The Top Chess Players in the World

GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov

Shakhriyar Mamedyarov
Mamedyarov in 2018. Photo: Maria Emelianova/
Full name
Shakhriyar Mamedyarov
Apr 12, 1985 (age 39)‎
Place of birth
Sumgait, Azerbaijan SSR, Soviet Union



Shakhriyar Mamedyarov is a super-grandmaster from Azerbaijan. He was the number-two ranked player in the world in the FIDE ratings list of February 2018. According to, Mamedyarov reached his peak rating of 2826 on September 30, 2018—the sixth-highest rating of all time.

Mamedyarov won the 2013 World Rapid Championship and is a two-time World Junior Champion (2003 and 2005). He has won multiple international tournaments, including the 2018 Biel Chess Festival (ahead of World Champion Magnus Carlsen). Mamedyarov won the Azerbaijan Chess Championship twice (2001 and 2002), was the 2017 FIDE Grand Prix winner, and finished in second place in the 2018 Candidates Tournament. 


Mamedyarov's style skews more toward the tactical side of the universal style. Like all modern super-grandmasters, he can do everything extremely well. However, Mamedyarov's best games contain special tactical elements and material imbalances. He is also a fan of using offbeat and occasionally unorthodox opening lines.

In the following game, Mamedyarov uses the Trompowsky attack to defeat the strongest female player of all time, GM Judit Polgar, in only 11 moves! Mamedyarov gets an extremely pleasant position out of the opening with a strong center and a lead in development. After Polgar's 10...Nd7, Mamedyarov finds the puzzle-like finish 11. Nd5!

This amazing shot wins material on the spot! If Black captures White's queen on d2, then Nc7 is checkmate. When is the last time you saw a world-class grandmaster lose in 11 moves?

Early Career

Mamedyarov came in second place in the 1997 Azerbaijan U-12 Championship. In 2000 he won both the U-16 and the U-18 Azerbaijan Championships. He won the Azerbaijan Championship in 2001 and 2002. Mamedyarov won the World Junior Championship in 2003 and became a grandmaster at the age of 18. In 2005 he won the World Junior Championship again, becoming the only two-time World Junior Champion in history and also achieving a 2700-rating for the first time.

Mamedyarov 2018
Mamedyarov at Tata Steel 2018. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Here is a game from 2004 where Mamedyarov does a little bit of everything. After a relatively quiet English Opening and some normal maneuvering, Mamedyarov shows his intentions of attacking the kingside with 14. g4 and 16. Nf5. Three moves later he sacrifices this knight on h6, and tactics ensue! This game ends with a thunderbolt-shot Rxf8+! Similar to the win above against Polgar, Mamedyarov seems to like ending games with strokes out of a tactics book!

Mamedyarov participated in the 2005 Corus Group B tournament and tied for second (alongside GM Jan Smeets) behind GM Sergey Karjakin but ahead of GMs Carlsen, Alexandra Kosteniuk, Women's World Champion Antoaneta Stefanova, and eight other grandmasters.

In the following game from 2005, Mamedyarov uses an offbeat line against the Dutch Leningrad. After some quiet maneuvering, Mamedyarov sacrifices a knight on move 15 to create a large and intimidating pawn center. He shows his understanding of positions with material imbalances as he marches his three connected passed pawns down the board. The position is picturesque after 23. Ne5, where all of White's pieces are centralized.

The finish to the game is again a study-like finish with 29. Re7! If Black captures this rook with 29...Qxe7, then 30. Bd5+ Rf7 31. Qxb8+ is devastating. If the rook is not captured, then mate follows on g7.

From Grandmaster To World-Class Player

Mamedyarov began 2006 by sharing first place in the prestigious 2006 Aeroflot Open in Moscow with GMs Baadur Jobava, Viorel Bologan, and Krishnan Sasikiran. He won the closed 2006 Essent Tournament on tiebreaks ahead of GMs Polgar, Veselin Topalov, and Ivan Sokolov. In the 2007 Mtel Masters Tournament, he finished half a point behind the winner (Topalov); tied with GMs Gata Kamsky, Liviu-Dieter Nisipeanu, and Sasikiran; and ahead of GM Michael Adams.

Mamedyarov 2007
Mamedyarov at 2007 Eurochess. Photo: Karpidis/Wikimedia, CC.

He finished in tenth place in the 2007 World Blitz Championship, and in 2008 he had a strong showing at the Baku Grand Prix. He scored 7.5/13 (alongside GM Alexander Grischuk) half a point behind the winners (GMs Wang Yue, Carlsen, and Vugar Gashimov) and ahead of GMs Adams, Peter Svidler, Teimour Radjabov, Kamsky, Karjakin, and more.

Mamedyarov defeats Carlsen in the following game from this tournament by trying an unusual move against Carlsen's Queen's Indian with 8. Ne5. The game develops normally with White securing a small edge. When Carlsen makes an error with 28...Qb6, Mamedyarov opens the kingside with 29. f5:

Two moves later, Mamedyarov sacrifices his bishop with 31. Bxa5! to deflect Carlsen's queen from the kingside, and Carlsen resigns six moves later. In the final position, the mighty octopus knight on g6 hits all of the important squares!

Carlsen and Mamedyarov 2019
Mamedyarov (right) playing Carlsen at Norway Chess 2019. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

In the 2008 Dortmund Tournament, he again finished half a point behind the winner (GM Peter Leko) with 4/7 alongside GMs Vassily Ivanchuk, Ian Nepomniachtchi, and Jan Gustaffson and ahead of GMs Vladimir Kramnik, Arkadij Naiditsch, and Loek van Wely.

Mamedyarov finished in fourth place in the 2008 Tal Memorial Blitz tournament with 20/33 (alongside Svidler) behind Ivanchuk, Kramnik, and Carlsen, but ahead of GMs Leko, Grischuk, Karjakin, Kamsky, Boris Gelfand, Ruslan Ponomariov, Anatoly Karpov, Alexander Morozevich, and five other world-class grandmasters. Mamadyarov then tied for fifth place in the 2008 World Blitz Championship.

In 2009 Mamedyarov won the Ordix Open Tournament with an amazing 10/11 score ahead of a very large field of grandmasters and strong players. He tied for eighth place in the 2009 World Blitz Championship. In the 2009 FIDE World Cup, Mamedyarov entered as the 13th seed in the 128-player field. He defeated GMs Kosteniuk, Vadim Milov, Wang Hao, and Viktor Laznicka to reach the quarterfinals (top eight), where he lost to Karjakin.

Mamedyarov 2019
Mamedyarov at the 2019 Paris Grand Chess Tour. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Mamedyarov tied for first place in the 2010 Tal Memorial. He scored 5.5/9 alongside GMs Levon Aronian and Karjakin, and ahead of GMs Wang, Grischuk, Hikaru Nakamura, Kramnik, Gelfand, Alexei Shirov, and Pavel Eljanov. He finished tied for eighth in the 2010 World Blitz Championship.

World Chess Championship Candidate

Mamedyarov was named the wildcard participant for the 2011 Candidates Tournament by the organizers. The format was an eight-player knockout tournament consisting of mini-matches, and he was knocked out in the first round by the eventual winner, Gelfand. 

Mamedyarov finished tied for third (with Topalov) in the 2012 World Rapid Championship behind Karjakin and Carlsen. In the following game, Mamedyarov creates attacking chances after a slow and quiet opening. Playing White against the Queen's Indian (like the game above against Carlsen), Mamedyarov selects a solid variation where he has a structural advantage out of the opening.

Black's position remains solid while Mamedyarov gains the bishop pair on move 25. A few moves later Black makes a mistake with 27...Bd5, which allows another blow straight out of a tactics trainer session with 28. Bxg6!

Three moves later, Mamedyarov sacrifices his other bishop with 29. Ba5! to deflect the queen from the kingside—the same sacrificial idea that he used to defeat Carlsen in the game above. Black resigned two moves later with mate in four on the board.

In the 2012 FIDE Grand Prix London Tournament, Mamedyarov tied for first alongside Topalov and Gelfand, ahead of GMs Grischuk, Leko, Wang, Adams, Ivanchuk, Leinier Dominguez Perez, Rustam Kasimdzhanov, Anish Giri, and Nakamura. In the next 2012 FIDE Grand Prix event in Tashkent, he tied for second (with Kasimdzhanov and GM Fabiano Caruana) behind Karjakin, Morozovevich, and Wang.

In the next game, Mamedyarov traps Topalov's knight in an extremely simple and instructive fashion. After a relatively quiet 4. Qc2 Nimzo-Indian Defense, the game turns strategic. The position is roughly level until Topalov plays 20...Ne4, and then the fun begins. After Topalov grabs the c3-pawn on move 21, the following position is the result:

At first glance, it appears as if Black has just won a free pawn. However, Mamedyarov saw an interesting resource with 22. Rac1! After Topalov captures the rook on d1, both his rook and knight fall! Apparently, Mamedyarov can conjure up tactics in almost any type of position. Another quick victory for Mamedyarov—defeating Topalov in 24 moves is no easy task!

In 2013, Mamedyarov won the World Rapid Championship with an 11.5/15 score in a 58-player field. He also won the 2013 FIDE Grand Prix Beijing Tournament ahead of Grischuk, Leko, Topalov, Morozevich, Karjakin, Giri, Wang Yue, Gelfand, Wang Hao, Ivanchuk, and Kamsky. Because this performance (with his 2012 London, 2012 Tashkent and 2013 Zug FIDE Grand Prix tournaments) earned him second place in the overall FIDE Grand Prix standings, he qualified for the 2014 Candidates Tournament.

Here is a game from the 2013 Beijing Tournament where one of Mamedyarov's knights goes on an odyssey against Giri. Mamedyarov gains a small advantage out of the opening, but the position is somewhat level until Giri's 15...Rad8. After a few moves, Mamedyarov's remaining knight starts its journey with 17. Nxb4.

This knight hops all over the board like a whirling dervish from d5-b4-c6-d8-e6-d4 and then finally back to e6 as an octopus knight! Move 22 is a notable queen sacrifice, and Mamedyarov again shows his mastery of positions with material imbalances. His octopus knight and bishop pair are too much for Giri, who resigns on move 28 in a position where his queen is facing three minor pieces and a rook! Another classic Mamedyarov miniature against a world-class opponent.

Mamedyarov scored 7/14 in the 2014 Candidates Tournament, which put him in fourth place after tiebreaks (alongside Kramnik and GM Dmitry Andreikin). He finished behind Anand and Karjakin, but ahead of Aronian, Svidler, and Topalov. In 2014, he won the Tal Memorial Blitz tournament ahead of Grischuk, Morozevich, Gelfand, Karjakin, Svidler, Nepomniachtchi, Kramnik, Leko and several other grandmasters.

Teimour Radjabov, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, Baadur Jobava 2017
Radjabov (left), Mamedyarov (center), and Jobava at the 2017 FIDE World Cup. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

In 2016 Mamedyarov won the Gashimov Memorial Tournament in Shamkir with a 6/9 score. He won the tournament on tiebreaks over Caruana and ahead of the field of GMs Giri, Karjakin, Rauf Mamedov, Pentala Harikrishna, Eltaj Safarli, Radjabov, Eljanov, and Hou Yifan. Mamedyarov also won the 2017 Gashimov Memorial Tournament half a point ahead of the field with a 5.5/9 score. He finished ahead of GMs Kramnik, Wesley So, Topalov, Karjakin, Radoslaw Wojtaszek, Adams, Radjabov, Eljanov, and Harikrishna.

Mamedyarov tied for first place in the 2017 FIDE Grand Prix Sharjah Tournament alongside Grischuk and GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, and ahead of GMs Ding Liren, Adams, Nakamura, Nepomniachtchi, Aronian and many other strong grandmasters. He came in second place in the FIDE Grand Prix Moscow Tournament behind Ding, but ahead of Vachier-Lagrave, Nakamura, Giri, Svidler, Grischuk, Radjabov, Francisco Vallejo Pons, Jon Ludvig Hammer, Nepomniachtchi and others.

Mamedyarov 2019
Mamedyarov in 2019. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

His performance in the Sharjah, Moscow and Geneva FIDE Grand Prix events earned him first place for the 2017 FIDE Grand Prix, gaining him a spot in the 2018 Candidates Tournament. Mamedyarov had his strongest performance yet in the 2018 Candidates Tournament and scored 8/14. He finished in second place (with Karjakin) behind the tournament winner Caruana, and ahead of Ding, Kramnik, Grischuk, So, and Aronian.

In the 2018 Biel Chess Festival, Mamedyarov won the tournament convincingly with a 7.5/10 score. He finished in clear first, 1.5 points ahead of GMs Carlsen, Vachier-Lagrave, Svidler, David Navara, and Nico Georgiadis.

Mamedyarov 2018
Mamedyarov at the 2018 Tata Steel Tournament. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Mamedyarov won the 2019 Grand Prix Riga Tournament, a 16-player knockout. He defeated GM Daniil Dubov in the first round, GM Jan-Krzysztof Duda in round two, and So in the third round to reach the final. Mamedyarov and Vachier-Lagrave were even through both classical games, four rapid games, and two blitz games until Mamedyarov won the armageddon game for the title.

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