Rarely does a chess player upset the established pecking order so quickly as Shak Mamedyarov. The 32-year-old Azeri has been on a roll in the last month, jumping to No5 in the world by dynamic attacking play, and is now the favourite to win the Fide Grand Prix and thus become a candidate to challenge for Magnus Carlsen’s global title. He has achieved the coveted 2800 live rating and threatens to undermine next month’s super elite event at Stavanger, Norway, which claimed to be the strongest in all chess history when the then top 10 accepted invitations.
Mamedyarov’s surge has included joint first in the opening Grand Prix event at Sharjah; victory at the Shamkir tournament on his home soil, where he finished ahead of the world No2, Wesley So; a 4/4 sweep in the Russian team championship; and the Moscow leg of the Grand Prix, where he shared the seventh-round lead with China’s Ding Liren on 4.5/7. The final two rounds at Moscow this weekend (11am start) can be watched free and live at chessbase.com and chessbomb.com, or for a fee at the official site worldchess.com.
If the Azeri does win Moscow convincingly, and can close up on Nos2-5 in the rankings, then organisers at Stavanger, which starts on 5 June, will face a dilemma. Should they stick to their chosen 10 and risk a surge of fan support for the absent Mamedyarov, or explore a late change? Anish Giri of the Netherlands is the player is on the Stavanger list who has dropped out of the top 10. Just excluding him is out of the question on both contractual and moral grounds, but it would not surprise if there were some secret feelers or negotiations between now and the start of the tournament.
While Mamedyarov has blossomed the course of the event has been ominous for England’s 45-year-old No1, Michael Adams. Earlier this year Adams, who won the 2016 British title with a record 10/11 total, equalled his highest ever Fide live world ranking of 2761 after strong performances at Tradewise Gibraltar and in the early rounds of Sharjah.
Since then it has been downhill for the Cornishman, who finished last on 3.5/10 without winning a game at Shenzhen, China, and then, after starting Moscow with two draws, lost the next three before fighting back with a win and a draw. He has dropped 11 places in the live rankings from the verge of the top 10 to out of the top 20.
The ominous feature for Adams, nicknamed the spider, is that his winning style is based on intricate web-like strategy. Mamedyarov at Moscow instead forced him into a dynamic tactical fight, invoking the pressure of constant calculation rather than positional judgment, while next round Russia’s Ian Nepomniachtchi also overwhelmed the veteran with a combinative attack. Then came India’s Pentala Harikrishna, who owns Adams after beating him twice at Shenzhen and did so again at Moscow.
Chess history is littered with grandmasters whose form deteriorated or even nosedived in their mid-40s as fatigue and diminished creativity took effect. For a few, like the Dutch former world champion Max Euwe at Buenos Aires 1947, the drop even occurred in mid-tournament. Around five years ago Nigel Short announced that he would abandon elite events and prefer opens, team competitions, and senior contests. The decision has revitalised Short’s career, as discussed last week. The downsizing moment may be approaching for Adams.
Mamedyarov was well prepared for Adams’s Nimzo-Indian 3…Bb4 with the rare plan 13 Rb1! and 14 a5! The reply b5 would entomb the b7 bishop and leave the c6 pawn weak, but would have narrowed White’s attacking front. If 16…Bxb4 17 Ne5! opens up the game, as did 17 e4! as played. White was ready to meet 22…Be6 by 23 Ng6+! Ke8 24 f4, while 23 Nxf7! opened up the white army’s route to the black king since if Kxf7? 24 Qg6+ and 25 Re8 mate. After that there was no stopping White’s attack, eg 27…Re8 28 Rb3! with Rf3. At the end Black gets crushed by 30…Ke7 31 Bg4+ Be5 32 Ba3+.
Shak Mamedyarov v Michael Adams
1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 Nf3 b6 5 e3 Bb7 6 Bd3 O-O 7 O-O d5 8 cxd5 exd5 9 a3 Bd6 10 b4 Nbd7 11 Qb3 a6 12 a4 Qe7 13 Rb1! c6 14 a5! Rfb8? 15 axb6 Bc8 16 Qc2 Nxb6 17 e4! dxe4 18 Nxe4 Nxe4 19 Bxe4 h6 20 Re1 Qc7 21 Bh7+ Kf8 22 Ne5 Nd5 23 Nxf7! Qxf7 24 Bg6 Bf5 25 Bxf5 Nxb4 26 Qe4 Nd5 27 Be6 Qf6 28 Rxb8+ Rxb8 29 Qh7 g5 30 Qg8+ 1-0
3495 1 Nxd5+?! Kd8 and Black fights on. In the game Black fell for the trap 1 Bxd5! Nc4+?? 3 Bxc4! Rxf6 4 Nd5+ and 5 Nxf6.