After the first round of the elite Gashimov Memorial was dominated by draws, Round 2 featured three decisive games

The second round of the Gashimov Memorial, which is being held in Shamkir, Azerbaijan, was full of fireworks as three of the five games produced a decisive result.

As I anticipated, and as I wrote at the end of the report on Round 1, one of the most exciting games of the round was between Pentala Harikrishna of India and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov of the host country. Indeed, it was the first game to end decisively, and Harikrishna made it look easy:

Harikrishna, Pentala vs. Mamedyarov, Shakhriyar
Gashimov Memorial | Shamkir, Azerbaijan | Round 2 | 27 May 2016 | 1-0
18. Rd3 White has a pleasant edge with control of the open file and a better bishop, but Blacks position is pretty solid. It's remarkable how quickly Harikrishna is able to win the game from this point.
18... Qe6? Lashing out too soon, but sitting back and defending passively is not Mamedyarov's style
18... Bf8 This looks more natural to me as it tries to improve Black's worst positioned piece. White would still be better, but there would be a long way to go before he could win.
19. Rad1 Rac8 20. Bg5  )
19. Qxc7! Nxe4 20. Rad1 White dominates the open file
20... Bf6 What else? Black can barely move.
21. Nd2! Trading Black's best placed piece.
21... Nxd2 22. R1xd2 e4 23. Rd6 Be5 24. Rxe6 Bxc7 25. Rc6 Rec8 26. Kf1! White does not take the pawn because it is poisoned. His position is completely winning because his pieces are more active than Blacks and Black has many weaknesses.
26. Bxb6? Always be on the lookout for tricks
26... Bh2+  )
26... Bd8 27. Rcd6 Rab8 28. Rd7 Bf6 29. Bf4! Ra8 30. Rb7! Now Black cannot stop an invasion on the 7th rank
30... Rc6
30... Rd8 31. Rxb6 Looks easy enough  )
31. Rdd7 Rd8 Losing a piece, but the game was already far beyond saving.
32. Rxd8+ Bxd8 33. Rb8

Fabiano Caruana of the United States soon joined Harikrishna in the lead by beating Pavel Eljanov of Ukraine. It was a rather strange game. Eljanov had an extra pawn, but he overvalued it and declined a repetition of position that would have led to a draw. In fact, the only really relevant factor in the game was the precarious position of Eljanov’s king, which made it possible for Caruana to scoop up the full point.

Eljanov, Pavel vs. Caruana, Fabiano
Gashimov Memorial | Shamkir, Azerbaijan | Round 2 | 27 May 2016 | 0-1
Qg2 35. Bxf5?! Objectively this is not a bad move, but it may be the start of White's subsequent problems.
35. Qe3 Centralizing the queen would have been solid and looks more natural to me.  )
35... exf5 36. Kc2?
36. Rc2 Apparently this was the only move  )
36... Qb7
36... Qf3! Would have won on the spot as the threat of Qd3+ is a major threat
37. Qe3 Qh1  )
37. Kd2 Qg2 38. Kc1 I have no idea why Eljanov felt the need to avoid a repetition here
38... Qf3 Perhaps Caruana would have found this against Kc2 as well
39. Rc2 Ra8 40. Qe2 Qh1+ 41. Kd2 Ra1 Black doesn't have a threat, but White is in a very pretty zugzwang; he is unable to defend everything.
42. Qe8+ Kg7 43. Qe5+ Kh7 44. Qe2 Rb1! Zugzwang again, and this time there are no checks
45. f3 Rg1 With Rg2 coming, Eljanov had seen enough

The final decisive result occurred in the game between Anish Giri of the Netherlands and Sergey Karjakin of Russia. It was similar to the Eljanov-Caruana game in that the position was objectively equal when Karjakin, whose position was under a bit more pressure, avoided a move repetition that would have led to a draw and promptly got into terrible trouble:

Giri, Anish vs. Karjakin, Sergey
Gashimov Memorial | Shamkir, Azerbaijan | Round 2 | 27 May 2016 | 1-0
Qg4 The computer insists this position is absolutely equal. Ojectively, it is probably right. It's certainly very hard to suggest any kind of credible plan for either side. That said, the only real breaks available in the position - f5 and e5 - both belong to White, so he has a cosmetic advantage.
34. Kg2 Rhe8?? One question mark for the quality of the move, one question mark for even considering declining a repetition when he has absolutely no active play.
34... Qd7 Among other moves, this equalizes easily and waits to see if White will play Kh2 again  )
35. f5! Giri pounces on his chance. He threatens to trap the Black queen by playing Nf2.
35... gxf5 36. Nf2 Qg6 37. exf5 Rxe2
37... Qf7 This does not help:
38. Rxe7 Rxe7 39. Rxe7 Qxe7 40. Qxh5  )
38. fxg6! Rxe1 39. Qxh5 Rh8 40. Qf3 With the Black king exposed, the White queen is much better than the rooks. Giri soon wins an exchange as well
40... Re3 41. Qg4 Re5 42. Qd7+ Kxg6 43. Ne4 This knight will soon cost Black a rook and the combination of queen and knight is an extremely dangerous attacking duo, particularly with Black's king in the open.
43... Nxd3 44. Qg4+! One last accurate move seals the deal
44. Nxd6? Re2+ And Black can force a draw:
45. Kf1 Re1+ 46. Kg2 Re2+ 47. Kh3 Nf2+  )
44... Kh6 45. Nxd6 Now Black is unable to play Re2+, and White is threatening Nf5.
45... Rf8 46. Nf5+ Rxf5 47. Qxf5 Ne5 48. Qe6 d3 49. Qxb6 Rf7 50. Qxa5 Rd7 51. Qd2+ Kg7 White still has to be a little careful because the d-pawn keeps the queen on the defensive for now. But with accurate play, Giri is able to convert his advantage into a full point.
52. a5! Nc6 53. a6 Kf7 54. h5! The pawns split Black's position apart
54... Nb4 55. h6 Kg6 56. Qf4 Rd4 57. h7! Rxf4
57... Kxh7 58. Qc7+ Kg6 59. a7 White would promote his pawn first and easily checkmate Black.
59... d2 60. a8=Q d1=Q 61. Qg8+ Kf5 62. Qgh7+ Ke6 63. Qce7#  )
58. h8=Q d2 59. Qe8+ Kh6 60. Qh8+ Kg6 61. Qe8+ Kh6 62. Qe2 Rd4 63. a7 d1=Q 64. Qxd1 Rxd1 65. a8=Q If Black could get his rook to e5 or g5 and his king to g7, he might have some vague hopes to create a fortress. But it turns out to be impossible.
65... Rd2+
65... Re1 Black wants to play Re5, but he is too slow as White could take the pawn on c5 before it can be defended.
66. Qf8+ Kg6 67. Qxc5  )
66. Kf3 Rd3+ 67. Kf4 Rxb3 68. Kf5

It was a tough loss for Karjakin, who has been struggling ever since his brilliant victory in the Candidates tournament in March.

The other games between the Azeri players Rauf Mamedov and Teimour Radjabov and Hou Yifan of China and Eltaj Safarli of Azerbaijan were relatively quiet affairs.

Since I did so well predicting which game would be interesting in Round 2, I’ll do it again and mark Mamedyarov-Eljanov as the game to watch in Round 3 because both players are in the cellar in the standings and will want to fight their way out.


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.