Magnus Carlsen, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, Ding Liren, Yu Yangyi and Levon Aronian all won in Armageddon to lead this year’s Altibox Norway Chess tournament on 1.5/2 after Round 1. Only Carlsen-Anand saw a player come close to winning in classical chess, as most seemed to have decided to focus on the sudden death games. Four of those clashes were relatively normal, if bloody, while Aronian-Grischuk ended in the sheer chaos that nothing else in chess can provide. At least Grischuk has a new story to tell!
You can replay all the games from the 2019 Altibox Norway Chess tournament using the selector below. Note R1, R2 and so no are the classical games, while A1, A2 are Armageddon. The scoring for Armageddon is normal, while for a win in the classical game you get 2 points.
And here’s Jan and Peter’s live commentary on the first day of the main event in Stavanger:
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As we already mentioned, on the first day in Stavanger it looked as though Magnus Carlsen was the only player going all-out to win in classical chess. He’d already beaten Jan-Krzysztof Duda (Wijk aan Zee) and Levon Aronian (Baden-Baden) in memorable games this year in the Vienna opening that Vishy Anand chose, and once again he was asking questions. His 13th move was a novelty, but mentioned as “the only critical move” by Jan in his video series on the Vienna. Jan mentioned that after defending the extra pawn with 15…Bd7, “I have a very hard time believing Black can ever be worse here”, while he also mentioned that Vishy’s 15…Nc6, “just returning the guy, is very possible”.
It seems Magnus, who has of course employed Jan as an opening specialist for World Championship matches, didn’t disagree. He told the confessional (according to Tarjei Svensen):
Not much is happening in my game. The line that I am playing is not known to be very dangerous for black, but there are still some things to be careful about. We'll see.
It seems Vishy didn’t show that necessary care, as at some point he looked to be in real danger, before finally managing to escape into a drawn rook ending.
That was a second escape in a row for Vishy in classical chess, but in Norway that wasn’t the end of his suffering! In the Armageddon game the former World Champion made a big mistake on move 12, and though there were still some chances after that it was always an uphill struggle. Don’t miss Peter Svidler’s analysis of both games, including how Magnus missed mate-in-2 at the very end!
There were many mysteries going into the first round of action in Stavanger, including how the unusual time control of 10 minutes for White and 7 for Black would affect matters. Would the 3-minute advantage be critical, or would the leisurely 7 minutes at Black’s disposal (5 vs. 4 is the usual Armageddon time control) be enough to ensure time wasn’t such a factor. Well, it’s early days – and the players with White were the ones who had played well in the blitz the day before – but so far starting first looks like an advantage!
The first Armageddon of the day, Ding Liren-So, was a beautiful game that warmed the hearts of fans of the format! The Chinese no. 1 admitted afterwards to Judit Polgar and Anna Rudolf that he’d decided to put the emphasis on Armageddon:
Today my plan was to play solid in the classical game then prepare something aggressive in Armageddon. It turned out to work very well!
Ding still knew what he was doing when he played 15.Rb3, “an idea I prepared some time ago - I think it’s a very strong move, with some strong attacking possibility”.
White is threatening to swing his rook to the h-file and the Chinese player knew the idea of putting his bishops on b1 and b2, as he did in the game.
Wesley didn’t follow the expected approach, but after 24…Nc6? Liren had a chance to play a brilliant and crushing move:
25.Nf5!! was a blow the world no. 3 wasn’t 100% sure about, but he commented, “even if it doesn’t work I think it’s good compensation”.
He was planning to meet 25…gxf5 with 26.Rd7, which is in fact winning, though 26.Qh5! is even more decisive. Wesley’s 25…Rxd2 was the best defence, but there was no holding back White’s overwhelming attack on the kingside:
It would be a great day for China, since Yu Yangyi, starting one of his first ever big international supertournaments, managed to defeat Maxime Vachier-Lagrave with the black pieces.
For almost the whole of the classical game and then the first 20 or so moves of the Armageddon it was Maxime who was on top, but he began to lose the thread when he went for the Re1-e4-f4 manoeuvre:
That looked aggressive, but after 25…Qa1! it's Black who’s threatening to take over. Soon White’s attack fizzled out and Black was left with the better structure, while it didn’t help that the hapless white rook got trapped on the kingside.
Time wasn’t a critical factor in that game and, despite what you might guess from some swings in evaluation, Mamedyarov-Caruana also saw the players manage their time well. They got down to just over 20 seconds before the 3-second increment began at move 61, with the game finally ending on move 71. On the board it was Shakhriyar who dominated almost from start to finish, with the kind of intuitive aggressive play he was known for before he began to establish himself as a super-solid 2800 player in the last couple of years. If you wanted to pinpoint one decisive moment, however, you might pick the position after 44.Rb6:
Black could defend the bishop with the subtle 44…e5!, or in fact calmly put the bishop on h1, g2 or f3, since White winning the exchange with 45.Nd7+ isn’t fatal. Instead he gave up the piece with 44…Bxa4? and after 45.Nxa4 Kg7 46.c5! there were no second (or third) chances for Black. The suspicion is that the Armageddon element will make it very hard for Fabiano, always more of a calculator than an intuitive player, to defend his Norway Chess title.
That leaves the Aronian-Grischuk Armageddon game, which was a perfect illustration of why many of us both love Armageddon and pray it won’t ever actually be used to decide an event as important as the classical World Chess Championship! Before the Armageddon, the classical encounter in this match had mainly been of interest for reasons of symmetry…
…and the puzzle of Grischuk’s chair!
It was about to heat up… The opening of the Armageddon was a lot of fun, with Levon Aronian doing absolutely nothing to hide his malicious intentions when he played 15.Rg1!?
The move wasn’t objectively the best in the world, but Levon later found a nice way to consolidate, until he was better on the board but, critically, behind on the clock. After 38.Bc1 Aronian had 17 seconds to Grischuk’s 47:
Here Grischuk spent what would later look like a suicidal 18 seconds on 38…Rb1?!. Levon instantly blitzed out 39.Kf3, without pausing to consider that he could just play 39.Rxc3! and pick up a free and vitally important pawn:
Grischuk spent 7 seconds on his next move as well and had squandered almost all his advantage on the clock, with what followed no longer bearing much resemblance to chess. As pure nerves and survival instincts took over, we saw a flurry, with the DGT board giving up recording the moves on move 50. In the moves after that moment Aronian actually made a losing blunder, but it made no difference, as when Levon played 57.Kc6 he either pushed his king into Grischuk’s d7-rook, or Grischuk simultaneously tried to move the rook, but in any case the collision sent pieces flying - our French colleague Laurent Fressinet mentioned we needed VAR here, but it’s not clear it would have helped in this case!
Levon managed to return his king to the c6-square, but with 1 second on the clock there was no hope of Grischuk both restoring his rook and king and making the 4 moves he needed to start getting a 3-second increment at move 61. There was nothing left but to accept the loss with dignity:
For some truly wonderful football-style commentary on the final game from GM Pepe Cuenca (accompanied by IM David Martinez and GM David Anton) check out the following video – knowing some Spanish enhances the experience, but it’s really not required!
You can also watch Levon talking to Judit and Anna on the official live commentary – the video below should start at the end of the MVL interview, when you can hear an unrepeatable description of Levon by his friend and colleague!
So after a quiet start the day ended in mayhem, which we can expect to be a regular scenario in this event. It was a lot of fun, but not everyone, understandably, was thrilled with the spectacle. Ian Nepomniachtchi commented:
Players in the event know that Armageddon is inevitable and have had time to prepare psychologically, but of course in the past players haven’t always managed to keep their emotions in check. Back in 2010 Levon was denied qualification to play in the Grand Slam Final in Bilbao after being beaten in Armageddon by Vladimir Kramnik in Shanghai. It was a rare case of a visibly angry Levon:
Plus of course there’s the most famous Armageddon in chess history…
It’s unlikely we’re ever going to see official chess events where Armageddon is more than a final way to decide a tie when all else has failed, but for a one-off event there’s probably no reason why we shouldn’t just sit back and enjoy the show!
In Round 2 Aronian-Carlsen is the match-up that jumps out at you, but there’s no need to fear draws anywhere, since we know we’ll get winners and losers in each match by the end of the day. Tune in to all the live action with Peter Svidler and Jan Gustafsson from 17:00 CEST!
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