Reports Oct 7, 2020 | 11:19 AMby Colin McGourty

Norway Chess 2: Clock denies Firouzja vs. Carlsen

Alireza Firouzja slammed a rook down in disgust as he lost on time to Magnus Carlsen in an Armageddon game where he’d looked to be cruising to victory. That left Alireza tied for 2nd place with birthday boy Levon Aronian, who made Aryan Tari regret playing the Marshall against one of its best exponents. Out in front after two rounds of Altibox Norway Chess is Fabiano Caruana, who made it 6/6 with a convincing win over Jan-Krzysztof Duda, though the Polish star put up strong resistance before conceding defeat in 94 moves.

That sinking feeling! Alireza Firouzja is too slow to hit the clock, while his rook is still wobbling on d4 | photo: Lennart Ootes, official website

You can replay all the Altibox Norway Chess games using the selector below (switch to A2 for the Armageddon game):

And here’s the day’s live commentary from Vladimir Kramnik and Judit Polgar, who were joined near the start by none other than 5-time World Chess Champion Vishy Anand!

Check out some special deals during Norway Chess at

Carlsen ½-½ Firouzja (Magnus wins in Armageddon)

This match-up between the current and perhaps future king of chess has already become a classic, and it lived up to its billing on Tuesday in Stavanger. Magnus’ repeat of the Namaste greeting against Levon the day before got a business-like response.

The classical game saw Alireza Firouzja play the Queen’s Gambit Declined, and in fact the same line that the watching Vladimir Kramnik had played against Magnus in the Legends of Chess in July. Alireza varied on move 10, however, and then followed up with the bold 11…b5!?, leading a couple of World Champions to reflect on how chess has changed.

The key moment came after the provocative 15.Nf5!?

Alireza spent 20 minutes here, during which Magnus went to the confessional to explain (in Norwegian) why there was a lot to think about.

He has a very difficult strategic decision to make, whether to go for c4 and to give away the bishop pair, or to play Bf8. What I believe is that if he plays c4 we can easily get a position where it's difficult for both of us to do anything, but he can easily become passive as I will capture his bishop and I will play Bc2, then eventually I will build up with Re1 and perhaps activate my bishop with Bg3, after h3, and so on. The point is that e4 is difficult for me to play, but if I manage I will be much better. He has a pawn storm going on on the queen side, but it’s difficult for him to make progress. He can also play Bf8, but I will exchange all the pieces on c5, then Rc1 Qb6 and maybe Qa4, and exchange queens on b5. Then I think I will be slightly better, a bit like with Black against Aronian yesterday. A very difficult decision for him to make, so I understand he takes a lot of time.

The computer choice was 15…c4, and it was also the move Kramnik was advocating, with Magnus later pointing out how Vladimir had faced something very similar against Sergei Tiviakov back in 1999. Alireza eventually went for 15…Bf8, however, and everything followed what Magnus had predicted: 16.Nxc5 Nxc5 17.dxc5 Bxc5 18.Rc1 Qb6 19.Qa4. As Kramnik pointed out, it seems Magnus has internalised the Banter Blitz format!

What followed was a tense battle, with Magnus coming close to a winning advantage.

“The computer shows that 35.Bd6! wins”, said Magnus, but he also noted of 35…d4 36.exd4 Rxf3+ 37.Kg1! that, “I didn’t even consider a line where I’m letting him take on f3!” 

Magnus instead played 35.Bd3, which he thought was much better for him, only to be shocked by 35…d4 36.e4 Ra8 37.Bc4 Rc2!

The World Champion described that move as “incredibly unpleasant”, and it was the kind of moment he had in mind when he summed up:

I feel like I missed too many things today. It’s about the opponent as well, since he has a very tricky style, he always plays for some little tactics, but I feel like today was not great, so I still have a way to go.

The good thing for Magnus was that he had a big edge on the clock and was able to spend 11 minutes before coming up with the retreat 38.Bd3 followed by 38…Rcxa2 39.Be5! Some more Alireza trickiness followed, but the World Champion safely steered the game to a draw – his 123rd unbeaten classical game in a row.

The players almost made the mistake of shaking hands... | photo: Lennart Ootes, official website

...but disaster was averted | photo: Lennart Ootes, official website

That meant Magnus would play Armageddon for a second day in a row, and chess fans were treated to a repeat of the Carlsen-Firouzja game in the World Blitz Championship late last year. This time Alireza had the black pieces and only needed a draw, and while Magnus had 10 minutes to his opponent’s 7, that gap had been cut to a minute when Firouzja went for the bold 13…f5.

Magnus burnt up more time before playing 14.0-0-0?! (short castling looks much safer) and soon Firouzja was completely on top. It looked like he had everything worked out until 31.Rxf3:

31…Rxf3 32.Qxf3 Qxh2+! 33.Re2 Qxg3!! was exactly in Alireza's style, and there would have been no hope left for Magnus. After 31…Nxg3, however, the position simplified to a roughly equal rook and pawn endgame. That should still have been enough for Alireza, but in fact by the final position things had gone wrong for the Iranian wunderkind.

“It was the best position I had in a very long time, yes!” agreed Magnus, when Kramnik pointed that out, and the move Alireza tried to make, 47…Rd4+, was a losing move, even if anything could have happened in a time scramble. That didn’t matter, however, since, as in the World Blitz Championship, Firouzja lost on time!

Magnus points to the clock as Alireza is about to slam down the rook in frustration - a traditional end to an Armageddon game! | photo: Lennart Ootes, official website

“It was obviously pretty undeserved, the Armageddon thing, but it happens!” said Magnus, who admitted he’d been “completely outplayed” for most of the game. It was another painful loss for the 17-year-old, but in the bigger picture it only cost him half a point. Alireza is a point ahead of Magnus thanks to winning a classical game in Round 1, and Kramnik summed up, “so far the play of Alireza Firouzja is very convincing".

It was a case of all's well that ends well for Magnus | photo: Lennart Ootes, official website

Caruana 1-0 Duda

Fabiano Caruana and his coach Rustam Kasimdzhanov have a lot to be happy about | photo: Lennart Ootes, official website

The leader, on a perfect 6/6, is Fabiano Caruana, who was in impressive form for a second game in the row. Jan-Krzysztof Duda continues to disappoint in the opening, this time finding himself in deep positional danger by move 20, before he made things much worse with 23…b6?

Fabiano himself later commented of the move, “I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw it, because it just looks dead lost”. He felt 23…Nbd7 was essential, while in the game Black was in a hopeless situation when the white pieces were able to occupy the outposts on a6 and c6.

Caruana-Duda, as the Carlsen-Firouzja board is wiped down before Armageddon | photo: Lennart Ootes, official website

To Duda’s credit, however, he kept cool and brought the game to a simplified ending:

White’s two minor pieces should be too much for Black’s rook, and in the end they were, but it took another 60 moves for Fabiano to finally drive a stake through his opponent’s heart and pick up the full 3 points.

Aronian 1-0 Tari

Levon Aronian was celebrating his 38th birthday and even later had a concerto performed in his honour!

He was able to enjoy it, since he’d earlier beaten local hero Aryan Tari, who sprang a surprise in the opening by playing the Marshall. During a Banter Blitz session earlier this year, Levon (“LeeVaughn”) had joked about Black’s pawn sacrifice being a “common blunder”.

Of course he’s arguably the world’s leading player of that opening with Black (it’s also the centrepiece of Jan Gustafsson’s 1.e4 e5 repertoire – on sale now!), and his response was to test Aryan in the main lines:

I was thinking my opponent played the Marshall for the first time in his life, so I should try to play something structural so he would have to think how to attack.

Levon Aronian wrapped his own birthday present | photo: Lennart Ootes, official website

Magnus Carlsen was an interested observer, coming to the confessional separately to comment:

One thing I forgot to say earlier. I think that if Aronian had played f3 instead of h4 on the last move we would get a very strange move transposition that was seen first in Kramnik vs Aronian, I think in 2008 or maybe 2009. That would've been quite odd. Apparently Aronian didn't see the humour in that!

That game was actually in Yerevan in 2007, and a black rook was on e6 not e8, while the white queen was on f1 not g2, but essentially Magnus was right! The Norway Chess encounter could easily have become identical a few moves down the line if 19.f3 had been played.

You couldn’t criticise 19.h4, however, since Aryan was clearly struggling to formulate a plan and, imperceptibly, his compensation for the sacrificed pawn slipped away until he simply found himself in a dead lost endgame. Vladimir could barely look.

Aryan played on for a while, but there was to be no heroic resistance and he resigned on move 48.

That means Aronian joins Firouzja in second place behind Caruana, with the scoring system this year rewarding classical wins to the full.

Kramnik succinctly told us what to expect in Round 3, and indeed each subsequent round!

The pairings see the youngsters with White on all boards. Firouzja-Caruana is a chance for Alireza to take the lead, while Duda will be hoping to get off the mark as he takes on Aronian. Tari-Carlsen has the day’s most surprising statistic – the Norwegian numbers 1 and 2 have never played a classical game before, and in fact they’ve barely played any games.

Needless to say, Aryan would like to get off the mark, but there’s no doubt Magnus is just as hungry for his first classical win!

Tune in again to Vladimir Kramnik and Judit Polgar, live here on chess24 from 17:00 CEST.

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