Magnus Carlsen and Ian Nepomniachtchi meet in Round 4 of Norway Chess in their penultimate classical game before the 2021 World Chess Championship match with neither player currently in top form. Bother Magnus and Nepo were losing their Armageddon games, against Richard Rapport and Aryan Tari, but both found a way to win. Sergey Karjakin pulled off the same trick against Alireza Firouzja.
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And here’s the day’s live commentary from Judit Polgar and Jovanka Houska.
Once again, all three matches were decided in Armageddon in Round 3, with Black, and the higher-rated player, on top.
You never know what to expect against Richard Rapport, and this time he came up with 1.Nf3.
Magnus Carlsen spent 3.5 minutes on 1…Nf6, another five minutes on meeting 2.c4 with 2…g6 and, seemingly to the surprise of all concerned, we soon had a King’s Indian Defence on the board. That looked to guarantee excitement ahead, but those hopes were soon dashed.
I felt like he was actually in the mood to play. He played King’s Indian, I was not expecting it at all, then I figured he will go for this Mar del Plata or something [7…Nc6 8.d5 Ne7], and then he went 7…exd4 and [8.Nxd4 Re8 9.f3] 9…Nc6 and a very unambitious line.
Richard said he feared an ambush in the main lines, so after 10…Nh5 he decided to bring proceedings to a close.
11.g4 Be5 12.gxh5 Bxh2+
13.Kxh2 Qh4+ 14.Kg1 Qg3+ and we had a forced draw by repetition that had been seen many times before.
Richard later commented on his new Top 10 status:
Tomorrow I’m playing Alireza, so I think it ends there, probably, but I don’t really care. Like I’ve said, I’m here to play this tournament… I forced a draw like this, and for a Top 10 player I guess it should be shameful.
The Hungarian star also said of reaching 2800, “it’s a dream, it’s not a goal”, but his draw in classical chess had ensured he’d remain the sole leader of the tournament at the end of the day, and he’d also reasoned that if he could win in Armageddon it would be “huge for my standings”.
It’s hard to beat the World Champion on demand, even in Armageddon, but Richard was very close. He played 1.g3 and a King’s Indian Attack (“I decided to go for this King’s Indian with reversed colours — ok, I’m a tempo up, I’m cheating a bit, I’m not as brave as him!”) and although initially Black was better, Richard then took over, until he was simply winning.
18.c3!? had already loosened up the black position, and now 22.Rxc5+! was a knockout blow, with 22…Qxc5 23.Rc1 Qxc1+ 24.Bxc1 Rxh2!? following.
This was the turning point. Richard had six minutes to Magnus’ two and it turns out White is completely winning after 25.Bf3! Instead Richard played 25.Bxg5? in just 17 seconds, and after 25…Rg8! all outcomes were still possible.
The Hungarian said he wanted to play Bf3 instantly, but then thought he might be missing something “as usual”. He was scathing of the way he played:
It felt like I had my chance, so maybe I was not entirely stupid, but then again you have six minutes and you’re playing the no. 1, and maybe the best player of all time, and I have this position. I might be winning, I don’t know why not to think more than 10 seconds or something, so this is just unexplainable!
After 26.Qd6 Rxg5 27.Qxe6+ Kd8 28.Qd6+ Ke8 Richard then played 29.Bf3? at just the wrong moment.
Magnus then blitzed out the saving 29…Ne5+! and the Armageddon was essentially over.
The problem is that after 30.Kxh2 Nxf3+ it’s an instant draw by perpetual check: 31.Kh3 (31.Kh1 Rg1#) 31…Ng1+ 32.Kh4/h2 Nf3+ and so on. Richard played on with 30.Kf1, but his efforts to avoid a draw by perpetual check just led to a lost position, before he finally did get to force a draw, which gave Magnus victory.
Ian Nepomniachtchi was asked whether he prefers to have White or Black in Armageddon and responded:
Better not to play, better to go for dinner and have some extra time for rest — better to win in the classical part!
It had looked as though Ian might get the win in classical chess after Aryan Tari went astray in a 6.a4 Najdorf. The Russian commented:
Obviously what he did was somewhat weird and he was really imprecise, I believe, during the opening part, but, how it commonly happens, once you get into trouble you start to play better, you start to be more focused, and probably he defended quite well, but I believe I could pose much more problems and that’s why I’m really disappointed with my play today in the classical game.
Perhaps the last key moment came after 20.Qa5.
Tari pointed out this moment afterwards.
It was actually a very bad game by me… because I felt I was under pressure with White, and that shouldn’t really happen. I was spending a lot of time and I had to defend, but I’m happy that I managed to find this Qa5 and Qe1. I felt I played very precise, otherwise it would be so dangerous, but I played many precise moves and then it was a draw.
According to the computer 20…Qb7! would actually have kept up the pressure for Black, with the c2-rook able to move to e2 or d2 and harass the white position.
Instead after 20…Rb8?! 21.Rd3! nothing is working, and it seems after 21…Kf8 22.Qe1 Aryan really did have things under control.
For the Armageddon he switched to 3.f4 and it paid off when Nepo blundered with the natural-looking 11…d5? 12.Bxd7+ Qxd7 in what should have been a good position.
Aryan didn’t waste too much time in playing 13.Nxd5!, with Ian later explaining:
Basically after I blundered Nxd5 I decided, alright, I don’t want to go into a slightly worse position like 13…Qxd5 Bxa5 14.c4, 15…cxd3, but it was probably a better idea compared with what I did.
In the game after 13…exd5?! 14.Bxa5 Qb5 Nepo went pawn grabbing on the queenside, but it looked as though Aryan’s attack would be unstoppable on the kingside. All it took to turn things around, however, was one missed opportunity.
Here 24.Ng5! seems to win almost on the spot (e.g. 24…fxe6 25.f6!), but after 24.Rxe3? fxe6! it was Black who was on top. Aryan lamented:
I was just winning, I had a crushing attack, but I missed his queen came back to the defence. I thought I was mating, but it wasn’t so easy.
The queen returned via d5 and f5, and Ian got to play some spectacular moves.
Even here, however, there could have been a very late twist. After 30.Rg4 Rxg6? the surprising 31.Ne5! would have seen the advantage swing back to White, but instead after 31.Nh4 Qxg4+ Tari resigned.
The most tenacious push for victory in classical chess came from Alireza Firouzja. The 18-year-old has Ivan Cheparinov with him as a second in Stavanger, and they managed to out-prepare 2016 World Championship Challenger Sergey Karjakin. Black found himself on the ropes in a tricky endgame.
It seems the best chance for Alireza was e.g. here to play 21.c4! and keep the black pieces restricted, though there’s no knockout blow. As Sergey put it:
I didn’t like my position, of course, he was better prepared, but then somehow it’s actually not so easy for him to play. If he plays some natural moves and he doesn’t get anything immediately, like it was in the game, then somehow the advantage disappears, so he should have done something more to the point, but it’s hard to say what exactly.
Alireza here played 21.Rad1, with play continuing 21…Nd5! 22.Nxd5 Rxd5 23.Rxd5 Bxd5. “I exchanged so many pieces, so that was not good — I should keep my pieces”, he said afterwards.
Soon it looked as though the game was about to end in a repetition, and although Alireza played on it was without any realistic hopes of victory, and the match went to another dramatic Armageddon game.
Sergey only needed to draw with the black pieces to win the match, but, in what he explained later was a bid to keep the initiative, he set about advancing his pawns to h5, h4 and a5, a4 before capturing on g3 and b3. It was working well, until 25…Kxg7? turned out to be a major blunder.
After 26.Bxe4! Black can’t capture on e4 due to d5+, and Sergey admitted that the urge to simply resign was strong in the play that followed.
At first it looked as though the only reward for playing on was going to be allowing Alireza to win with a brilliancy.
39.Rxf5!, delaying capturing the queen on f8, was the only winning move, but after 39…Kh8 Alireza should have followed up with 40.Rxh5! and White wins — 40…Qf6 is hit by 41.Rg6.
Instead Alireza finally did take the queen with 40.Rxf8+?, and although he still had some chances to win after that until a blunder on move 47, it was no longer a surprise when Sergey went on to clinch not just a draw but even a win.
So that was a 3rd loss in three Armageddon games for Alireza Firouzja, but as for all the players his main focus is on classical chess, where even if his draws have been frustrating at times they’ve still seen him gain two points on the rating list.
The tournament standings look as follows, with Richard’s lead cut to a single point — remember Nepomniachtchi-Karjakin will be played on Saturday’s rest day after Ian arrived too late for Round 1.
Round 4 features two match-ups between players who have never faced each other before in classical chess, but the other clash is the one we’ve been anticipating since the Norway Chess field was announced — Magnus Carlsen will take will take on his World Championship Challenger Ian Nepomniachtchi.
They’ll also play in the final round, but with the white pieces in Round 4 this is going to be Magnus Carlsen’s best chance to improve on his one win, four losses record in classical chess against his challenger. Will the players be out to make a statement before the match, or will it be safety first? We’ll soon find out!
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