General Oct 5, 2020 | 7:30 AMby Colin McGourty

Aronian-Carlsen as Altibox Norway Chess begins

Magnus Carlsen will play his first official game of classical chess in 7 months as he takes on Levon Aronian in today’s Round 1 of Altibox Norway Chess. The first undisputed supertournament to be held over-the-board since March again combines classical chess and Armageddon, so that each match-up must be decisive, though this year the weighting puts more emphasis on the classical games. 14th World Chess Champion Vladimir Kramnik and Judit Polgar, the best female chess player of all time, will commentate here on chess24 from 17:00 CEST.

Carlsen had the narrowest of escapes against Aronian in last year's Norway Chess | photo: Lennart Ootes, Altibox Norway Chess

The 8th edition of Altibox Norway Chess begins today in the Clarion Hotel Energy in Stavanger. The previous editions had all featured 10 players, with the world’s best invited apart from one or two “local heroes”. That was the plan for 2020 as well, until the coronavirus struck. This year’s event was postponed from June to October, and has become a 6-player tournament. No chess fan will want to miss it, however, since it features the world’s Top 2, the irrepressible Levon Aronian and three of the most exciting juniors.

The pairings were decided in Sunday’s technical meeting, and you can check them all out below (R1 = Round 1's classical games, while A1 is Round 1's Armageddon games, if required):

Check out some special deals during Norway Chess at

The format this time round is a variation on 2019, which already introduced an Armageddon game if the classical game is drawn. The classical games remain fast – two hours for all moves, with an increment only after move 40, and of only 10 seconds a move rather than the typical 30 seconds a move. The Armageddon again gives White 10 minutes to Black’s 7, but with Black only needing to draw. The main difference, however, is the scoring system.

In 2019 there were 2 points for a win in classical chess, 1.5 points for a win in Armageddon and 0.5 point for a loss in Armageddon. In 2020 there are now 3 points for a win in classical chess, 1.5 points for a win in Armageddon and 1 point for a loss in Armageddon. The new scoring system corrects some of the perceived injustice of the previous system – last year Ding Liren matched Magnus Carlsen’s +2 classical score, but finished in a distant 6th place after losing 6 of his 7 Armageddon games.

The 2019 standings would have looked very different with 2020 scoring

The same performance in 2020 would have left him joint 2nd with Fabiano Caruana, who commented back then:

I think the scoring system could be adjusted. It doesn’t feel right that you can win a perfect game, and it’s very difficult to beat these guys in a classical game, and you get 2 points, or you could make a bad draw and your opponent hangs a bishop or something [and you get 1.5].

Levon Aronian, who would have dropped from 2nd to 6th, agreed:

It’s not really fair towards a guy like Ding who scored +2 and is not going to be in the Top 3. That’s just crazy. In my opinion, in my humble opinion!

So this year there’s more reason to fight for a win in classical chess, while we’re still guaranteed a winner of each encounter. 

It’s going to be fun to watch, and how better to do so than with our official broadcast, complete with video of the players and the amazing commentary duo of Judit Polgar and Vladimir Kramnik. Coronavirus concerns mean that Vladimir will commentate from his home in Geneva, while Judit commentates from Budapest…

…but it’s certain to be a treat for chess fans. We also have Fiona Steil-Antoni on scene in Stavanger to report from the venue.

Let’s take a look at the players via the Round 1 pairings.

Levon Aronian vs. Magnus Carlsen

This is a classic match-up between the only two players to have competed in every edition of Norway Chess. Carlsen has had the upper-hand – the only time he finished below Aronian was in 2017, when Levon won the tournament and Magnus ended up in 9th place (!) – but the Armenian is one player capable of upsetting the World Champion. We almost saw that in 2019, when Levon was winning their classical game.

After the natural 54.g5! White is winning all the pawn races, but Levon played 54.h5?! and only drew, before losing in Armageddon. Magnus also escaped a lost position against Fabiano Caruana and comes into this edition of Norway Chess not having lost in 121 classical games, or 2 years, 2 months and 5 days since losing to Shakhriyar Mamedyarov in Biel on July 31st 2018.

What makes things trickier is that despite an incredible run in online chess, Magnus has barely played any classical chess in 2020. His last game was on March 8th, but that Norwegian League game against a 2100-rated opponent barely counts. Before that he played the last round of the Tata Steel Masters in Wijk aan Zee on January 26th, over 8 months ago. Levon is also likely to be rusty, but he did play four games recently in the Chess Bundesliga in Karlsruhe, Germany. His four draws, while playing the St. Louis Rapid and Blitz at night, didn’t set the world on fire, but could be considered useful experience.

The last encounter between Magnus and Levon was online, just over a week ago, in the semi-final of the chess24 Banter Series. Levon started with two wins before Magnus scored 5.5/6 in the next six games to clinch the match. We can expect less singing in Stavanger!

It's going to be an interesting battle. The feeling is that Levon’s potential is greater than his achievements so far – some more World Championship success would have put him higher than no. 33 on Jan and Peter’s ranking of the 50 Greatest Chess Players of All Time!

Aryan Tari vs. Fabiano Caruana

This match-up has a clear favourite, with world no. 2 Fabiano Caruana outrating 21-year-old Aryan Tari by almost 200 rating points. Fabi began 2020 in stellar form, winning the Tata Steel Masters with a brilliant +7, impressed during the online summer, got some experience playing over-the-board in the Bundesliga and also impressed in Norway Chess in 2019 – almost beating Magnus in classical chess in the final round before becoming the only player to beat him in Armageddon. In fact Fabi has finished ahead of Magnus in 3 of the 5 Norway Chess tournaments he’s played, including winning the event in 2018.

Working in favour of Aryan Tari in his debut in his home supertournament is that Fabi may be distracted by the Candidates Tournament. The world no. 2 scored a disappointing 50% in Yekaterinburg in March and will be focused on trying to catch the leaders when (if) battle recommences on November 1st. Aryan has also had the most “normal” season of chess of all the players, competing in over-the-board events in June, August and September.

Jan-Krzysztof Duda vs. Alireza Firouzja

This looked all set to be the year of Alireza Firouzja. After a brilliant World Rapid and Blitz the Iranian went into the Tata Steel Masters as a 16-year-old and raced to a +3 score after 7 rounds. Losses to Carlsen, Caruana and Anand followed, but he shrugged that off and went on to win the Prague Masters ahead of five 2700+ grandmasters. Beating Magnus Carlsen in the Banter Blitz Cup final showed both his fearlessness and his mastery of online blitz.

It’s been surprising, therefore, that now 17-year-old Alireza hasn’t continued his rise online this summer, instead showing feet of clay in most of the online events he’s competed in. He failed to make an impact on the Magnus Carlsen Chess Tour and most recently finished last in both Chess 9LX and the St. Louis Rapid and Blitz. That means the hype has died down, for now, but that could work in Alireza’s favour. It will be fascinating to see what kind of level he shows in over-the-board chess and whether he can hurt the big guns again.

At 22 years old, Jan-Krzysztof Duda, a late replacement for Anish Giri, has reached the age at which he needs to post results instead of relying on being a “young talent”. The Polish star can point to his current ranking as world no. 15 as more than decent, but his goal is to reach the very top and challenge for the World Championship title. He’s had some online highlights, starring in the Online Chess Olympiad and beating Magnus in the Lindores Abbey Rapid Challenge prelims, while the break has also allowed him to focus on his university studies, which should end this year.

Vidit, Firouzja and Duda all scored 5/9, but it was Alireza who took first place in the Prague Masters | photo: official website

The Round 1 match-up with Firouzja has some added spice, since their only classical encounter so far saw Firouzja win with the black pieces in the Prague Masters earlier this year. Duda said afterwards that he’d put extra pressure on himself since he’d calculated that he was nearing a year unbeaten with White. Jan-Krzysztof bounced back to beat Vidit in the final round and join a 5-way tie for 1st place, though it was Alireza who benefited as he went on to win a tiebreak against Vidit.

In short, we’re in for a fascinating Day 1 of Altibox Norway Chess! Don’t miss all the action live here on chess24 from 17:00 CEST.

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