Reports Jun 6, 2019 | 12:35 PMby Colin McGourty

Norway Chess 2: Shak leads as Carlsen escapes

Shakhriyar Mamedyarov is the sole leader of Altibox Norway Chess after pouncing on a blunder by Vishy Anand in Round 2 to win their classical game. Fabiano Caruana also picked up a 2-point win against MVL, while Magnus Carlsen was within a whisker of losing his first classical game in over 10 months before Levon Aronian stumbled to a draw and then went on to lose in Armageddon. Yu Yangyi (vs. Ding Liren) and Wesley So (vs. Alexander Grischuk) were the other Armageddon winners.

Magnus Carlsen had the narrowest possible escape in the classical game! | photo: Lennart Ootes, Altibox Norway Chess

You can replay all the games from the 2019 Altibox Norway Chess tournament using the selector below. Note that R2 shows the Round 2 classical games, A2 is the Round 2 Armageddon games and so on. The scoring for Armageddon is normal, while for a win in the classical game you get 2 points.

And here’s the day’s live commentary from Peter Svidler and Jan Gustafsson:

To watch Jan and Peter live you need to be premium on chess24, and now’s a great chance to try it out, as we have two offers to choose from:

So 1.5:0.5 Grischuk: The Armageddon Gambit backfires

The early Armageddon gave the other players something to do in the opening stages of their games! | photo: Lennart Ootes, Altibox Norway Chess

There was a lot of criticism after Round 1 of this year’s Norway Chess that the new rules were actually encouraging draws in the classical games. By the end of Round 2 that criticism would look premature, but at the very start of the round the theory was fuelled by Alexander Grischuk forcing a draw with White in under 10 minutes!

Wesley So commented on the quick draw, “I wasn’t actually surprised, but I felt bad, because I prepared for 4 hours today!” So was it a “thug life” move? Not according to Grischuk, who put his decision down to his needless Armageddon loss to Levon Aronian the day before. He told Norwegian TV that was one of the three most disappointing losses of his life:

Wesley So described his strategy as “to play some good chess in the classical and in the Armageddon not to play any chess at all!” but although he said he felt he was getting outplayed it seems there was never a moment at which Grischuk’s aggression on the kingside was close to paying off. Wesley described the turning point as coming after 20…Bxa3:

Grischuk sensed it as well as he thought for one and a half minutes before playing 21.Rxa3!?, when after 21…bxc4 Wesley gradually managed to invade White’s weakened queenside. Wesley felt after 21.cxb5 axb5 22.Rxa3 bxa4 the stable pawn structure would allow White to attack on the kingside, but whether that would have been enough for the win Grischuk needed is another story. 

In the end Wesley contented himself with giving perpetual check in a winning position – with the draw for Black counting the same as a win in Armageddon:

Surprisingly, however, that would be the day’s only quick result, with dramatic action on most of the other boards. Nowhere was that more than case than in Aronian-Carlsen:

Aronian 0.5:1.5 Carlsen: Living dangerously

The funeral service for the World Champion may have started a little early after Levon Aronian found the fine move 14.Ng1! | photo: Lennart Ootes, Altibox Norway Chess

Magnus Carlsen lost to Wesley So in last year’s Norway Chess, but the only other classical game he lost all year was on July 31st in Biel to Shakhriyar Mamedyarov. He’d gone unbeaten for over 10 months and 60 games since then, but he very nearly went down in flames against Levon Aronian on Wednesday in Stavanger. Once again Magnus stuck with his new sharp Sicilian repertoire, but he was caught off-guard by Levon’s 11.Qb1!, telling TV2:

I was actually pretty satisfied after the opening. Then all of a sudden I had no move. I didn't see Qb1, it was a very strong move. I thought my position wouldn't be so bad, then I thought for a while on my next move. What I did was a bit desperate.

After that move there’s no longer any way for Black to stop the b4-break, since 11…a5 runs into 12.b4! cxb4 13.axb4, and if 13…Bxb4:

The queen sacrifice 14.Qxb4! axb4 15.Rxa8+ Bc8 and 16.Bb6! is simply winning for White. 

Magnus instead went for 11...Nf4, and in the play that followed he tried to go for counterplay on the kingside but got nowhere and, short on time, saw nothing better than to head for a miserable ending a pawn down. Levon would then go on to miss some gilt-edged chances, most notably the killer 45.Rd5!!, when Svidler felt Magnus might just resign on the spot.

The lack of extra time after move 40, and just a 10-second increment, also affected Levon, however, and not for the first time in his career he failed to convert a win against Magnus. The well-known sporting logic about needing to take your chances, or the other team will take theirs, applied here, or to put it in more religious terms…

It's become an early tradition for Magnus to play the last Armageddon game of the day after the action is over elsewhere | photo: Lennart Ootes, Altibox Norway Chess

The momentum was with Magnus and this time he varied on move 5 and went on to play freely and well, gradually taking over on the position and even the clock before winning with Black in 43 moves. Don’t miss Peter Svidler’s in-depth analysis of those two games:

That game didn’t end decisively in classical chess as we expected, but two other clashes did. The first was a shock:

Anand 0-2 Mamedyarov: LPDO

A classical win for Shakhriyar Mamedyarov saw him regain the world no. 4 spot from Anish Giri | photo: Lennart Ootes, Altibox Norway Chess

The first player to pick up the bonus of a full two points for scoring a win in classical chess was Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, who seemed to have ended up merely with a somewhat worse endgame in a 3.Bb5 Sicilian against Vishy Anand. John Nunn’s “Loose Pieces Drop Off” has seldom been more appropriate than it was after Vishy played 33.Nf7?, however, with 34.fxg4? showing a complete disregard for the danger (unless the former World Champion simply decided to end his suffering!):

The rook on a6 and knight on f7 are completely undefended, and 34…Bc8! attacked them both. Vishy resigned on the spot.

Caruana 2-0 MVL: The worst was not over

Fabiano Caruana could afford to stroll around after he caught Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in opening preparation | photo: Lennart Ootes, Altibox Norway Chess

Fabiano Caruana’s Achilles’ heel is blitz, which makes a tournament putting so much emphasis on Armageddon chess tricky, but there is of course one solution – win games in classical chess instead! He managed that with some help from an opening novelty in the Najdorf, 15.Bc4!?, varying from the 15.Bf5 Wei Yi recently played against Ian Nepomniachtchi in the Moscow Grand Prix:

The move was clearly provoking Black to play 15…b5!? with tempo, but perhaps that was what Maxime should have done, since Caruana confirmed that 15…Ncxe4?!, as the French no. 1 played after a relatively short 12 minutes, is “probably not the way for Black to play”. Maxime commented (it’s notable that super-GMs have a habit of talking about “remembering” even when sometimes they’ve been completely caught out in the opening!):

Somehow I failed to remember what to do after Bc4, so I went for this line which I knew was a bit problematic, but I didn’t think it would be so bad.

What Maxime had missed was the danger he was in after 21.Rxb7!

His plan on move 15 had been to play 21…d5 here, but he’d missed in advance that after 22.Qe6 Qf6 23.Re1 Qd4+ 24.Kc1 Qa1+ 25.Rb1 Qf6 26.Qxf6 gxf6 27.Rb7 he’d be left in what Fabiano described as a “disgusting endgame”. So after thinking for 36 minutes Maxime played 21…Rf8, and was surprised when that was met by 22.Re1!? instead of 22.Rxe7+. Our commentary team also considered the capture more dangerous, and at some point after this Maxime felt he’d survived the onslaught:

It was still a tricky position, however, and after missing some good drawing chances (e.g. Maxime would have played 36…Qe2+!, swapping off queens, if he'd noticed that after 37.Kb3 Qd1+ 38.Kb4 he had 38…Qb1+!) Maxime gradually lost the thread. He put it down to the time control, with both players commenting on how tough it is:

MVL: It should still be a draw, but I was lacking time…

Caruana: That’s also the problem with this time control. Once you’re under pressure you never get your time back.

Watch Maxime and Fabiano talk about the game on the official live commentary with Judit Polgar and Anna Rudolf:

Yu Yangyi has shown no nerves so far in his first tournament of this calibre | photo: Lennart Ootes, Altibox Norway Chess

That leaves one pairing, the all-Chinese clash Yu Yangyi vs. Ding Liren, which was an unspectacular but important match. Yu Yangyi was the one applying pressure in the classical game, but when that was drawn in 44 moves it looked as though Ding Liren was heading for a comfortable draw with Black – and therefore victory – in the Armageddon. Somewhat inexplicably, however, the Chinese no. 1 jettisoned a pawn, and then he allowed Yu Yangyi to calmly play 29.Rxe6!:

There was no reason to fear the double attack with 29…Bc4, since after 30.Rxc3 Bxe6 31.Rxc8+ Bxc8 the players had reached a position where opposite-coloured bishops wouldn’t be enough to save Black! Yu Yangyi won in 56 moves. That meant the current Chinese no. 3 has now beaten MVL and Ding Liren in Armageddon in consecutive rounds, putting him level with Magnus in second place on 3 points. 

Shak is in the sole lead after two rounds! | photo: Lennart Ootes, Altibox Norway Chess

Shakhriyar Mamedyarov is out in front on 3.5/4 after winning one of his matches in classical games. You can see the breakdown of the scores below (“R” here is the number of games played – if you win or lose in classical you of course don’t play Armageddon):

Round 3 is the last before the first rest day gives the players the chance to regroup and assess their tournament strategy. We’ll see if Grischuk can bounce back from a tough two days as he takes on Magnus with Black, while Ding Liren-Caruana, Mamedyarov-Aronian, MVL-Anand and So-Yu Yangyi are the other encounters. Tune in to all the live action with Peter Svidler and Jan Gustafsson from 17:00 CEST!

See also:

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