With wins in Round 4, Fabiano Caruana and Anish Giri are, respectively, 1.5 and 1 point ahead of the rest of the field in the Gashimov Memorial.

It is still early in the tournament, but the Gashimov Memorial in Shakir, Azerbaijan, is turning into a two-man race for first place between Fabiano Caruana and Anish Giri.

Caruana, of the United States, and Giri, from the Netherlands, were the only ones to win their games in Round 4. Caruana now has 3.5 points while Giri 3. Everyone else is at least a full point further back.

Both wins were rather nice.

Caruana had an interesting encounter with a very bloodthirsty Rauf Mamedov of the host country. Mamedov seemed eager to sacrifice material early in the game:

Mamedov, Rauf vs. Caruana, Fabiano
Gashimov Memorial | Shamkir, Azerbaijan | Round 4 | 29 May 2016 | 0-1
11. d4!?
11. Nbd2 I find the computer's evaluation of += to be overly optimistic for White, but this normal move should promise him a decent position.  )
11... Nxe4 12. Nxe5! Let the fun begin!
12... O-O
12... dxe5 13. Bxe5 Rh7 14. Re1 This looks super dangerous for Black  )
13. Nxf7?! This move is a bit much.
13. Ng4 Looks prudent. White might even be slightly better  )
13... Rxf7 14. Bxf7+ Kxf7 15. f4 g4
15... Nf5 Looks better to me because Blacks pieces are quite active.  )
16. f5 And the players reached a wildly unclear position

After some interesting back and forth, Mamedov was the first to make a questionable decision in a tense, but balanced position:

Mamedov, Rauf vs. Caruana, Fabiano
Gashimov Memorial | Shamkir, Azerbaijan | Round 4 | 29 May 2016 | 0-1
26. Re2? I don't like this move at all. Why allow Black to open lines?
26. dxc5! This would maintain the compact pawn structure on the queenside that keeps the Black pieces out.
26... Bxc5 27. Re2 White should not be worse  )
26... cxd4! Caruana does not miss his chance to open some lines.
27. cxd4
27. Nxd4? Bxd4 28. cxd4 Rc8 Black is having all the fun  )
27... Bb6! 28. b3
28. b4 Apparently this was necessary to stop Ba5, but it's a hard move to find.  )
28... Bc6 29. Rae1? Ba5! Now White has to let the Black pieces invade. The initiative flows easily and Black wins without any trouble.
30. Re7+ Kf8 31. R1e2 Bd8 32. R7e6 Bd7 33. R6e3 Nd5 34. Re4 Nc3 35. d5 Bf6 36. Nd2 Rg7 37. Re1 Nxe4+ 38. Nxe4 Re7 39. Kf3 Kg7 40. Rh1 Be8 41. Nxd6 Bf7 42. Nxf7 Kxf7 43. Rc1 Bd4 44. Rc4 Bb6 45. Re4 Rxe4 46. Kxe4 Ke7 47. b4 Bd8 48. a5 Kd6 49. Kd4 Bf6+ 50. Kc4 Bg7 51. b5 Bf6

Giri had a much smoother victory, basically blowing Pentala Harikrishna of India off the board. Black’s position looked fine until suddenly it wasn’t:

Giri, Anish vs. Harikrishna, Pentala
Gashimov Memorial | Shamkir, Azerbaijan | Round 4 | 29 May 2016 | 1-0
15. h4! I like this move a lot. Black's position looks pretty harmonious, and White's typical pawn sacrifice with d5 followed by e5 is ineffective. So Giri finds a way to make it work after a series of strong preparatory moves. White will gain space with h4-h5, and then Black will have a harder time blocking the b1-h7 diagonal since g6 will not be available. Black is still fine, but he now has some practical problems to solve.
15. d5?! This is the typical idea, but in this position it doesn't work.
15... exd5 16. e5 Re8 Black looks fine.  )
15... Rc8 16. h5 Qe7?! I don't like this move. The knight might need this square, and I think generally the queen will be better on d6 so that Black can always meet d5 with Ne5.
16... Qd6 Would be my choice. It's very important that Black have Ne5 available as a response to d5. Then Black is probably okay.
17. d5 Ne5!  )
17. Bb1 Rfd8 18. d5! Breaking through
18... exd5?!
18... Nb4 In light of how the game went, one might consider this an improvement, but it's still very dangerous:
19. Rxc8! Rxc8 20. a3 Na6 21. e5! And now Black has some problems to solve since Bxd5 fails.
21... Nc5 22. d6 Qd8 White's passed pawn promises him some advantage, but Black is still fighting.  )
19. e5! White's attack is very dangerous. Already Qd3 is a huge threat
19... Ba6 20. Rfe1 Qd7 21. Qf4! Preparing Bf5
21... Ne7 22. Nd4
22. Rcd1!? The computer prefers keeping all the rooks on the board. This may be even stronger  )
22... Rxc1 23. Qxc1 Qa4 24. e6! Qxd4? A surprising miscalculation by Harikrishna. I'm not sure what he could have missed
24... Rf8! This would keep Black in the game, though his position is less than pleasant
25. exf7+ Rxf7 26. Ne6  )
25. exf7+ Kxf7 26. Qc7 Re8 27. Bg6+

The other three games were drawn, with only the encounter between Hou Yifan of China and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov providing any kind of real excitement.

In Round 5, Caruana will have White against Teimour Radjabov of Azerbaijan while Giri has Black against another Azeri, Eltaj Safarli. Both local players have drawn all their games, so it should be interesting to see if they can hold off the top guys.

Looking ahead, Caruana is fortunate that he will have White in Round 7 against Giri, which may be the most important game of the tournament. 


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.