All of the games in Round 1 of the Gashimov Memorial were drawn.

The annual Gashimov Memorial — a tribute to Vugar Gashimov, the talented Azeri grandmaster who died in 2014 — got off to a slow start in Round 1 on Thursday. All five games ended in draws and only one was really exciting.

The field is quite strong. The foreign players are Fabiano Caruana of the United States; Sergey Karjakin of Russia (the challenger for the World Championship later this year); Anish Giri of the Netherlands; Pentala Harikrishna of India; Pavel Eljanov of Ukraine; and Hou Yifan of China, the world’s best woman player.

The local players are also all strong grandmasters — Teimour Radjabov, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, Rauf Mamedov, and Eltaj Safarli.  

In Round 1, Mamedov faced Giri, Radjabov played Hou, and Mamedyarov took on Karjakin. In none of the games did either player ever gain any advantage. The other two games were more dynamic..

Caruana played Harikrishna and managed to gain an edge:

Caruana, Fabiano vs. Harikrishna, Pentala
Gashimov Memorial | Shamkir, Azerbaijan | Round 1 | 26 May 2016 | 1/2-1/2
g6 This looks suspicious to me. Why allow the kingside to be opened?
18... Bxd3 19. cxd3 The computer insists this is dead equal, but with a White rook about to land on c6, I can see why Harikrishna disliked the position.  )
18... f5! This looks the strongest to me
19. gxf6 Bxd3 20. cxd3 Bxf6 And Black will have counterplay along the f-file to compensate for the weakened c6 square. I think that he is okay.  )
19. h4! Now h5 is looming and Black has to be careful of his kingside being opened.
19... Rfc8 20. Rc1 Qd7 21. Bxa6! Finally White decides that it is time
21... Rxa6 22. f4! Qf5
22... exf4 23. Bd4  )
23. Qxf5 gxf5 24. c3! bxc3 25. Rxc3 Rxc3 26. bxc3 White has a nice edge in the endgame because he has extra space and more active pieces. Note that he will soon fix Blacks pawn on a5 as a permanent weakness

Caruana did not make the most of his chances, but even if he had played better, I am not at all convinced that Black would not have held a draw anyway.

Caruana, Fabiano vs. Harikrishna, Pentala
Gashimov Memorial | Shamkir, Azerbaijan | Round 1 | 26 May 2016 | 1/2-1/2
37. c4? With little time left to make his final four moves, Caruana lets his advantage slip. The king needed this square
37. Kb3! Ke8 38. Kc4 Would preserve good winning chances. The computer seems to hold after
38... Bf6 39. Ra7 Bxd4 40. Kxd4 Rg8 41. Ra8+ Kf7 42. Rxa5 Rg2 But this is very hard for a human to find without much time on the clock  )
37... Ke8 38. Kc3 Bh4 39. Ra7 Be1+ 40. Kc2 Rg8 41. Ra8+ Kf7 42. Ra7+ Ke8 43. Ra8+

There was one game that surely raised many an eyebrow, and that was the matchup between Safarli and Eljanov. It looked fairly tranquil after the opening, but with little time left on each player’s clock to make a number of moves before the first time control, the game quickly turned to chaos:

Safarli, Eltaj vs. Eljanov, Pavel
Gashimov Memorial | Shamkir, Azerbaijan | Round 1 | 26 May 2016 | 1/2-1/2
28. e3 In a difficult position, White only makes matters worse. Safarli had already been clearly outplayed, but the move he played seems to lose immediately
28... Nxe3!? Objectively the best move, but not totally necessary
28... Bf6 This should also win but it's significantly less decisive. Still, looking back, Eljanov might regret Nxe3 as 28. Bf6 was simpler, even if it would have taken longer to win. As Boris Gelfand wrote in his recent book, it is not relevent how long it will take to win a game, only the degree of certainty of the victory counts.  )
29. fxe3 Rc1 30. Kf2 Qh1? Eljanov starts to slip
30... Qe4! This was the winning move. White has no good answer to Qf5+
31. Nfd2 Qh1! And only now should Black play Qh1. The knight was much better on f1, holding onto the h2 pawn.  )
31. Qd3! f5?
31... e5! The threat of e4 forces White to play e4 himself.
32. e4 Not now the bishop on g5 is uncovered, the computer finds
32... Kh7 Winning immediately  )
32. h4 Be7 33. Ra5 White is getting ready to play Nbd2 after which he will just be up a piece.
33... f4 34. exf4 Qc6 35. Re5?
35. Ne3 Simple and strong  )
35... Bc5+ 36. Rxc5
36. Ne3 Rh1 Was perhaps not to White's liking  )
36... Qxc5+ 37. Ne3 b3 38. Nd2 Rc2 39. Kf3? One final mistake leads to a draw
39. Ke2 Rxb2 40. Nd1 White will win the b3 pawn after which he will still have a good chance to win the game.  )
39... Rxb2 40. Qd8+ Kh7 41. Qd3+ Kh8 42. Qd8+ Kh7 43. Qd3+ This may have looked like a comedy of errors, but it was a very tough position to play, and both sides had very little time.

It was a shame for Eljanov to fail to capitalize on his chances, but he was also lucky not to lose in the end. Hopefully Round 2 will be more exciting. I think that the game between Harikrishna and Mamedyarov will be the most interesting one to follow.


Samuel Shankland is a United States grandmaster ranked No. 7 in the country. He is a professional player and recipient of the Samford Fellowship in 2013, the most prestigious award in the United States for young chess players. He is at @GMShanky on Twitter and is also on Facebook.