Shamkir, Round 9: Magnus makes it five

by Antonio Pereira
4/9/2019 – A third consecutive win in Shamkir meant Magnus Carlsen finished on 7 out of 9, two points ahead of his closer pursuers, with an out-of-this-world rating performance of 2988. His last victim was Alexander Grischuk, who was duly overrun both on the board and on the clock. The rest of the games finished drawn. LAWRENCE TRENT took a closer look at the final encounters of the sixth Gashimov Memorial. | Photo: Official site

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The cherry on the cake

It had nothing to do with his opponents anymore — Magnus Carlsen was only pushing his own boundaries in Shamkir's last round. His superiority was only briefly challenged during the tournament, and his final three victories were crystal clear demonstrations of what he is capable of when in form. Already head and shoulders above his opponents in the ratings list, he managed to gain 15.8 points after nine rounds.

His win over Grischuk was also his 50th straight classical game without a loss — the last time he was defeated was on July 31st, when Shakhriyar Mamedyarov beat him prior to getting first place at the Biel grandmaster tournament. His rating performance at the 6th Gashimov Memorial was among his most spectacular ones, as pointed out by Tarjei J. Svensen:

3002: Nanjing '09 (8 out of 10)
2994: London '12 (6½/8)
2988: Shamkir '19 (7/9)
2981: Shamkir '15 (7/9)
2930: Wijk aan Zee '13 (10/13)
2918: Bazna '10 (7½/10)

The World Champion will be back in action shortly, as he will lead the field at the GRENKE Chess Classic starting April 20th. In an interview with the Norwegian portal, Carlsen stated that he is glad that 2845 (and not his unofficial 2860 live rating) will be used at the upcoming tournament, where a more widespread list of participants means he will need a better score to "defend" his stratospheric rating.

Magnus Carlsen

At work... | Photo: Official site

Against Grischuk, Magnus avoided going into a Berlin endgame by choosing a line with 4.d3, and the players reached a queenless middlegame after 13 moves. Time-pressure addict Grischuk knew he was facing a player on a roll and thought long and hard before giving up the pair of bishops:   


Alexander could have gone 17...♝e7 keeping the two bishops, but this would have given White the chance to develop his initiative more quickly. Instead, after almost half an hour, Grischuk played 17...xb3 and put pressure on the f2-pawn with 18.xb3 g4

The previous sequence meant Magnus had a big edge on the clock, and he quickly put his pair of bishops to good use. With 29.e3, the Norwegian gave up a pawn in exchange for activity for a third day in a row:


Black is clearly under pressure, so he might as well take the material as compensation: 29...exf4 30.gxf4 xe4. But Magnus knew what he was doing and brought his light-squared bishop to a more active square with 31.b1. After 31...e7 32.fe1, Grischuk gave back the pawn:


According to the computer, keeping the material edge with 32...♞b8 was the way to go, but only silicon monsters are so willing to give their opponents so much play. Grischuk, instead, opened up the f6-square for his knight with 32...f5. The game continued 33.xf5 f6 34.f3 and then Black made the last mistake:


Instead of 34...d5, Alexander could have put up more resistance with 34...♜d5 35.♗g6 ♜dd7, keeping the tension. In the game, after 35.d2 d8 36.e4, White is calling the shots more forcefully than in the alternative line. Three moves later, Grischuk called it a day.

Magnus Carlsen

A competitor at heart | Photo: Official site

Many strong players and chess enthusiasts congratulated Magnus on Twitter, but Levon Aronian was the most creative in doing so — he found Magnosaurus in a dinosaur database! Levon wittily remarked that the megalosaurid theropod is strictly carnivorous!

Closing ceremony

Solid draws

After losing three games and not being able to fight back, Anish Giri decided to finish his participation in Shamkir as quick as possible. Luckily for him, his round nine opponent Ding Liren obliged, and the peace treaty was signed after 26 moves and less than thirty minutes of play. The Chinese star shared second place on 5 out of 9 and kept his 2809 rating intact. Giri, on the other hand, lost two places on the ratings list and will be looking to bounce back in the upcoming Shenzhen Masters, a six-player double round robin where he will once again face Ding Liren.

Anish kept his sense of humour unscathed, however. He declared in the post-game press conference:

It's clear that we are both well enough prepared to know that you are able to make a draw like this. We have not agreed beforehand — I've never agreed in my life beforehand with anyone — but if I see my opponent playing this variation I know what he wants. [...] Like I told him after the game, he wanted to fix my last place (laughs). So today is not yet the day of my comeback. Let's put it that way.

Anish Giri

And on to the next one... | Photo: Official site

Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Sergey Karjakin followed suit and signed a 27-move draw. Shak had a forgettable tournament, while it must have been discomforting for Karjakin to lose against Magnus from the white side in round eight, especially after getting hopeful about his chances thanks to his victory over Anand.

Vishy and Veselin Topalov played for over two hours before splitting the point, while David Navara and Teimour Radjabov reached the time control before signing the scoresheets. Radjabov was the only player other than Magnus to finish the tournament undefeated, albeit without wins. The Azeri GM has played in all but one Gashimov Memorials and has drawn 42 out of the 46 games he has played in Shamkir. Nonetheless, his performance allowed him to keep his 12th spot in the world ratings list.   

Shakhriyar Mamedyarov

Shak is the last one to have beaten Magnus in a classical game | Photo: Official site

David Navara

David Navara, as polite as ever | Photo: Official site

Final standings


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Round-up show with IM Lawrence Trent

All games


Round 9 commentary webcast

Commentary by Evgeny Miroshnichenko


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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