Magnus Carlsen completed a brilliant 2990 performance in the
Gashimov Memorial in Shamkir by beating Alexander Grischuk in the final round
to end on 7/9, a full two points ahead of Ding Liren and Sergey Karjakin. Grischuk
said his opponent played “amazingly well” in what was a third phenomenally good
win in a row, taking the World Champion to 2860.8 on the live rating list, heights
no-one else has ever reached. His personal record is 2889.2, and he can try to
get closer to that when he plays the GRENKE Chess Classic in 10 days’ time.

You can replay all the games from Shamkir Chess 2019 using
the selector below:

And here’s the final day’s live commentary from Evgeny
Miroshnichenko, including the post-game interviews with all of the players:

A final day paradox

Although Magnus Carlsen had sealed first place with a round
to spare, on paper it looked as though world no. 3 Ding Liren had the best
chance of taking clear second place, since he had White against the struggling
Anish Giri. 20 minutes after the round started, however, the players were
already facing the press after a rapid draw, with Ding admitting that following
his 7-hour win over Veselin Topalov the day before he couldn’t get himself in
the mood for another fight. Giri had seen enough in Shamkir:

As I told him after the game, I want to fix my last place,
so today is not the day of my comeback!

Giri’s next chance for that comes in one week’s time when he
plays the Shenzhen Masters in China, alongside Ding, Yu Yangyi, Jakovenko,
Harikrishna and Rapport. Anish Giri did, however, leave us with the perfect
summary of the action still to follow in Shamkir:

I think the paradox of today may be that the only one who
will really fight will be the one who doesn’t have to fight any more, and
Magnus will be the only one to really go for it!

As Giri also predicted Mamedyarov-Karjakin soon ended in a
draw, and although Anand-Topalov and Navara-Radjabov were tense fights they
were also drawn in 31 and 40 moves respectively. The day was all going to be
about one man.

Magnus hits “stellar” form

There are different ways of winning super-tournaments. Last
year, for instance, Carlsen also won in Shamkir, but it was a tournament
where it took four rounds for any player to win a game. Magnus eventually won
three, against Wojtaszek, Topalov and Giri, but none of the games were truly
memorable, and the final round was a damp squib of a draw against second-placed
Ding Liren. Fast forward a year and Teimour Radjabov could described Carlsen’s
performance as, “a really stellar level of play, really unique,” and that comment
came during the final round before the grand finale of Carlsen-Grischuk.

We got to see the World Champion’s mood early on, where he played
the 4.d3 Anti-Berlin rather than giving in to the temptation of making an easy
draw in another line.

The game left the regular tracks by move 8, with Magnus
later summing up that, “generally there wasn’t much going on”. Both players
pointed to 16…b5!? as a big turning point in the game, with Grischuk labelling
it almost the decisive mistake: “I think I just made one very bad move.”

That seems harsh given that, at least on a low depth, it’s the
computer’s first choice in the position, but the way the game went emphasized
the weaknesses it created – right up to the final position when a backward pawn on a6 is about to fall.

Grischuk had underestimated 17.Nb3! and spent 27 minutes
trying to find a good response, though in hindsight 17…Bxb3 18.Bxb3 Ng4!?
simply didn’t work out. Magnus considered the point of no return to be 28…c5?!:

28…c5 just loses to 29.Be3, more or less. After other moves
it’s difficult, but probably still defensible.

For a third day in a row Magnus was about to unleash a powerful
pawn sacrifice: 29…exf4 30.gxf4! Rxe4. According to the computer 31.Bb1!? was a
slight inaccuracy by Magnus, however, and after 31…Re7 32.Rfe1 there was one
last chance for Black to stay afloat:

32…Nb8!, with the knight coming to c6 next move, seems to
hold everything together, although White remains better with his powerful
bishop pair. Instead Grischuk, in the same time trouble as Carlsen’s previous
two opponents, went for the bold try 32…f5?! 33.Bxf5 Nf6?! 34.Kf3! Nd5 (34…Nh5
runs into 35.Bxc5!), only to be rocked back on his seat by 35.Rd2!

As he later commented:

I think Magnus played just amazingly well today, because for
me it was not clear at all. I suspected it’s bad, but I don’t know, because
there are pins, counter-pins, mating nets, sometimes this is good for Black,
sometimes it’s good for White, and even after 34…Nd5 I thought I should be in trouble, but 35.Rd2 was a complete surprise for me. Because if not Rd2 actually
ok, I’m clearly worse, but if e.g. Bd2, just takes and Nc7 – it’s nothing

Grischuk used almost all his remaining time before playing
35…Rd8 36.Be4 Red7 37.Red1 Nf6 38.Rxd7 Nxd7 39.Rd6 and resigning, with 20
seconds left on his clock.

Karjakin had also resigned on move 39 with 21 seconds, while
Giri had lost on time as he made his 38th move! Magnus was a monster leaving a
trail of destruction in his wake:

“Strictly carnivorous”, Levon added!

Check out in-depth analysis from Spanish Grandmaster Pepe
Cuenca in the following video:

That meant Magnus had completed an absolutely stunning
performance, including beating two of his three World Championship challengers
and, in Anish Giri, one of his biggest rivals of recent years:

Of course for Magnus it’s far from unprecedented, but it’s
been a while since a performance this good:

The Shamkir
Chess 2015 result
is certainly the closest comparison, since Magnus scored
the same +5, also beating some very big names: MVL, Mamedyarov, Kramnik,
Caruana and Mamedov. The one difference there is that Vishy Anand finished just
one point back (after missing a win against Magnus!), while this time round
there was a gaping 2-point chasm to the rest of the field:

In 2015 Magnus went into Shamkir on the back of a 2863
rating, but during his win at the same event in 2014 he set his personal best live rating of
2889.2 after beating
Hikaru Nakamura in the second round
. That personal record is of course also
a world record!

The good news for Magnus now is that he goes into the GRENKE
Chess Classic
that starts on April 20th (Easter Saturday) still rated a “mere”
2845. So if he wants to really make a run on that record this is going to be
the easiest it gets! The likes of Fabiano Caruana, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and
dinosaur hunter Levon Aronian might have something to say about that, however:

Jan Gustafsson will be back from crushing
the world in Thailand
to commentate live from the venues (Karlsruhe and
Baden-Baden) with Peter Leko.

For now, though, Magnus deserves to bask in the glory of a
truly memorable tournament! As he said at the closing ceremony, “It’s one of
the best tournaments I’ve ever played, both in terms of performance and also
the quality of the games.”

Radjabov said it had been a privilege to play in a
tournament containing such gems, and it’s also been a privilege to watch and
write about it! We hope you enjoyed the coverage and stay tuned for many more
big chess events in the coming weeks.

See also: