03 Jun

A Golden Miss

Paying tribute to his late friend, Magnus Carlsen won the first two editions of the Vugar Gashimov Memorial that’s currently ongoing in Shamkir, Azerbaijan - but he’s missing this year, though the World Champion will soon be back in action.  Carlsen is instead filling the wild card spot in the four-day $150,000 Grand Chess Tour rapid and blitz events in Paris, starting 9 June, and Brussels, starting 17 June.


And with Carlsen currently on a fine run of tournament victories, this leaves a golden opportunity for his rating rivals and title challenger - Fabiano Caruana, Anish Giri and Sergey Karjakin - to take the top-billing in Shamkir and make hay. And while title-challenger Karjakin faltered, Caruana and Giri turned out to be the one’s making all the running with a pair of impressive winning streaks.

After the rest day, however, overnight leader Caruana’s streak of four successive wins came to a halt in round six, as the young Azeri Champion, Eltaj Safarli rode his luck somewhat in a bad position, but still managed to successfully hold on in a difficult position to draw. And with Giri also drawing, we were set for the big clash of the leaders in round seven, and up for grabs for the eventual winner was a likely tournament victory. 

Caruana got the better of the opening and middlegame skirmishes to emerge with a promising position - but just when everyone was expecting the US Champion to deliver the coup de grâce, he took a three-fold repetition, not realising he’d missed a golden opportunity to win and extend his lead at the top.


Granted, the win wasn’t all that easy to spot for Caruana, because the deciding factor in a long king march was a quiet move - and while quiet moves can quite often be killers at the board, they can be the most difficult moves to spot in the middle of a long sequence of analysis.

Photo © | 3rd Vugar Gashimov Memorial


1. Fabiano Caruana (USA) 5.5/7; 2. Anish Giri (Netherlands) 5; 3-4. Sergey Karjakin (Russia), Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan) 4; 5. Pentala Harikrishna (India) 3.5; 6-7. Rauf Mamedov (Azerbaijan), Teimour Radjabov (Azerbaijan) 3; 8-9. Eltaj Safarli (Azerbaijan), Pavel Eljanov (Ukraine) 2.5; 10. Hou Yifan (China) 2.

GM Fabiano Caruana - GM Anish Giri
3rd Vugar Gashimov Memorial, (7)
Ruy Lopez Open, Howell Attack
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Nxe4 6.d4 b5 7.Bb3 d5 8.dxe5 Be6 9.Qe2 Here, there are several moves at White's disposal. Most common are 9.c3, and 9.Nbd2. However, White can invite complications with 9.Qe2, entering the "Howell Attack", named not after the English GM David Howell - as many watching the online live coverage wrongly believed  - but Clarence Seaman Howell, the turn-of-the 20th century Brooklyn Chess Club Champion and New York State Champion. 9...Be7 10.Rd1 0-0 A common motif in the Open Lopez is Black playing 10...Nc5 to exchange off White's bishop on b3 - but here, thanks to the set-up of Qe2 and Rd1, there's a nasty surprise as White has enough pressure on the d-file that he can play 11.Bxd5! Bxd5 12.Nc3 regaining his piece, winning a pawn into the bargain, and with a superior position to boot. 11.c4 This stops any ideas now of ...Nc5. 11...bxc4 Now if 11...Nc5? 12.cxd5 Nxb3 13.dxe6 Nbd4 14.Nxd4 Nxd4 15.Qg4 c5 16.Bh6 and White has a crushing position. 12.Bxc4 Bc5 13.Be3 Bxe3 14.Qxe3 Qb8 Black has to find an active way out of the pin on the d-file - and this is the way to do it. 15.Bb3 Na5 If Giri can safely exchange off Caruana's bishop, he should have an equal game, as there will be less pressure on d5. 16.Nd4 c5?! I think safer first would have been 16...Qb6 , as now Giri will have good chances of exchanging queens. 17.Nxe6 fxe6 18.f3 The complications are just going to favour Caruana when the dust settles, as Giri will have a couple of weak pawns that will be hard to defend in the endgame. 18...c4 19.fxe4 cxb3 20.exd5 bxa2 21.Rxa2 Nc4 22.Qd4 Qb3 Giri is hoping that the complications arising will prove enough to save the game for him - and he's proved right, but only because Caruana misses a key move in his calculations in the critical position. Admittedly, as we'll soon see, it isn't that sort of move that is easy to spot. 23.Nc3 Rac8 24.Rb1 It's all getting "messy", and that's what Giri looks as if he was banking on. Caruana now can't play 24.dxe6 as a forced double rook ending comes about - and with a couple of accurate moves from Black, I can't see how White can win after 24...Nxb2 25.Rb1 Qxc3 26.Qxc3 Rxc3 27.Raxb2 Re3! (in rook and pawn endings, double or single, then the key to saving the game is to get behind the passed pawn.) 28.e7 Re8 29.Rb8! Kf7 30.Rf1+ Kxe7 31.Rb7+ Ke6 32.Rxg7 Ra8! White maybe better according to the silicone beast, but human common sense tells you here that with White pawn on e5 doomed and Black pushing his passed a-pawn, there's going to be nothing more than a draw here. 24...Ne3 25.Qxe3 Rxc3 26.Qxc3 Qxa2 27.Rd1 exd5 28.Qd4 Re8 Giri is now worried about Caruana's passed e-pawn - but attack is always the best form of defence, and staying active by perhaps putting his rook on the b-file looked much better: 28...Rb8!? 29.Rc1 h6 30.h3 Kh7! 31.Qd3+ Kh8 32.Qd2 Qb3! (Keeping the b-pawn under threat is best; and not blundering with 32...Qxb2? 33.Rc8+! Kh7 34.Qd3+ g6 35.Qxd5 and White has a promising position to convert for the win. But now with the b-pawn under constant threat, the game looks just drawn.) 33.Rc5 (Now if 33.Rc3 Qb6+ the game is equal.) 33...Qb6! and the game looks as if its going to petter out to a draw. Black has a weak pawn on d5, White has a weak pawn on b2 - but the deciding factor saving the game for Black is that White will never be able to hide his king from checks.  29.Rc1 h6 30.h3 Both kings need a little luft here, just in case of a back-rank happening. 30...Kh8 Giri doesn't want his queen tied down by defending the d5-pawn, and ...Kh8 means he can do this without d5 being taken with a check. However, that said, he may well have been safer and better with 30...Qb3. 31.e6! Rxe6 Again, 31...Qb3 had to be played here - but Giri almost immediately snatches off the dangerous e-pawn. I wonder if he gambled here or, like Caruana, he didn't see a very hard move to spot that wins for White? 32.Rc8+ Kh7 33.Qd3+ Re4 34.Qf1 Re5 35.Qd3+ Re4 36.Qf1 In this situation, Caruanan had something like 15 minutes left to make the time control, so repeating moves a couple of times is the right and correct thing to do to get you closer to the time control at move 40. But unfortunately Caruana goes on to make a third repetition and a draw - not realising there's a win! 36...Re5 (See Diagram) 37.Qd3+ Caruana wasn't in time trouble, but he had a forced king march up the board with 37.Qf7!, though it is difficult to see how to force a win after 37...Qxb2 38.Qg8+ Kg6 39.Rc6+ Kf5 40.Qf7+ Ke4 41.Qf3+ Kd4 42.Qd1+ Ke4 and with Black threatening ...Qd4+ exchanging off queens and a won ending, it is difficult to see what to do here other than offer a repetition with Qf3+. But you have to imagine the difficulty of trying to work all this out in your head at the board, as all White needs to do is take the time now in this critical position to remove the possibility of the check to win with the quiet killer of 43.Kh2!, and now Black's king is left stranded in the wilderness and at the mercy of White's queen and rook 43...a5 44.Rc1! (with the deadly threat of Qg4+followed by Rd1+ and Qa4+ winning) 44...Qf2 (If 44...h5 45.Qf3+ Kd4 46.Qf4+ Re4 47.Rd1+ Kc3 48.Qg3+ Kb4 49.Qd6+ Kc3 50.Qxd5 is again winning due to the perilous state of the Black king.) 45.Rc2 Qf4+ 46.g3 and the best Black has here is to give up his queen with 46...Qe3 47.Re2 d4 48.Rxe3+ dxe3 49.Qg4+ Kd3 50.Qxg7 Re4 51.Qd7+ and White will soon clear up. 37...Re4 38.Qf1 ½-½ Now, even if Caruana had spotted Qf7! here, Giri can announce 38...Re5 again and claim a three-fold repetition.

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