Caruana Stumbles, Caught By Giri Before Shamkir's Final Round

Caruana Stumbles, Caught By Giri Before Shamkir's Final Round

| 32 | Chess Event Coverage

On Friday, Fabiano Caruana lost his first game at the Gashimov Memorial in Shamkir, Azerbaijan. The U.S. grandmaster was beaten by Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and now finds Anish Giri beside him in the leaderboard as the Dutchman drew his game with Hou Yifan.

The third Vugar Gashimov Memorial will be decided in the final round — which by the way starts an hour earlier — now that Caruana and Giri are on the same number of points. The former lost; the latter drew. Both play with Black tomorrow.

It was a surprising loss for Caruana. Not only because he had the white pieces today, but also because in six classical games he had not lost to Mamedyarov. 

The other surprise was Mamedyarov's opening choice. Whereas his good friend Radjabov played it many times, the Sveshnikov can only be found in three of Mamedyarov's games in the database, the last from 2004.

Caruana played the solid 9.Nd5 option together with 11.c4, which always leads to a long positional struggle where theoretically Black is OK. In this game White was a tempo away from an advantage. “If I have time to play b3 I have a very nice position,” said Caruana.

At move 27, with only heavy pieces on the board, it was still balanced. Caruana: “My feeling was it shouldn't be bad for White but I couldn't see the way to play it.”

He expected to be able to play g3-g4 but that never happened. When the rooks left the board, Black was winning.

After Caruana's first loss the tournament is wide open again. | Photo Shamkir Chess.

This meant that Anish Giri had the chance to grab sole lead, but he failed to do so against a stubborn Hou Yifan. “I really think she defended very well,” Giri said a couple of times at the press conference. His respect for the women's world champion might be based on the fact that he has lost two games against her, drew the sixth encounter today, and has never managed to beat her.  

The game was a Ragozin where the Dutchman went for a slightly better endgame with a typical strong knight on d4 blocking an isolated queen's pawn. White also got a more active rook, but after the bishops were traded the black rook got into the game as well.

Sergei Tiviakov pointed out 42.Nc7 which, practically speaking, was probably the best chance for Giri in the whole game (although even there it might still be a draw). As it went, Giri won Hou's knight for two pawns, which was not enough.

Strong defense by Hou Yifan today. | Photo Shamkir Chess.

Sergey Karjakin surprised his opponent Eltaj Safarli as early as the first move. Against 1.c4, the Russian grandmaster had never responded with 1...c6 in his whole career.

The game became a Panov Caro-Kann with 6.Bg5 Be6, and then Safarli dived into some obscure corner of the opening library as he chose 7.Be2 and 8.Bf3. There's an old game between Boris Gulko and Ian Rogers from 1996, where Black sacrificed an exchange and White didn't take it.

The same exchange sac was played by Karjakin today, who said: “He tried to make some tricks in the opening but actually I was quite ready for this.”

Safarli unwisely decided to grab the material. That was pretty risky, and if Karjakin had played a bit more accurately he would have kept a nice advantage.

A missed opportunity for Karjakin. | Photo Shamkir Chess.

Another relatively quick draw was played between Teimour Radjabov and Pentala Harikrishna in a 4.g3/5.Qc2 Queen's Indian. This one hardly added anything to opening theory as Harikrishna, or Hari, equalized in a way that had been seen before. “I mixed up things,” was Radjabov's comment.

Radjabov mixed up things in a Queen's Indian. | Photo Shamkir Chess.

And also Rauf Mamedov vs Pavel Eljanov was a rather quiet affair, despite its interesting start. In a Two Knights Caro-Kann the Azerbaijani sacrificed his d-pawn (still known to theory) and then won it back on h7. Such a trade can be tricky when Black castles queenside, but in this case, with opposite-colored bishops on the board, the middlegame was just equal.

The last 15 moves were played fast; the players were just trying to reach a clearly drawn position as quickly as possible.

Eljanov was well prepared for his opponent's pawn sacrifice. | Photo Shamkir Chess.

The last-round pairings are Mamedyarov-Giri, Karjakin-Caruana, Harikrishna-Safarli, Eljanov-Radjabov and Hou-Mamedov. Both contenders for tournament victory have to play with the black pieces. If they finish on equal points, Caruana wins the tournament based on a higher number of wins (first tiebreak).

Correction: in case of a tie for first place a blitz playoff will be played.

Giri has the slightly more pleasant pairing, not only based on Elo. Mamedyarov (who still has a chance for victory as well) tends to take more risks than Karjakin, and so if playing for a win is needed, that might actually be possible.

Caruana, on the other hand, will have déjà vu: in the last round of the FIDE Candidates’ tournament he also faced Karjakin as Black, and we all know what happened there. Will he try to get his revenge?

Shamkir Chess 2016 | Standings After Round 8

# Name Rtg Perf 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 Pts SB
1 Giri,Anish 2790 2864 chesspawn.png ½ 1 1 ½ ½ 1 ½ ½ 5.5/8 20.50
2 Caruana,Fabiano 2804 2858 ½ chesspawn.png 0 ½ 1 1 ½ 1 1 5.5/8 18.75
3 Mamedyarov,Shakhriyar 2748 2816 1 chesspawn.png ½ 0 ½ ½ 1 1 ½ 5.0/8
4 Karjakin,Sergey 2779 2766 0 ½ chesspawn.png 1 ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 4.5/8
5 Harikrishna,P 2763 2742 0 ½ 1 0 chesspawn.png ½ ½ 1 ½ 4.0/8
6 Mamedov,Rauf 2655 2711 ½ 0 ½ ½ ½ chesspawn.png ½ ½ ½ 3.5/8 14.25
7 Radjabov,Teimour 2726 2690 ½ 0 ½ ½ ½ ½ chesspawn.png ½ ½ 3.5/8 14.00
8 Safarli,Eltaj 2664 2653 0 ½ 0 ½ ½ ½ chesspawn.png ½ ½ 3.0/8 11.25
9 Eljanov,Pavel 2765 2645 ½ 0 0 ½ 0 ½ ½ chesspawn.png 1 3.0/8 10.75
10 Hou,Yifan 2663 2618 ½ 0 ½ 0 ½ ½ ½ 0 chesspawn.png 2.5/8

Round nine is June 4 at 2 p.m. local time, 3 a.m. Pacific, 6 a.m. Eastern, 10 a.m. GMT. The official website with full coverage is All games can be seen via live relay in's live events arena ( chesspawn.png

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