Reports Jun 6, 2017 | 8:50 AMby Colin McGourty

Carlsen crushes Altibox Norway Chess blitz

Magnus Carlsen won six games and drew three on the way to a stunning victory in the opening blitz tournament of the 2017 edition of Norway Chess. His 7.5/9 left him a full two points ahead of Hikaru Nakamura and Levon Aronian, while the other two players to earn the right to five games with White in the main event were Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Vladimir Kramnik. Anish Giri couldn’t escape the trash-talking of his colleagues as he lost his last five games to finish a distant last. The real action starts Tuesday, when Carlsen and world no. 2 So meet in Round 1 of the classical event.

Carlsen means business as he arrives for the blitz after a road trip with his second Peter Heine Nielsen | photo: Jose Huwaidi

Before the blitz began in Stavanger the players were brought together for an opening press conference, where Nigel Short and Dirk Jan ten Geuzendam took turns to ask questions of each player:

Magnus reflected on his recent form and the strength of the field:

I haven’t really played much or got going at all since the World Championship. I have, I think, three second places and a third, which is not what I aim for, and my level of play hasn’t been good either… To say something about the strength of the tournament and also my drop in rating, this is the first time in like ever I’m only expected to score +1, which is nice! I’m very motivated. I hope to show my best and it will be a pleasure and a challenge to play each game.

Well, it may only have been blitz – and the 2914 rating Magnus started with implied a better score than +1 – but the opening event was still a breath-taking demolition of one of the best fields ever assembled for a chess tournament.

The 5th edition of Altibox Norway Chess has begun! | photo: Lennart Ootes

You can replay all the games using the selector below (click on a result to open the game with computer analysis or hover over a player's name to see all his results):

If you missed it or want to relive some of the action you can enjoy two hours in the company of Peter Svidler and Jan Gustafsson:

Magnus the Magnificent

Carlsen has had to accept some criticism of his play since the World Championship, but this was almost flawless:

He started with 1.Nc3 against Hikaru, but if his openings sometimes seemed like high-class trolling, there was nothing casual about his play. He had winning chances in both of his first two games and then the floodgates opened with a win over Anish Giri in Round 3 – of which more later! From then on it was an exhibition. 

Levon Aronian only lost one game, and it was to a sumptuous trap. Magnus has just played 25.b4!!

That seems to have overlooked the unprotected knight on c4, which is exposed by 25…Bxf2?, but it was Levon who had overlooked something: 26.Qe2! defended the knight and trapped the bishop.

Then in the next game, against the World Blitz Champion Sergey Karjakin, Magnus found a way to exchange off White’s key piece – the g2-bishop – with 19…a4!!

20.Qxa4 Bf1! 21.Qd1 Bxg2 22.Kxg2. The a-pawn’s sacrifice had been for a good cause, and a couple of inaccuracies from Karjakin later Black’s apparently doomed infantryman on d5 was a game-winning protected passed pawn.

It was a smooth ride for Magnus | photo: Jose Huwaidi

In the games that followed it was only Vladimir Kramnik who was able to hold a draw against the world no. 1, with it being notable that Magnus wasn’t seriously worse in a single game. The only time a computer evaluation crept up above 1 pawn against him was in the final game against Wesley So, when Magnus had already won the tournament and could be excused for taking his foot off the gas. His Dutch Defence did seem to be creaking, but as our commentary team put it with some fine comic timing:

Magnus duly went on to win and condemn Wesley to finishing in the bottom half of the table. That small psychological blow may matter, since they now meet in Round 1 of the classical event today!

Aronian and Nakamura never say die

The next highest placed players, Levon Aronian and Hikaru Nakamura, finished two points back, but that gap doesn’t come close to representing the gulf in the level of performance. Both only lost a single game, but both also managed to draw and win numerous games from seemingly hopeless positions. As Nakamura mentioned in the opening press conference, chess players have to learn how to deal with adversity and show “inner fortitude and strength”.

The survival skills Nakamura honed in internet blitz served him well in Stavanger | photo: Jose Huwaidi

In an amazing sequence of games Nakamura drew losing positions against MVL and Kramnik before winning a lost position against Caruana and then showing Houdini-like qualities against So after blundering on move 23:

23…Qxf6? 24.Nxe5! Qxe5 (nothing else helps either) 25.Qf7+ Kh8 26.Qxd7 and Black was down a piece with absolutely no compensation. It should all have been over in only a handful more moves, but somehow Hikaru actually went on to win.

Levon Aronian and MVL make an entrance | photo: Jose Huwaidi

Levon started in fine style against Wesley So by spotting a concealed double attack:

23.Qe2! hits not only the a6-rook but prepares White’s next move, so that after 23…Raa8 White has 24.g4! and the knight is lost. If that was an example of Levon’s famed “trickiness” in a good position we also got to see him using it again and again in bad to hopeless situations… with a little help from his friends!

Here Aronian has just played 34.Rd1 against Anish Giri:

After the simple 34…Rxe5 it would be hard to imagine a world in which Giri could lose, but after 34…Rf4!? 35.Qh2 Rg4!? 36.e6+! Qxe6!? the advantage had suddenly gone. Worse was to come, and it ended with a nice epaulette-style mate (in-2) that appealed to Svidler’s aesthetic sense:

Caption competition? | photo: Jose Huwaidi

The other “qualifiers”

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Vladimir Kramnik were the other players to gain the benefit of five Whites in the main event by finishing in the top half of the table. MVL had one of the most eventful blitz tournaments of any player, with even just the game he lost to Caruana in Round 2 having enough drama and swings for a whole event. 

MVL, Aronian, Caruana and old colleagues Anand and Kasimdzhanov relax with a view on the Norwegian countryside before the blitz began | photo: Lennart Ootes 

His four wins and three losses made him one of only four players to post a positive score. He got to play an enjoyable sacrifice:

29.Qxg6! Not a hard move to calculate, but not something you get to do often against the great Vishy Anand! Maxime also allowed his opponents to enjoy themselves as well, though. Here he’s just taken Karjakin's queen with 30…Qxc6:

31.dxc6! Of course! After 31…Rxd1 32.c7 the pawn couldn’t be stopped.

Kramnik was looking very sharp on the opening day | photo: Jose Huwaidi

Kramnik, meanwhile, was quizzed a lot about age in the opening press conference, and responded:

At some period some ten years ago I was sure that I would not play after 40… I was pretty sure that I wasn’t going to be able to fight with the best players on equal terms, and then I’m not sure I would be so interested… Now I still expect that pretty soon I will not manage, but who knows, maybe it will go on and on! In general, I like chess and enjoy playing chess and as long as I will keep this pleasure of actually playing a game of chess and a level that I’m not ashamed of I will keep on playing. My guess would be another two years max, but who knows!

That latter comment drew a laugh from his fellow players and audience, who had heard such predictions before, but you could say there was a hint of “old-man chess” in Vlad’s first few games, where he lost to MVL and then blundered a piece against Caruana. From that point on, though, he didn’t lose another game, gratefully accepting a blunder from Anand and then a bizarre end to his encounter with Karjakin in the final round. 

Reminiscing about matches against Magnus? | photo: Jose Huwaidi

The position after Kramnik’s 22.Nc4 is good for White (22…Nxc4 23.Qxc4+ Kh8 24.c6 is not something you want to allow)…

…but it’s not a position in which you resign. Indeed, Karjakin didn’t, but he lost on time, thus missing out on finishing in the top half by the very finest of margins:

If you can’t spot the Hammer…

Among those who failed to gain four Whites there wasn’t too much to report… with one exception. Karjakin was unlucky to miss out after four wins and four losses. Anand only lost two games but also only won one, a technical conversion against Caruana. Wesley So, who at the opening press conference said, in reference to Magnus, “I think the secret of chess is consistency”, was surprisingly inconsistent, winning three games but losing four. 

It's not out of the question that Wesley So could end the tournament as world no. 1, but his encounter with Magnus today will have a lot to say about that | photo: Jose Huwaidi

Caruana finished second last, but we’ve long since learned not to expect great things of him in blitz, or for the blitz results to have any impact on his subsequent play. 

Fabiano Caruana - the opposite of a blitz specialist | photo: Jose Huwaidi

And that leaves Anish!

The carefully laid strategy of Giri and his second Erwin L'Ami didn't entirely go to plan... | photo: Jose Huwaidi

When a journalist at the press conference noted the strength of the tournament and directed the question “how will you try to win more games?” at no-one in particular, Aronian helpfully suggested, “Anish?” Always a good sport, Giri responded with a complete answer that in hindsight was a bit unfortunate!

My role is pretty clear. There’s no pressure, so I’ll just watch my colleagues and learn! But you’d be surprised… sometimes you have Jon Ludvig Hammer playing and everybody hopes to beat him. Today you have a top tournament like this and some very strong player can be the Ludvig Hammer of the tournament – he doesn’t have to be Norwegian! We’ve seen many times players of this calibre ending on minus 3, minus 4, losing 4 games in a row. It seems that everyone’s good, but after a couple of rounds we’ll find our losers. Hopefully it’s not going to be me.    

And then came the blitz:

As you can see, it was all going fine until Round 3, when Anish blundered against his arch-rival Carlsen with 22…Bh6?:

23.Nd5! Qb3 24.Nf6+ and that, essentially, was that. Magnus went on a wonderful run while Giri drew the next game then lost his last five. Things didn’t improve after the games were over 

Still, the good news for Giri, of course, is that the blitz tournament was just a gentle warm-up to the main event, where the players all start on zero points. The full pairings are out:

As you can see, the tournament starts with a real bang as Magnus Carlsen gets the chance to play White against world no. 2 Wesley So, a player he beat in a miniature in his last supertournament victory back in Bilbao 2016. In fact he has all three US players in the first three rounds! Of course the other games are unmissable as well, given the field has only star players.

Can Wesley wipe the smile off Magnus's face? | photo: Lennart Ootes

So then, tune in at 16:00 CEST for all the action here on chess24. Anyone can of course watch all the moves lives, but Peter Svidler and Jan Gustafsson’s commentary will be exclusively for chess24 Premium Members. If you’re not one yet, this would be the perfect time to try it out for only $9.99 a month – you may even get lucky, since every 10th subscriber will have their membership doubled, a prize that applies whether you go Premium for one month or 3 years!

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