Chess Piece

Gibraltar Masters 2020
Caleta Hotel, Gibraltar
Jan. 21 — 30, 2020

Final Top Standings:

1 — 7. Andrey Esipenko RUS 2654, Wang Hao CHN 2758, Daniil Yuffa 2566, David Paravyan RUS 2629, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave FRA 2770, David Navara CZE 2717, Mustaf Yilmaz TUR 2607, 7.5/10

8 — 23. Parham Maghsoodloo IRI 2674, Jan Werle NED 2545, Veselin Topalov BUL 2738, Aryan Chopra IND 2562, Mikhail Kobalia RUS 2609, Murali Karthikeyan IND 2606, Michael Adams ENG 2694, Le Quang Liem VIE 2713, Gawain Jones ENG 2679, Ivan Saric CRO 2655, Krishnan Sasikiran IND 2648, Jules Moussard FRA 2600, Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa IND 2602, Bogdan-Daniel Deac ROU 2626, Tan Zhongyi CHN 2493, Daniele Vocaturo ITA 2622, 7.0/10

Total Participants: 250 players

Time Control: 100 minutes for the first 40 moves, then 50 minutes for the next 20 moves followed by 15 minutes for the rest of the game with 30 seconds added to your clock after every move starting move 1

The Azeri GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov was the top seed of the tournament but withdrew before start of play on round 8 due to illness.

Mamedyarov, born April 12, 1958, is among the best players in the world. With a current rating of 2770 he is the no. 1 in Azerbaijan and no. 8 in the world (just one slot behind Wesley So). His personal best rating of 2820 makes him the sixth-highest-rated player of all time in chess history.

Mamedyarov has competed in the Candidates Tournament in 2011 (eliminated in quarterfinals), in 2014 (placing fourth) and in 2018 (placing second). He won the World Junior Championship in 2003 (Nakchivan). There were some murmurs that many of the best juniors at the time could not take part because it was held in such a remote town within Azerbaijan. Anyway Mamedyarov wanted none of that and took part in the Istanbul 2005 Juniors, winning it again. He entered the history books as the first and only two-time World Junior Champion.

His career has been on a sort of roller-coaster trajectory. He reached the ranking of the fourth highest rated player in January 2007 (2754) and then stagnated for a while in the low 2700s before surging back up to no. 2 in the world on February 2018.

Magnus Carlsen has the longest confirmed unbeaten streak at the elite level — his record currently stands at 120 games. When was the last time he lost? That was in Biel 2018 against Shakhriyar Mamedyarov.

It is games like the following which reminded me of just how strong Mamedyarov can be so long as he focuses. I didn’t even notice it until my attention was called by John Saunders, the Press Officer of the 2020 Gibraltar Chess Festival. He is no mean player himself, having represented Wales in international competition.

John has a real gift for explaining the game and after going through his notes I finally understood what was happening, and gained a higher appreciation of the artistry of Mamedyarov. I present them now to you with his kind permission.

Mamedyarov, Shakhriyar (2770) — Gordon, Stephen J. (2504) [D38]
18th Gibraltar Masters Caleta Hotel, Gibraltar (2.1), 22.01.2020

I will turn over the analysis of the game to John Saunders on the 48th move.

Playing Black is Stephen Gordon, a 33-year old English Grandmaster. He is a former English Junior Champion and very nearly won the 2006 European Championship, finishing joint second place behind Nigel Short.

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Nc3 Bb4

Once again we have a Ragozin.

5.Bg5 h6 6.Bxf6 Qxf6 7.e3 0 — 0 8.Be2 dxc4 9.0 — 0

This is the point behind White’s 8.Be2 instead of the more common 8.Bd3. With the bishop on d3 White would be forced to retake the pawn on c4.


Black can try to hold on to the pawn with 9…Bxc3 but then 10.bxc3 b5 11.a4 c6 12.Ne5 a6 13.Bf3 White’s pressure on the queenside is more than enough for the sacrificed pawn.

10.Ne4 Qe7 11.a3 cxd4 12.Qxd4

[12.axb4 d3]

12…Ba5 13.Qxc4 Bd7 14.Qc5 Nc6 15.Qxe7 Nxe7 16.Nc5 Bc6 17.Ne5 Bb6 18.Nxc6 Bxc5 19.Na5 b6 20.Nc4

White is threatening 21.b4 which wins a pawn after 21…b5 22.bxc5 bxc4 23.Rfc1.

20…Rfd8 21.b4 Bd6 22.Rac1 Nd5

Taking away the c7 — square from the white rook.

23.g3 Bf8 24.Rc2 Rac8 25.Rfc1 g6 26.e4 Nf6 27.f3 Nd7

Black has defended his position well and the position is equal. As BW readers know though equal is not the same as drawn. Shakh keeps trying.

28.Kg2 Nb8 29.f4 Rc7 30.Ne5 Rxc2 31.Rxc2 Bd6 32.Ng4 Kg7 33.e5 Be7 34.Nf2 a5 35.Rc7 Rd7 36.Rc8 Rd8 37.Rxd8 Bxd8 38.bxa5 bxa5 39.Bb5 f6 40.Nd3 Bb6 41.exf6+ Kxf6 42.a4 g5 43.Kf3 Kf5 44.h3 Bc7 45.fxg5 Kxg5 46.Nf2 Kf5 47.h4 Kf6 <D>


At this stage I turn you over to John Saunders. Comment with <BA> is mine.


Engines don’t care for this move, and not many humans would think to play it, but it exemplifies how imaginative (and what a high-class trickster) Mamedyarov is. The pawn looks vulnerable to capture by the black king but Mamedyarov has laced it with a long-lasting poison of such toxicity that can hardly be credited.


<BA> Going for the pawn right away will backfire spectacularly: 48…Kg5? 49.Ne4+! Kxh5 (49…Kf5 50.g4+ Ke5 51.g5 hxg5 52.h6 g4+ 53.Ke3 Kf5 54.h7 Be5 55.Nd6+ Kg6 56.Bd3+ Kg7? 57.h8Q+ Kxh8 58.Nf7+ Kg7 59.Nxe5 beautiful, right?) 50.Be8# checkmate!

49.Ng4+ Kg5 50.Ne5 Bc7

Not falling for 50…Kxh5?? 51.Kf4! followed by 52.Be2 mate, which only the futile 52…Be3+ prevents. Mamedyarov is using this tactical trick to indirectly defend his h-pawn, but he’s not finished yet.

51.Ng6 e5

It’s more or less the same trap as before but with the merest hint of mate this time and in more temptingly attractive wrapping paper: 51…Kxh5? 52.Nf4+ Bxf4 53.Kxf4 — once again threatening mate in one, this time by Be8 — 53…Kg6 54.Ke5 and the white king strolls across the board unhindered to consume the stranded knight.

However, it turns out that Black has an improbable antidote here with 51…Bd6!! when 52.Nf4 Bxf4 53.gxf4+ Kxh5 54.Ke4 Kh4!! and Stockfish tells us that Black can hold. I won’t pretend for a second, I can explain why, even when led by the nose by the analysis engine, and this would be phenomenally hard for any human, let alone one as cerebrally and chronologically challenged as me, to figure out over the board. (54…Kg4 doesn’t work because of 55.Bc4!!, apparently, but once again it’s too far above my pay grade to explain why)

52.Ke4 Kg4

The poison is still active: 52…Kxh5?? 53.Kf5 wins.

53.Nxe5+ Kxg3

[53…Kg5 probably only postpones dinner. The g3 — pawn is poisonous too, of course, and practically has a skull and crossbones etched into it, but Black probably wanted to end his suffering]


The only move to win, but now the air has cleared a little, it is not quite so hard to find.

54…Kh4 55.Ng6+! 1 — 0

One final offer of the deadly h-pawn is spurned and instead Black resigned. The black king is forced away from the action. 55…Kg3 (55…Kxh5? 56.Be2#) 56.Nh8! — an unusual situation where a knight going into a corner is the best move — 56…Kh4 57.Kg6 and suddenly it all becomes obvious how the knight will snaffle the h6 — pawn and the white h-pawn will have a clear run through to promote or win the bishop.

I love this ending because it also brought back memories of a less complicated time many many years ago when I was still in the elementary level of Xavier School. One day I discovered the book One Hundred Selected Games by the 6th world chess champion Mikhail Botvinnik.

He wrote about a game he played against the Leningrad first category player (roughly equivalent to our candidate master) Liutov in the winter of 1925. The notes below are Botvinnik’s:

Liutov — Botvinnik, Mikhail Leningrad, 1925
[Botvinnik, M.]

<Black to play>

In the position shown on the diagram, Black has two extra pawns and a strong attack, as against White’s extra knight. Play went:

1…h5! 2.Qxh5

A loss follows both

2.g4 hxg4+ 3.Qxg4 Qh1+ 4.Kg3 Qe1+;

2.Qb7+ Kh6 and there is no defense against g5 — g4+.

2…Qh1+ 3.Kg4 Qd1+ 4.Nf3 Qd7# 0-1

The end was so unexpected that for a moment my opponent did not notice that the game was over.

Well, the mating finish stunned me as well — — I had no inkling that it was coming. For some reason Mamedyarov’s “trick” brought me back to the day when I saw the Botvinnik mate. The beauty of chess I discovered on that day is still there today.

We will take up a few more games on Thursday before leaving Gibraltar.


Bobby Ang is a founding member of the National Chess Federation of the Philippines (NCFP) and its first Executive Director. A Certified Public Accountant (CPA), he taught accounting in the University of Santo Tomas (UST) for 25 years and is currently Chief Audit Executive of the Equicom Group of Companies.