Magnus Carlsen had already wrapped up victory in Altibox Norway Chess with a round to spare, but as in 2019 his mood was spoilt by a last round loss, this time in classical chess to Levon Aronian. “Mostly I felt pretty clueless throughout the tournament,” confessed the World Champion, while 17-year-old Alireza Firouzja, who beat Jan-Krzysztof Duda in the final round, was understandably happy with his event apart from the blunder against Magnus. Levon’s win meant that counting only the classical games, with standard scoring, we’d have had three players tied for first.
You can replay all the games from Altibox Norway Chess 2020 using the selector below.
And here’s the final day’s commentary from our dream team of Vladimir Kramnik and Judit Polgar.
Magnus Carlsen had won Altibox Norway Chess with a round to spare, but the picture of dominance was marred by the final round, which left just a point separating 1st from 2nd, and 2nd from 3rd.
You can see the detailed scoring of individual games below – it was 3 points for a win and 1 point for a draw, while after a draw there was a half-point bonus for the winner of the Armageddon game. You can click on any of the numbers below to go to that game.
The prizes were as follows, with a big pay day for young Alireza!
Rather than going game by game, let’s take a look at how the event went for each of the players.
There are not many Magnus Carlsen weaknesses to target, but one of them seems to be playing the final round after winning your home supertournament with a round to spare! A year ago Magnus faced Fabiano Caruana in the final round and was a move away from losing the classical game before he got outplayed and lost in Armageddon.
Fast forward a year and things had only got worse. This time Magnus, who until the loss to Duda had gone 125 classical games unbeaten, lost with the white pieces. Losing to Levon with either colour is the kind of thing that can happen to anyone, but it was also about the quality of the moves. “Today his play was really bad, for his level”, said the watching Vladimir Kramnik, who had spent much of the event praising the current World Champion.
Carlsen, Aronian and Kramnik all had their doubts about the decision Magnus took to play Kf1 rather than, for instance, castle queenside. This wasn’t a game in Kramnik’s proposed chess variant where neither player is allowed to castle, as Levon demonstrated with 15…0-0.
White may have been fine after that, but the plan with 18.Rh3!? raised eyebrows, while it seems after 18…Qb3 it may have been time to exchange queens. When 23.Qb5+ appeared on the board Kramnik was already predicting that Magnus was going to lose with the white pieces.
After 24.Kg1 Rxe5 Levon revealed that Magnus come close to losing on the spot!
It was a funny moment, because Magnus was just about to play Rxg6 here! He probably thought that I’m just going for a draw, but in fact I just thought that I’m slightly better without any risk and I will press the whole game.
The problem with 25.Rxg6+?? is that instead of forcing a draw by perpetual check after 25…fxg6 26.Qxg6+ and so on it actually runs into 25…Kh7! and White can resign.
It’s tempting to say of the rook ending that soon followed that there were lots of “ups and downs”, but when Fiona Steil-Antoni said that to Levon he countered, “What do you mean ups and downs, I was better the whole game!”
He also had a point! Although objectively the game swung from a winning advantage to a draw a couple of times, Magnus was the one on the ropes and trying to survive. Levon also had a bone to pick with Vladimir Kramnik when it came to the final twist in the game.
Here Magnus, with just over 2 minutes to Levon’s 20, played 50.Rxf6? and after 50…b3! the black pawns were unstoppable. Instead 50.Rg7+ Kb6 51.Rg8 b3 was a draw, but not after the 52.Rb8+ at first suggested by Kramnik. 52.g5, 52.h5 or even the fun 52.Ke3 b2+ 53.Kd2 b1=N+ 54.Kc1 Nc3 55.Kb2 all draw, but Vlad was definitely going a bit far in saying that it was Levon who would need to force a draw!
There were no more twists, so for Magnus losses in classical chess had been like London buses – you wait forever and then two come along at once.
The World Champion had no complaints, except about his own play.
But leaving aside the inhumanly high standards Magnus sets for himself, it had been a pretty decent tournament. He’d wrapped up victory with a round to spare, won half his classical games (5 compared to the 4 won by Levon and Alireza) and won all three Armageddon games he played. He also won the games which you imagine mattered most – finally beating his greatest current rival, world no. 2 Fabiano Caruana, and then doing the same to a potential future challenger, Alireza Firouzja.
Over the years Magnus has struggled with the extra pressure and media obligations of playing in Norway, but he’s now the only player to have won Norway Chess three times over the course of its 8-year history.
You could say, however, that the tournament still belonged to Alireza Firouzja. A lacklustre summer of online chess had seen some begin to doubt the 17-year-old prodigy, but in his first tournament back at the wooden board he picked up where he’d left off and continued his rise – gaining rating points on every day except when he lost to Magnus in the penultimate round:
How he bounced back from that loss – winning a third classical game in a row against Jan-Krzysztof Duda, to both guarantee the runners-up spot in the tournament and climb above Duda to world no. 17 - spoke volumes.
Alireza seemed to shrug off the painful defeat to Magnus. It was partly that he correctly pointed out that drawing or losing that game wouldn’t have altered the standings dramatically (Magnus would have gone into the final round in the lead either way), but also that he felt it was more about how he’d played rather than how Magnus had played.
I lost to myself, I think! It was not about nerves, but maybe I was a bit excited to play, but in general I was a little disappointed because the game got very equal and I wanted to get a complicated game because of the tournament situation.
That burning ambition and self-belief was also evident in his summary of the event.
Today I feel happy but in general I’m a bit disappointed because I was very close to win the whole thing, but I guess it happens!
Using the standard scoring system Alireza scored the same number of classical points as Magnus (and Aronian), a +3 6.5/10, and in fact the difference between them would have been wiped out if Alireza hadn’t lost on time to Magnus in an Armageddon game where he seemed to be cruising to victory.
Magnus could legitimately echo Kramnik’s 2010, “for now Magnus is my client” about Alireza, but we all remember how that worked out!
The other player who had a great event was Levon Aronian, who picked up over 14 rating points and is now world no. 6 on the live rating list - if he’d won a winning position in the second game against Fabi he would have been world no. 4. He lost that game, however, and admitted it wasn’t always smooth sailing.
The result is good, the play desires to be improved! The usual story, but it’s much better than playing well and having a bad result. At least there is some hope when you play badly and you get a good result.
The cherry on the cake was of course the final round win over Magnus, which also had an element of exorcising old ghosts! A year ago in Stavanger Levon had been on the verge of ending Magnus’ unbeaten streak in a very similar rook ending to the one we saw this year.
It’s a race on both sides of the board, but 54.g5! should win for Levon. Instead after 54.h5 b4 Magnus went on to defend the position.
It wasn’t just about the chess, however. Levon was playing against the troubling backdrop of the Armenia-Azerbaijan war suddenly flaring up again, something he said made it hard to prepare for the games. It was also a year in which Levon lost his wife, while it seems his girlfriend contracted the coronavirus during the event.
No-one would have been surprised if Levon was simply unable to play, but instead he beat the World Champion and was his hilarious self after the game.
Joking aside, however, if we never get to see a Carlsen-Aronian World Championship match it will go down as one of those intriguing what-might-have-beens of chess history.
Fabiano Caruana is the last player in the standings to post a plus score in classical chess, but his +1 didn’t set the world on fire. As he commented:
Overall it wasn’t great. A bit mixed. It started very well, I had this really tough period in the middle, two bad games I played, my game against Magnus was really disappointing and there were a few disappointing moments where I could have maybe pressed a bit more. I feel like I had a good chance with White against Magnus, with White against Alireza, maybe today [a draw vs. Tari] I was hoping for more, but the position really didn’t give me much, so I can’t be too disappointed by that. Overall I didn’t really fight for first place or anything and my performance wasn’t what I’d hope for.
There was a major distraction for Fabiano, however, since Norway Chess was supposed to function as a warm-up for the resumption of the Candidates Tournament on November 1st. In normal circumstances he would have to choose carefully what opening weapons to reveal, but in this case he also had to handle complete uncertainty.
That was also a bit of an annoyance that during the tournament we were constantly kind of dealing with the Candidates, wondering if it would happen or not. The general feeling was that it wouldn’t happen even before it became clear that there was just no way that it could happen on November 1st or even later in November. It started getting pushed back a bit first to November 5th, November 15th and then at that point it was kind of clear that things would just not work out this year.
We now know that the Candidates has been pencilled in for Spring 2021 instead, though it’s anyone’s guess if it will in fact take place then. In a way it makes it more impressive that Norway Chess managed to hold an over-the-board event at all, with the October scheduling looking inspired in hindsight. The worsening pandemic situation in Europe and beyond might soon rule out further top events.
In any case, Fabiano put in a decent performance in the circumstances, with his final three Armageddon wins over Firouzja, Duda and Tari more evidence that he can be a strong speed chess player, an area where he seemed to improve over the online summer.
22-year-old Jan-Krzysztof Duda was perhaps the greatest disappointment of the tournament. The Polish no. 1 failed to stake a claim to be a member of the world chess elite and in fact lost 14 rating points. It all began to go wrong in Round 1, when he rejected a draw offer and lost a rollercoaster game to Firouzja. Alireza noted after the tournament was over:
If Duda was not going to lose the first round maybe he was going to win this tournament!
There are two reasons Duda shouldn’t feel too annoyed himself. First, he was at the handicap of being a late replacement for Anish Giri, so he had less time to prepare for the event. Opening preparation has never been Jan-Krzysztof’s strong point, and this made things worse. The other factor that might balance out everything else that happened is that Duda beat Magnus Carlsen, ending the World Champion’s 125-game unbeaten streak! That’s a feat that will be recalled long after everything else that happened in Norway Chess 2020 is forgotten.
It’s hard to accentuate the positives when you lose 7 classical games and win none, but 21-year-old Aryan Tari was always going to face a baptism of fire against a field where every player outrated him by more than 100 points. Aryan won one mini-match, against Duda, and held Caruana and Aronian to draws, though in fact that game against Levon was a huge missed opportunity to pick up a win. “If it doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger,” they say, and this is the kind of experience Tari can build on.
So that’s all for Altibox Norway Chess, an event that showed that it is possible to hold a supertournament in the year 2020! We hope you enjoyed it, and particularly the commentary duo of Vladimir Kramnik and Judit Polgar.
For a Russian peasant Vlad has come along way, now making it to Twitter!
It’s not clear that we’ll see any more elite over-the-board events soon – Wijk aan Zee seems the next on most top players’ radars – but that doesn’t mean the stars won’t be in action! The $1.5 million Champions Chess Tour, the successor to the Magnus Carlsen Chess Tour, is a year-long series starting in late November.
Right now a final qualification spot is being decided in the Chessable Qualifier, with Peter Svidler and Rauf Mamedov both on 3/3 after Day 1. Jan Gustafsson and Laurent Fressinet are commentating live on all the action.
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