Shamkir, Round 7: There's no stopping Magnus

by Antonio Pereira
4/8/2019 – The one decisive game of round seven saw Magnus Carlsen defeat his Twitter arch-enemy Anish Giri to take the sole lead in Shamkir. It was a rather flashy win, which means Magnus will arrive in Monday's showdown against Sergey Karjakin in high spirits. With only two rounds to go, it seems almost impossible for any player other than Magnus or Sergey to win the event. Grandmaster YANNICK PELLETIER analysed the games in depth. | Photo: Official site

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Two notable faces in the chess world

Elo ratings are a clear-cut indicator of chess strength...or at least is a clearer way to measure players' abilities compared to the methods used in other sports. Chess players and chess followers are not machines, however. A player's personality also has a say in how he/she is perceived by the public. Anand is known for his politeness, Aronian for his wry sense of humour and Nakamura for his straightforwardness, to give some examples. In that sense, Magnus Carlsen and Anish Giri have become known for their wittiness even while dissing each other, both on social media outlets and tournaments press conferences...

This friendly back and forth has resulted in them becoming two of the most notable faces in the chess world. Maybe that is why they were recently chosen to join forces and kick off a promotional campaign with the hashtag #MoveForEquality, using chess to support racial equality all around the world.

Magnus Carlsen, Anish Giri

Is body language a tell-tale to detect a player's personality? | Photo: Official site

In their round seven encounter, Magnus moved first…with White. The game, much like a couple of previous games in Shamkir, followed a line previously seen at the 2018 World Championship match, until Anish deviated:


In game four of said match, Caruana played 8...♜e8, while Giri prepared 8...h6 for this game, a move only chosen by club players in the past. Anish continued with a rather strategic approach. Perhaps this alerted Carlsen about the possibility of eventually breaking through in favourable circumstances. And the chance arrived on move 17:


You can move the pieces on the diagram!

17.f4! initiated the tactical skirmish that would end up favouring White. Magnus is simply threatening to march his f-pawn down the board — after 17...exf4 18.gxf4 (perhaps Giri mainly calculated 18.exf4), White has also opened the g-file for a potential attack. In hindsight, Anish probably should have gone 17...f5, putting the brakes on Magnus' advance. We cannot blame the Dutchman for being careless, however, as he spent over 52 minutes between moves 17 and 19. 

The crucial mistake came after 18...♛xe3+ (grabbing the free pawn was not a great idea either) 19.♔h1:


The computer gives 19...f6 as the only defence, keeping the rook on f8. Giri's 19...d8 allowed White to mobilise his pieces to the kingside — the game followed 20.ce1 c5 21.f5 and Black is in deep trouble.

Anish defended tenaciously, but Magnus handled the position cold bloodedly and eventually converted his positional advantage into a material edge, gaining the exchange while keeping the initiative — the World Champion had material and compensation... 

Giri lost on time after playing 38...g7.


39.♗g6+ is simply too much for Black to handle. 1-0.

Anish Giri

Anish is having a hard time in Azerbaijan | Photo: Official site

Four draws

The sharpest opening of the day, at least from a visual standpoint, was the one seen after Teimour Radjabov played the Scotch against Veselin Topalov. The Bulgarian grandmaster played a variation that prevented him from castling — not many strong players have chosen to fianchetto their dark-squared bishops in the following position:


There followed 10...g6 11.e4 g7 12.f6+ d8 — it was possible to capture on f6 with the bishop, but it is hard to accept having a pawn so far advanced stuck in the midst of your army. 

Both sides found themselves with strange pawn structures after the queens had been exchanged. White was a pawn up, but Black had enough counterplay and open lines to neutralize his opponent's material advantage. When Topalov got in 27...f4 in the following position, it was clear that a draw would follow soon:


Veselin Topalov

Veselin plays rarely nowadays | Photo: Official site

While Radjabov and Topalov impressed with their opening preparation, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Ding Liren demonstrated how far strong players can calculate when dealing with pawn endgames. The Chinese grandmaster had achieved a slight advantage in a knight v bishop endgame, thanks to his pawn majority on the queenside. When given the chance, however, Shak exchanged the minor pieces, well aware of the fact that he would get to promote one of his kingside pawns just in time:


Mamedyarov had seen from afar that 37.g4 is enough to get a draw. The endgame continued 37...hxg3 38.h4 d5 39.f3 c6 40.xg3 a5 41.bxa5 b4 and now...


...42.h5 — after 42...gxh5 White's a-pawn and Black's f-pawn promote at the same time. Ding Liren kept trying in the queen endgame, but eventually settled for the draw after 54 moves.

Shakhriyar Mamedyarov

Calculating, calculating... | Photo: Official site

Vishy Anand and Alexander Grischuk signed the quickest draw of the day after 31 moves and only over an hour and a half. Nevertheless, it was an instructive struggle, which followed a line explored by Anand and Karjakin at the 2018 Paris leg of the Grand Chess Tour. Finally, David Navara and Sergey Karjakin showed great precision to avoid any trouble in a tense struggle that lasted 40 moves.  

Sergey Karjakin

Karjakin is still half a point behind the leader | Photo: Official site

Standings after Round 7


Round-up show with GM Yannick Pelletier

All games


Round 7 commentary webcast

Commentary by Evgeny Miroshnichenko, Silvio Danailov and Sarkhan Gashimov


Antonio is a freelance writer and a philologist. He is mainly interested in the links between chess and culture, primarily literature. In chess games, he skews towards endgames and positional play.


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