With a last round win and then a victory in a playoff, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, one of the tournament’s local stars, won the Gashimov Memorial.

With an impressive rally in the later stages of the tournament and then a victory in a tense four-game playoff, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov was the surprising winner of the Gashimov Memorial in Shamkir, Azerbaijan, which ended Saturday.

Mamedyarov, one of the four local players in the tournament, had started with only a half point in the first two rounds and at the halfway point he only had a score of 50 percent and trailed the leader, Fabiano Caruana of the United States, by two points and Anish Giri of the Netherlands by 1.5 points. But he won his last three games, including beating Caruana in Round 8 and Giri in Round 9, to tie Caruana for first at the end of regulation. 

Mamedyarov’s win over Giri was impressive. He made beating one of the most fundamentally sound players in the world look almost effortless.

Mamedyarov, Shakhriyar vs. Giri, Anish
Gashimov Memorial | Shamkir, Azerbaijan | Round 9 | 04 Jun 2016 | 1-0
13. Be3! The position is equal, but Black has to start going through contortions to avoid losing material.
13... Qxb3 14. Bxc5 Qxd1?
14... Qxb2! The engine finds a way to just barely hang on with this move
15. Rb1 Qxc3 16. Bxe7 Rfb8 17. Bd6 Re8 18. Rxb7 Qc6 It takes nerves of steel for Black to play this way.  )
15. Rfxd1 White's better structure gives him a slight edge.
15... Rfe8 16. Rxa5 a6 17. Ne5 Rad8 18. Bb6 Rb8 19. Ba7 Rbd8 20. Bb6 Rb8 21. Bd4 e6 22. e3 Red8 23. Bb6 Rdc8 24. Ba7 Ra8 25. Bd4 Rc7 26. Rda1 The maneuvering phase is over and the situation is becoming clearer. Now Bf1 is a real threat.
26... Nd7?!
26... Ne4! This offered better chances to resist, but Black would still have been worse.
27. Nd3  )
27. Nxd7 Rxd7 28. Bf1?! This wins the pawn, but why rush?
28. f4! Stopping e5 first, and then play Bf1.  )
28... e5! 29. Bc5 d4! Black is trying to bail out into a pawn down rook ending. It almost works
30. cxd4 exd4 31. Bxa6 Rxa6 32. Rxa6 Bxa6 33. Rxa6 f5? This weakens the pawn structure and the seventh rank.
33... h5! This was the correct structure to aim for.  )
34. exd4 Bxd4 35. b4 Bxc5 36. bxc5 Rd1+ 37. Kg2 Rc1 38. Rc6 I think Black should lose, but I could also spend hours on this endgame. It's not certain by any any means, but Mamedyarov made it look easy.
38... Kf7 39. Kf3 g5 40. Ke3 Rc3+ 41. Kd4 Rf3 42. Ke5 Rxf2 43. Rf6+ Ke8 44. Rxf5 Rxh2 45. Kd6 Rd2+ 46. Kc7 Rd7+ 47. Kb6 g4 48. Re5+ Kd8 49. Rg5 Rd3 50. Rg8+ Ke7 51. Rxg4 Rb3+ 52. Kc7 Kf6 53. c6

Caruana could still have taken sole possession of first place with a final round victory, but he was unable to make it happen. Playing Black against Sergey Karjakin of Russia, Caruana followed the latest trend and chose the Open Spanish, but Karjakin chose one of the most tame lines against it and most of the pieces were traded by Move 20. A draw was the not very surprising result. This left Caruana and Mamedyarov in a tie for first.

Under the rules of the tournament, they had a two-game playoff, but both games ended in draws after Caruana let advantages slip away in both games. In a second two-game playoff, Caruana made a mistake in the first game and Mamedyarov took advantage. Mamedyarov then held a draw in the final game to claim the title.

Caruana, Fabiano vs. Mamedyarov, Shakhriyar
Gashimov Memorial | Shamkir, Azerbaijan | Round Playoff | 04 Jun 2016 | 0-1
55. Ra7+? In a tense rook endgame that required accurate play, Caruana had too liitle time to find the best moves.
55. c6 Ke6 56. Ra8 Would have drawn
56... Kd6 57. Kg5! White has both pawns under control and c6 cannot be captured. This is almost impossible to find in a blitz game.  )
55... Ke6 And Black's king is close enough to stop the pawn.
56. Ke4 h4 57. Kd4 Rg3 58. Ra6+ Ke7 59. Ke5 h3 60. c6 h2 61. Ra7+ Kd8 62. c7+ Kc8

Aside from Mamedyarov’s victory over Giri, there were other notable results in the final round.

Hou Yifan of China capped off a disastrous tournament by losing her fourth game (against five draws and no wins). In the last round, against Rauf Mamedov, another Azeri, she was almost unrecognizable compared to the strong and solid player she usually is.

Hou Yifan vs. Mamedov, Rauf
Gashimov Memorial | Shamkir, Azerbaijan | Round 9 | 04 Jun 2016 | 0-1
4. Qa4 In this reasonably normal looking position, Hou begins a strange sequence of moves.
4... d4 5. e3 dxe3 6. dxe3 Na6 7. Nc3 Nc5 8. Qc2 Bg7 9. h3 Nf6 10. e4 O-O 11. Be3 Qa5 12. Bd2 Qb6 13. Rd1 Rd8 14. Be2 Be6 15. Kf1 h6 16. g4 So far, White has played e2-e3, e3-e4, g2-g3, g3-g4, Qa4-c2, and has not castled. Objectively, the position is not that bad, but the entire plan looks absurdly suspicious. Black, meanwhile, has a very harmonious position.
16... Qc7 17. b4 Ncd7 18. g5 hxg5 19. Nxg5 Nf8 20. Kg2 N6h7 21. h4 a5 22. a3?
22. b5 This would have been some damage control, though obviously Black would still be better.  )
22... axb4 23. axb4 Nxg5 24. hxg5 Qe5! White is in huge trouble; her position is rife with weaknesses.
25. Rc1 b5! This tactical shot seals White's fate
26. Be3
26. cxb5? Bb3! Is the key point
27. Qxb3 Rxd2 White will be thrashed because of the dark squares weaknesses.  )
26... Bxc4 27. Bxc4 bxc4 In addition to all of her other problems, White is down a pawn. The rest was easy for Mamedov.
28. Ne2 c3 29. Nxc3 Qe6 30. Rh3 Ra3 31. Nb1 Rb3 32. Nd2 Rc3 33. Qd1 Rcd3 34. Rc2 Nh7 35. Qh1 Nxg5 36. Bxg5 Qg4+ 37. Rg3 Rxg3+ 38. fxg3 Qxg5 39. Nf3 Qb5 40. Qe1 Qa4 41. Rd2 Rb8 42. e5 Bh6 43. Rd4 Qc2+ 44. Qf2 Qb3 45. Qe1 Be3 46. Rh4 Ra8 47. Kh3 Qd3 48. Rg4 e6 49. Ng5 Bxg5 50. Rxg5 Qf3 51. Rg4 Kg7 52. Rh4 g5

Finally, Eltaj Safarli capped off a great round for the local players by winning his first game of the tournament. He did it against Pentala Harikrishna of India.

It was really painful for me to watch my friend lose in such a manner. He got a great position and then seemed to get almost complacent or lazy. If the clocks online are correct, he made a simple blunder after less than a minute’s thought that turned a winning position into a worse one, and then another blunder just a few moves later that rendered the position utterly indefensible.

Harikrishna, Pentala vs. Safarli, Eltaj
Gashimov Memorial | Shamkir, Azerbaijan | Round 9 | 04 Jun 2016 | 0-1
32. Bh3??
32. Rf1! Removing the defender of e6. White would then have a big advantage.  )
32... Nf2 Oops.
33. Bxe6+ Rxe6 34. Rxe6 Nxd1 35. Nf5?
35. Rxh6 This provides White with some decent chances to draw as Black will not be left with many pawns.
35... Nxe3 36. Rg6+ Kf7 37. Rxa6  )
35... Rc1! The attack will be decisive
36. Re8+ Kh7 37. Kg2
37. Rxa8 Nxe3+  )
37... Bc6 38. Re7+ Kg6 39. Nd4 Bb5 and Black went on to win easily

When all was said and done, it was a very exciting finish to a great event, and Mamedyarov absolutely deserved to win the tournament with the way he played over the last three days.


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.