The Shamkir Super GM started with three rounds of straight draws. The deadlock was broken in Round IV when Veselin Topalov beat Shakhriyar Mamedyarov. Decisive games continue to be few and far between, though there has been at least one in every subsequent round.
After seven rounds, Magnus Carlsen leads with 4.5. Anish Giri, Topalov and Ding Liren share second (4 each). Given the low spread in scores, the last two rounds (it’s a 10-player round-robin) could see dramatic changes in placing.
The US championships have been more exciting. Due to the uneven field and excellent prize money, the contenders have been prepared to take risks. In the 12-player RR, Sam Shankland and Fabiano Caruana share the lead (5.5 each) after eight rounds. Wesley So (5) is in third place. The third Super GM, Hikaru Nakamura (3.5), has a minus score. Zvaid Izoria (4) has the distinction of beating Caruana and Nakamura. Both the prodigies, Jeffery Xiong (3.5) and Awonder Liang (3), also have minus scores.
As reported earlier, R Praggnanandhaa scored his second GM norm at the Heraklion Fischer Memorial. Pragga needed 7/9 to score a norm in the 10-player RR. The 12-year-old started as the second seed and he went unbeaten. He needed 1.5 from his last two games when luck kicked in. His ninth-round opponent accepted a draw on move 14 despite having a promising position. In the last round, IM Konstantinos Markadis was soon a pawn behind and failed to find compensation. That gave Pragga his second norm and first place with 7. GM Ioannis Nikolaidis (6.5) was second while Anand Nadar (5.5) scored a maiden IM norm.
There was also good news for another prodigy, D Gukesh, at the Bangkok Open. Gukesh (born in May 2006) had one huge slice of luck when Nigel Short forgot to press his clock in Round 4, and flagged out in a winning position. The youngster cashed in to take third place, scoring 7/9 to make his maiden GM norm. He’s already completed IM title requirements. Gukesh’s performances over the last six months propel him into the same league as Nihal Sarin and Pragga. Indonesian IM Novendra Priasmoro won with 8/9 ahead of Deepan Chakkravarthy (7.5), who came second. Rithvik Raja also made an IM norm.
The DIAGRAM, BLACK TO PLAY, (White: Praneeth, Vuppala Vs Black: Gukesh, D, National U–12 Pune 2017) may look familiar. Back in 1889, a young mathematician called Emmanuel Lasker pulled off a sacrifice that is now a standard theme.
Gukesh played 17...Bxh2+! 18.Kxh2 Qh4+ 19.Kg1 Bxg2! [The Lasker double-bishop sacrifice] 20.Kxg2 [Or 20.f4 Qh1+ 21.Kf2 g3+! 22.Kxg3 Rg8+ 23.Kf2 Qh4+ 24.Kg1 Bf3#; Or 20.f3 g3!]
Play concluded 20...Qh3+ 21.Kg1 g3! 22.fxg3 Qxg3+ 23.Kh1 Qh3+ 24.Kg1 Rg8+ 25.Bg4 Rxg4+ 26.Qxg4 Qxg4+ 27.Kf2 Nc5 (0–1)
Devangshu Datta is an internationally rated chess and correspondence chess player