The chess world was genuinely shocked back in January 2014 when they learned of the premature death of Vugar Gashimov, one of Azerbaijan’s top players. The popular Baku grandmaster, who was one of the world’s top players, was struck down tragically young at the age of only 27 after he endured a long and very brave battle with a reoccurring brain tumour.
Gashimov was regarded as one of the most original and talented players of his generation. His world ranking peaked at No 6 in 2009, and he was ranked number ten in the January 2012 rating list, before health problems sadly forced him out of the game. A memorial tournament in his honour was quickly organised three months after his untimely death, and won by his long-time friend and rival, Magnus Carlsen, who went on to take the title four-times, his last being in 2019.
The latest edition dedicated to the honour and memory of Gashimov, a rapid mini-match tournament combined with a double round robin blitz, took place just prior to Christmas – a good warm-up for the World Rapid & Blitz Championship that followed after Christmas – running 17-24 December 2021 in Baku, Azerbaijan.
There was also a strong line-up for the 7th Gashimov Memorial that included many of his friends and compatriots among the 8-player field, led by the US world No 4 Fabiano Caruana (USA), alongside Richard Rapport (Hungary), Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan), Rauf Mamedov (Azerbaijan), Viswanathan Anand (India), David Navara (Czech Republic), Vugar Asadli (Azerbaijan) and Sergey Karjakin (Russia).
Despite having to dig deep to come from behind to catch frontrunner Rapport to tie on 24 points, Caruana went on to win the final Armageddon-decider against the young Hungarian to take the title, and he now joins Carlsen and Mamedyarov as the only players to have won this memorial tournament – and all three were friends, rivals and compatriots of Gashimov.
Photo: Fabiano Caruana finally clinches the Gashimov Memorial title | © 7th Gashimov Memorial
GM Viswanathan Anand – GM Fabiano Caruana
7th Gashimov Memorial Blitz, (6.2)
Ruy Lopez, Modern Steinitz Variation
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 d6 The Modern Steinitz Variation is a very reliable set-up for Black – and it can totally bamboozle some opponents at club-level when they discover they have inadvertently wandered into a King’s Indian Defence (as happens in this game) by transposition. 5.0-0 Bd7 6.c3 g6 7.d4 Bg7 8.Re1 Nf6 9.h3 0-0 10.Bc2 As noted previously, there are many at club-level who have innocently played here 10.d5 Ne7 11.Bc2 only to see Black play aggressive moves as …Nh5 and …f5 and find themselves facing a Mar del Plata ‘Death Variation’-type set-up. 10…Re8 11.d5 Ne7 12.c4 h6 13.Nc3 Nh7 14.b4 f5 15.c5 f4 16.Nd2 On reflection, better was looking to trade the light-squared bishop first with 16.Ba4! 16…Rf8 Equally good was 16…a5 as there’s less a chance of White obtaining a queenside pawn storm, as happens in the King’s Indian Defence. 17.Ba4 Bc8 18.cxd6 cxd6 19.b5 g5 Tempting also was the immediate bishop-sacrifice 19…Bxh3 20.gxh3 Qc8 but after 21.Bb2 f3 (If 21…Ng5 22.f3 Qxh3 23.Qe2 and White is perfectly safe and a piece to the better.) 22.Nxf3 Qxh3 23.Re3 Rf4 24.Nh2! Qh4 25.Qe2 Raf8 26.Rf1 and White has everything covered. 20.bxa6 Rxa6 21.Bb5 Ra8 22.Be2 Ng6 23.Rb1 Nh4 24.a4?! Anand has the advantage, but It only takes one little slip in this cut-throat KID-type set-up and White is in trouble. Better was 24.Bg4! that keeps control of the position and lessens the impact of a violent kingside attack to have to defend against, which proves to be Anand’s downfall. 24…Nf6 25.Ba3 Rf7 26.Nc4 Bf8 27.Nb6 Rg7! A ballsy move from Caruana, who decides to go straight for the jugular with it being blitz. 28.Nxa8 Taking the bishop to lessen the impact of the kingside attack is no better: 28.Nxc8 Rxc8 29.Rb3 g4! 30.hxg4 h5! Black is just going to punch a hole through White’s kingside defences. 28…g4 29.hxg4? The best try was to ‘mix it’ with 29.g3 gxh3 30.Qd3 but after 30…Ng4 Black’s attack does look very impressive. 29…Nxg4 Also good was the spectacular knight sac with 29…Nxg2! 30.Bf3 Qg5 The pressure is boiling over now, and Caruana opts to throw another piece into the attack with his provocative move – but there was no need, as the clinical kill was the immediate 30…Nh2!! 31.Kxh2 Nxg2! and …Qh4+ coming next. 31.Nb6 You can’t even try to run your king out of Dodge with 31.Kf1 as it runs into 31…Nxf3 32.gxf3 Nxf2!! 33.Qc2 Qg2+ 34.Ke2 Rg3 35.Kd2 Qxf3 36.Re2 Bg4 37.Rbe1 Rg2 38.Nb6 Qg3 and there’s no stopping …f3 winning. 31…Nh2!! [see diagram] Better late than never, I suppose! 32.Kxh2 Nxg2! 0-1 And Anand resigns in light of 33.Nxc8 Qh4+ 34.Kg1 Ne3+ and a quick mate.