31 March 2019

Shamkir is Gathering Friends

Opening Ceremony of the 6th Vugar Gashimov Memorial in the report of Eteri Kublashvili

2019 is a non-stop string of events with only February and March giving a brief respite to some leading GMs. The end of this respite will see chess stars get down to business in Shamkir for the sixth edition of the Memorial dedicated to Vugar Gashimov (1986-2014).  

The event has been consistent in gathering the strongest lineup headed by Magnus Carlsen. Missing from this supertournament are its many-time participants Fabiano Caruana and Vladimir Kramnik, but coming to Shamkir in their stead are Vishy Anand, whose latest participation in this Memorial goes back to 2015, and Alexander Grischuk, a newcomer to this event. Russia is also represented by Sergey Karjakin, whose new suit at the opening ceremony was a dazzler, provided to him by ISAIA, his newly acquired strategic partner. I have to admit that my guess to Sergey's challenge as to its price was way wide of the mark.  

The home squad is represented by Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Teimour Radjabov. The event’s lineup also features Ding Liren, David Navara and Veselin Topalov.

Co-organizing this year’s edition are SOCAR and the Azerbaijan Chess Federation, the latter co-supported by the Ministry of Youth and Sport of the Republic of Azerbaijan and the Synergy Group of Companies. The overall prize fund amounts to 100 000 Euro. 

The opening ceremony taking place in the Heydar Aliyev Center has seen no shortage of guests and mass media representatives. The opening ceremony speeches were delivered by Alimpasha Mamedov, Chief Executive of the Shamkir region; Azad Rahimov, Minister of Youth and Sports of Azerbaijan Republic; Khalik Mamedov, Vice-President of SOCAR; Hashim Gashimov, Vugar's father; Farid Huseynov, official representative of Synergy Group; Mahir Mammedov, FIDE Vice-President and Vice-President of the Azerbaijan Chess Federation, and Faiq Hasanov, Vice-President of the Azerbaijan Chess Federation and Chief Arbiter, who introduced the players and carried out a drawing of lots procedure. 

The players have got the following starting numbers:  

1. Anish Giri, 2. Sergey Karjakin, 3. Alexander Grischuk, 4. Teimour Radjabov, 5. Viswanathan Anand, 6. David Navara, 7. Magnus Carlsen, 8. Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, 9. Ding Liren, 10. Veselin Topalov.

Pairings of round one: 

Giri - Topalov, Karjakin - Ding Liren, Grischuk - Mamedyarov, Radjabov - Carlsen, Anand - Navara. 

During the drawing of lots the GMs were ascending the stage one by one to face dance girls wearing folk dresses and numbers pinned to their sleeves. It is little wonder that the selection of a girl turned into one of the most hilarious questions during the press conference that followed. When addressed with the question, the world champion readily readdressed it to his neighbor Anish Giri. 

Answering the mass media questions, the participants were eager to share their memories of facing Vugar Gashimov over the board, giving credit to the Azeri GM’s uncompromising and sharp manner of play. Alexander Grischuk was in his trademark style recalling Vugar Gashimov as a no less combative card player.

In store for GMs in the hotel was a festive dinner, a prelude for tomorrow's battles. Round one starts at 14:00 Moscow time. Chess fans are definitely in for exciting and spectacular fights.