The wait is almost over! At 17:30 CEST on Monday 15 June the Grand Chess Tour starts with the opening blitz tournament of the 2015 Norway Chess supertournament. No less than eight of the world’s top ten players will be in action, with World Champion Magnus Carlsen, Fabiano Caruana, Vishy Anand and Hikaru Nakamura topping a phenomenal field. We take a look at ten questions the next fortnight may answer.
As last year, the pairings in the main tournament – and who gets five whites or five blacks - will be determined by a 9-round blitz tournament on the idyllic Flor & Fjære resort on the Norwegian island of Sør-Hidle. You can find all the pairings for the blitz tournament below (note you can switch rounds, and when the action starts you can click on a game to watch it):
The games start at 17:30 CEST on Monday and will be broadcast with live video commentary from chess24’s Jan Gustafsson and New in Chess editor Dirk Jan ten Geuzendam. The main event starts at 16:00 CEST on Tuesday, with nine rounds and one rest day on Saturday.
So let’s get to the questions:
There’s just no avoiding this one. The World Champion has played three tournaments in 2015 - Tata Steel Chess, the GRENKE Chess Classic and Shamkir Chess – winning them all.
Along the way he’s lost only two games, to Radek Wojtaszek in Wijk aan Zee and Arkadij Naiditsch in Baden-Baden. The best hope for the field might be that Magnus has finished “only” second in the last two Norway Chess tournaments, but this year Sergey Karjakin and his kryptonite are conspicuously absent.
It might not be so easy for Magnus, though, since there are three players apart from him who have hit form in 2015:
Fittingly, all three are now rated over 2800 and already qualified
for the 2016 Candidates Tournament, so they no longer need to worry about ratings.
You could make a case for any of them winning in Stavanger, although Vishy
Anand and, especially, Hikaru Nakamura (11 classical losses, 0 wins) will have
to prove they have no “Carlsen complex” when the World Champion is around.
Anish Giri beat Magnus Carlsen in a 22-move miniature in Wijk aan Zee in 2011, and since then their seven classical games have all ended in draws. So Giri has that rarest of claims to fame in world chess – a positive score against the World Champion.
Giri hasn’t been missing a chance to rub it in a little, commenting before their last game in Shamkir:
I have some nice opponents, some “clients” of mine to come, so I’m feeling optimistic!
Magnus has hit back, noting after the tame draw that followed:
I think Anish really likes his plus score against me. He’s entitled to that.
In the Norwegian newspaper produced for the tournament Anish Giri answers a question about who his role model is:
Magnus Carlsen. Just kidding * I think there's a lot to learn from all skilled sportsmen and I look up to them all in different ways. When it comes to chess, Garry Kasparov had a unique combination of always winning and always doing it in style.
* Anish himself helped us out with the original English version!
They meet in the first round of the blitz tournament, though it should be pointed out blitz doesn’t really count – Carlsen already has two wins at rapid chess, in Amber 2011 and… in last year’s Norway Chess blitz!
One welcome innovation of the EnterCard Norway Chess qualifier was to give the players a “Big Brother”-style chance to visit a “confession box” during their games and share their thoughts with the TV/internet audience.
It seems Norway Chess will continue that tradition with a “confessional”, and suddenly it all makes sense that they’re going to play Round 4 in Utstein Abbey - a medieval monastery! What chess sins will be revealed?
Lest we forget, this is also the inaugural event of the 2015 Grand Chess Tour, which combines Norway Chess with the Sinquefield Cup and the London Chess Classic. Unlike, for instance, the earlier Grand Slam, there’s no additional tournament to crown the series, but there are additional prizes for 1st ($75,000), 2nd ($50,000) and 3rd place ($25,000) overall. Those prizes are determined by “tour points” on offer in each tournament: 1 for 10th, 2 for 9th… to 8 for 3rd, then 10 for 2nd and 12 for tied 1st or 13 for outright 1st place. That may give players a greater incentive to keep fighting even if they’re out of the running for the top prizes in Norway.
Another curiosity to note is that the blitz tournament results in Norway will be used to determine the pairings for the Sinquefield Cup as well, where the numbers will be reversed. That means, it seems, that a good result in Norway will store up bad karma for you in St. Louis!
This trio are all potential world-beaters, but it’s hard to gauge what we can expect. Topalov has only played one tournament this year – the Gibraltar Masters. Despite losing to Hikaru Nakamura it was a relative success, and enough for him to spend half a year with a rating that would almost certainly qualify him for the 2016 Candidates Tournament (assuming he also meets the FIDE requirement of playing the 2015 World Cup). Will he be rusty, though, after so little chess?
Grischuk’s two Grand Prix series and World Team Championship performances have been bad to mediocre, while although Levon Aronian did well in the World Teams he had a terrible time in Wijk aan Zee (his favourite tournament), and forgettable performances in Zurich and Baden-Baden. He’s been struggling for a couple of years now to shrug off the question, “what’s up with Levon Aronian?” On the other hand, if there’s any place for a player to show what they can do it’s in a new series like this. And no-one can deny Aronian's brilliance
It’s not Maxime’s fault, but his recent slump to no. 28 in the world rankings has emphasised the controversy over his selection ahead of Sergey Karjakin for the Grand Chess Tour. Although it’s true Maxime was rated above Sergey by the February 2015 rating list, Karjakin had won one of the tour events – Norway Chess – for the last two years, and was rated above Maxime Vachier-Lagrave on the January list that was used for the other invitations. At the very least, the organisers could have justified picking the Russian.
Can Maxime, though, return to his form of mid-to-late 2014 and show he’s right where he belongs? His recent return to winning ways in the Top 12 French Team Championship was a positive sign, but if Maxime’s 27 games without a win were partly down to exhaustion you have to worry about his schedule… After the French Teams he rushed to Leon, where this weekend he won a rapid match against Ruslan Ponomariov but then fell to Chinese prodigy Wei Yi in the final.
His personal grand chess tour continues, since he’s playing in Norway only one day later!
By goal we refer, of course, to beating Magnus Carlsen! As he commented in a perhaps not entirely serious double interview for TV2:
My main goal in this tournament is to beat Magnus. Then it does not matter if I lose all the other games and just get one point.
Magnus, in turn, welcomed his second to the event:
It's nice that another Norwegian participates – it’s also nice for me to get some relaxation from the world's elite!
Their first encounter will be when Magnus has White in the final round of the blitz tournament… Or rather, Hammer already has the lead, since he beat the World Champion in that most Norwegian of sports, beach volleyball!
For this to be a relevant question the Grand Chess Tour would, of course, have to be won by someone other than Magnus. Then it would need to be won convincingly… and then? The winner would at least have serious bragging rights, while the logic behind the series must, ultimately, be to compete with the current World Championship system. Would that be a good or a bad thing?
What we would definitely all welcome, though, is to see Garry Kasparov follow up his demolition of Nigel Short by getting back to the board against the world’s best players. He’s going to be on the island where the blitz tournament takes place, so… Ok, we know it’s not going to happen, but we can dream!
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