29 May 2016

It is Quiet in Shamkir in May

Opening round of the Vugar Gashimov Memorial in the review of Eteri Kublashvili.

While the tournament events are not so turbulent yet, let me share with you some of my impressions of Shamkir. This small and very cozy town, nestled at the foothills of the Minor Caucasus as far as 170 kilometers from Tbilisi and as far as 400 kilometers from Baku, is literally smothered in greenery, and birds are heard singing all around you. The Shamkir region's economy is based on agriculture and livestock breeding so that phlegmatic cows are not infrequently seen wandering along the town streets. The region is known for its tomatoes, which, among other things, are exported to Russia, as well as for its wine and brandy. 

Its history is very ancient and turbulent as it used to be conquered and given various names on countless occasions. Since Shamkir acquired its modern identity at the beginning of the 19th century with the resettlement of the Germans, it therefore bears certain resemblance to a German town. All streets, which run strictly parallel and perpendicular to each other, are very clean and lined up with flowers and trees. Shamkir features a lot of parks, fountains and monuments. As far as I understood, there are no ancient buildings in the town's center as they are all located in the nearby villages: the Shamkir fortress ruins, mosques, towers, and bridges. However, the town center design is very innovative and a lot of imagination went into construction of the high-tech buildings. 

The Heydar Aliyev Center, which hosts the tournament, is the pearl of modern Shamkir. The spacious and bright building of glass and metal is perfectly suitable for this large-scale and prestigious competition. 

All games were drawn in the round one. The one between Eltaj Safarli and Pavel Eljanov showed the closest point of approach to a decisive result. Black obtained a very comfortable game, while passive deployment of his enemy's pieces allowed him undertaking a rather nontrivial piece sacrifice. 

Safarli - Eljanov 

28…Nxe3! 29. fxe3 Rc1 30. Kf2 

This is a decisive moment of the game. 


This move let the advantage evaporate, as proved by further developments. Stronger was 30…Qe4, the move which Pavel saw and intended to make, but ended up declining it in view of 31. Nfd2 Qh1 32. h4. During the press conference the players spent time analyzing the consequences of 32…Rg1, having mutually acknowledged it to be a winning continuation since 33. Ke2 fails to 33…Re1+, whereas 33. Ra8+ would run into 33…Kh7 34. Qd3+ f5. 

In the subsequent game the advantage was taken over by White: 

31. Qd3 f5 

In this position White had a difficult-to-find move 32. Qa6 at his disposal so as to protect the rook while threatening to take on e6. 

32. h4 Be7 

The computer now comes up with an inhuman resource 32…f4!, followed by all sorts of wild complications. 

However, the edge was already with White (he is up a piece, after all), but afterwards while in time trouble the opponents would sometimes miss strongest continuations and, having passed the time control, Eltaj forced a draw by a perpetual in a position featuring non-standard material balance. 

An interesting and quick game happened between Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Sergey Karjakin. In one of the lines of the Queen's Indian, chosen by the players, the white knight travelled as far as b8, but managed to pull out safely from the enemy's camp. A draw by repetition of moves put an end to the game in which the final position was objectively equal. 

In the course of the press conference, Sergey was asked if Mamedyarov would be on his team to prepare for the match against Carlsen, and the Russian replied that if it were Shakhriyar's desire to continue their collaboration he would be very happy. 

Hou Yifan managed to keep her position together as Black against Teimour Radjabov. Ljubomir Ljubojevic, who was superb in conducting the press conference, mentioned that the games of these players tended to last long, and that the latest time they played in Wijk aan Zee Teimour managed to outplay the World Champion in a viscous struggle. This time around the Azerbaijani grandmaster also squeezed the most out of his positional pluses. The opponents traded queens early in the game and were challenging each other in a many-piece endgame in which slight advantage and initiative belonged to White. Nevertheless, Hou Yifan succeeded in pursuing further simplifications, upon which the opponents agreed a draw by repetition of moves. 

Rauf Mamedov employed the Alapin Variation of the Sicilian Defence against Anish Giri. The queens disappeared early from the board, shifting the whole burden of the struggle into many-piece endgame in which White kept pressurizing, being armed with a bishops pair and a space advantage. Although Anish admitted his not being especially happy about his position, he managed to neutralize all of his opponent's threats after all. A draw was agreed in the rook ending.  

The longest game happened between Fabiano Caruana and Pentala Harikrishna, who opted for the Paulsen Variation with opposite castling. Even though Black repelled White's attack on the kingside and traded queens, the far advanced pawns and White's space superiority allowed Caruana creating problems to his opponent on both flanks for a long time afterwards, and it was only thanks to precise play that Harikrishna retained balance and brought the game to a draw. 

Round two features the following parings: 

Anish Giri - Sergey Karjakin, Pentala Harikrishna - Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, Pavel Eljanov - Fabiano Caruana, Hou Yifan - Eltaj Safarli, and Rauf Mamedov - Teimour Radjabov.