Expectations were high ahead of the first round today as I was black against second seed Mamedyarov. Still the game fizzled out all too soon. Maybe he expected a Grunfeld and was surprised by my Kings Indian. The line he chose didn’t leave enough play after the opening exchanges. I was hoping to gain some longterm initiative with the queenside majority only to discover that his f4! was even slightly better for white. Draw is objectively fine with black against Mamedyrov, but having had too many non-games in April already, I had hoped for more of a fight. There were more content in some of the other games, but we are all sharing the lead with 0,5/1 !
I entered the top elite with the Tata Steel shared 1st in 2008, and it is now exactly 10 years since my first tournament participation in Azerbaijan later that spring. It went well back then – I shared 1st with Vugar Gashimov and Wang Yue - and I’ve continued to be successful in Azerbaijan with 1st places in Shamkir 2014 and 2015 as well as contributing to the best Norwegian result ever in the Chess Olympics 2016 in Baku where our young team ended 5th.
Azerbaijan is one of the strongest chess nations in the world. Chess is supported at the highest level and by the state oil company (and tournament sponsor) Socar. The Azerbaijan team have won the European Team Championship several times, a feat of such caliber the nation has not been spoiled with in team events in other sports. In accordance with the status of chess over here, we are treated with great hospitality.
The line up is very strong despite coinciding with the US Championship. We are five top-10 players (Mamedyarov, Liren, Karjakin, Giri and me) and most of the others are approximately 2750 rated as well (Topalov, Radjabov, Navara, Wojtazek, Mamedov).
As in 2015 we (coach Peter Heine, chef Forssell, my father and me) arrived with the night flight from Istanbul early on the 16th and have had time to rest and get acclimatized. Courtesy of a local school I’ve played basketball or football every day so far, thank you!
Tomorrow I’m white against Navara, a dangerous and unpredictable tactician. We had some great fights 10-15 years ago and I look forward to the coming rounds.
Magnus Carlsen, Shamkir, April 18th 2018