An unexpected loss in Round 8 by the leader of the Gashimov Memorial leaves first place up for grabs heading into the finale on Saturday.
A loss in the penultimate round of the Gashimov Memorial by Fabiano Caruana of the United States, the long-time leader of the tournament, has opened the door for two other players to possibly win the tournament. One is the player who beat Caruana, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov of Azerbaijan. The other is Anish Giri of the Netherlands, who is now tied for the lead with Caruana, a half point ahead of Mamedyarov.
After jumping out to the lead in the first half of the tournament, Caruana really seems to have lost a bit of strength. He failed to capitalize on winning chances in Rounds 6 and 7, and in Round 8 he stumbled badly against Mamedyarov, even though Caruana had White.
Caruana, Fabiano vs. Mamedyarov, Shakhriyar
Gashimov Memorial |Shamkir, Azerbaijan |Round 8 |03 Jun 2016 |0-1
( 29. Qg4+It seems like an appropriate time to force a draw because Black's pieces are active and he has targets to attack on the queenside, which gives enough him compensation for his loosened kingside. 29... Kh730. Qh5And the threat of Rxb3 compels Kg7 30... Kg7 )
29... a430. Qe2White retreats to try to hold down the queenside, but he is actually in big trouble. 30... d531. Qf3
( 31. cxd5Rcxd5This also looks very dangerous for White. )
31... Rdc832. cxd5Rxc333. Rxc3Rxc334. Qxc3Qxd5The ending looks symmetrical and equal, but it's not. The b2 and f5 pawns are very weak and should eventually fall. White is completely lost. 35. Qb4h5?!Time pressure really worsened the quality of play in the following moves.
( 35... e4According to the engine this would have given Black a big advantage. 36. Qxa4Qd1+37. Kg2Qf3+38. Kg1e3 )
( 36... e4!Again, this was a strong move. )
37. g4!Qb1+38. Kg2Qxb239. gxh5Qc240. Qg4+?!
( 40. Qb4!This move would have held the draw as h6+ is a problem for Black. 40... b241. h6+Kh742. Qf8 )
40... Kh741. h6?Even with more time on his clock because he had passed the first time control, Caruana is not able to find the best path.
( 41. Qa4!This would have held, but only a silicon mind can come up with such a move. )
41... Kxh642. Qg8Qxf5!and Black won without much trouble.
Hou Yifan and Anish Giri shaking hands before their game.
Caruana’s loss opened the door for Giri to take the lead if he could beat the tail-ender of the event, Hou Yifan of China. But, as has happened in every previous game between the two of them, Giri failed to win. I really thought this time he was making it happen as he got a very pleasant endgame, but somehow his advantage evaporated without him making many obvious inaccuracies. Hou can be very pleased with her strong defensive play; she definitely earned her half point.
Giri, Anish vs. Hou Yifan
Gashimov Memorial |Shamkir, Azerbaijan |Round 8 |03 Jun 2016 |1/2-1/2
31. h3?!This is the point at which White's problems began. It was very important to activate the king.
( 31. Kg2! )
31... Bxd7!Hou bravely sacrifices a pawn for some activity. 32. Rxd7Ne433. Nc6?Taking the wrong pawn
( 33. Rxd5!Ra834. Re5!This was the way for White to play. Black's knight has to leave the center, after which White would have good winning chances. )
33... Ra834. Ne5Ra1+35. Kg2Ra236. Rxf7+Kg8White has won a pawn, but his pieces are tangled up and he has no good way to keep f2 defended. In the meantime, Black will collect the pawn on b4. 37. h4Rb238. Rf4Kg7!Patience is important; the pawn on b4 is not going anywhere.
( 38... Rxb439. Nxg6 )
39. Nc6b540. Nd8It's annoying to have to give up the pawn on b4, but what else could White do? His pieces were stuck. 40... Rxb4And Black has reached a position in which she should have few remaining problems. 41. Ne6+Kg842. Rf8+Kh743. Rf7+Kh844. Rf8+Kh745. Rf7+Kh846. f3Rb2+!The last accurate move 47. Kh3Re2!48. Rf8+Kh749. Rf7+Kh850. Rf8+Kh751. fxe4Rxe3+52. Kh2Rxe4White cannot keep any of his pawns so the game should end in a draw.
The other games were pretty uneventful. Sergey Karjakin of Russia rolled out a nice opening idea and even got an edge with Black against his opponent, Eltaj Safarli of Azerbaijan, but the position was complicated and one inaccuracy was all it took for Karjakin to lose his advantage. The players then repeated and agreed to a draw:
Safarli, Eltaj vs. Karjakin, Sergey
Gashimov Memorial |Shamkir, Azerbaijan |Round 8 |03 Jun 2016 |1/2-1/2
dxc4!A good decision by Karjakin 9. d5O-O-O!10. Bd2It looks like Black is losing material, but... 10... Nxd5!11. Nxd5Rxd5!12. Bxd5
( 12. Bxa5Rxd1+13. Rxd1Nxa5Black should be better )
12... Qxd513. Nf3Bf5Black's position looks very pleasant to me. 14. O-Oe6?Too timid
( 14... e5 )
( 14... Bd3!15. Re1e5Would have put Black in the driver's seat. )
The final round is shaping up to be exciting. Caruana and Giri will each have Black, respectively, against Karjakin and Mamedyarov. Karjakin, though he is only a point behind, cannot win, but he can ruin Caruana’s chances to capture first place, just as he did in the Candidates tournament in Moscow in March.
Mamedyarov has more to play for because if he wins, and Caruana loses, Mamedyarov would win the tournament. He has already shown he is up the task by beating Caruana.
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.
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