Mamedyarov-Carlsen Headlines 5 Draws At Shamkir Chess
The playing hall in Shamkir. | Photo: Shamkir Chess.

Mamedyarov-Carlsen Headlines 5 Draws At Shamkir Chess

| 8 | Chess Event Coverage

The first round of the Gashimov Memorial in Shamkir, Azerbaijan saw five draws, including the top encounter between Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Magnus Carlsen. Ding Liren missed a nice chance to convert his endgame vs Radoslaw Wojtaszek

This year for the fifth time, the memorial for GM Vugar Gashimov is taking place. Today some of the participants spoke about him, and all had similar memories: that the former member of Azerbaijan's Olympic team was both a great guy and a very tough opponent.

Carlsen put it like this:

"I played him a few times and as a rule I would get a good position out of the opening, and then many times he would outplay me because he had a very fine understanding of both positional and tactical themes. He could pose problems for anybody. I remember the tournament I played in Baku in 2008 [the FIDE Grand Prix - PD] where Vugar and I shared first place. In our game I thought I was considerably better from the opening and then eventually I just had to fight for a draw because he understood the position much better than I did. He was always a very sporting opponent and somebody I loved to play against because he posed great challenges."

The game discussed was in fact Carlsen and Gashimov's first of 10 encounters in total (including rapid and blitz). It went like this.

Shamkir Opening Ceremony 2018Players and organizers on stage during the opening ceremony. | Photo: Shamkir Chess.

The tournament is once again held in Shamkir in western Azerbaijan, about 175 kilometers southeast of Tbilisi, Georgia. It's not the most exciting place for the players, but the official hotel is quite decent, and it has a nice spa and small gym.

Physical activity became sort of the theme of the day because commentator Ljubomir Ljubojevic, himself a former world number-three, asked several players about it. Carlsen said: "I love doing sports, I love being active. I don't do it to be better at chess; I just do it for fun and if it helps my chess then that's an excellent bonus."

Players tend to lose weight at world championships, said Ljubo. He recalled a conversation with Bobby Fischer, who told him he had lost 11 kilos during the 1972 match in Reykjavik. Carlsen agreed: "During world championship matches at the end you feel much more frail physically than at the start. It definitely takes its toll both mentally and physically."

Henrik, Magnus Carlsen, Peter Heine Nielsen Shamkir

Carlsen arriving to the playing hall with his father Henrik and his second Peter Heine Nielsen. | Photo: Shamkir Chess.

Ljubo later asked Karjakin about being less fit than Carlsen. The Russian player commented about his rival: "Of course it's important to prepare physically but at the same time he's winning not because he's good in sport but because he's good in chess."

The first round didn't see any decisive games, but there was quite a lot of excitement on the boards. Well, except for the top encounter perhaps, the one between the top seeds.

World number=two Shakhriyar Mamedyarov's classical score vs Magnus Carlsen before the tournament wasn't great: one win vs five for Carlsen (and nine draws). Mamedyarov knew all too well that he had lost all three encounters played in Shamkir, and admitted it was safety first for him.

He said he just wanted to play "accurate chess" and felt OK with the result. Carlsen didn't mind either: "As you can see from the course of the game, I don't think any of us wanted to take excessive risks."

Nona Gaprindashvili at Shamkir 2018

For Nona Gaprindashvili the travel from Tbilisi wasn't too long. The women's world champion between 1962 and 1978 made the first move in the game. | Photo: Shamkir Chess.

Anish Giri said he worked less on his chess in the first year after his son was born, but that he's back at full speed since the end of last year. At the same time, he had to admit that his new regimen didn't bear fruit in his first game since Wijk aan Zee. "I was a little bit sloppy prepared today, I didn't remember the details."

Sergey Karjakin's 10...Nc6 caught him a bit off guard, and Black was probably OK out of the opening in this Ragozin. Nonetheless Giri had a chance to gain a decent advantage on move 22, but he spotted it just too late.

Anish Giri Shamkir

Anish Giri: sloppy preparation, and a missed chance. | Photo: Shamkir Chess.

The biggest chance for a win today was in the hands of the Chinese super-GM Ding Liren, who had been torturing Radoslaw Wojtaszek for hours. The Polish GM, who replaced Vladimir Kramnik in Shamkir, could only wait, and pray.

A zugzwang position was unavoidable, and it was clear that Ding was going to win a piece. Avoiding perpetual check was the next big task for him. It was actually possible, as the engines show, but after six hour of play he failed to calculate it correctly.

Ding Liren vs Radoslaw Wojtaszek Shamkir

The longest game of the round could have ended in a very pretty win. | Photo: Shamkir Chess.

They might be the lowest-rated players in the tournament, but David Navara and Rauf Mamedov did play the most interesting game today. Navara's bishop sacrifice on f7 was the main reason obviously, as well as the material imbalance later on.


David Navara vs Rauf Mamedov

An inspired Navara brought fire on board today. | Photo: Shamkir Chess.

Despite 18 moves of theory (bleh) in a Berlin Endgame (blèèh), the game between Veselin Topalov and Teimour Radjabov was fairly interesting. The endgame was quite tactical, and the Bulgarian's 31.a4 was a nice try. Both he and Radjabov played quite accurately, showing no rustiness despite the fact that these two players play very little these days.

Veselin Topalov Shamkir

Veselin Topalov, back in action. | Photo: Shamkir Chess.

Shamkir Chess runs from April 19-28, with a rest day on April 24. The games start at 3 p.m. local time, which is 1 p.m. Central Europe, noon London, 7 a.m. New York, and 4 a.m. Pacific. The prize fund is €100,000 ($123,689) with a first prize of €30,000 ($37,107).

Related report:

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.

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