In 1970, governing body FIDE adopted Prof. Arpad Elo’s rating system to list the rankings of the world’s top players for the first time. Originally this was an annual list, then it moved to being published twice a year, to every three months, and now monthly. But despite this, the most reliable indication of the movers and shakers among the top-10 elite stars remains the unofficial live rating list at www.2700chess.com, especially at a really busy time on the super-tournament chess calendar.
And after the conclusion of last week’s Grenke Chess Classic in Baden-Baden and now the ongoing 4th Vugar Gashimov Memorial in Shamkir, Azerbaijan, the top five players in the world find themselves’ on minus scores and two current on-form players on big plus scores as they dramatically stage a comeback by crashing up the World’s top-10.
Magnus Carlsen is currently trending at -6.4, Wesley So -7, Fabiano Caruana -14.9, Vladimir Kramnik -9.4 and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave -7.8 - but while they are all on a downward trend, the big winner at the Grenke Chess Classic, Levon Aronian, now moves up to World No.6 with his gain of +15.3, and right behind him at No.7 is Shakhriyar Mamedyarov at +14.8, who - like Aronian the week before - is currently dominating the Gashimov Memorial, as it heads down the home straight of the final two rounds this weekend.
Mamedyarov had a memorable start that must have given the locals something to cheer about, as he dramatically ended So’s 67-game unbeaten streak - but the US champion is now back in the groove with something of a rarity of scoring a “double Russian”, after beating ex-champion Kramnik and defeated title challenger Karjakin in successive rounds.
1. Mamedyarov, 5/7; 2-4. Topalov, So, Adams, 4; 5. Eljanov, 3½; 6-9. Karjakin, Kramnik, Radjabov, Wojtaszek, 3; 10. Harikrishna, 2½.
GM Wesley So - GM Sergey Karjakin
4th Vugar Gashimov Memorial, (6)
1.Nf3 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.Nc3 Nc6 4.e3 e6 5.d4 d5 6.a3 a6 7.dxc5 Bxc5 8.b4 From an English Opening we have transposed into a very symmetrical line of the QGD, Semi-Tarrasch Defence. Normally this would soon fizzle out to a draw, but White has just a little bit more promise in the position, and So plays on this…and uncharacteristically, Karjakin cracks. 8...Ba7 9.Bb2 0-0 10.h3 h6 11.Rc1 Re8 12.Bd3 dxc4 13.Bxc4 Qxd1+ 14.Rxd1 b5 15.Bd3 Bb7 16.Ke2 This is one of the little bits of promise I said earlier - with the queens exchanged early, White has no need to castle, and has his king better strategically placed on e2 for the ensuing endgame - but that alone does not decide the game, as it takes Karjakin playing a few minor errors that soon builds up to a bad position. 16...Kf8 17.Rhg1 Not only defending g2 so that White can re-route his Nf3, but from g1 the rook can threaten g4-g5 and opening the g-file for an attack on the Black king. 17...Rad8 18.Bb1 Ne7 19.Nd2 Bb6 20.g4 Ned5 21.Nxd5 Nxd5 22.Nb3 f6 It's not a biggie, but Karjakin makes this little weakening move over his concern to stop g4-g5 etc. And from here, all though it doesn't lose, it the start of a series of weak moves that soon amount to falling into a bad position. Instead, perhaps Karjakin should just have played 22...e5 to keep the tension in the position for now? 23.Bg6! Gaining space and time only made possible by the little inaccuracy of the previous move. 23...Re7 24.Rc1! Again another accurate move from So, who now switches his direction to threaten Nc5. 24...Red7 25.Rgd1 Ne7 26.Rxd7 Rxd7 27.Bb1 There's still nothing much in the position, but White is carefully building on his niggling little edge with the better pieces, more space and a weakness on e6 and c5 to hone in on. 27...Rc7? Karjakin begins to crack, believing that exchanging rooks will make the position easier to defend. Far from it in fact, as he's underestimated how active So's remaining pieces will become. 28.Rxc7 Bxc7 29.Nc5 Bc8 30.Ba2! The weakness on e6 becomes the fulcrum of So's activities - but also note how White's wonderful knight on c5 also hits a6, and together this double hit puts pressure on Karjakin into losing a pawn. 30...Nd5 31.f4 Bd6?! Perhaps Karjakin's last chance here to stay in the game was with 31…a5, that at least tries to lessen the queenside pawn problems? 32.Bd4 Kf7 33.Kd3 Just look how quickly So has improved the symmetrical position, as White is now pushing forward with menace all of his pieces, forcing Black's pieces to be even more passive. 33...Ne7 34.Ne4 Bc7 35.f5! The breakthrough is going to win a pawn, and in the end, a6 will fall - Karjakin is hoping, though, that with more pieces being exchanged will ease his discomfort and perhaps offer good drawing chances. 35...Nc6 36.fxe6+ Bxe6 37.Bxe6+ Kxe6 38.Nc5+ Ke7 39.Nxa6 Bd6 40.Bc5! Rightly, So wants to take the game into a knight ending, where Black's weakness on b5 and his more active king will prove to be the deciding factor. 40...Ne5+ 41.Ke4 Nc4 42.Kd5 Bxc5 43.Kxc5 Nxa3 44.Nc7 Kd7 45.Nxb5 Nc2 46.Nd4! The most clinical way to win, as it not only clears the path for So' passed b-pawn, but also allows for Nf5 and the picking off of Karjakin's kingisde pawns. 46...Nxe3 47.Nf5! Nd1 Karjakin can't play 47...Nxf5 as after 48.gxf5 the material may well be equal, but White will use his b-pawn as a decoy and move his king over to the kingside to win all the pawns there. 48.Kb6 Another timely little finesse from So. With Karjakin's knight at the other end of the board, coupled with the fact that he can't avoid the loss of one of the kingside pawns (either g7 or h6), So opts first to control the access squares for queening his b-pawn that has Karjakin's king and knight tied up. 48...g6 49.Nxh6 Ne3 50.b5 f5 51.Ka6 fxg4 There's no other option now. If 51...f4 52.Nf7! threatens either Ne5+ or Ng5 stopping the f-pawn. 52.hxg4 Nd5 53.b6 Kc6 There's no salvation in even sacrificing the knight, as after 53...Nxb6 54.Kxb6 Ke7 55.g5! White cuts off the access squares to the Black king, and after 55...Ke6 56.Kc6 Ke5 57.Kd7 Kf4 58.Nf7 White's king will have moved closer across the board to win. 54.b7 Nc7+ 55.Ka7 Nb5+ 56.Ka8 Nc7+ 57.Kb8 Nb5 58.Ka8 Nc7+ 59.Kb8 Nb5 60.Nf7! The end is near, as the knight stops Karjakin playing ...Nd6 and also threatens Ne5+ picking off the g-pawn to create passed pawns on both ends of the board. 60...Kb6 61.g5 Karjakin's ...g6 pawn is doomed - so either way, he's going to lose on the queenside or the kingside. 61...Ka6 62.Nd8 Kb6 If 62...Nd6 63.Kc7 and Black can resign. 63.Kc8 Nd6+ 64.Kd7 1-0 Karjakin resigns, as So's king will quickly pick off the g6-pawn and control the queening square.