It’s a joy to watch a player like Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, who can light a fire with his bare hands. Where most are content to develop their pieces in the opening moves, he has a knack for igniting the play at the slightest provocation.
In the game below, Caruana’s move 9 h3 looks unremarkable, but Mamedyarov saw a ‘hook’ for his attack which began with 9…g5 (see diagram), since the imminent advance g5-g4 threatens to open the g-file, so that a rook on g8 can menace the White king on g1.
Mamedyarov’s vigorous assault brought him an important win on his way to tournament victory at the Superbet Chess Classic, held in Bucharest last month. The event marked a welcome return for the elite Grand Chess Tour, whose 2020 season was cancelled. Just a few days later, many of the same players travelled to Paris for the Tour’s next stop (see puzzle below). The next leg, to be held in Zagreb from 5 to 12 July, will see Garry Kasparov return to the board during the blitz portion of the event.
Fabiano Caruana–Shakhriyar Mamedyarov
1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bb5 Nf6 4 d3 Bc5 5 Nc3 Nd4 6 Ba4 c6 7 O-O d6 8 Nxd4 Bxd4 9 h3 g5 (see diagram) 10 Ne2 10 Bxg5 Rg8 11 Bxf6 Qxf6 yields a powerful attack. After 12 Kh2 (to dodge Bxh3) Qh6 threatens devastation with Rxg2+. Or, 10 Bxg5 Rg8 11 h4 is met by 11…h6 12 Bxh6 Nh7!, when 13 Qh5 (to defend h4) sees the queen trapped by 13…Bg4 10…Bb6 11 c3 Rg8 12 d4 Nxe4 13 Bc2 d5 14 Bxe4 dxe4 15 dxe5 Qxd1 16 Rxd1 g4 Even in the endgame, Black’s active bishop pair gives White plenty to worry about. 17 h4 g3 18 Nd4 Bd8! A deft change of direction, winning a pawn. 19 fxg3 Rxg3 20 Re1 Rg4 21 Bg5 Bxg5 22 hxg5 Ke7 23 Rad1 Bd7 24 e6 fxe6 25 g6 hxg6 26 Nb3 e5 27 Na5 Be6 28 Rd2 Rb8 29 b4 Kf6 30 a4 Rg3 31 Rxe4 Bd5 32 Rh4 Rxc3 33 Rh7 b6 34 Nxc6! Extreme tenacity from Caruana. Bxc6 35 Rc7 The pin on the c-file allows White to win back the bishop, but now Mamedyarov finds an accurate path to simplify the position. 35…Rc1+ 36 Kf2 Rf8 37 b5 Ke6+ 38 Kg3 Rc3+ 39 Kh2 Rh8+ 40 Kg1 Rh1+! 41 Kxh1 Bxg2+ 42 Rxg2 Rxc7 43 Rxg6+ Kd5 The extra pawn promises an easy win when White’s king is so far from the action. 44 a5 Kc5 45 axb6 axb6 46 Re6 Kxb5 47 Rxe5+ Rc5 48 Re1 Rg5 White resigns
Mamedyarov has form for wresting the initiative in such style. Compare with this game from 2017, when the innocent move 6 Re1 called forth the same response, 6…g5! thereby threatening to trap the knight with g5-g4. Grischuk shot back with a pawn sacrifice on d4, and Mamedyarov returned it to complete his development. Later, 24…Ng6 was a shrewd sacrifice of rook for knight, as the manoeuvre Ng6-h4-f3 decided the game.
Alexander Grischuk–Shakhriyar Mamedyarov
1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bb5 a6 4 Ba4 d6 5 O-O Bd7 6 Re1 g5 7 Bxc6 bxc6 8 d4 g4 9 Nfd2 exd4 10 Nb3 Ne7 11 Nxd4 Bg7 12 Nc3 O-O 13 Bg5 f6 14 Be3 Qe8 15 Qd3 Qf7 16 Qd2 Qg6 17 Bf4 h5 18 b4 h4 19 a4 Qh5 20 Be3 h3 21 Nce2 hxg2 22 Nf4 Qh7 23 Nfe6 Bxe6 24 Nxe6 Ng6 25 Nxf8 Rxf8 26 Bf4 f5 27 exf5 Nh4 28 Ra3 Qxf5 29 Bg5 Nf3+ 30 Rxf3 gxf3 31 Bh6 Qd5 32 Qc1 Bc3 33 Re3 Bd4 34 Rd3 Re8 35 c3 Bxf2+ 36 Kxf2 Re2+ White resigns