A Peaceful Beginning In Shamkir

A Peaceful Beginning In Shamkir

With all the first-round games at the 2016 Gashimov Memorial drawn, one might conclude the dynamic chess of the late, great Azeri grandmaster was not played. However, the lack of decisive clashes was not due to a lack of fighting spirit. 

First, we take a quick look back to what was a highly anticipated, and well-attended opening ceremony. 

From players, to sponsors to fans -- the hall was full!
(Photo courtesy of the official shamkirchess.az website.)

Representatives of the Synergy Group (title sponsor of Shamkir Chess) spoke in support of chess in Azerbaijan as well as Vugar's legacy. Among the many in attendance was FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, who also shared a few words on both his support of the event and the upcoming Chess Olympiad in Baku.

FIDE president, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov.
(Photo courtesy of the official shamkirchess.az website.)

All round-one games were drawn, but it seemed for a while that that might not be the case. Top seed Fabiano Caruana invited Pentala Harikrishna to repeat his "Norway success" with the French Defense, but the Indian grandmaster instead opted for a Taimanov Sicilian. 

The two very recent GM Blitz Battle Championship participants (and unfortunately, both losers in that event) had a hard-fought battle where it seemed for a while the American might successfully convert on the slightly better endgame. It wasn't clear whether Harikrishna could hold until Caruana's (likely dubious?) decision to close his own king's path from b3 to c4 to b5 with the move 37.c4?!.

Analysis by GM Robert Hess

The world championship candidate Sergey Karjakin picked up right where he left off from the FIDE Candidates' Tournament in Moscow, choosing his favorite Queen's Indian Defense (played multiple times on his way to securing the right to play Magnus Carlsen). 

The candidate's first post-mortem since Moscow.
(Photo courtesy of the official shamkirchess.az website.)

It seemed one of Azerbaijan's most exciting players, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, might have some interesting ideas prepared against the expected opening from Karjakin (especially when you saw the white knight reach Black's eighth rank before move 20!), but alas, after the simple 18...Qb7, play seemed all but forced from there on out, and the most likely result occurred.

Anish Giri took the black pieces against the much lower-rated Rauf Mamedov, but unfortunately for the Dutchman, he never had any real chances to fight for the win. The Azeri grandmaster played one of the most straightforward and "theoretically equal" variations of the Alapin Sicilian, leaving little room for true dynamics to occur.

Even with the queens traded early however, the fight was not all gone, as Giri pushed forward into a position where he might have possessed microscopic winning chances, despite his doubled, crippled f-pawns, until Mamedov liquidated everyone on g6 on move 30 (30.Bf3 might have been a chance for both players to fight on). 

Teimor Radjabov played (for all practical purposes) a novelty on move six against the Chinese grandmaster, Hou Yifan. 6.Bf4!? (in favor of the more common 6.Nxd4) was interesting indeed, and after the smoke from the early strike 9.c4 cleared, it seemed White might have an endgame pull for some time to come. 

Radjabov gave a few more thoughts behind his early deviation in analysis.
(Photo courtesy of the official shamkirchess.az website.)

Accurate defense by Hou Yifan saw her trade off White's powerfully placed e5-knight, keep the king in the center (to hold protection of the d-file and d7-square) and get the rook on h8 in the game with the nice pawn-g5 break. Having seen his opponent maintain the balance, Radjabov decided to repeat moves.

GMs Eltaj Safarli and Pavel Eljanov held nothing back in their interesting, Reti/English battle. After misplaying the opening transition to middlegame slightly, Safarli gave Eljanov the upper hand. And once the Ukrainian won the bishop pair on f6, he seemed in complete control. Pressing forward, and finding the beautiful combination (sacrificing a knight on e3) the game looked to be in the bag. 

But after a couple blunders played while converting the attack (missing 30...Qe4! and again 31...e5!), Safarli was back in the game. Accurate defense was needed, but White held in the time scramble. 

All smiles after the hard fought game.
(Photo courtesy of the official shamkirchess.az website.)

Round two is May 27 at 3 p.m. local time, 4 a.m. Pacific, 7 a.m. Eastern, 11 a.m. GMT. The official website with full coverage is http://shamkirchess.az/. All games can be seen via live relay in Chess.com's live events arena (www.chess.com/live).

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