While Sergey Karjakin emerged from the recent Candidates Tournament to challenge World Champion Magnus Carlsen for his title, many applauded Fabiano Caruana’s bravado performance in chasing the Russian all the way to the finish line. From there, Caruana then went on to capture his first US Championship title - and he’s proving he’s still the in-form player with a blistering performance at the 3rd Vugar Gashimov Memorial in Shamkir, Azerbaijan.
The US champion has hit a streak with three successive wins to storm into the sole lead at the top on 3.5/4; his ‘victims’ respectively being Pavel Eljanov, Hou Yifan and Rauf Mamedov. And Caruana’s third win in a row also saw him yet again leapfrogging Vladimir Kramnik to become the new world No.2 behind Carlsen in the unofficial live ratings.
Caruana also holds an added tiebreak advantage in Shamkir, because two of his wins were with black. And he could need this, because he can’t shake off the challenge of Anish Giri, another candidate of contrasting fortunes. Unlike Caruana, Giri was somewhat unfairly criticised for his candidates’ performance after he drew all of his games (it’s really not that easy to win amongst such a strong, elite field).
He laughed off all the jokes and jibes, and Giri is the one laughing yet again, because in round two, he pushed Karjakin into making a costly error to beat the title-challenger. And there’s now an added edge and dynamism to the young Dutch star’s play, as he followed his Karjakin win up with a spectacular sacrificial knockout of India’s Pentala Harikrishna - and in a game that can be best described as a case of ‘study the classics!’
Magnus Carlsen believes you can learn a lot from studying classic games from the past; where hopefully you can learn something from them. It seems that Giri agrees, because he must surely have had to be aware of the encounter between Lev Polugavesky and Mikhail Tal from the USSR Championship 1969, as all the key elements and motifs from that fateful Semi-Tarrasch was strikingly similar to his execution of the attack.
Photo © | 3rd Vugar Gashimov Memorial
1. Fabiano Caruana (USA) 3.5/4; 2. Anish Giri (Netherlands) 3; 3-6. Temour Radjabov (Azerbaijan), Sergey Karjakin (Russia), Eltaj Safarli (Azerbaijan), Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan) 2; 7-9. Pentala Harikrishna (India), Rauf Mamedov (Azerbaijan), Hou Yifan (China) 1.5; 10. Pavel Eljanov (Ukraine) 1.
GM Anish Giri - GM Pentala Harikrishna
3rd Vugar Gashimov Memorial, (4)
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Nc3 c5 5.cxd5 Nxd5 This recapture distinguishes the Semi-Tarrasch Defense from the Tarrasch Defense with 5 ... exd5, which commits Black to an isolated queen pawn. If now 6.Nxd5, then 6 ... Qxd5 and there is still no isolated queen pawn. There have been famous players, Bobby Fischer among them, who used the Semi-Tarrasch with alacrity, but would not touch the Tarrasch with the proverbial 10-foot barge pole. 6.e4 Nxc3 7.bxc3 cxd4 8.cxd4 Bb4+ 9.Bd2 Bxd2+ 10.Qxd2 After 10.Qxd2 A set of bishops has been exchanged, and the e4 and d4 pawns give White an advantage in space. But they also give Black a less crowded position, which is one reason this appealed to Harikrishna. 10...0-0 11.Rc1 b6 12.Bd3 While Black's strategy lies in the long-term with no pawn weaknesses, White signals by strategically placing his pieces to launch a direct kingside assault. 12...Bb7 13.0-0 h6 Harikrishna looks to get in this prophylactic move, aiming to stop White putting his knight or queen on g5 once he moves his queen from d8. If he goes for the immediate ...Nc6, then the pawn push d5 gives White the attacking edge: 13...Nc6 14.d5 exd5 15.exd5 Na5 (Certainly not 15...Qxd5?? 16.Bxh7+! Kxh7 17.Qxd5 and Black loses his queen.) 16.Rcd1 Qd6 17.Qg5! Rad8 18.Qh5 h6 19.Rfe1 Rfe8 (Again, taking on d5 loses material: 19...Bxd5? 20.Be4 winning the bishop.) 20.Bh7+! Kf8 (The only king move, as the others leave Black with a bad game: 20...Kxh7 21.Ng5+ Kg8 22.Rxe8+ Rxe8 23.Qxf7+; 20...Kh8 21.Rxe8+ Rxe8 22.Qxf7 Rf8 23.Qg6) 21.Ne5 Bxd5 22.Qf5 And for a pawn, White has a promising attack brewing. 14.Qe3 Doubling down the defence of d4, and looking to play a Rd1 to keep the tension in the position with his pawns in the center of the board. 14...Nc6 15.h4 Rc8 16.h5! Fixing Black pawns defending the king. Now the threat is the strong possibility of White setting-up a winning battery with Bb1, e5 and Qd3. 16...Qe7 17.Bb1 Rfd8 18.d5! The similarities with Polugavesky-Tal is now uncanny - there, Polu used this same thematic pawn sacrifice to open lines towards Tal's king, with the queen becoming the fulcrum of what became a devastating sacrificial assault. 18...exd5 19.e5 Ba6 20.Rfe1 Qd7 21.Qf4! Threatening Bf5 winning. 21...Ne7 22.Nd4 Rxc1 23.Qxc1 You might think the queen has been deflected from the attack, but there is a subtle point behind this recapture. Now, if 23...Rc8 24.Qa3! attacks the bishop with tempo and then swing back over to the kingside with Qg3. 23...Qa4 As noted previously: If 23...Rc8 24.Qa3! Bc4 25.Qg3 threatening e6 is strong for White. 24.e6!! (See Diagram) And once again, the parallels with Polug-Tal is uncanny, as Polug's decisive blow also came with e6!! (his being 25.e6!!). 24...Qxd4 Black's position is bust. Instead, if 24...f6 25.Qc7 Qe8 26.Nf5 Nxf5 27.Bxf5 Bc8 28.e7! easily wins. 25.exf7+ Kxf7 26.Qc7 Re8 27.Bg6+! 1-0