The second leg of Fide’s 2017 World Chess Grand Prix series of competitions to determine the challengers for the 2018 Candidates’ tournament began last Friday in Moscow, Russia. It’s an important stepping stone in the current world championship cycle, as the winner of the Candidates’ will go forward to challenge current World Champion Magnus Carlsen for the title.
Four Grand Prix tournaments are earmarked for 2017, the others to be held in July in Geneva, Switzerland and in November in Palma de Majorca, Spain. The prize fund for each leg is €130,000 ($143,000), the year-long overall GP series prize fund being €520,000 ($571,000). Players can only compete in three of the 4 GPs, with the top two qualifying for the Candidates’ - and each leg is a 9-round Swiss System with 18 players taking part.
Russia’s Alexander Grischuk tied for equal first alongside France’s Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Azerbaijan’s Shakhriyar Mamedyarov in the opening Grand Prix leg held in Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates back in early March - and the trio are now in pole position heading into the Moscow leg. But following his recent big rating gains by winning the Vugar Gashimov Memorial, and then a perfect 4/4 in the Russian Team Championship, “man-of-the-moment” Mamedyarov is again on a roll, this time with back-to-back wins over England’s Michael Adams and Saleh Salem of the UAE.
And on the back of those successive wins, “Shak" now joins Ding Liren of China in a tie for first place on 3/4, and in the process he leapfrogs Vachier-Lagrave as the new world No.5 on the unofficial live rating list, finally breaking 2800, and within striking distance also of America’s Fabiano Caruana at No.4.
GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov - GM Michael Adams
Moscow Grand Prix, (3)
Queen’s Indian Defence
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.Nf3 b6 5.e3 This is a somewhat old-fashioned approach to the Queen's Indian Defence, these days the vogue lines being The Kasparov/Petrosian Variation with an early a3, or the fianchetto with g3. But Mamedyarov has a wealth of opening knowledge and has been known to dig into old lines for new ideas. 5...Bb7 6.Bd3 0-0 7.0-0 d5 8.cxd5 exd5 9.a3 Bd6 10.b4 Preventing c5 which, if Black can get in without saddling himself with the isolated d-pawn, would give him instant equality. 10...Nbd7 11.Qb3 Again preventing ...c5, as after bxc5 bxc5, Black's bishop on b7 will be left en prise. 11...a6 12.a4 Qe7 13.Rb1 c6 14.a5 Rfb8 Black could try 14...b5 - but after Bd2 and Ne2, White will play Rfc1 Black will always have to be wary of defending the weak pawn on c6. However, hindsight is always 20/20 in chess, and perhaps this queenside lockdown was preferable as to what now comes... 15.axb6 Bc8?! This is just all a little too optimistic - Adams should have tried 15...Nxb6!? and accept White can easily open the game, but it is not clear for what advantage: 16.e4 dxe4 17.Nxe4 Nxe4 18.Re1 Qc7 19.Rxe4 Re8 where at least Black is seeking to ease his position with exchanges and can look to the endgame with some hope, as White's b4 pawn weakness at least offsets Black's double weakness on a6 and c6. 16.Qc2! Nxb6 Adams is in a dilemma now, as Mamedyarov's pieces are poised to strike, and the Englishman probably didn't like the look of taking on b4 as this might exacerbate things. For example, if 16...Bxb4 17.Ne5! Nxe5 18.dxe5 Nd7 19.Bxh7+ Kh8 20.Bb2 the two bishops bearing down on the Black king is difficult, if not impossible, to safely defend against. 20...Nxb6 (Asking for it would be 20...Nxe5? 21.Nxd5! cxd5 22.Bxe5 Rxb6 (Not 22...Qxe5? 23.Rxb4 with the unstoppable switch of Rh4 winning quickly.) 21.Bd3 a5 Looks as if Black could have something but after 22.Ne2!, White has too many pieces ready to launch at Black's unprotected king. 22...c5 23.Nf4 a4 (No use is 23...c4 as White has 24.Bg6! where, in the worst-case scenario, White has the simple plan of Bh5-f3 and mounting pressure on d5, which will fall, and with it the game.) 24.Qe2! Qh4 25.e6 Bxe6 26.Nxe6 fxe6 27.Be5 a3 28.f4! and Black will soon succumb to the simple plan of Rf3-h3+ with a winning attack. 17.e4! The game opening up favours White's active pieces. 17...dxe4 18.Nxe4 Nxe4 19.Bxe4 h6 20.Re1! It's all getting just a little difficult for Adams, as Mamedyarov's pieces suddenly spring to life, and he's threatening to storm the Black king 20...Qc7 21.Bh7+ Kf8 22.Ne5 Nd5 There's no time for 22...Be6 as White has 23.Ng6+! Ke8 24.f4 with a raging attack. 23.Nxf7! The knight sacrifice just blows Adams away now - his king is caught in the crossfire of White's pieces. 23...Qxf7 There's nothing else. If 23...Kxf7?? 24.Qg6+ Kf8 25.Re8#. 24.Bg6 Bf5 25.Bxf5 Nxb4 26.Qe4 Nd5 There's no hope here. If 26...Re8 27.Be6 Qf6 28.Rb3! and there's no stopping Rf3 winning either the Black queen or the king. 27.Be6 Qf6 Again, no use is 27...Re8 as after 28.Bd2! Qf6 29.Qh7 and again the Black king gets snared. 28.Rxb8+ Rxb8 29.Qh7 We've seen this script in the previous notes - the rest is easy. 29...g5 There's no defence. If 29...Nf4 30.Qg8+ Ke7 31.Bc8+ Be5 32.Ba3+ soon mates. 30.Qg8+ 1-0