ 36.Kf2 Rf8 37.b5 Ke6+ 38.Kg3 Rc3+ 39.Kh2 Rh8+ 40.Kg1 Rh1+! [see diagram] Of course, the material-greedy engines opt for 40…Rc1+ 41.Kf2 Rf8+ 42.Kg3 Rc3+ 43.Kh2 Rf4 44.bxc6 Rxa4 winning – but the human grandmaster cuts through all of this to nicely liquidate down to a simply and easy winning R+P ending. 41.Kxh1 It leads to the same thing after 41.Kf2 Rf1+! 41…Bxg2+ 42.Rxg2 Rxc7 43.Rxg6+ Kd5 The big deciding factor is going to be White’s king being cut-off on the wrong side of the board. 44.a5 Kc5 45.axb6 axb6 46.Re6 Kxb5 47.Rxe5+ Rc5 48.Re1 Rg5 0-1 The economy of effort in the win is all the more impressive from Mamedyarov, who would have foreseen all of this scenario when he liquidated down with 40…Rh1+!, with the technically winning Lucena position and the the White king hopelessly cut-off on the kingside.

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