Round 7 produced no change at the top of the standings in the Gashimov Memorial, but there were some decisive results.

There were two decisive games in Round 7 of the Gashimov Memorial in Shamkir, Azerbaijan, but neither had any bearing on the fight for first place. 

Going into the round, all eyes were on the game between Fabiano Caruana of the United States, who was in first place, and Anish Giri  of the Netherlands, who trailed by half a point. The opening was a slightly unusual variation of the Open Spanish, which is being played quite a lot lately at the top levels. The players were obviously very well prepared and the game eventually fizzled out to a draw. [Editor’s note — Computers seem to suggest that Caruana missed a very strong continuation at the end by not playing 35. Qf7. Instead, he agreed to a repetition of the position.]

Even less interesting was the game between Sergey Karjakin of Russia, who was in third place, a point behind Giri, and Teimour Radjabov, one of the four Azeri players in the tournament. Neither Karjakin nor Radjabov could find anything resembling a plan so they just maneuvered harmlessly for most of the game before agreeing to a draw.

The real action was in the other three games. Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, another Azeri, beat his countryman, Eltaj Safarli, after Safarli erred early in the middlegame. It was the first game of the tournament between Azeri players that did not end in a draw. Once Mamedyarov got the advantage, he never let Safarli off the hook.

Mamedyarov, Shakhriyar vs. Safarli, Eltaj
Gashimov Memorial | Shamkir, Azerbaijan | Round 7 | 02 Jun 2016 | 1-0
c5?! This looks bizarre to me. White has the bishop pair, and Black is voluntarily opening the center which gives those bisops more scope.
7... dxc4 Take it while you can? It's up to White to show he has compensation for being down a pawn.  )
8. cxd5 exd5 9. Nf3 cxd4 10. Nxd4! White wants to open the position further with a well-timed advance of c3-c4.
10... Nc6 11. O-O Ne4? A really bad move. It may have been based on missing a tactical idea.
11... Be6 Something solid like this was better. I would not envy Black's position but he has counterchances.  )
12. c4! This was White's goal -- open the lines for his bishops, and now it can be done.
12... Re8
12... Nc3 It's possible Black was planning this move and missed the intermezzo Nxc6.
13. Nxc6! bxc6 14. Qd3  )
13. Bb2 Na5 14. cxd5 The activity of Whites pieces is a sight to behold.
14... Nc4 15. Rb1! White allows one bishop to be exchanged, but Black will have some difficult problems to solve.
15... Nxb2 16. Rxb2 Qxd5 17. Qd3! Bd7 18. Rfb1! The twin threats of Rb5 and Rxb7 are too much for Black.
18... Rab8
18... b6 19. Nb5  )
19. Rb5! Bxb5 20. Rxb5 The knight on e4 is lost and Mamedyarov went on to win easily.

Team Azerbaijan almost picked up a second win as Pentala Harikrishna of India got into some trouble against Rauf Mamedov. But Mamedov ultimately erred and missed an opportunity to reel in the full point.

Harikrishna, Pentala vs. Mamedov, Rauf
Gashimov Memorial | Shamkir, Azerbaijan | Round 7 | 02 Jun 2016 | 1/2-1/2
e3? With time control approaching, Mamedov missed his best chance
38... fxg2! 39. Rxg2 e3 40. Rxg6+ Rxg6 And White is unable to prevent Rg2+  )
39. gxf3 e2 40. Be1 Bxf3 Black threatens Rg2+, but...
41. Bd2+! The first move after time control is a very strong one. White forces an exchange of rooks. Everything else would lose.
41... Kh7
41... Kg7? This would lose:
42. Rc7+ Kf6 43. Rf4+  )
42. Rc7+ Rg7 43. Rxg7+ Kxg7 44. Kg3 Bc6 45. Kf2 The pawn is under control, and the opposite-colored bishops mean that Black has no chance to win. Mamedov did not try for too much longer.
45... Kg6 46. a4 a6 47. Be1 Kf5 48. Bd2 Kg6 49. Be1 Be4 50. Kxe2 Bf5+ 51. Kf2 Bxh3 52. Bb4

The final game of the day was between Pavel Eljanov of Ukaine and Hou Yifan of China. Eljanov is one o my favorite players and he finally netted his first win of the event. He was better throughout the game, but it was always complicated and I was very impressed with the cool head he showed at the end, when he was under serious pressure:

Eljanov, Pavel vs. Hou Yifan
Gashimov Memorial | Shamkir, Azerbaijan | Round 7 | 02 Jun 2016 | 1-0
59. Rd1! This and only this move is correct. White gains an all-important tempo by threatening a check on d4. Everything else would lose.
59. c5? h3 60. c6 h2 61. Rc1 g2 And Black wins the pawn race.  )
59... e5 Black stops Rd4+, but this loses an all-important tempo.
59... h3 60. Rd4+! The key point White gets this check in before Black can hide the king on h3.
60... Kg5 61. Kf3! And the king easily stops the pawns  )
60. c5 And here Hou resigned. The game could have concluded:
60... h3 61. c6 h2 62. c7 g2 63. c8=Q+ And White queens with check -- just in time. That key tempo was won by forcing Black to play e5.

With this win, Eljanov climbed out of the cellar (and relegated Hou to it). 

In Round 8, both Caruana and Giri have White, against Mamedyarov and Hou, respectively. While Caruana has the more difficult opponent, Giri has struggled against Hou in the past, so it will be interesting to see if can keep his good form and take advantage of what should, on paper, be a good pairing.


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.