Mamedyarov Shares the Lead With Vachier-Lagrave in Sharjah
BySamuel ShanklandFeb 21 — 11:00 PM
Image by Max Avdeev for World Chess by Agon Ltd.
Mamedyarov won on Tuesday while Vachier-Lagrave drew in Round 4 of the year’s first Grand Prix.
With a dogged win on Tueday in Round 4 of the Sharjah Grand Prix, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov of Azerbaijan moved into a tie for first place with Maxime Vachier-Lagrave of France.
Hikaru Nakamura of the United States, who drew with Vachier-Lagrave in Round 4, is a half point in sole possession of third place.
The Sharjah Grand Prix in the United Arab Emirates is the first in a series of four tournaments that will determine two qualifiers for next year’s Candidates tournament to select a challenger for the World Championship. There are 24 players in the Grand Prix and 18 in each competition. In addition to Sharjah, the tournaments will be held in Moscow, Geneva and Palma de Mallorca, Spain.
The prize fund for each Grand Prix is 130,000 euros, with 20,000 for first place. The series is being organized by Agon, the company that holds the commercials rights to the World Championship cycle, under the auspices of the World Chess Federation, also known as FIDE, which is the game’s governing body.
Max Avdeev for World Chess by Agon Ltd.
Shakhriyar Mamedyarov during Round 4.
Mamedyarov beat Michael Adams of England, with whom Mamedyarov was tied before the round. It was not an easy victory.
Mamedyarov, Shakhriyar vs. Adams, Michael
Grand Prix |Sharjah, UAE |Round 4 |21 Feb 2017 |1-0
O-O14. g4!?This is a fresh way to approach these positions, and
possibly a good one.
( 14. e4e4 is the typical plan, though after 14... dxe4!15. fxe4c5!Black has a decent position as White is forced to put his center pawns on light squares. )
14... Nf615. Ng3Ne8This is a typical maneuver in the Queen's Gambit Declined. The knight will be well-placed on d6. 16. Rae1Nd6Black looks fine as he has prevented e4 and is ready to play f5. But... 17. e4!Anyway! White does not worry about losing the g-pawn. 17... dxe418. fxe4Ndc4!
( 18... Bxg4Black should wait to take the g-pawn. 19. e5!Ndc420. Qg2!And Black will
face major problems. White is already threatening Qe4. )
19. Qc1Black's position is very dangerous.
( 19. Qg2Qb4! )
19... Bxg4Grabbing this pawn is risky but understandable. Black wants to at least have a material advantage to compensate for his positional disadvantage.
( 19... Qb420. Rf2!Qd621. b3Na3 )
( 19... Qd620. Nce2This would have been very unpleasant for Black. )
20. b3!Rad8This move feels a bit desperate.
( 20... Na521. e5This looks very dangerous, but at least Black is not down a piece. )
21. Nf5!Forcing exchanges.
( 21. bxc4Rxd4This would have been a less convincing continuation. 22. Be2Bh3!23. Rf4Nxc4And Black would have chances to fight back. )
21... Bxf522. exf5Qf623. Bxc4!
( 23. bxc4?Qxd4+ )
23... Nxc424. bxc4Qxd4+25. Kh1Black has two pawns for a piece, but he cannot win a third and White's king is reasonably secure. 25... Rfe8
( 25... Qxc426. f6And Black would be in big trouble. )
( 26... g5This move was more resilient, though after: 27. Re7!White would still be close to winning. )
27. Qxe1Qxc428. fxg7If Black could trade queens, he would have reasonable drawing chances since White will be left with only two pawns. But this is not easy to do. 28... Rd629. Rg1?
( 29. Rf3And White presses on. )
29... Rg630. Qe5Qe6?
( 30... Qd3!This would hold because Qf3 is a threat that is hard to deal with. 31. Rxg6Qf1+!32. Rg1Qf3+33. Rg2Qf1+ )
31. Qb8+Kxg732. Qxa7Qc433. Qe3White has consolidated. He now finished off the game rather nicely. 33... b534. a3c535. Ne4f536. Rxg6+Kxg637. Nxc5Qd5+38. Kg1Qd1+39. Kg2Qd5+40. Kh3Qd141. Qe8+Kf642. Nd7+Kg543. Qg8+
The only other win on the day was registered by Li Chao b of China who defeated Evgeny Tomashevsky of Russia. Li, who had White, played 4. a3 against Tomashevsky’s Queen’s Indian Defense, just as Mamedyarov had done in Round 2, when he beat Tomashevsky.
Li Chao b vs. Tomashevsky, Evgeny
Grand Prix |Sharjah, UAE |Round 4 |21 Feb 2017 |1-0
18. Qa2c6?Black misses his only chance to equalize. White's big center promises him an edge in the middlegame if Black does not deal with it energetically.
( 18... exd4!This move was best. After 19. cxd4c5!Black has a lot of pressure on the center. The engine offers a funny line: 20. e5Bxf3!This may be what Tomashevksy overlooked. ...21. exf6Qxf622. gxf3cxd423. Bd2Ne5Black has enough compensation for his sacrificed piece. After 24. Be4Nxf3+25. Bxf3Qxf3White cannot avoid a perpetual check. )
( 19... exd4Again, this move was best. )
20. Rad1Now White has well placed pieces and dominates the center. Black began to flounder around, but he never managed to free his position. 20... Bc821. Bc4!White improves the placement of his pieces one at a time. 21... Rf822. Bc1!Bh823. Bb3
( 23. Ba3This looks more consistent to me but the move played by White is fine. )
23... a624. Bc4White has provoked Black into playing a6, making queenside weaknesses. 24... Bf625. d5!I like this move. White has waited around long enough and now it's time to change the character of the position. 25... cxd526. Ba3Nc527. exd5If the d-pawn were blockaded by a minor piece, for example, if the bishop were on d6, Black would be fine. But this proves impossible as he does not have quite enough time. 27... Qd6Queens are awful pieces to blockade pawns. This did not hold up for long:
( 27... Rd828. Nxe5!Bxe529. f4And White should win. )
28. Nd2!Threatening Ne4. 28... Bf529. Bxa6!White has won a pawn and he is threatening Nc4. The rest requires no comment. 29... Ra830. Bb5Qd831. Bc6Nxa432. Bxa8Nxc333. Qb3Qxa834. d6Rc635. Ra1Qc836. Bb4Be637. Qa3e438. Qa8Ne2+39. Kf1e340. Ne4
Most of the other games ended in quiet draws. It was not because the players with White played poorly, but rather because the players with Black had little trouble equalizing out of the openings. For example, Alexander Grischuk of Russia played the Najdorf Sicilian against his compatriot, Ian Nepomniatchi (who is an expert in the opening). Obviously, Grischuk was unafraid of a fight. Grischuk’s preparation was excellent and the result was a fairly quick draw.
Nepomniachtchi, Ian vs. Grishcuk, Alexander
Grand Prix |Sharjah, UAE |Round 4 |21 Feb 2017 |1/2-1/2
10. Bd2This is an unusual move. The idea is that White wants to play Nd5, Na5 and b4. But Grischuk knows what to do. 10... a5!Black wants to play a4. 11. a4
( 11. Nd5Bxd512. exd5a4Black is probably a little better. )
11... Na6!12. Nd5Bxd513. exd5b6!Black is building a blockade on the dark squares after which White will have a hard time making progress on the queenside. 14. Rfd1
( 14. c3This is the engine's suggestion, which is probably a better attempt to gain an advantage for White. )
14... Nc715. Bf3Nd7!Now White really needs to force a draw. If Black is able to play f5, White will probably be worse. 16. Bg4
( 16. Be4g617. Bh6Re818. Qg3Bf6This position is probably bad for White. Black will follow with Bg7 and then f5. )
( 16... g617. Bxd7!Qxd718. f4!And White has enough counterplay. )
17. Bf3Otherwise Black will take the pawn on d5. 17... Nd718. Bg4Nf619. Bf3
In Round 5, Mamedyarov will have White against Nakamura, while Vachier-Lagrave will have White against Levon Aronian of Armenia.
Samuel Shankland is a United States grandmaster ranked No. 4 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 was also a member of the team that won the gold medal at the 2016 Chess Olympiad. He is at @GMShanky on Twitter, has his own site, and is also on Facebook.
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After 9 days of intense chess battles at the last leg of the World Chess Grand Prix series 2017 in Palma de Mallorca, the two winners of the series were finally determined: Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan, overall 340 points in the series) and Alexander Grischuk (Russia, 336,4 points). They qualified for the Candidates Tournament – the next part of the World Chess Championship cycle, which leads up to the Championship match.
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