22 April 2017

Rendezvous in the Azeri Linares

Vugar Gashimov Memorial Opening Ceremony in the review of Eteri Kublashvili

On April 20, Shamkir gave start to the fourth edition of the tournament in the memory of a remarkable Azerbaijani chess player Vugar Gashimov, who passed away prematurely in 2014.

The tournament is co-organized by the Synergy Group and the Chess Federation of Azerbaijan. As was the case with the third edition, participants stay at the best city hotel Excelsior and play in the Heydar Aliyev Center. Consistency is known to be a sign of class.

One of the world's most reputed super-tournaments brings  together a very representative lineup yet another time: a hard-to-get victory will be contested by Wesley So (2822, USA), Vladimir Kramnik (2811), Sergey Karjakin (2783, both representing Russia), Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (2772, Azerbaijan), Michael Adams (2761, England), Pentala Harikrishna (2755, India), Pavel Eljanov (2751, Ukraine), Radoslaw Wojtaszek (2745, Poland), Veselin Topalov (2741, Bulgaria) and Teimour Radjabov (2710, Azerbaijan).

Let us recall that the latest tournament winner is Shakhriyar Mamedyarov after defeating Fabiano Caruana on tie-break. We should add that the American, as well as world champion Magnus Carlsen and ex-world champion Hou Yifan, who had participated in the past Vugar Gashimov Memorials, play in Baden-Baden at the present moment. 

All in all, the elite players’ calendar is known to be oversaturated at certain months: running in parallel are some strongest super-tournaments, the world team championship even overlaps the Stavanger and Paris events at that, while now and then there would be certain unfilled in-between gaps. However, let us continue our story of the beautiful tournament opening.

Opening ceremony speeches were delivered by Alimpasha Mamedov, Chief Executive of the Shamkir region, Ismail Ismailov, Deputy Minister of Sport and Youth Affairs of Azerbaijan, Mahir Mamedov, Vice-President of the Azerbaijani Chess Federation, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, FIDE President, Hashim Gashimov, Vugar's father, Farid Huseynov, Chairman of the Organizing Committee and the Deputy Chairman of the OAO" Synergy Group” Board of Directors, as well as Vice-president of the Azerbaijani Chess Federation and chief  tournament arbiter Faiq Hasanov, who carried out a drawing of lots procedure.

Part of the opening ceremony was devoted to showing films about the Baku World Chess Olympiad (it was indeed a pleasure to revisit this big time event!) and Vugar Gashimov Chess Academy.

Even though everyone besides Kirsan Ilyumzhinov spoke Azeri, the majority of speeches were naturally dedicated to Vugar's personality and achievements.

Kirsan Nikolayevich shared his memories of the outstanding grandmaster, noted high tempo of chess life development in Azerbaijan and accredited the Baku Olympiad as one of the best, thanking the state government and chess federation for having organized the world forum.

FIDE President called Shamkir an "Azeri Linares” more than once. According to him, it was after the super tournament started taking place in the city that millions of people around the world came into awareness of its existence.

Kirsan Nikolayevich also added with a smile that after the official website published an interview with Vladimir Kramnik, who called Shamkir "a small and quiet town", there arrived many angry letters claiming Shamkir to be a big city!

During the drawing of lots procedure Vladimir Kramnik took the floor to clarify that following years of residence in Moscow and Paris it so happened that Geneva, where he resides at the moment, also gave him an impression of being "a small and cozy town” and kindly asked that city residents take no offense at his words.

Meanwhile, when the ceremony was over, it became known that Chief Executive of the Shamkir region, Alimpasha Mamedov, had offered an honorary citizenship of Shamkir to the 14th world champion. "This may well keep me from city residents’ anger," replied Kramnik with a joke at a press conference. 

The most "incendiary" question was related to football and was about who rooted for whom in the Champions League semifinals and the style of which team did the chess players associate their creative handwriting with.

Vladimir Kramnik had the Champions League over with with the departure of "Borussia", and he believed his style to be similar to "Juventus” in terms of a solid, boring type of play with its main star, good old Buffon.”

Sergey Karjakin reminded that he is essentially a fan of Spartak.

Pavel Eljanov and Radoslaw Wojtaszek expressed sympathy for "Monaco", while Michael Adams voted for "Juventus” all the same.

The evening ended with a festive dinner, while on Friday, April 21, round one pairings are as follows:

Wojtaszek - Kramnik, Topalov - Adams, So - Mamedyarov, Karjakin - Harikrishna, Eljanov - Radjabov.

Games are scheduled to start at 14:00 Moscow time and will be commented in English by Igor Khenkin and in Azeri by Anar Allahverdiyev. A press conference host is Ljubomir Ljubojevic.