After a rest day at the Gashimov Memorial, the players were back in action, but all of the games were drawn.

Round 6 of the Gashimov Memorial was like Round 1, at least in terms of results: All five games were drawn. So the standings were unchanged and Fabiano Caruana of the United States remains in the lead, now with 5 points, followed by Anish Giri of the Netherlands, who has 4.5 points, and Sergey Karjakin of Russia, who has 3.5. 

Most of the games were uneventful, but it was surprising to me to see Caruana, who has been playing well throughout the event, squander a large advantage against Eltaj Safarli of Azerbaijan, who is a signifcantly lower-rated player.

Safarli, Eltaj vs. Caruana, Fabiano
Gashimov Memorial | Shamkir, Azerbaijan | Round 6 | 01 Jun 2016 | 1/2-1/2
h5!? Aggressive, and I like it! Caruana is not in the mood to mess around
15. O-O g5! 16. Nd4?
16. c5! The engine recommends this move, looking for counterplay. I like the idea. If White just sits around waiting, he will definitely end up in a worse position.
16... bxc5 17. Na5! d6 18. Nxb7 Qxb7 19. Bxe5 dxe5 20. Bc4 White looks fine to me  )
16... h4 17. Bxe5 Qxe5 18. Nf3 Bxe4! 19. Nxe5?!
19. Qd2 Bxf3 20. Bxf3 Rc8 This was kind of necessary, but it's still a miserable position for White.  )
19... Bxc2 By usual metrics, White should be lost. He is down a pawn, Black has the bishop pair and Black has no weaknesses. It's very surprising that Caruana does not win this game.
20. Rd2 Bf5
20... Bb3 The engine prefers this by a wide margin, after which White could not hold on.  )
21. Rfd1 Ra7
21... d6 22. Rxd6 Allows White more counterplay.
22... Bxd6 23. Rxd6 Rb8  )
22. Na4 Rc7 23. Nxb6 Black had to give a pawn back, but now Blacks initiative and bishop pair really start to count.
23... d6! 24. Nf3 Ne4! 25. Rd3 Rb7! One punch after another -- White is taking a beating and being pushed backward.
26. Na4 Nc5! 27. Nxc5 dxc5 28. R3d2 Bf6 Winning a pawn again.
29. b4 g4?! I don't love this move. It feels like a step in the wrong direction, though the computer has no objection.
29... cxb4  )
30. Ne1 cxb4 31. axb4 Rxb4 32. c5! Black has to be a little careful now
32... O-O
32... a5? 33. c6 And suddenly it is impossible to stop the pawn!
33... O-O 34. c7 Rd8 is threatened.  )
32... Be4 33. Bxa6 Rh5  )
32... Rb3! The engine's suggestion looks pretty good.
33. Bxa6 Rc3 34. c6 Kf8 Black retains good winning chances  )
33. Bxa6 Be4 34. Be2! White has survived the worst of it.
34... Bc3 35. Rd6 Bd5 36. Rb6 Re4 37. Kf1 Be5?
37... Ra8 According to the engine, Black is still much better, but I imagine time pressure was starting to kick in.  )
38. h3 Bc7 39. Rb2 f5 40. Nd3 Rb8 After time control is reached, Caruana must have been disappointed to find the position is completely equal.
41. Rxb8+ Bxb8 42. Rb1 Bh2 43. Nb4

The next most interesting game was between Rauf Mamedov, another Azeri, and Karjakin. I was glad to see Karjakin, who will play for the World Championship in November in New York, choose the Sicilian Najdorf Defense; it’s certainly unusual in this day and age when everyone seems to play the Berlin Defense, the Petroff Defense and the Marshall Gambit.

The game quickly reached an extremely complex position with both players playing flawlessly. If the online clocks are correct, it looks like both players may not have taken much time, suggesting that many of the moves had been prepared in advance. Nevertheless, it was still an impressive game.

Mamedov, Rauf vs. Karjakin, Sergey
Gashimov Memorial | Shamkir, Azerbaijan | Round 6 | 01 Jun 2016 | 1/2-1/2
Nc6!? This is an unusual square for the knight in these lines, but it is part of an interesting idea in this game.
9... O-O  )
9... Qc7  )
9... exf4 This is by far the most popular move.  )
10. f5 Of course White puts Black to the test his position is now a strategic disaster. But, Karjakin justifies it with some concrete play:
10... Bxb3! 11. axb3 Nb4! And here is the point: It's not easy to stop the freeing move d6-d5
12. g3!? An interesting move. White anticipates d5
12. Bc4 Also deserves consideration  )
12... d5 13. exd5 Qc7! A strong move. Black will win the d-pawn soon enough. At this point, both sides began playing a series of virtually forced moves.
13... Nfxd5 14. Nxd5 Qxd5 15. Qxd5 Nxd5 16. Bd2 Presumably something like this was Mamedov's idea. White has some pressure.  )
14. d6!
14. Bg2 Rd8 I prefer Blacks position  )
14... Bxd6!
14... Qxd6 15. Qxd6 Bxd6 16. O-O-O This would have been a disaster for Black.  )
15. Nb5! Nxc2+! 16. Ke2 Qc6 17. Nxd6+ Ke7 18. Rc1! Nxe3 19. Rxc6 Nxd1 20. Nxb7 Rhb8! The final forced move in the series. If either side had made an error in the last six or seven moves, it would have led to disaster. Now a draw is is the most likely outcome.
21. Rc7+ Kf8! 22. Kxd1 Ra7! 23. Bc4
23. Bg2 Does not help
23... e4  )
23... Raxb7 24. Rxb7 Rxb7 The activity of Whites pieces makes up for his somewhat worse pawn structure. The game soon ends in a draw.
25. Re1 Nd7 26. Kc2 Rb6 27. Ra1 Nb8 28. Kd3 Nc6 29. Ra4 Ke7 30. Ke4 f6 31. h4 Nb8 32. Kd5 Rd6+ 33. Ke4 Rb6 34. Kd5 Rd6+ 35. Ke4 Rb6

I wish I could say something about the other games, but they really were not interesting. Round 7 will likely be more lively as Giri has Black against Caruana and may try to mix things up a bit to try to catch the leader. Though the tournament looks like it’s just a two man show, Karjakin will play both Caruana and Giri in the final two rounds, so those rounds could also be more entertaining.


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.