Mamedyarov Wins 3rd Gashimov Memorial, Beats Caruana In Playoff

Mamedyarov Wins 3rd Gashimov Memorial, Beats Caruana In Playoff

| 42 | Chess Event Coverage

Shakhriyar Mamedyarov has won the third Gashimov Memorial in Shamkir, Azerbaijan. The Azerbaijani first beat Anish Giri in the regular round, and then won the blitz playoff against Fabiano Caruana.

On a fantastic day for the local players, Rauf Mamedov and Eltaj Safarli won against Hou Yifan and Pentala Harikrishna respectively.

It was a thrilling affair with a wonderful finish for the local chess fans. He finished in sixth place in both 2014 (a six-player double round robin won by Magnus Carlsen) and 2015 (a ten-player round robin, again Carlsen), and today Shakhriyar Mamedyarov emerged as the winner after a bit more than seven hours of chess.

The 31-year-old grandmaster from Sumgait, who is the only player to have won the World Junior U20 Championship twice, has been around at the top for about a decade, but he hasn't won many super (elite) tournaments. After a shared first place at the Tal Memorial in 2010, he won the same tournament alone four years later. This one on home soil must feel the sweetest.

Fabiano Caruana and Anish Giri had been at the top of the leaderboard all the time, and so this writer, mistakenly, didn't really take into account the possibility that someone else would take home the trophy! But being only half a point behind the leaders, Mamedyarov was obviously in contention as well.

That became very clear when Mamedyarov was playing against Anish Giri, and got a nice advantage out of the opening despite starting with the modest 6.c3 in the Fianchetto Grünfeld — it's almost as if White is choosing the black pieces there. But with a push of the a-pawn and a surprising 13th move Mamedyarov did manage to get a better endgame which he eventually converted on move 53. 

With small measures Mamedyarov managed to break Giri's defense. | Photo Shamkir Chess.

Mamedyarov knew what he was playing for, because the other leader, Fabiano Caruana, had played a quick draw with Sergey Karjakin. In another Open Ruy Lopez the players reached an endgame right out of the opening where Black's disadvantage, based on an isolated e-pawn, was minimal. And when Karjakin overlooked a defensive idea, it was a dead draw immediately.

Contrary to their previous encounter, Karjakin-Caruana
was not much of a game. | Photo Shamkir Chess.

As mentioned in the intro, there were more successes for the local players. For starters, Rauf Mamedov finished his tournament on a 50 percent score as he beat Hou Yifan convincingly with the black pieces. This game was interesting from the very start; the players left theory as early as move five! 

However, not much of this will be repeated at the highest level. It became clear pretty soon that Hou's opening wasn't a great success, although things wouldn't have been so clear if she hadn't allowed the a-file to be opened. Slowly but surely Mamedov got the advantage and it grew bigger and bigger. An excellent game by him.

Hou's opening play was creative but not particularly good. | Photo Shamkir Chess.

And then Eltaj Safarli won as well, also with the black pieces, against Pentala Harikrishna. That was completely unexpected, since Hari was the one with a pleasant advantage in a game that started as a Queen's Indian. However, the Indian miscalculated completely on move 32, and probably still in shock, he made things worse on move 35. A complete turnaround, and Safarli is too strong of a grandmaster to spoil the resulting endgame with an extra piece.

A dramatic last round for Harikrishna, who wasn't happy
with his play in Shamkir. | Photo Shamkir Chess.

The only Azerbaijani who didn't win was Teimour Radjabov. He also had an irregular opening against Pavel Eljanov, who kept a slight edge with 1.d4, 2.Bf4, and 3.Nc3. The critical moment was on move 17, where Ljubomir Ljubojevic suggested a stronger plan than the one played by Eljanov.

More creative opening play by Eljanov. | Photo Shamkir Chess.

Shamkir Chess 2016 | Final Standings

# Name Rtg Perf 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 Pts SB
1 Mamedyarov,Shakhriyar 2748 2854 chesspawn.png 1 1 ½ ½ 0 ½ 1 1 ½ 6.0/9 27.00
2 Caruana,Fabiano 2804 2848 0 chesspawn.png ½ ½ 1 ½ 1 ½ 1 1 6.0/9 23.75
3 Giri,Anish 2790 2808 0 ½ chesspawn.png 1 ½ 1 ½ 1 ½ ½ 5.5/9
4 Karjakin,Sergey 2779 2770 ½ ½ 0 chesspawn.png ½ 1 ½ ½ ½ 1 5.0/9
5 Mamedov,Rauf 2655 2744 ½ 0 ½ ½ chesspawn.png ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 4.5/9
6 Harikrishna,P 2763 2694 1 ½ 0 0 ½ chesspawn.png ½ 0 1 ½ 4.0/9 18.00
7 Radjabov,Teimour 2726 2699 ½ 0 ½ ½ ½ ½ chesspawn.png ½ ½ ½ 4.0/9 17.50
8 Safarli,Eltaj 2664 2704 0 ½ 0 ½ ½ 1 ½ chesspawn.png ½ ½ 4.0/9 16.75
9 Eljanov,Pavel 2765 2654 0 0 ½ ½ ½ 0 ½ ½ chesspawn.png 1 3.5/9
10 Hou,Yifan 2663 2578 ½ 0 ½ 0 0 ½ ½ ½ 0 chesspawn.png 2.5/9

For players tied for the first place the regulations stipulated that a playoff had to be played. And so Caruana and Mamedyarov returned to the stage for the first part: two games of ten minutes and three seconds increment per move.

In the first game Caruana outplayed Mamedyarov in the opening, and won a pawn at some point. However, with heavy pieces and opposite-colored bishops it was not easy to convert. At some point the American GM got the chance to win another pawn but this wasn't possible without trading the rooks. He went for something else, which led to a draw.

The second game Caruana could and should have won. The opening was hardly over when he already had a huge strategical advantage, and the computer pointed out a winning line as early as move 17. Caruana played strong, human moves but then missed a less difficult win at move 26, and two moves later he spoilt everything with a badly timed pawn push.

That must have been a blow for the American, and there was hardly any time to recuperate. Probably because of organizational pressure, the second part started almost immediately: two games of five minutes and three seconds increment per move.

The playoff between Mamedyarov and Caruana, with chief
arbiter Faik Gasanov watching. | Photo Shamkir Chess.

Mamedyarov had black again and treated the same Dragon much better. Black was very comfortable in this game, but Caruana was holding on until a crazy timetrouble phase started. The rook endgame was full of mistakes typical of blitz play, and in the end Mamedyarov won.

And so Caruana had the arduous task of winning with the black pieces. He tried hard, but failed because Mamedyarov was just too solid. A tough result for Caruana, who was leading throughout and was so close in that second playoff game. Mamedyarov, on the other hand, is definitely a deserved winner after beating both Caruana and Giri in the classical games.

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