World Champion Magnus Carlsen cruised to a milestone victory at the 2nd Vugar Gashimov Memorial in Shamkir, Azerbaijan, as the Norwegian superstar and Honorary Chairman of First Move won the title for a second successive year. In the final round, Carlsen defeated Azeri back-marker Rauf Mamedov for clear first with an undefeated score of 7/9, a full point ahed of his nearest rival - and gaining 13 Elo rating points with a near 3000 tournament performance.
Carlsen’s dominant performance in Shamkir will do much to silence the critics who suggest his tournament form has dipped since he won the world title in 2014. This was Carlsen’s 25th super-tournament win of his career, and his third best-ever performance behind Nanjing 2009 and London 2012 - and Shamkir was also Carlsen’s third tournament victory in a row; with his last 17 tournament outings seeing him notch up 11 first place victories and six runner-up spots!
Also continuing to defy the odds in Shamkir is the man whom Carlsen beat to become world champion: Viswanathan Anand of India. At 45, the ex-champion again showed he can’t be written off for a possible third world title showdown with Carlsen. He finished also undefeated in second place, on 6/9 - and also gained 13 rating points to now move into the world No.2 spot.
Final standings: 1. Magnus Carlsen (Norway), 7/9; 2. Viswanathan Anand (India), 6; 3-4. Wesley So (USA) & Fabiano Caruana (Italy), 5; 5-6. Vladimir Kramnik (Russia) and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan), 4; 7-10. MIchael Adams (England), Anish Giri (Netherlands), Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (France) and Rauf Mamedov (Azerbaijan), 3.5.
M Carlsen - R Mamedov
2nd Vugar Gashimov Memorial, (9)
1.Nf3 Nf6 2.c4 c6 The Slav Defence set-up is always a reliable and solid option against anything, here the Reti. 3.Nc3 d5 4.e3 a6 5.d4 Bf5 6.Be2 h6 7.Bd3 Bxd3 8.Qxd3 e6 9.0-0 Bb4 10.Bd2 0-0 11.Rfd1 Ba5 12.a4 Nbd7 13.b4! The only way for White to play for an advantage in this simple Slav position. 13...Bxb4 14.Nxd5 exd5 15.Bxb4 Re8 16.a5! Immediately fixing Black's queenside pawns. Now Carlsen is going to attempt to squeeze thiis small weakness. 16...dxc4 In such positions, exchanging pawns and pieces is the best way forward to hold the draw - but more importantly, it gives his knight a good outpost on d5. 17.Qxc4 Nd5 18.h3 Qc7 19.Be1 N7f6 20.Ne5 Ne4 21.Rac1 Perhaps better was either 21.Rdc1 or 21.Rdb1 21...Qe7 22.Qd3 Nd6! With the idea of putting the other knight on b5 for another strong outpost - and more crucially, indirectly defending the weak queenside pawns. 23.Qa3 f6 This looks wrong - Mamedov forces Carlsen's knight to where it really wants to go to, d3, heading for c5. Instead, 23...Nb5 looked better, exchanging queens and thus making the defensive task easier. 24.Nd3 Rad8 25.Bb4! Forcing the exchange of Black's best piece on the board. 25...Nxb4 26.Qxb4 Ne4 27.Nc5 Nxc5 28.dxc5 More challenging than 28.Rxc5 - the idea now for Carlsen is to occuoy the d6 square. 28...Rxd1+ 29.Rxd1 Qf7 30.Qg4 f5 Stopping the threat of Rd7. 31.Qb4 Re4 32.Qb6 Qe7 33.Qb3+ Kh7 34.Rd6 Qe5?? (See Diagram) The pressure is often relentless when you are playing Carlsen - and here's a classic example of it. Mamedov had excellent drawing chances with the accurate 34...Re5! making life difficult for the World Champion, as he can't make any further progress due to the weakness of the c5-pawn. However Mamedov miscalculates here, believing Carlsen only option to be: 35.Qxb7 Rc4 36.Rd1 Rxc5 37.Qxa6 Qc3 - but what he's missed is how exposed his king is with the winning move...35.Qf7! 1-0 One very accurate and good move, and Mamedov discovered he was busted and immediately resigned. If 35…Qe8 36. Qxf5+ is easily winning; and if 35…Qxc5 36.Qg6+ Kg8 37. Rd8+ wins.