Caruana Moves To 3.5/4 In Shamkir, Giri Close Behind

Caruana Moves To 3.5/4 In Shamkir, Giri Close Behind

| 21 | Chess Event Coverage

Fabiano Caruana won again and moved to 3.5/4 at the Gashimov Memorial in Shamkir, Azerbaijan. Today he beat Rauf Mamedov as Black. Anish Giri however is close behind as he won his second game, against Pentala Harikrishna.

It's only four rounds old but the Gashimov Memorial is yet a very interesting tournament, especially taking into account the plethora of openings that have been played. For example, in nine games with 1.e4 we have seen three Sicilians, a French, a Caro-Kann, a Pirc, an Open Ruy Lopez, a Petroff and a Giuoco Piano! The short version: no Berlin yet. 

Another nice thing about this event is that we get to see chess legend Ljubomir Ljubojevic as co-commentator, together with Sergei Tiviakov. Ljubojevic is the one taking care of the press conferences, and as a result these sessions with the players contain plenty of chess culture.

Ljubojevic is in Shamkir. | Photo courtesy of Shamkir Chess.

During the fourth round “Ljubo” asked the players about superstition, and mentioned that when things went well, Mikhail Botvinnik liked to play in the same suit, that Anatoly Karpov didn't wash his hair and Alexander Alekhine liked to have a cat closeby.

Today's players are hardly superstitious, although Fabiano Caruana admitted that he tends to “use the same pen” when he is on a streak. Well, there's a good chance the U.S. Champion hasn't changed pens yet since his 3.5/4 is just excellent.

On Sunday Caruana defeated Rauf Mamedov with the black pieces, just like he did at the World Cup in Baku (whereas Mamedov held a draw in Shamkir last year). The 28-year-old Azerbaijani went for a trade (two pieces for a rook and two pawns) that seemed to give him some chances against the enemy king, but Caruana wisely gave back one pawn to force an ending where he was out of danger. Basically from the moment Black's bishop's joined the party, Mamedov's position collapsed.

A fantastic start for Fabiano Caruana. | Photo courtesy of Shamkir Chess.

Caruana is now virtually winning exactly 10 Elo points which gives him a live rating of 2814, one point more than the current world number two Vladimir Kramnik. It's fair to say that the American managed to keep his form from St. Louis last month.

Caruana's main rival for tournament victory is Anish Giri. The Dutchman won his second game as White against Pentala Harikrishna, using a prepared idea that worked out quite smoothly. Ljubojevic was wondering whether Giri belonged to the same school as Max Euwe and Jan Timman, and with this opening success Giri surely made it look like it!

Giri's idea was similar to how Shakhriyar Mamedyarov treated the same Semi-Tarrasch last year in the same tournament against Vladimir Kramnik: an early h2-h4-h5 (after castling kingside!). He then also went for the standard d4-d5, e6xd5, e4-e5 theme which Lev Polugaevsky used to beat Mikhail Tal with, and which Garry Kasparov played as well.

Harikrishna chose a somewhat passive setup, constantly had to worry about a bishop & queen battery along the b1-h7 diagonal (the white pawn on h5 made g7-g6 much more difficult) and then made a big mistake when answering the e5-e6 move.

A smooth second win for Anish Giri. | Photo courtesy of Shamkir Chess.

The third pre-tournament favorite, Sergey Karjakin, doesn't make a great impression so far. He's still on 50 percent, and for a moment he was in trouble against Pavel Eljanov.

After a “boring” opening (Karjakin), Eljanov was “brave” enough (Ljubojevic) to push e3-e4-e5 when things got a bit more interesting. “I have to do something otherwise we shake hands,” said the Ukrainian, who got a passed pawn all the way to d7 but it was firmly blocked.

On move 28 Karjakin played too fast in his opponent's time trouble, put his queen on a wrong square and allowed a very promising exchange sacrifice. Eljanov, however, didn't have time to calculate everything and didn't play it. 

The World Championship Challenger is not in top shape yet. | Photo courtesy of Shamkir Chess.

A sharp but short game was Teimour Radjabov vs Eltaj Safarli — the first to finish in this fourth round. In the old 7.Bc4 main line of the Grünfeld, Radjabov played another old move (or rather, plan): 12.f4. It's one of the most brutal ways of dealing with this opening: just push your f-pawn and sac on f7. Well, that's what happened. Safarli said he had missed the sacrifice, but his 18...Qb6! was just in time.

Radjabov and Safarli certainly provided entertainment! | Photo courtesy of Shamkir Chess.

Hou Yifan and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov drew their game as well. It was a 6.g3 Najdorf and by choosing his setup Mamedyarov said that he was inspired by Garry Kasparov, who played this way against Nigel Short in their blitz match which took place during last year's Gashimov Memorial. Hou Yifan put all her money on her c-pawn, but Mamedyarov saved himself with a perpetual in a queen endgame.

Asked about superstition, Mamedyarov showed a piece of paper that he carried in his pocket. On it were five words in Azeri, and he said that only one grandmaster understood what they meant: Vugar Gashimov. Maybe at a later stage we'll find out what those words were about.

Shamkir Chess 2016 | Standings After Round 4

# Name Rtg Perf 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 Pts SB
1 Caruana,Fabiano 2804 3049 ½ 1 1 1 3.5/4
2 Giri,Anish 2790 2921 ½ 1 1 ½ 3.0/4
3 Radjabov,Teimour 2726 2693 ½ ½ ½ ½ 2.0/4 4.00
4 Karjakin,Sergey 2779 2767 0 ½ 1 ½ 2.0/4 3.00
5 Safarli,Eltaj 2664 2702 ½ ½ ½ ½ 2.0/4 3.00
6 Mamedyarov,Shakhriyar 2748 2743 ½ 0 ½ 1 2.0/4 2.75
7 Harikrishna,P 2763 2692 ½ 0 0 1 1.5/4 3.75
8 Mamedov,Rauf 2655 2657 0 ½ ½ ½ 1.5/4 3.50
9 Hou,Yifan 2663 2647 0 ½ ½ ½ 1.5/4 3.00
10 Eljanov,Pavel 2765 2558 0 ½ ½ 0 1.0/4

Round five is May 30 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 All games can be seen via live relay in's live events arena (

Peter Doggers

Peter Doggers joined a chess club a month before turning 15 and still plays for it. He used to be an active tournament player and holds two IM norms.

Peter has a Master of Arts degree in Dutch Language & Literature. He briefly worked at New in Chess, then as a Dutch teacher and then in a project for improving safety and security in Amsterdam schools.

Between 2007 and 2013 Peter was running ChessVibes, a major source for chess news and videos acquired by in October 2013.

As our Director News & Events, Peter writes many of our news reports. In the summer of 2022, The Guardian’s Leonard Barden described him as “widely regarded as the world’s best chess journalist.”

In October, Peter's first book The Chess Revolution will be published!

Company Contact and News Accreditation: 

Phone: 1 (800) 318-2827
Address: PO Box 60400 Palo Alto, CA 94306

More from PeterDoggers
Arjun Erigaisi Briefly World #5 As Menorca Open Winner

Arjun Erigaisi Briefly World #5 As Menorca Open Winner

Isa Kasimi (Igors Rausis) 1961-2024

Isa Kasimi (Igors Rausis) 1961-2024