Round 3 of the tournament was just as eventful as Round 2, with three decisive games. Fabiano Caruana is now the sole leader.

The fast pace continued in Round 3 of the Gashimov Memorial tournament in Shamkir, Azerbaijan. Just as in Round 2, there were three decisive results in Round 3. The most important was the victory of Fabiano Caruana of the United States over Hou Yifan of China. With the win, Caruana assumed sole possession of first place, with 2.5 points.

The victories in Round 3 were achieved in very different ways than those in Round 2. In Round 2, two of the losses were because players in uncomfortable, but objectively equal positions strangely avoided repetitions and immediately blundered. In Round 3, two of the victories were essentially opening massacres.

The most notable one was in the game between Sergey Karjakin of Russia and Pentala Harikrishna of India. It looked as if Harikrishna had outprepared his opponent, but he was completely lost just a couple moves after his opening preparation ended.

Karjakin, Sergey vs. Harikrishna, Pentala
Gashimov Memorial | Shamkir, Azerbaijan | Round 3 | 28 May 2016 | 1-0
c5!? This is a very unusual move in a reasonably well-known position. It looks bizarre and almost nonsensical to me because it stops the Black knight from going to c5 and doesn't seem to accomplish anything important, but I know better than to question or condemn Harikrishna's choices -- he is a pretty smart guy.
10. Bd3 Nf6 11. Rhe1 Be6 Up until now, Black was playing quickly, suggesting he was still following his home preparation. The computer thinks he is absolutely fine, but I have other opinions.
12. Bg5! The start of Black's problems. White has the simple plan of Qf4-h4, and it's absurdly strong. The longer the computer thinks, the more it realizes Black is in trouble.
12... h6? A poor reaction, but in my opinion Black's position was very difficult.
12... d5! This is the computer's suggestion, but it's not too hard for a human to bust.
13. Qf4! Re8 14. c4 d4 15. Qg3! This looks very difficult for Black but the game would continue.
...   )
12... c4 Doesn't help much:
13. Bf1 The attack is over, but Black's pawns are terribly weak and White will soon play Nd4.  )
13. Bxh6! c4
13... gxh6 14. Qxh6 Promptly leads to checkmate  )
14. Bxg7! cxd3 Black has no choice but to enter a lost ending.
14... Kxg7 15. Qg5+ Kh8 16. Qh6+ Kg8 17. Ng5! cxd3 18. Rxd3 Black will soon be checkmated.  )
15. Qg5! Commencing a forced sequence of moves that will lead to a position in which White is totally winning.
15... Ne4 16. Qh6 Bg5+ 17. Nxg5 Qxg5+ 18. Qxg5 Nxg5 19. Bxf8 dxc2 20. Rxd6 Kxf8 21. h4 Nh7 22. Kxc2 The dust clears and Black is down loads of material. Karjakin won without too much trouble

The first game to finish was Caruana’s victory over Hou. Hou seemed to have some trouble recalling her preparation, and started to falter in a reasonably well-known position. While it became unpleasant pretty fast, I think she could have put up a lot more resistance.

Caruana, Fabiano vs. Hou Yifan
Gashimov Memorial | Shamkir, Azerbaijan | Round 3 | 28 May 2016 | ECO: C83 | 1-0
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. O-O Nxe4 6. d4 b5 7. Bb3 d5 8. dxe5 Be6 9. Nbd2 Nc5 10. c3 Be7 11. Bc2 d4 12. Nb3 d3 13. Bb1 Nxb3 14. axb3 Bf5 15. Re1 O-O 16. Be3 Qd5 17. Bd4 Hou started thinking in this deeply position, which has been analyzed quite a lot, suggesting she might have forgotten her analysis.
17... Rfd8
17... d2 Victor Mikhalevski recommends this move in his book on the Open Ruy, and I thought his analysis was pretty convincing about how Black can equalize. It would be interesting to know what Caruana had in mind if Hou had played that move.
18. Qxd2 Bxb1 19. Raxb1 Qxb3  )
18. h4 Bg6 Hou spent almost half an hour on this move.
19. b4 d2 20. Qxd2 Bxb1 21. Raxb1 Bxb4 22. Qf4 Material is balanced but it would be foolish to call this position equal. Black's queenside majority will not matter for a while, her kingside could be opened up, and White's pieces are nicely centralized.
22... Be7?
22... Nxd4! This looks much more natural to me
23. Nxd4 Bc5 24. Nf5 Bf8 White has some pressure but it's nothing special.  )
23. e6! Now the kingside becomes a major problem for Black.
23... fxe6 24. Qg4 Nxd4 25. Nxd4 Bf6 26. Nxe6 Rd7 27. Re3 The knight on e6 shuts down the e-file and controls the d8 square. As a result, black's rooks have a hard time getting involved in the defense.
27... h5? Panicking but the position was already very bad
27... Re7 28. Rbe1 Black faces a long and difficult defense  )
28. Qg6 Rf7 29. Rbe1 Black can already resign. The rest requires no comment.
29... Rc8 30. Nf4 Qd7 31. Qxh5 Re7 32. Nd5 Rf7 33. Rd1 Qc6 34. Nf4 Rd7 35. Re8+

The final decisive game was one I thought would have a decisive result because both players — Shakhriyar Mamedyarov of Azerbaijan and Pavel Eljanov of Ukraine — had gotten off to such a bad start. 

Mamedyarov played an unusual opening and for a long time I did not like his position. But ultimately his piece activity proved to be too much. I particularly liked the way he handled himself right after time control — the extra time he received clearly helped him navigate the murky waters in a very complicated endgame, and his play was flawless.

Mamedyarov, Shakhriyar vs. Eljanov, Pavel
Gashimov Memorial | Shamkir, Azerbaijan | Round ? | 28 May 2016 | 1-0
41. f5! White ensures he will get a passed h-pawn
41... hxg4 42. h5! Nd6 43. h6 Rc8?!
43... g3 This was the last chance to resist, but Black would still be struggling
44. h7 Rc8 45. Rxb6 Rh8 46. f6+ Kxf6 47. Rbxd6 Rxd6 48. Rxd6 Rxh7 White retains excellent winning chances  )
44. Re1!
44. f6+!? According to the engine, this was even more efficient, but I like Mamedyarov's move.
44... Kxf6 45. Nxg4+ Ke7 46. Rxb6  )
44... Nb7 45. Rxd7+ Kxd7 46. Nxg4 Nc5+ 47. Kd4 Kd6 48. Ne5! One last accurate move seals the game. The pawn on f7 is a major problem for Black.
48... f6 49. Ng6 e5+ 50. Ke3 Rc7 51. Rd1+! Accurate to the end
51. Rh1 Rh7 52. Nf8 Rh8 53. h7 Rxf8 54. h8=Q Rxh8 55. Rxh8 This should win, but Black has far more chances to save the game.  )
51... Kc6 52. Rd8 Nb7 53. Rc8! The last finesse
53... Rxc8 54. Ne7+ Kc5 55. Nxc8 Nd8 56. h7 Nf7 57. Ne7 Kc4 58. Ng8 Kxc3 59. Nxf6 Black resigned before waiting for Ng4-xe5

Thoguh Caruana has the lead, Anish Giri of the Netherlands is only half a point behind him. With six rounds to play, the tournament is still wide open. 


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.