27 May

A Time to Remember

Every spring in the U.S. we celebrate this holiday called “Memorial Day,” which for many this weekend traditionally marks the beginning of summer.  But its significance is far greater than the arrival of summer, for we have to remember it is a time to honour the people who died over the years and many wars while serving in the country's armed forces.  And in chess, we also honour our past-masters who have died by arranging special memorial tournaments.


“Chess, like literature, music and the arts, often suffers a premature loss,” once wrote English chess writer Harry Golombek. And in early January 2014, the chess world was genuinely shocked to learn of the premature death, at the age of only 27, of one of the world’s top players, Azerbaijan’s Vugar Gashimov, after his long and very brave battle fighting brain cancer.

The tributes were led by the World No.1, Magnus Carlsen - and such was Gashimov’s standing among his peers, that Carlsen and many others in the elite top-10 responded almost immediately in agreeing to play in a memorial tournament in his honour in his native Azerbaijan. Now the 3rd Vugar Gashimov Memorial is underway again in Shamkir city - and while there’s no Magnus Carlsen this year, the ten-player field is headed by two top-10 players and Carlsen’s upcoming world title challenger.


The full line up for the 3rd Vugar Gashimov Memorial includes: Fabiano Caruana (USA), Anish Giri (Netherlands), Sergey Karjakin (Russia), Pavel Eljanov (Ukraine), Pentala Harikrishna (India), Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan), Teimour Radjabov (Azerbaijan), Eltaj Safarli (Azerbaijan), Hou Yifan (China) and Rauf Mamedov (Azerbaijan).

Photo © | Gashimov Memorial

The opening round got off to an auspicious lukewarm start with all the games ending in largely uneventful draws - but today’s round two was played more in a spirit that Gashimov would have approved of, with three decisive games: the wins coming from Caruana, Harikrishna and also Giri, who beat Karjakin.

1-3. Caruana (USA), Harikrishna (India), Giri (Netherlands) 1.5/2; 4-7. Radjabov (Azerbaijan), Hou Yifan (China), Safarli (Azerbaijan), Mamedov (Azerbaijan) 1; 8-10. Karjakin (Russia), Eljanov (Ukraine), Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan) 0.5.

GM Pentala Harikrishna - GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov
Vugar Gashimov Memorial, (2)
Pirc Defence, 150 Attack
1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 g6 4.Be3 This is the standard position of the 150 Attack. In the 1980s a new generation of English players began to experiment with this sharp line against the Pirc. The main idea is Be3, Qd2, Bh6, advance the h-pawn and then deliver mate. Naturally, this seemed too good to be true and was quickly dubbed the 150 Attack (a peculiarity of the English grading system is that 150 translates to an 1800 Elo), since it seemed that only a club player would use such a blatant attacking system and expect the game to finish in checkmate. Over the years there have been various refinements of the 150 Attack, mainly whether to play an early f2-f3 or Nf3. 4...a6 5.a4 Preventing Black from an easy life with ...b5 and ...Bb7 putting pressure on the e4-pawn. 5...Bg7 6.Nf3 0-0 7.Qd2 Nbd7 8.h3 e5 With White having played 5.a4, queenside castling is not an option now, so the initial 150 Attack motif is no longer relevant. So now White continues to develop rapidly with ideal squares for his pieces, once the tension is removed from the centre. 9.dxe5 dxe5 10.Bc4 b6 11.0-0 Bb7 12.Rfd1 Qe7 13.Nd5! This is the ideal way to defend the weakness on e4, as exchanging pieces leaves White with a lasting advantage through to the ending. 13...Nxd5 14.Bxd5 Bxd5 15.Qxd5 Nf6 16.Qc4! Defending e4 and also attacking a6 - and with Black also now left with the bad bishop on g7, Harikrishna expertly converts this to a winning advantage. 16...Rfe8 17.c3 a5 18.Rd3 Black no longer has a weakness on a6 - but now c7 is weak and White is ahead in development and threatening to double his rooks on the d-file. 18...Qe6? A tough position to defend for sure. However in view of how easily Black now capitulates, he would surely have been perhaps better off defending the weakness on c7 with 18...Rac8 19.Rad1 Qe6 20.Qxe6 Rxe6 21.Nd2! and White is ready to play f3, after which Black has a long and arduous endgame struggle ahead - but crucially he'd still be in the game, and White would have to work hard for the full point here. 19.Qxc7 Black may well have a bit of piece activity out of this, but long-term, the endgame is winning for White because after c7 has fallen, the remaining two pawns on b6 and a5 soon become a liability. 19...Nxe4 20.Rad1 Bf6 21.Nd2! (See Diagram) The beginning of the end, because exchanging off Black's only active piece just makes Harikrishna's task of converting the win easier. An added bonus is that, after ...Nxd2, White's rook will be defending b2, and now the threat on b6 is a real one. 21...Nxd2 Forced. If 21...Nc5 22.Bxc5 bxc5 23.Ne4 White's knight will dominate the bishop and now he will have three weak pawns (a5, c5 and e5) to have to defend. 22.R1xd2 e4 23.Rd6 Be5 24.Rxe6 Bxc7 25.Rc6 The White rooks dominate and Black is still left with a major headache about how to defend b6 and a5. 25...Rec8 26.Kf1 A good player in such positions will try to envisage the board in case the rooks get exchanged off, and see the simple back-up winning plan of White's king heading to c4 via Kf1-e2-d2-c2-b3. However with Harikrishna's rooks being so dominant, he want's to try and keep them on, as Black has no way of activating his pieces without losing pawns. 26...Bd8 27.Rcd6 Rab8 28.Rd7 Bf6 29.Bf4 Ra8 30.Rb7 When the White rooks double on the seventh, Black can resign. 30...Rc6 31.Rdd7 Rd8 There's no defence. If 31...Rf8 32.Bc7 and b6 falls followed by a5. 32.Rxd8+ Bxd8 33.Rb8 1-0 Mamedyarov resigns as he’s losing a piece.

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