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. 

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-O 14. g4!? This is a fresh way to approach these positions, and possibly a good one.
14. e4 e4 is the typical plan, though after
14... dxe4! 15. fxe4 c5! Black has a decent position as White is forced to put his center pawns on light squares.  )
14... Nf6 15. Ng3 Ne8 This is a typical maneuver in the Queen's Gambit Declined. The knight will be well-placed on d6.
16. Rae1 Nd6 Black 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... dxe4 18. fxe4 Ndc4!
18... Bxg4 Black should wait to take the g-pawn.
19. e5! Ndc4 20. Qg2! And Black will face major problems. White is already threatening Qe4.  )
19. Qc1 Black's position is very dangerous.
19. Qg2 Qb4!  )
19... Bxg4 Grabbing this pawn is risky but understandable. Black wants to at least have a material advantage to compensate for his positional disadvantage.
19... Qb4 20. Rf2! Qd6 21. b3 Na3  )
19... Qd6 20. Nce2 This would have been very unpleasant for Black.  )
20. b3! Rad8 This move feels a bit desperate.
20... Na5 21. e5 This looks very dangerous, but at least Black is not down a piece.  )
21. Nf5! Forcing exchanges.
21. bxc4 Rxd4 This would have been a less convincing continuation.
22. Be2 Bh3! 23. Rf4 Nxc4 And Black would have chances to fight back.  )
21... Bxf5 22. exf5 Qf6 23. Bxc4!
23. bxc4? Qxd4+  )
23... Nxc4 24. bxc4 Qxd4+ 25. Kh1 Black has two pawns for a piece, but he cannot win a third and White's king is reasonably secure.
25... Rfe8
25... Qxc4 26. f6 And Black would be in big trouble.  )
26. f6! Rxe1
26... g5 This move was more resilient, though after:
27. Re7! White would still be close to winning.  )
27. Qxe1 Qxc4 28. fxg7 If 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... Rd6 29. Rg1?
29. Rf3 And White presses on.  )
29... Rg6 30. Qe5 Qe6?
30... Qd3! This would hold because Qf3 is a threat that is hard to deal with.
31. Rxg6 Qf1+! 32. Rg1 Qf3+ 33. Rg2 Qf1+  )
31. Qb8+ Kxg7 32. Qxa7 Qc4 33. Qe3 White has consolidated. He now finished off the game rather nicely.
33... b5 34. a3 c5 35. Ne4 f5 36. Rxg6+ Kxg6 37. Nxc5 Qd5+ 38. Kg1 Qd1+ 39. Kg2 Qd5+ 40. Kh3 Qd1 41. Qe8+ Kf6 42. Nd7+ Kg5 43. 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. Qa2 c6? 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. cxd4 c5! Black has a lot of pressure on the center. The engine offers a funny line:
20. e5 Bxf3! This may be what Tomashevksy overlooked.
...  21. exf6 Qxf6 22. gxf3 cxd4 23. Bd2 Ne5 Black has enough compensation for his sacrificed piece. After
24. Be4 Nxf3+ 25. Bxf3 Qxf3 White cannot avoid a perpetual check.  )
19. a4 Rc7
19... exd4 Again, this move was best.  )
20. Rad1 Now White has well placed pieces and dominates the center. Black began to flounder around, but he never managed to free his position.
20... Bc8 21. Bc4! White improves the placement of his pieces one at a time.
21... Rf8 22. Bc1! Bh8 23. Bb3
23. Ba3 This looks more consistent to me but the move played by White is fine.  )
23... a6 24. Bc4 White has provoked Black into playing a6, making queenside weaknesses.
24... Bf6 25. d5! I like this move. White has waited around long enough and now it's time to change the character of the position.
25... cxd5 26. Ba3 Nc5 27. exd5 If 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... Qd6 Queens are awful pieces to blockade pawns. This did not hold up for long:
27... Rd8 28. Nxe5! Bxe5 29. f4 And White should win.  )
28. Nd2! Threatening Ne4.
28... Bf5 29. Bxa6! White has won a pawn and he is threatening Nc4. The rest requires no comment.
29... Ra8 30. Bb5 Qd8 31. Bc6 Nxa4 32. Bxa8 Nxc3 33. Qb3 Qxa8 34. d6 Rc6 35. Ra1 Qc8 36. Bb4 Be6 37. Qa3 e4 38. Qa8 Ne2+ 39. Kf1 e3 40. 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. Bd2 This 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. Nd5 Bxd5 12. exd5 a4 Black is probably a little better.  )
11... Na6! 12. Nd5 Bxd5 13. exd5 b6! 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. c3 This is the engine's suggestion, which is probably a better attempt to gain an advantage for White.  )
14... Nc7 15. Bf3 Nd7! Now White really needs to force a draw. If Black is able to play f5, White will probably be worse.
16. Bg4
16. Be4 g6 17. Bh6 Re8 18. Qg3 Bf6 This position is probably bad for White. Black will follow with Bg7 and then f5.  )
16... Nf6
16... g6 17. Bxd7! Qxd7 18. f4! And White has enough counterplay.  )
17. Bf3 Otherwise Black will take the pawn on d5.
17... Nd7 18. Bg4 Nf6 19. 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.