The Gashimov Memorial started Saturday and produced a major surprise in Round 1: Wesley So lost, his first loss in nine months.

Round 1 of the Gashimov Memorial (named after Vugar Gashimov, who died in 2014 at age 27) brought a surprise: Wesley So of the United States, ranked No. 2 in the world, who had not lost in nine months, and had won a string of elite tournaments, finally lost. His vanquisher was Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, one of the two local players in the field from Azerbaijan, where the tournament is being held.

The other local player, Teimour Radjabov, had a very different beginning as he slumped to a passive loss against Pavel Eljanov of Ukraine. The other three games were drawn, but mostly after hard fights.

So is known for playing very solidly. But in Round 1 against Mamedyarov, who is ranked No. 10, So, who had White, opted for a swashbuckling Scotch opening instead of his usual, more conservative classical Spanish systems. The players soon found themselves in a typical Scotch middle game, one in which White’s king was in the center. Though there was nothing wrong with that per se, it was very atypical of So. There was a point though where So needed to reign in his amibitions. Instead, he continued to press which eventually passed the initiative to Mamedyarov:

So, Wesley vs. Mamedyarov, Shakhriyar
Vugar Gashimov Mem 2017 | Shamkir AZE | Round 1.3 | 21 Apr 2017 | ECO: C45 | 0-1
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 exd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nxc6 bxc6 6. e5 Qe7 7. Qe2 Nd5 8. Nd2 a5 If my memory serves me well, this isn't the most common response for Black. In general, Black has many options at this point, which is both a curse and a boon. It is definitely hard to prepare for both sides in this variation and, this time, So's preparation fell short.
9. c4 Nb6 10. b3 a4 11. Bb2 axb3 12. axb3 Rxa1+ 13. Bxa1 Qa3! This is actually a fairly standard way plan for Black.
14. Qd1 Bb4 15. Bd3 Qa5 16. Ke2 It is unusual to see So play in such a non-traditional way - his king is almost always very safe. But this type of position is not uncommon for the Scotch variation - the king is fine in the center because White dominates the pawn structure and Black will have a hard time exploiting the position of the White king.
16... d6 17. Qc2! dxe5 18. Bb2 Qc5 19. Nf3 Bg4 20. Bxh7 Nd7 21. Bf5 Bxf3+ 22. Kxf3 King on f3! So was clearly feeling brave. Surprisingly, Black still doesn't have any good way to exploit it.
22... g6 23. Bxd7+
23. Ra1 Would have been a cool response but it does not lead anywhere after:
23... Nf8!  )
23... Kxd7 Perhaps it was time for So to realize that he no longer has the better structure and he had to stop being ambitious. But the Black king also looks unsettled, so So persists:
24. Qe4 Re8 25. Ke2 Kc8! The Black king is safe on b7. The same thing cannot be said about the White king.
26. Rd1 f5 27. Qh4 Qe7 28. Qg3? So should have entered a drawish endgame with Qxe7. The next moves were clearly played in time pressure, so I don't think it makes sense to point out all the objective mistakes. But I'll focus on some of the key psychological factors as things change drastically back and forth:
28... g5! The computers still assess this position as equal, but from a practical standpoint Black's position seems nicer. His king is safer and his center is menacing.
29. Bc3 Bc5 30. Bd2 So is struggling to find a good plan.
30... f4 31. Qh3+ Kb7 32. b4! The only move!
32... Bd4 33. Qd3 White wants to block everything by putting his queen on e4 if he can.
33... Rd8
33... Qd7! 34. Qe4 Qg4+! Was a cute trick! White can't keep the Queen on e4. After
35. Qf3 Qe6 White's position is ready to collapse.  )
34. b5 Qe6 35. bxc6+ Kxc6 36. f3 White seems to have consolidated again and the Black king no longer is so secure. Maybe Black should be trying for a draw?
36... Rb8 37. Be1 g4 38. Rd2 The regrouping seems solid.
38... gxf3+

So almost managed to survive the mess. But just when he was almost out of danger — in the last two moves before the first time control ended — he blundered horribly:

So, Wesley vs. Mamedyarov, Shakhriyar
Vugar Gashimov Mem 2017 | Shamkir AZE | Round 1.3 | 21 Apr 2017 | ECO: C45 | 0-1
gxf3+ 39. Qxf3+?? A stunning error. It's like So completely forgot that Black has the option of e4
39. gxf3 Would actually have been perfectly playable. I actually prefer White's position although I think the game should end in a draw.  )
39... e4 The threat of Qc4 leads to mate and White cannot stop it, so he resigned.

Eljanov’s victory was achieved in a very different manner. He got the better of Radjabov in the opening, and then kept a minor edge through most of the game. Radjabov almost managed to equalize with some clever play. But then his sense of danger deserted him and he fell victim to an instructive example of positional chess by one of the world’s best strategic players.

Pavel Eljanov vs. Teimour Radjabov
Gashimov Memorial | Shamkir AZE | Round 1 | 21 Apr 2017 | ECO: C65 | 1-0
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 Nf6 4. d3 Bc5 5. Bxc6 dxc6 6. O-O Nd7 7. c3 O-O 8. d4 Bd6 9. Bg5 f6 10. Qb3+ Kh8 11. Bh4 b6 12. Nbd2 Ba6 13. Rfe1 Qe7 14. dxe5 Nxe5 15. Nxe5 Qxe5 16. Bg3 Qe7 17. Bxd6 cxd6 18. Rad1 The bishop on a6 is looking misplaced.
18... Bc8! A surprising idea, but necessary as Black's bishop was quite passive. Eljanov is clearly taken by surprise, and in the next few moves Radjabov manages to equalize.
19. Qa4 b5 20. Qa5 Bg4 21. f3 Be6 22. Nf1 d5 23. exd5 Qc5+ 24. Ne3 Bxd5 25. a3 Rfe8 Radjabov doesn't worry about the exchange of queens, as Black's position seems fine. In hindsight, he should have probably avoided it.
25... Bf7! 26. Qb4 Qb6 27. Qd4 c5! Avoiding the queen exchange reduces White's edge as his better pawn structure and better placed rooks are less important. White is still better, but it will be more difficult to make his advantages count.  )
26. Qb4! Qb6
26... Qxb4 27. cxb4 The pawn on c6 is a huge weakness now and Black will suffer for a long time trying to defend his position.
27... Bf7 28. Nf5  )
27. Qd4 It is instructive to see how a player of Eljanov's class takes control. I have a feeling that Eljanov had already visualized what he was going to do in the endgame.
27... Qxd4 28. Rxd4 Re7 29. Kf2 Rae8 30. Rdd1 Bb3 31. Nf5! The minor piece endgame is visually, clearly better for White.
31... Rxe1 32. Rxe1 Rxe1 33. Kxe1 Be6 This is the only way to save the pawns, but the Black bishop is bad bishop stuck behind his pawns.
34. Nd4

Eljanov probably expected it to be a really long game, but Radjabov went wrong quickly:

Eljanov, Pavel vs. Radjabov, Teimour
Vugar Gashimov Mem 2017 | Shamkir AZE | Round 1.1 | 21 Apr 2017 | ECO: C65 | 1-0
34. Nd4 Bd5? Radjabov overlooks that his king isn't in time to get to c6 before White can simply target his bishop.
34... Bd7! 35. Kd2 Kg8 36. Ke3 Kf7 And Black is in time to get his King to d6. Then there isn't an easy way for White to improve, though he is clearly still better. He can continue:
37. b4 Ke7 38. Ne2 Kd6 39. Kd4  )
35. Kd2 a6 And the Black king won't be in time to reach d6 before the White king invades from c5.
35... Kg8 36. Kd3! Is what Radjabov clearly overlooked. Now b3 followed by c4 is a very strong threat.
36... Kf7 37. b3! Ke7 38. c4 And Black is not in time to save the pawn on c6.  )
36. Ke3 Kg8 37. Nf5! Kf7 38. Kd4 Be6 39. Ne3 Ke7 40. Kc5 It is all over after the White king Successfully invades the dark squares.
40... Kd7 41. Kb6 f5 42. f4 g5 43. g3 gxf4 44. gxf4 Kd6 45. Kxa6 Kc7 46. Ka5

The game between Radoslaw Wojtaszek of Poland and Vladimir Kramnik of Russia was another excellent example of strategic play in the endgame. Wojtaszek, who was White, did not get much out of the opening and probably expected the game would end in a draw without too effort. But Kramnik kept pressing and manufactured, seemingly out of nothing, a solid edge out in the endgame. The following sequence was particularly very instructive — by both the players.

Wojtaszek, Radoslaw vs. Kramnik, Vladimir
Vugar Gashimov Mem 2017 | Shamkir AZE | Round 1.2 | 21 Apr 2017 | ECO: D41 | 1/2-1/2
61. Rc4 White has been suffering for a while. Such positions are very hard to play, particularly against an opponent like Kramnik. Kramnik now played a particularly pretty move:
61... Nh6!? Avoiding Nxe5, which would lead to a better endgame for Black, but one that would likely end in a draw, though it is certainly not easy for White. Now, Kramnik is able to keep more pressure on White.
62. Ra4! An equally impressive response by Wojtaszek. He could have tried to defend everything passively and hope to ride it out, but that would be a lot of passive defense. He seems to have misplaced his rook, but he has a very, very ingenious defensive idea.
62... Rc5 63. Ra6 The rook seems awkwardly placed, but White is threatening to play Nd8 and then sacrifice the knight, after which he should hold a draw easily. Kramnik tries to work around it, but there is no easy way to do that.
63... Kg4 64. Kf2 Rc2+ 65. Ke1 Rc5 66. Kf2 Kh3 67. Kf3 Rc3+ 68. Kf4 Rxg3 69. Nd8! Rg4+ 70. Kf3 Rg3+ 71. Kf4 Rg6 72. Ra7 Rg4+ 73. Kf3 Rg8 74. Rd7 Kh4 75. Ke2 Rf8 76. Rd6 Re8 77. Rd7 Rf8 78. Rd6 Sticking to the plan Wojtaszek found with Ra4!
78... Nf5 79. Rd7 Kg4 80. Nxf7 Kf4 81. Ra7 Nd4+ 82. Kd3 Nc6 83. Rc7

Certainly all credit to Wojtaszek for finding such an active way to defend!

Veselin Topalov, the former World Champion from Bulgaria, also had a slight edge against Michael Adams of Britain, but Topalov never had any serious winning chances. (On a side note, considering Topalov’s nightmarish form in some recent events, it at least seemed as if he played well.)

The last game, between Sergey Karjakin of Russia and Pentala Harikrishna of India, was a fairly uneventful draw. The opening battle probably was won by Harikrishna at home with some subtle preparation.

It will be interesting to see how So responds now that he has finally lost. Will he respond forcefully, as Magnus Carlsen, the World Champion, usually does when he suffers a setback?


Parimarjan Negi is an Indian grandmaster who is the second-youngest ever to earn the title (at 13 years 4 months and 22 days). Ranked No. 80 in the world, he is a junior at Stanford University. He can be found on Twitter at @parimarjan.