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Hari in Shamkir: So near yet so far

by Sagar Shah - 01/05/2017

With 3.5/9 - seven draws and two losses, one might feel that Harikrishna had a dismal event at the Gashimov Memorial in Shamkir. Yes, it's true that he finished at the bottom of the table. But have a look at this games. He drew all his games from round five to nine against world class opposition. And in some of the games Hari was very close to breaking through. And that's why the title of this article - in some other tournament and on some other day with the same level of play Hari would have finished much higher, but in Shamkir it was a share of the last spot.

The setting at the Gashimov Memorial in Shamkir, Azerbaijan

After four rounds Harikrishna was on 1.0/4. He had drawn two games and lost two to Eljanov and Kramnik. Against the latter it was the beautiful rook sacrifice game. There were five more rounds to go. In the fifth round Hari was pitted against the tournament leader Shakhriyar Mamedyarov.

Round 5: Hari vs Mamedyarov

Things went horribly wrong for Hari when he captured the pawn on c7 with his queen instead of the bishop

Mamedyarov with Black has a very strong continuation at his disposal. Can you find it?

Both the players made a lot of mistakes and the game finally ended in a draw
[Event "Vugar Gashimov Mem 2017"]
[Site "Shamkir AZE"]
[Date "2017.04.25"]
[Round "5.3"]
[White "Harikrishna, Pentala"]
[Black "Mamedyarov, Shakhriyar"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[ECO "A05"]
[WhiteElo "2755"]
[BlackElo "2772"]
[Annotator "Sagar,Shah"]
[PlyCount "101"]
[EventDate "2017.04.21"]
1. Nf3 Nf6 2. g3 d5 3. Bg2 g6 4. O-O Bg7 5. d4 O-O 6. Nbd2 a5 7. c4 a4 8. cxd5
Qxd5 9. Nb1 Rd8 10. Bf4 Qa5 11. Qc1 Nc6 12. Na3 Nxd4 13. Nxd4 Rxd4 14. Qxc7 $2
{A very bad move by Hari. He now lands in a difficult position.} (14. Bxc7 Qh5
$11) 14... Nd5 $6 (14... Qxc7 $1 15. Bxc7 Ne8 $1 {This backward move is easy
to miss!} 16. Bf4 Rb4 17. Rab1 Be6 $17) 15. Qxa5 Rxa5 16. Bc1 Be6 $15 {Black
is clearly better. The opening has gone horribly wrong for Hari.} 17. Nc2 Rc4
18. Na3 Rd4 (18... Rxc1 $1 {This one was an easy tactic for a played of
Mamedyarov's stature.} 19. Raxc1 Bxb2 20. Nc4 Bxc1 21. Nxa5 Nc3 $1 {The key
move.} 22. Bxb7 Bxa2 $17 {The a-pawn and the three minor pieces give Black the
superior chances.}) 19. Nc2 Rc4 20. Na3 Rc8 {Missing his chance agains of
taking on c1.} 21. Bd2 Ra6 22. e4 Nb6 23. e5 $1 $11 {Now things are fine for
White.} Nd5 (23... Bxe5 24. Bxb7 $16) 24. f4 Rb6 25. Rac1 Rxc1 26. Bxc1 f6 27.
Rd1 Nc7 28. Rd4 fxe5 29. Rxa4 Rd6 30. Bf3 Bxa2 31. fxe5 Bxe5 32. Nc4 Ra6 33.
Rb4 Bxc4 (33... Bd4+ 34. Be3 Bxe3+ 35. Nxe3 b5 $15) 34. Rxc4 b5 35. Rc2 Kg7 36.
Kg2 Ne6 37. Rc6 Rxc6 38. Bxc6 {Black is a pawn up, but white has the bishop
pair. The plan is to chop off the knight with the dark squared bishop. The
position is closer to a draw than a win for White.} Nd4 39. Bd7 Kf6 40. b4 e6
41. Be3 Nc2 42. Bd2 Nd4 43. Be3 Nf5 44. Bb6 Bc3 45. g4 Nh4+ 46. Kg3 g5 47. Bd8+
Kg6 48. Be7 Be1+ 49. Kh3 Kf7 50. Bxg5 Ng6 51. Bxb5 {A game with filled with
quite a few errors.} 1/2-1/2

Round 6: Adams vs Hari

This was an excellent game by Hari. With the black pieces he was not afraid to repeat the line that he had played against Kramnik. He equalised out of the opening and without any trouble made a draw.

A super solid draw against Michael Adams with black is not at all a bad result
[Event "Vugar Gashimov Mem 2017"]
[Site "Shamkir AZE"]
[Date "2017.04.27"]
[Round "6.5"]
[White "Adams, Michael"]
[Black "Harikrishna, Pentala"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[ECO "C84"]
[WhiteElo "2761"]
[BlackElo "2755"]
[Annotator "Sagar,Shah"]
[PlyCount "74"]
[EventDate "2017.04.21"]
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. O-O Be7 6. d3 b5 7. Bb3 d6 8. a3
O-O 9. Nc3 Nb8 {Hari plays the same idea that he tried against Kramnik.} 10.
Re1 Nbd7 11. Ne2 Nc5 12. Ba2 Be6 13. Bxe6 Nxe6 {Black has equalized without
too many difficulties.} 14. Ng3 g6 15. c3 c5 16. d4 exd4 17. cxd4 d5 $1 {
A very good idea and we can assume that Harikrishna was aware of this motif.}
18. e5 Ne4 19. Bh6 (19. Nxe4 dxe4 20. Rxe4 cxd4 21. Nxd4 Qd5 22. Qg4 Rad8 $17)
19... Re8 20. dxc5 Nxg3 (20... N4xc5 $11) 21. hxg3 Bxc5 22. Rc1 d4 23. Ng5 Qd5
24. Ne4 Be7 25. Qf3 Qxe5 26. Nc5 Qf6 27. Nxe6 Qxf3 28. gxf3 fxe6 29. Rxe6 Bf8
30. Rxe8 Rxe8 31. Bxf8 Kxf8 {The position is equal.} 32. Kf1 d3 33. Rd1 Rd8 34.
Ke1 Re8+ 35. Kf1 Rd8 36. Ke1 Re8+ 37. Kf1 Rd8 {Well played by Harikrishna. He
had absolutely no issues in holding the black side of this line against Adams.}
1/2-1/2

Round 7: Hari vs Wojtaszek

Harikrishna made Radoslaw's life as difficult as possible!

Here is one position from which you can learn a lot:

White's knight is beautifully posted on d4. It all looks perfect, but in order to create some problems you have to attack something. And hence, Hari played the manoeuvre Nd4-e2-c3 and then doubled his rooks on the d-file with Rd4 and Rcd1.

This nice geometry of rooks is worth a diagram!

The master of building up positional pressure! In the end the game fizzled into a draw, but Wojtaszek did face some anxious moments.
[Event "Vugar Gashimov Mem 2017"]
[Site "Shamkir AZE"]
[Date "2017.04.28"]
[Round "7.1"]
[White "Harikrishna, Pentala"]
[Black "Wojtaszek, Radoslaw"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[ECO "E53"]
[WhiteElo "2755"]
[BlackElo "2745"]
[Annotator "Sagar,Shah"]
[PlyCount "111"]
[EventDate "2017.04.21"]
1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. e3 O-O 5. Bd3 c5 6. Nf3 d5 7. cxd5 exd5 8.
dxc5 Nbd7 9. O-O Nxc5 10. Ne2 Bg4 11. Nfd4 Nxd3 12. Qxd3 Bxe2 13. Nxe2 Bd6 14.
Bd2 Be5 15. Bc3 Qd6 16. Bxe5 Qxe5 17. Qd4 Qxd4 18. Nxd4 $14 {White has a risk
free edge here, but it is not so easy to fight for the full point.} Rfc8 19.
Rac1 Kf8 20. f3 h5 21. Rfd1 a6 22. Kf2 g6 23. Ne2 Ke7 24. Nc3 b5 25. Rd4 Rc5
26. Rcd1 Rac8 27. Ke1 (27. Nxd5+ Rxd5 28. Rxd5 Nxd5 29. Rxd5 Rc2+ $15) 27...
Ke6 28. a4 bxa4 29. Rxa4 a5 30. Ne2 Ke7 31. Nd4 Nd7 32. Rda1 Ne5 33. Rxa5 Nd3+
34. Ke2 Nxb2 35. Ra7+ R8c7 36. R1a5 Rxa7 37. Rxc5 Rd7 38. f4 Na4 39. Ra5 Nb6
40. Nc6+ Kd6 41. Ne5 Rc7 42. Ra6 Kc5 43. Kd3 Nc4 44. Ra8 Kd6 45. Rd8+ Ke6 46.
Nf3 Nb2+ 47. Kd2 Nc4+ 48. Ke2 Re7 49. Nd4+ Kf6 50. Nc2 Rb7 51. Kd3 Rb3+ 52. Kd4
Rb2 53. Kc3 Rxc2+ $5 54. Kxc2 Nxe3+ 55. Kd2 Nxg2 56. Rxd5 $11 {I would call
this a very good game by Harikrishna. He pushed hard. Even in a sterile
position, he tried his best to make use of his chances. In the end it was a
draw, but that's fine. That's what chess is, but we mustn't take anything away
from Hari for that.} (56. Rxd5 Nxf4 {objectively this should be a draw.})
1/2-1/2

Round 8: Topalov - Hari

At the top level when your opponents feel that there is a gap in your opening preparation, they try to probe you in the same system again and again. Hari once again had to face the 6.d3 Ruy Lopez against Topalov. This time his opponent deviated with a4 instead of a3. Out of the opening Black landed in a slighly minus position, but Harikrishna managed to survive.

Topalov had a small edge but it was not possible to convert it into something substantial
[Event "Vugar Gashimov Mem 2017"]
[Site "Shamkir AZE"]
[Date "2017.04.29"]
[Round "8.5"]
[White "Topalov, Veselin"]
[Black "Harikrishna, Pentala"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[ECO "C84"]
[WhiteElo "2741"]
[BlackElo "2755"]
[Annotator "Sagar,Shah"]
[PlyCount "109"]
[EventDate "2017.04.21"]
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. O-O Be7 6. d3 b5 7. Bb3 d6 8. a4 (
8. a3 {was played by Kramnik and Adams.}) 8... Bd7 9. c3 Na5 10. Ba2 bxa4 11.
Nbd2 O-O 12. Re1 c5 13. Bb1 Qc7 14. Bc2 c4 15. Nxc4 Nxc4 16. dxc4 Qxc4 17. Bxa4
Be6 18. Nd2 Qc7 19. Bb3 Bxb3 20. Qxb3 Rfb8 21. Qc4 Qb7 22. Qe2 Qb5 23. Nc4 Rc8
24. Ne3 Qxe2 25. Rxe2 g6 {After all the exchanges, one can feel that White has
a stable plus. The a6 pawn is weak and so is the d5 square. However, White's
development is lagging and Hari can use that to his advantage and try to
equalize.} 26. Ra4 Rc5 27. Rc2 (27. Rd2 $5) 27... Rac8 28. Kf1 a5 29. Rd2 Kf8
30. Rd1 Ke8 31. f3 h5 32. Ke2 Kd7 33. Bd2 Ke6 34. Be1 (34. c4 $5 Bd8 35. Kd3
$14) 34... Rb8 35. b4 axb4 36. cxb4 {After the exchange of queenside pawns,
Black defensive task is much easier.} Rc6 37. Rda1 d5 38. Ra6 Rd6 39. R1a5 dxe4
40. Nc4 exf3+ 41. gxf3 Rxa6 42. Rxa6+ Kf5 43. Ra5 Ke6 44. Rxe5+ Kd7 45. b5 Bd8
46. Bh4 Bc7 47. Bxf6 Bxe5 48. Nxe5+ Kd6 49. Bh4 Rb7 50. Bg3 Ke6 51. Nc6 Kd5 52.
Nd8 Rxb5 53. Nxf7 Ke6 54. Nd8+ Kd7 55. Nf7 1/2-1/2

Round 9: Hari - So

Harikrishna played the Catalan with the white pieces against the Catalan expert! However, he went for the line with 10.Bg5. Now, this system has its venom. But if the opponent is well prepared, it shouldn't be anything special. Harikrishna was able to put some pressure on Wesley, but nothing big, as the pieces were exchanged and the players agreed for a draw in a double rook endgame.

Wesley is a solid player, so is Hari. A draw is a logical result!
[Event "Vugar Gashimov Mem 2017"]
[Site "Shamkir AZE"]
[Date "2017.04.30"]
[Round "9.2"]
[White "Harikrishna, Pentala"]
[Black "So, Wesley"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[ECO "A14"]
[WhiteElo "2755"]
[BlackElo "2822"]
[Annotator "Sagar,Shah"]
[PlyCount "89"]
[EventDate "2017.04.21"]
1. Nf3 Nf6 2. g3 d5 3. Bg2 e6 4. O-O Be7 5. c4 O-O 6. d4 dxc4 7. Qc2 a6 8. Qxc4
b5 9. Qc2 Bb7 10. Bg5 {Harikrishna uses this out of fashion line to surprise
So. Well, I am sure Wesley remembers his prep!} Nbd7 11. Nbd2 (11. Bxf6 Nxf6
12. Nbd2 {is more common because the knight has to be distracted from the c5
square.}) 11... Rc8 12. Bxf6 Nxf6 13. Nb3 Be4 14. Qc1 c5 15. dxc5 Qc7 16. Rd1
a5 (16... Bxc5 17. Nxc5 Qxc5 18. Qxc5 Rxc5 19. Rac1 $1 $14 {is just the king
of nagging edge that White is aiming for.}) 17. c6 Bxc6 18. Nfd4 Bxg2 19. Qxc7
Rxc7 20. Kxg2 a4 $1 21. Nxb5 Rb7 22. N3d4 Bc5 $1 23. Nc3 Bxd4 24. Rxd4 Rxb2 25.
Rxa4 Rc2 26. Ne4 (26. Ra3 Rc8 27. Rd1 h6 28. Rd3 $14) 26... Rxe2 27. Nxf6+ gxf6
28. Rg4+ Kh8 29. a4 Rb8 30. Rc1 f5 31. Rf4 Rbb2 32. g4 Kg7 33. Rc3 Kf6 34. Kg3
Rbc2 35. Rxc2 Rxc2 36. gxf5 e5 37. Rh4 Ra2 38. Rh6+ Kxf5 39. Rxh7 Ke6 40. Rh8
Rxa4 41. Re8+ Kf5 42. f3 Ra6 43. Re7 Rg6+ 44. Kf2 Rh6 45. Rxf7+ 1/2-1/2

Final Standings

It was a pretty apt finish that an Azeri won the tournament! Hari had to be settle for the joint last spot with Eljanov.

The local star! A big victory for Mamedyarov in his chess career

Post-mortem:

Harikrishna scored 3.5/9. He finished at the bottom of the table and lost 9 Elo points. What can we make of this performance? Well, I would say in some other tournament, with some other players this level of play would have been quite good for a +1 finish for Hari. As it stands in Shamkir he scored a -2. His games show that he is able to fight with the big names of chess on an equal footing. He should continue getting opportunities and invitations, because it is only by playing such super tournaments will he become stronger and consolidate his position as one of the best in the world. I think this was an extremely useful tournament for Hari and we will soon see him learning from these losses and coming out as a better player.