Hikaru Nakamura pounced on a mistake by Anish Giri to grind out an endgame victory and take the sole lead after Round 1 of Altibox Norway Chess 2017. We have Peter Svidler’s analysis of that game. All the other encounters were drawn, with Wesley So getting his toughest test – Black against Magnus Carlsen – out of the way first. Vladimir Kramnik came closest to a win, but the former World Champion squandered a clear edge against Sergey Karjakin in time trouble as he struggled to adapt to a time control without increments before move 61.
In the opening press conference Magnus Carlsen pointed out that given the strength of the tournament he only needed to score “+1” to maintain his rating. Hikaru Nakamura later commented:
If +1 is good enough for Magnus… I don’t think anyone’s going to do crazy things, at least not at the start.
So it proved, with the opening round for the most part featuring careful manoeuvring rather than the world’s best players going straight for each other’s throats:
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So let’s get straight to the games, and straight to the one decisive encounter:
Anish Giri’s start to Altibox Norway Chess has gone from bad to worse. He suffered the ignominy of six losses and no wins in the blitz and was trash-talked by the World Champion himself. Then in the first round he managed to catch out Nakamura in the opening – the US star spent 33 minutes, 33 seconds on move 10 – before it all went wrong. Hikaru said he decided to take no risks and added, “I didn’t actually think I was playing for anything at all”, while Giri decided to steer the game towards an endgame he admitted turned out to be, “a clumsy one”. Later one moment of inattention was all it took to provide an opportunity that Nakamura grasped with both hands.
For full analysis of the game we have 7-time Russian Champion Peter Svidler, who knows a thing or two about the Grünfeld Defence seen in the game!
The four remaining games were drawn, but all of them featured a real fight:
The most anticipated of the remaining games was the encounter between world numbers 1 and 2. Could Magnus Carlsen reassert his authority, or could Wesley So dramatically cut the rating gap and reinforce the theory that he’s currently playing the best chess of anyone in the world? Perhaps inevitably, the players cancelled each other out.
Svidler was left shocked by the decision Magnus took to play 11.Be3, allowing the bishop to be exchanged, when both sides were left with doubled e-pawns:
Svidler described this as “one of the deader structures in modern chess”, with exchanges usually following on the single open f-file. Magnus conceded it wasn’t the most enterprising of options:
What I did was probably a bit too tame, obviously. When you go Be3 there you know that it’s not going to be easy to win.
He said to do so you’d need to play with “extreme precision”, but then of course that’s never been a problem for Magnus. What was a problem was that Wesley So defended with his customary accuracy, confidently defending a position that Carlsen referred to as “95% equal”.
In the end White had an extra pawn in a knight ending, but it wasn’t enough. Wesley was happy to get off to a decent start after his blitz performance had left him facing five games with the black pieces:
I’m still really disappointed about my blitz result yesterday… somehow I lost all control.
There was one curiosity at the end, however. It had been carefully explained to the players the day before that it was completely forbidden to offer a draw, even in a dead drawn position...
Nevertheless, the players did “agree to a draw”, which could have seen the world’s no. 1 and 2 both forfeited a half point! A scandal was avoided, however, as the players were merely politely requested to show the draw on the board, as they did by repeating moves:
MVL had opened 1.b3 against Vishy in the blitz the day before and gone on to win with a queen sacrifice, but although their classical encounter also featured an opening surprise – MVL spent 23 minutes on move 6 before choosing a rare line of the Caro-Kann – what followed wasn’t so dramatic. Hostilities were essentially over by move 30, with the players blitzing out moves until finding a repetition in a pawn ending on move 44. Maxime summed up:
I felt I was better, but I couldn’t really prove it.
This game followed a similar scenario, but came much closer to providing a decisive result. On move 12 Fabiano Caruana castled and almost immediately regretted it, describing the move as, “a small imprecision that leads to a very bad position”. Levon Aronian concurred and said, “it’s very disappointing not to convert this”.
There were no absolutely clear open goals missed, but Fabiano’s active defence meant that Levon had the option of picking up a pawn at multiple moments. For instance:
After 23.e4 Black probably has nothing better than 23…Nc3 24.Bxc3 bxc3 25.Rxc3 and it would just be a question of whether White could convert. Aronian explained he was looking for more, though, and was also disparaging about his play in his opponent’s time trouble:
Instead of playing solid moves I started playing for tricks… I was trying to win on time!
Time was also a big factor in the draw that came closest to a decisive result:
This all-Russian clash developed slowly, with Vladimir Kramnik admitting afterwards that he must have mixed something up in the Giuoco Piano as he burned up a lot of time to reach a position he didn’t really want to reach:
Here, however, is where things got strange. In the commentary booth Peter Svidler immediately explained that 14…Bxf2+! 15.Kxf2 Qh4+ 16.Kh1 Qxc4 was “an ironclad draw”, and while there might still have been some play for White it was also the move Vladimir was expecting. Instead Karjakin thought for 38 minutes before playing 14…c6?! (“this looks quite dubious to me” – Kramnik) and then responded to 15.Bg5!? by taking another 25 minutes to play 15…Qb6?! (“this looks terribly dubious to me!” – Kramnik).
Karjakin admitted his mistake:
White suddenly got everything he could want from the position, and when things simplified the following position was reached on move 24:
It was put to Vladimir afterwards that he could have taken the pawn on a6, but he simply pointed to the rook ending after 25…Bxf3 and explained that we all know how those end up… Karjakin wasn’t so sure, but Kramnik’s choice to play 25.Ne5 might have been justified if he’d had more time to weave some subtle webs. Instead he admitted to getting nervous at the lack of increments before move 40 (an increment of 30 seconds per move is only added from move 61 onwards):
I panicked and started to make nonsense moves at some point.
Kramnik only spent more than a minute on one of the following moves before reaching move 40, by which point his advantage was utterly gone. A draw was reached on move 44.
So after the first round Nakamura leads on 1/1, Giri is last on 0/1 and the remaining eight players all have half a point.
The highlight of Round 2 is probably Caruana-Carlsen, though you could make a case for any of the remaining games!
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