Magnus Carlsen beat Levon Aronian in what Peter Svidler called “a tremendously impressive game” to take a full point lead after just three rounds of the 2018 edition of Altibox Norway Chess. That result also saw Magnus cross 2850 on the live rating list, while the other nine players are yet to win a game between them. It wasn’t for the want of trying, since all four of the remaining games featured interesting struggles, including some memorable fireworks in Mamedyarov-Karjakin.
As in Round 1, there was a single win in Round 3 of Altibox Norway Chess, and it was all about one man:
Replay the day’s commentary from Peter Svidler and Jan Gustafsson (tip: as with a Marvel movie, it’s worth watching to the very end for a final twist!):
It was already going well for Magnus Carlsen. He’d delivered a beatdown to his future challenger in Round 1 and used an opening novelty to score an effortless draw with Black against his previous challenger in Round 2. In Round 3 he was facing the defending champion and a man who’d beaten him a year ago in Norway. For this one, it seemed Magnus might have got in an early psychological blow before the tournament even began:
Yes, after his Candidates meltdown Levon Aronian went into the tournament outside the Top 10, though the last time Magnus had joked about that it hadn’t gone so well. Before the 2015 Sinquefield Cup they’d had a training session together (and how can we avoid yet again using the only known video footage from that camp)...
...and when Magnus was asked if it was a good idea to train with such a fierce rival, he quipped that it was ok since Levon was no longer in the Top 10! That didn’t last long, as Levon went on to win the tournament ahead of Magnus.
Peter Svidler has now analysed this game:
This time, though, karma didn’t come back to bite Magnus, and in fact things couldn’t have gone much better. The 5.Re1 Berlin was an unpromising start, but the World Champion had come prepared, repeating the line Fabiano Caruana had played against Aronian in the recent GRENKE Chess Classic. That game ended in a 32-move draw, but Magnus varied with 12.Rxe8+ instead of 12.Bd3 and after the forced 12…Qxe8 he revealed his point with 13.Qd3. Levon already thought for 11 minutes over 13…d6, and then after 14.Nd2 he took a fateful decision:
Levon did something that seemed reasonable at first sight and took advantage of the white knight temporarily blocking the c1-bishop to play 14…Bg5?! Our commentary team explained that in such structures Black is usually fine after exchanging off the dark-squared bishops, but it seems this was an exception to the rule:
Once again, as in Round 1, Magnus didn’t have any immediate knockout blow, but he didn’t need one:
I don’t know if there was a turning point because I thought I was always on the front foot. I felt that pretty early on I had a very nice position – not a lot better, but certainly more pleasant, and in positions where you have a slight advantage with more space it’s easier to find good moves than for him. He’s trying to kind of break out and then it’s easy to go wrong.
When pushed, Magnus identified 23.g4! as significant. Levon had provoked the move with 22…Ng7, but if it was a weakness it was one he never came close to exploiting:
I think what he underestimated was 23.g4. He probably felt that I was asking too much of the position, but it feels very normal to me. I’m playing all these moves, a4, g4, everything just to restrict his pieces.
At this point Levon finally went for 23…c6!?, a move that would have been better back on move 14 instead of the plan of swapping off bishops. Here it just weakened d6, and things began to fall apart as Aronian also slipped into serious time trouble. The lack of an increment before move 61 meant he might have struggled physically to make all his moves, but it never came to that, since 27…Nf6? was the last nail in his coffin (27…Qf6 would have been better, but after 28.Qd2 even if Black defends against the mating threats it’s likely White will pick up the pawn on a5):
28.Rf3! h6 29.Ne4! was the kind of thing the World Champion wasn’t going to miss with 40 minutes on his clock, and after 29…Nxe4 30.Qxf7+ Kh8 31.Qxg6 there was nothing to do but resign.
That game may have awakened some painful Berlin Candidates memories for Levon…
…but he’s often said in the past that losing a game early on can provide the spark he needs to play well afterwards. Meanwhile another famously slow starter, Magnus Carlsen, is now on 2.5/3, but he was trying to keep his feet on the ground:
There couldn’t be a better start, but we’ve played three rounds and I’m not going to cash in yet.
He talked about the need to remain “hungry”, but when asked if he was feeling the pressure he responded, “now that everything’s going fine it’s just a joy!”
That win took Magnus back into the “2850” live rating club, one of the most exclusive clubs in chess history, since historically the only other members are Caruana and Kasparov:
It also puts him 39.8 points ahead of 2nd place Caruana, so perhaps it's time for a “what a difference a year makes” snapshot of the rating list after Magnus lost to Vladimir Kramnik in Norway Chess on the 14th June last year:
As you can see, we were potentially one round away from having a new leader of the rating list for the first time in 7 years – and it could have been not just Kramnik but So or Aronian. It never happened, though, and a year later Magnus is soaring again.
In a way the original purpose of the live rating list, first developed by Hans Arild Runde, was to chart the progress of the young Carlsen, and when Magnus had reached the pinnacle Hans seemed to lose interest and let others take over the job. Nowadays the chess world’s Magnus statistician is another Norwegian, Tarjei J. Svensen, and of course he’s been busy (this is just a selection):
TL;DR: Magnus is good!
Elsewhere it was the same story as in the previous rounds – draws that while interesting never really got the pulses racing. The one game that perhaps doesn’t apply to is Mamedyarov-Karjakin, the one we suggested you might want to bet on ending in a draw. The basis for that prediction was the friendship between the two players, that nothing dramatic was at stake, and that Mamedyarov was still recovering from toothache.
In a way that prediction proved correct, since it was the first game to finish, but we’d failed to take into account that Shak had recovered to the extent that he was now ready to eat ice-cream, as he happily explained at the post-game press conference! He was also ready to enter into a super-sharp line of the Italian where Sergey Karjakin seemingly lured the white queen to its doom:
20.Qxf6 runs into 20…Be7, though it seems White actually gets enough compensation with 21.Qxe5 Bxh4 22.Qxe8 Rxe8 23.Rxe8. After thinking for 11 minutes Shak instead went for the more spectacular 20.Nxg6 fxg6 21.Qxf6 Rf8 22.Qh4 g5:
Again the g-pawn attacks the queen and after either 23.Qh5? or 23.Qg4? bad things would happen to White. Mamedyarov was ready, though, with 23.Bxg5! and after 23…Rxf2 24.Qxh6+ Kg8 he forced a draw by perpetual check.
It was a game that had enthralled some of the other players. MVL described it as “brilliant” during a visit to the confession booth, and Vishy commented that, “rather annoyingly my opponent made a move,” so he’d had to take his eyes away from it. On the other hand, Sergey admitted he’d had it all worked out at home, while although Shak was somewhat caught out he also wouldn’t have raced to the critical position in the game without knowing that there was likely to be a happy ending.
The main topic of Maxime Vachier-Lagrave’s confessional visit during his game against Fabiano Caruana was to explain that he’d finally got in some preparation – a twist in an old line of the Petroff – and was very happy with his position:
Things already got quite dangerous for Fabiano, because now that I get my pawn to a5 it’s already difficult to suggest a defensive setup. I’m just going to somehow get my rook to the b-file.
Maxime was expecting at least to get a long game, but soon it all came to nothing: 26…Rd8 27.Be3 (27.a6! was suggested by Fabiano) 27…a6 28.Ra4 Ng8!. Maxime lamented:
I’ve got to admit I missed this very nice move Ng8, after which suddenly I cannot prevent his knight to come to f5, so I basically have to exchange it, and then it’s not a long game anymore.
Vishy Anand said he “improved” on Sergey Karjakin’s play against Ding Liren in the last round of the Berlin Candidates with 16.Re1, instead of 16.Qe2, but then something went wrong:
I can’t pinpoint what exactly I did wrong - I know that I managed to get a bit more at home!
It may well have been in the position after 19…Qc6:
20.b3! was Ding’s suggestion, while after 20.axb5?! axb5 21.Ne4 Black seemed to take over until again, as in Berlin, White was forced to find a fortress to hold the game.
The last game to finish was So-Nakamura, that saw Wesley win a pawn in exchange for running some real risks by putting his king on e2:
14…e5! from Nakamura was a bold attempt to exploit that fact, but eventually it was White who would emerge with an edge in an ending. It was drawn in 47 moves, but both players were so fascinated by all the potential pawn races that didn’t appear that they spent minutes analysing at the board and then almost had to be dragged kicking and screaming out of the TV studio afterwards so the official commentary could wrap up for the day.
The standings going into the first rest day are therefore simple – Magnus leads 7 players by a point on 2.5/3, while two of his big rivals, Caruana and Aronian, are 1.5 points back after losing to him:
When asked how difficult it would be to catch Magnus, Hikaru replied, “Somebody better beat him!” That somebody could be him, since he has the white pieces against Magnus when the action resumes on Friday.
Before that, though, there’s a Banter Blitz session with Peter Svidler on Thursday, at 12:00 CEST. Don't miss a chance to play a chess legend!