Maxime Vachier-Lagrave beat Magnus Carlsen for a 3rd time in a row to win the blitz opener of the 2019 edition of Altibox Norway Chess. It was the perfect finale to the event, since a win would have seen Magnus take first place. Instead he spoilt a winning position to end 1.5 points behind Maxime’s majestic 7.5/9, with the French no. 1 now also the clear blitz world no. 1. Levon Aronian, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Ding Liren were the other players to earn the main prize of five Whites in the classical games.
You can replay all the games from the blitz tournament using the selector below:
And you can also replay the live commentary by Peter Svidler and Jan Gustafsson:
To watch Jan and Peter live you need to Go Premium, and now’s a great chance to try it out, as we have two offers to choose from:
“You don’t go +6 by accident”, noted Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, and it was indeed a superb performance by the Frenchman:
He pointed out he was lucky in the game against Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (who had a winning advantage but ended up in a mating net by the end), but you could say that was balanced out by letting a win slip against Vishy Anand. Otherwise, apart from one crunching loss to Fabiano Caruana, it was highly impressive by Maxime, who mainly played fast and accurate technical chess.
The miniature against Alexander Grischuk was a nice cherry on top. Maxime didn’t think twice before sacrificing his bishop:
It seems 20…gxh6! leaves White with nothing more than perpetual check, objectively speaking, but instead Grischuk went for 20…Rxe1+? 21.Rxe1 gxh6 22.Qg6+ Kf8 23.Qxh6+ Kg8 24.Bc2! and Black resigned, since there’s no defence against Bh7+, Bf5+, winning the black queen.
The difference with the immediate 20…gxh6! is that Black would have Re6 as a crucial defensive resource in the final position.
Despite scoring six wins, however, Maxime couldn’t quite shake off Magnus, who went on a 5.5/6 streak to go into the final game just half a point back… and with the white pieces! There was no way the World Champion was going to let MVL win without a fight, and he started the game with 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.b4!?, a wild wing gambit once championed by the great Paul Keres.
For a long time it looked as though a pawn was a pawn, but then 17…f5?! spoiled Black’s position, White got an edge and it seemed as though Magnus would go on to convert with his usual precision. Instead, though, we got a hugely uneven game that reached its culmination with 27…Re8?!:
That move renews the threat of Qxc5 (27…Qxc5? would run into 28.e7! and it’s game over) and caught Magnus off-guard, though objectively it wasn’t great due to 28.Nd7!, and Black can’t capture without suffering heavy losses. White could follow up with 29.f5 and a likely win, but instead Magnus played 28.f5? immediately and after 28…Qxc5! (fearing no ghosts!) was simply lost, as Maxime calmly went on to prove.
Maxime talked about the game at the end of the official live commentary with Judit Polgar and Anna Rudolf:
The Frenchman has now won three blitz games in a row against Magnus, and unsurprisingly that’s reflected on the blitz live rating list!
It was also too good an opportunity for Anish to let slip!
The day didn’t get off to the best possible start for Magnus Carlsen, since his Pirc Defence against Levon Aronian only saw him end up a healthy pawn down and soon losing without a fight. Most players would have taken that as sign not to take too many liberties in the opening, but instead Magnus went for some weird and whacky stuff that almost saw him win the event:
A Richard Rapport line that left him with doubled g-pawns by move 7 against Vishy Anand finally finished with a fine blow:
It would be all to play for if not for 41…Ba5! and after 42.Qxa5 Qxd3+ 43.Kg4 Qf5+ Vishy resigned with mate on the near horizon.
The most impressive game perhaps came against Alexander Grischuk in the 1.e4 e6 2.f4!? line. All it took was one mistake:
Magnus pounced with 25.Qf6!, since he’d foreseen that after 25…Qxf6 26.exf6 the white knight would become a monster against Black’s crippled bishop, while the threat of back rank mate in many lines doesn’t help. Magnus went on to score a smooth positional win in 42 moves.
It wasn’t always quite so smooth, of course. Wesley So had a miserable day before winning in the last two rounds, but could have claimed the biggest scalp in chess. Short on time he repeated moves, though it was a decision our commentary team didn’t find out of the ordinary, at a glance:
The less than obvious win was 25…d3!, with the point of giving the queen the d4-square! There might have followed 26.cxd3 Qh4+ 27.Kg1 Qd4+ 28.Kh1 and the killer blow: 28…Qf2!!
Magnus dodged that bullet and pushed Maxime all the way, but it wasn’t quite enough, and in fact he was pipped to the post for 2nd place by an impressive Levon Aronian, whose only loss of the day came against Maxime. Levon also won arguably the day’s most memorable game!
In Round 4 Grischuk had achieved a position with an extra far-advanced passed pawn, where almost any move wins, but not the showboating option he picked… 64.Ra2??
It was an easy mistake to make, since after 64…Rxa2 65.b7 it does seem as though the b-pawn can’t be stopped:
Alas, 65…Ne2+! 66.Kb3 (Black must stop Rb2) 66…Nc1+ 67.Kc3 Ra3+! 68.Kc2 Rb3 and Black has stopped the pawn and wins the game.
A beautiful study-like game, but not one Grischuk is likely to recall with too much fondness!
The final standings looked as follows:
As you can see, three absolute stars finished last on -3, while Yu Yangyi acquitted himself well on his debut in this company. It could have been even better, since he started with fine technical wins over Ding Liren and Vishy Anand before only going on to win once more all day.
Maxime’s prize for winning the blitz was to get to choose his seeding number in the main event, and unsurprisingly he decided it might be good to have White against Magnus!
The next four players, Aronian, Carlsen, Mamedyarov and Ding Liren automatically got the highest available seeding numbers, and hence five games with White in the main event. Magnus has his first White against Vishy Anand, who very narrowly escaped a third classical loss in a row against the World Champion in the GRENKE Chess Classic. Check out all the pairings:
The “A” rounds there are Armageddon, and after a mini-rebellion by the players it’s been decided that Armageddon games will be played around 15 minutes after any classical game ends in a draw i.e. without waiting for all the other classical games to end first. That means you may have to switch rounds while watching the action!
For more on the format with fast classical games and then Armageddon check out our preview article, while for sheer fun you can’t beat Alexander Grischuk talking about the time control and Armageddon!
Some of his quotes:
Of course it’s not a good time control in classical games here for me, but you have to live with whatever. Let’s say Nadal, he prefers to play on the ground [clay], Roland Garros and stuff like this, but when he comes to Wimbledon he plays on the grass and he doesn’t complain, so I should not either!
Mostly I wanted to talk about Armageddons, because for me every single Armageddon of me was very memorable. I have played I think nine of them. The very first one was the most embarrassing. It was played against Alexander Morozevich and I blundered a piece and got a completely hopeless position, but we were in huge time trouble and it actually happened with me the only time in my life that somehow I managed to make my pieces start to spin, so let’s say there was the knight, and then it keeps spinning. 3 or 4 pieces spinning and he just completely lost control and I won on time. It’s very embarrassing. I still feel bad about it and it’s still the dirtiest thing in chess I have ever done, although unintentionally. (…)
Then the third one was the most ridiculous one. It was played against Vladislav Tkachiev and I got a rook against a naked king and we had like 10 seconds each, so normally you should easily be in time to checkmate, but his king dropped and he just started to roll it. It was rolling on the d-file. Then you cannot checkmate, there’s no chance, so I also dropped my rook and started to roll, and since I had like 3 or 4 seconds more to start with he lost on time, but it was the most stupid Armageddon I have ever played! (…)
I can talk for hours about all those Armageddons, so basically I really hope to play as many Armageddons as possible!
Tune in to all the live action with Peter Svidler and Jan Gustafsson from 17:00 CEST!
We respect your privacy and data protection guidelines. Some components of our site require cookies or local storage that handles personal information.