Final Shamkir Thoughts
Like many, I followed the Shamkir tournament with much interest. There were many questions that could be answered. Was Magnus mortal? Could Hikaru ever beat him? What was the gap between Magnus and the field? Would there be any Modern Benoni's?
1. Is Magnus mortal? Yes, but barely. With a score of 2.5/3, there was serious discussion of what it would take for Magnus to reach a 2900 rating, which was an 8.5/10. I thought, not likely, but 7.5 seemed reasonable. Then he lost two straight games, but the bleeding stopped quickly, and he finished with 4/5. The last round victory over Caruana sealed his tournament title. Really, in most of the games he won, it didn't seem like he was ever behind (except against Hikaru), and he machined his way through. However, he did lose to Caruana and Radjabov, so he is not going to run away with the chess world in the next five years.
2. Is Caruana the new number two? I think so. It's hard to think of any other player who is nearing the position of number two. We had high hopes for Nakamura, but that doesn't seem likely, at least this year. Of the other top players, Carlsen seems to either dominate them, or they are at the back end of their career (e.g. Anand, Kramnik).
3. Can Hikaru beat Magnus? No. Do I even need to write something here? He has winning positions and then he blunders. These games were not as big blunders as in the Zurich tournament, but it really feels like it is all mental now. Really, he just has to play Magnus over and over again until he finally beats him. Hopefully, he seeks him out, and doesn't shy way.
4. Modern Benoni? No. Gashimov's favorite opening was not spotted in the top division of the tournament. I like IM chessexplained suggestion in his excellent recap videos (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cDEFjPRwrl0) where he suggested that a true memorial might be a thematic. Obviously this is weird at the top level, but it would seem appropriate for remembering the great player who restored the opening.
5. Karjakin or Drawjakin? I'm trying to start referring to him as Drawjakin. I'm not sure if this is mean-spirited or just funny. With a performance rating of 2781, it's still pretty impressive. In a tournament where the world champion lost 2 games, drawing out is a nifty result.