06 Jun

The Shak Attack

Last week, we thought we were witnessing Fabiano Caruana running away with the 3rd Vugar Gashimov Memorial in Shamkir, Azerbaijan, following what's become something of a trademark winning streak from the US Champion. But his and Anish Giri’s world was hit by a deadly ‘Shak Attack' in the final rounds of the tournament, as local hero Shakhriyar Mamedyarov stunned the two top seeds with a hat-trick of wins (two being against the leaders) - and then the Azeri No1 went on to snatch the title in a playoff for a memorable home triumph.


In round eight, Caruana agreed a draw against Giri, not realising he had missed a win that would surely have secured him first place, while Mamedyarov - who started his campaign badly with 0.5/2 - moved into the chasing pack for the first time after beating his fellow countryman, Eltaj Safarli. And Caruana was to rue missing that win, because in the in the penultimate round, he over-pressed against Mamedyarov to lose his unbeaten run in the tournament.

And boosted by that win, the Azeri then went for more blood by outplaying Giri in a dramatic final round to finish in a share of equal first on 6/9 with Caruana. But in the spirit of the player they were paying tribute to in a memorial, there was no sharing of the spoils with two going on to contest a series of speed playoff tie-breakers to decide first place and the title - and Mamedyarov fought back from two bad positions to then go on to win the first blitz match for a remarkable victory on home soil.


Chess has a certain pedigree in Azerbaijan as Garry Kasparov, the ‘Beast of Baku’ himself, was born there. But Mamedyarov’s latest triumph makes him the most prolific Azeri since Kasparov. The late run from the player known to all as ‘Shak’ - whose last major win was the equally strong 2014 Tal Memorial in Moscow - not only rewarded him with the title, but also rapidly moved him up the world rankings by five places to World No13 on the unofficial live ratings.

Photo © | 3rd Vugar Gashimov Memorial

Final standings
1-2. Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan)*, Fabiano Caruana (USA) 6/9; 3. Anish Giri (Netherlands) 5.5; 4. Sergey Karjakin (Russia) 5; 5. Rauf Mamedov (Azerbaijan) 4.5; 6-8. Pentala Harikrishna (India), Teimour Radjabov (Azerbaijan), Eltaj Safarli (Azerbaijan) 4; 9. Pavel Eljanov (Ukraine) 3.5; 10. Hou Yifan (China) 2.5

GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov - GM Anish Giri
3rd Vugar Gashimov Memorial, (9)
Queen’s Pawn g3
1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 g6 3.g3 Bg7 4.Bg2 d5 5.0-0 0-0 6.c3 A wise choice if you want to avoid Giri's legendary opening preparation and his deep, deep knowledge of the Grünfeld Defence. Mamedyarov just want's a simple position to work with. 6...Nbd7 7.Bf4 b6 8.a4 A typical thrust in such positions, aiming to create some damage on the queenside, to perhaps later exploit for an endgame advantage. 8...c5 9.Nbd2 Bb7 10.a5 bxa5 It's not just a6 that worries Giri. In certain position (after Black moves his queen's rook) then White can play axb6 and Ra7 with a good position. So rather than having to worry about both of these, Giri exchanges now, even although it guarantees Mamedyarov a small plus. 11.Nb3 Qb6?! 12.dxc5 Nxc5 13.Be3! Mamedyarov now has a clear endgame advantage. When the queens are exchanged, White will hone in on Black's weakness down the a-file, and the resulting passed b-pawn will prove to be a potential winner. 13...Qxb3 Forced, as 13...Nfd7? 14.Nxc5 Nxc5 15.b4! axb4 16.cxb4 Qxb4 17.Rb1 will pick up the bishop on b7 with a winning advantage. 14.Bxc5 Qxd1 15.Rfxd1 Rfe8 16.Rxa5 a6 17.Ne5! Giri would have liked to have played ...Nd7, But now he can't. Black is in deep trouble now, as all of Mamedyarov's pieces suddenly spring to life - and there's also the problem of what to do about the weak pawn on a6. 17...Rad8 18.Bb6 Rb8 19.Ba7 Rbd8 Mamedyarov is not fishing for a draw here by repeating moves; all he is doing is safeguarding his advantage by gaining valuable time on his clock to move closer to the time control. 20.Bb6 Rb8 21.Bd4 e6 22.e3 The plan is Bf1 and putting pressure on a6. 22...Red8 23.Bb6 Rdc8 24.Ba7 Ra8 25.Bd4 Rc7 Giri can't defend a6, so he gives it up without a fight in the hope of limiting the damage by trying to activate his bishops; perhaps even a rook and pawn ending with chances of a draw. 26.Rda1 Nd7 27.Nxd7 Rxd7 28.Bf1 e5 This is Giri's only hope now; breaking open the position in the hope of creating complications. But Mamedyarov has it all in hand and now expertly coverts his advantage to a win. 29.Bc5 d4 30.cxd4 exd4 31.Bxa6! (See Diagram) Timed to perfection, as it takes full advantage of the back-rank threats combined with his bishop on c5. 31...Rxa6 32.Rxa6 Bxa6 33.Rxa6 f5 If 33...d3 34. Ra8+ Bf8 35.Bxf8 f5 36. Bb4+ wins, as the rook returns with Ra1 followed by Rd1 picking off the d-pawn. 34.exd4 Bxd4 35.b4! The passed pawn now rapidly runs down the board leading to a technical rook and pawn endgame win. 35...Bxc5 Forced, otherwise b5-b6 decides matters relatively quickly. 36.bxc5 Rd1+ 37.Kg2 Rc1 38.Rc6 Giri can do nothing here, as Mamedyarov's king quickly and easily crosses over to help push the c-pawn home. 38...Kf7 39.Kf3 g5 40.Ke3 Rc3+ 41.Kd4 Rf3 42.Ke5 Rxf2 43.Rf6+ Ke8 44.Rxf5 Rxh2 45.Kd6! The c-pawn is the winner here - and now, with 45.Kd6!, Giri's king can't shuffle across to cover the queening square with ...Kd8, as Rf8 is mate. 45...Rd2+ 46.Kc7 Controlling the queening square is key to winning such endings. 46...Rd7+ 47.Kb6 g4 There's no defence, as White has back-rank mating threats that help push home the c-pawn. If 47...Kd8 48.c6 Rg7 49.Rd5+ Kc8 50.Ra5! Kb8 51.Re5! Rg8 52.Re7 Rf8 53.Rb7+ Kc8 (53...Ka8 54.Ra7+ Kb8 55.c7+ Kc8 56.Ra8+ Kd7 57.Rxf8) 54.Ra7! and its either mate or the exchange of rooks with the c-pawn queening. 48.Re5+ Kd8 49.Rg5 Rd3 50.Rg8+ Ke7 If 50...Kd7 51.c6+ Ke6 52.c7 Rb3+ 53.Ka5 and Black will soon run out of checks. 51.Rxg4 Rb3+ 52.Kc7 Kf6 53.c6 1-0 Giri resigns, as Mamedyarov will easily 'build a bridge' with his rook on either d4 or b4 to avoid the checks, and then safely shepherd home the c-pawn.


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