Fabiano Caruana and Alireza Firouzja are the frontrunners in Altibox Norway Chess after winning their classical games with the black pieces in Round 1. Fabiano bamboozled Aryan Tari with a bold pawn sacrifice in the opening, while Jan-Krzysztof Duda seemed to have dug himself out of an opening disaster only to let Firouzja take over in time trouble. Magnus Carlsen’s unbeaten classical streak stretched to 122 games as he drew against Levon Aronian before winning their Armageddon game.
You can replay all the games from Round 1 of Altibox Norway Chess using the selector below.
And here’s the day’s commentary from 14th World Chess Champion Vladimir Kramnik and Judit Polgar, the greatest female chess player of all time.
The most anticipated match-up of Round 1 saw the World Chess Champion play his first classical game against an elite opponent since Wijk aan Zee in January.
It was perhaps no surprise, therefore, that the most memorable moment of the game was arguably how the players solved the issue of shaking hands during a pandemic… (though see later for how the day ended!)
Magnus followed a line his second Laurent Fressinet had used to win in the recent Bundesliga, an event in which Levon Aronian had also taken part.
Here Levon varied with the modest 12.Ne2 instead of 12.Ne5, and after 12…Qc8 called his 13.Qa4 “a bad move”, allowing Magnus to break with 13…c5. After 14.Ng3 Qb7 15.dxc5 we got a fork in the road:
The watching Vladimir Kramnik was surprised that instead of keeping things as sharp as possible with 15…bxc5 Magnus now “self-isolated” his d-pawn with 15…Nxc5. Magnus didn’t disagree with his great predecessor’s assessment. Why did he take with the knight?
The answer is very simple – it’s the first game in a long time! I just feel that Nxc5 was 100% safe for me, and I just wanted to play a normal game, but otherwise I might definitely have gone for bxc5, because I don’t think there are any problems.
Kramnik expressed the highest praise for Carlsen’s ability to correctly assess chess positions, something clear to all of us now that we regularly have the chance to watch Magnus play Banter Blitz while following the computer evaluation.
Magnus knew that if there were winning chances in the final position they were for him (he pointed to Ne6 instead of Ne4), but he didn’t believe in them and instead took a draw by repetition, making his streak 122 games unbeaten in classical chess.
That wasn’t the end, however, since any draw in the main game in Norway Chess is followed by Armageddon, where White has 10 minutes to Black’s 7, but a draw counts as a win for Black. The colours follow over from the classical game, so Levon had the extra three minutes. He kept that advantage, with Magnus down to just two minutes when he played 18…Bf6!?
“I felt it was very dangerous after the opening”, said Magnus, and here Levon saw that he could grab the c6-pawn without punishment, but feared “he’s going to get active”. The plan Levon went with of 19.g4 followed by 20.g5 wasn’t bad, but he burnt up two minutes on those moves and, after exchanges, found himself in the difficult position of playing a roughly equal position on the board, and on the clock, with the knowledge that he had to win at all costs. Instead he was about to lose on time (there’s no increment until move 41) when he blundered a rook and had to resign. There was no Namaste now, as the players shook hands!
The consolation for Levon is that the weighting of Armageddon games is much lower this year. The 1.5 points for a win is only half the 3 points for a classical win, while losing Armageddon still earns you 1 point (in 2019 it was half a point). Levon was glad to be back moving wooden pieces on a wooden board, but he was completely preoccupied by the armed conflict between his country Armenia and neighbouring Azerbaijan.
Of course it’s a great feeling. If not for other circumstances with my country I would be very happy, but unfortunately I don’t really have time to prepare or do anything, because I’m reading the news 24/7. That’s the problem. Other than that I’m more than happy.
This game was all about an amazing opening novelty that Fabiano Caruana said his second Rustam Kasimdzhanov had cooked up the day before.
Here, after 8 seconds, Fabi played 13…Bxe3!?, a move which after 14.fxe3 left Black losing the pawn on d6 (14…Ke7?? 15.Rxf6! and Nd5+ is coming next). Magnus commented:
I think maybe somebody’s done it before, but I’m not sure anybody’s done it on purpose! It was really, really a nice concept.
Fabi himself would later echo those words:
It’s been played before, but I think it’s a novelty in the sense that people have played it and it was a blunder. They probably didn’t realise that fxe3 is winning the pawn. In terms of serious games, then this is a completely new idea.
Aryan Tari was a pawn up, but it was an ugly doubled pawn on e3, and as we saw in 2018 in particular Fabiano is a master of gradually outplaying his opponents with the black pieces. He got some help, since Aryan didn’t need to play so passively after 28…g5, while the tide had definitely turned after 31.Bf1?! (Kramnik and the computer suggest treading water with Ra2 or Re2 instead).
31…f5! 32.exf5 Rxd5! and later e4 and Black had taken over. With only a 10-second increment after move 40, Aryan faced a nightmare defence, and he was duly ground down by the world no. 2.
That took Fabiano back above 2830 on the live rating list, and he was happy to be able to play, after a 10-day quarantine, without even the anti-virus measures that had been in place for the Bundesliga in Karlsruhe.
I have to say that this feels so much better. It wasn’t so intrusive in the Bundesliga, but it still kind of feels strange. At the board you weren’t obligated to wear the mask, but you have this weird glass in between you, and whenever you get up, and I usually get up a lot to look at games, I had to wear a mask, which is not so pleasant.
Something else on Caruana’s mind right now, however, is the Candidates Tournament, that’s supposed to resume on November 1st. Wang Hao yesterday gave a glimpse of the turmoil behind the scenes, and although Fabiano is sympathetic to FIDE’s efforts he also pointed out that all the players have concerns.
There’s pretty much constant negotiations. I can’t really go into too much detail. The news with Wang Hao - he raised his unhappiness. The thing is, I think that FIDE is really doing their best, because it’s such an incredibly difficult situation. Now there’s a lot of countries are closed down, a lot are very unsafe. You have 8 players who have very serious concerns – all of them – and a situation that is so unstable it could change at any moment, and a lot of scenarios that there’s no good solution, like what if someone gets sick in the middle of the tournament?
To be honest, I think we should have just completed the tournament when we were there! We were already all there, but that’s all in the past. I hope it happens and goes smoothly. For me right now the main thing is not even the result, the main thing is just that it happens.
Is it realistic for the tournament to start on November 1st?
I think there is a chance, but I can’t really predict how much of a chance. But if it starts November 1st basically a decision has to be made where, and all the players have to agree, within the next few days. It’s so soon!
It became clear that this was going to be a tough day at the office for Polish no. 1 Jan-Krzysztof Duda when he froze after Alireza Firouzja’s 14…c5 in a sharp line of the Caro-Kann.
There are hundreds of games here, including five where David Navara had the black pieces, and White has the choice between options such as the solid taking on c5 or the hyper-sharp 15.g4. Alireza would of course have been ready for that, but instead Duda sank into a 33-minute think. That gave Vladimir Kramnik the chance to recall how Garry Kasparov would often bluff in such situations, and he took that as a sign that, “now I have to do anything to move out of the main line!”
Kramnik didn't think Duda was bluffing a lack of knowledge, however, and the best you could say about the move he came up with, 15.Be3!?, was that at least it made Alireza think. After the pawn grab 15…Nxe4 16.Qxe4 Nf6 17.Qxb7!? multiple World Champions were fearing for the young Pole. “Practically it’s a terrible choice, especially against Alireza,” said Magnus, while after 17…Nd5 18.Qa6 Rb8 19.Bd2? (Alireza called 19.dxc5! the “best try for him”) he concluded:
I think you are strategically lost. Black’s attack is unstoppable. It’s only a question of whether you can trick him and survive or not.
19…Bf6! may have been even stronger than Firouzja’s 19…cxd4 but in any case it was a terrifying position for White to play… but also a lot of fun! Kramnik and Polgar called the possible 23.Qd3 (23.Rc1 was played in the game) 23…a5 24.Bxa5 Qxa5!! “our immortal”.
The computer gives 0.00 after that line. In the game, meanwhile, Duda dug in and gave up an exchange to stop the black attack. In fact he came very close to saving the game... and could have done so simply by agreeing to a draw! Both players were down to playing on a 10-second increment when Alireza Firouzja offered an amnesty, but Jan-Krzysztof decided to play on.
Duda missed his chances and was hit by some powerful pawn play.
46…h3! 47.gxh3 e4! 48.fxe4 g2! and a few moves later the game was over.
As we mentioned in our preview, Firouzja has surprisingly struggled in online chess for the last half year, but seemed to take to classical chess again like a fish to water. He commented:
Of course for me it is very different, because when I play online when I sit for 5 hours then I get tired, but over the board there are more options. You can drink tea or something during the games. It is very different and I’m very happy to be here and I think it’s going to be an interesting tournament.
Alireza faces the daunting prospect of Magnus in Round 2, but he seems to be relishing the prospect of taking on the world’s best.
It is a very great opportunity for me to play against the World Champion, World Championship challenger, Aronian, all of these games are going to add to my experience and I think it’s a great opportunity. I’m going to enjoy the games here!
As you can see from the standings, Magnus needs to play some catch-up already, so he should be out for blood.
The other pairings are Caruana-Duda and birthday boy Levon Aronian vs. Aryan Tari. With the white pieces you have to assume Carlsen, Caruana and Aronian will all be targeting 3 points for a classical win, which means it should be a lot of fun to watch!
Tune in again to Vladimir Kramnik and Judit Polgar, live here on chess24 from 17:00 CEST.
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