Reports Jun 7, 2019 | 4:31 PMby Colin McGourty

Norway Chess 3: Magnus takes the lead

Magnus Carlsen is the sole leader of the 2019 Altibox Norway Chess tournament after winning what Peter Svidler described as “an instant Grünfeld classic” against Alexander Grischuk. That was just one of four decisive classical games in Round 3, with world no. 3 Ding Liren beating world no. 2 Fabiano Caruana, Armenian no. 1 Levon Aronian beating Azeri no. 1 Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (with Black) and Wesley So taking down Yu Yangyi. They all scored 2 points, while Vishy Anand took 1.5 for smoothly drawing with Black to win in Armageddon against MVL.

The posture of the players reflects the current standings | photo: Lennart Ootes, Altibox Norway Chess

You can replay all the games from Altibox Norway Chess using the selector below:

And here’s the Round 3 live commentary from Peter Svidler and Jan Gustafsson:

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Carlsen 2-0 Grischuk: An instant classic

Magnus talked to Judit Polgar and Anna Rudolf after picking up his first classical win in this year's event | photo: Lennart Ootes, Altibox Norway Chess

After losing twice in Armageddon in the first two rounds, Black against Magnus Carlsen wasn’t what the doctor ordered for Alexander Grischuk. The Russian is known to relish his games against the World Champion, but before the day began their classical score stood at 5 wins to 1 for Magnus. In 2019 he’d already won two brilliant games against Grischuk with the white pieces – in the final round of Shamkir Chess and in the opening blitz in Norway.

There was a spark of hope in the opening, as Grischuk managed to surprise the World Champion, or at least his main second, with the Grünfeld:

That wasn’t all, as with the rare pawn sacrifice 11…b5!? it seemed Grischuk had been the first to pull off a real surprise:

Magnus dodged whatever was awaiting him after 12.Bxc5, however, with the modest 12.Be2, and that was the signal for Grischuk to go into the tank himself before playing 12…Nd7 13.0-0 Bxf3!?. That voluntary exchange looked dubious to Magnus, but he was by no means sure that it wasn’t still home preparation:

I was surprised that he played Bxf3 but you never know with him, because he spends so much time but maybe he’s still in prep sometimes, because he’s bluffing… but it did look very strange. Clearly the point is that he wants to play c4 without allowing Nd4, but I feel like it’s very risky, strategically speaking.

Grischuk’s next four moves cost him over an hour, and he later told Magnus that he felt he was just lost after 18.h4! appeared on the board:

Magnus called that “an exaggeration”, but he went on to win in real style, with Grischuk’s position soon becoming even worse than his dire clock situation. Resignation came on move 34, with nothing to stop 35.Qh7#

We’ve only hinted at the action there, since Peter Svidler has given the game the deep analysis it deserves. Peter, the author of the definitive work on the Grünfeld, knew exactly how Alexander felt:

This is a tremendously strong performance by Magnus on the white side of the Grünfeld. Throughout this game I was having very, very unpleasant flashbacks, because I’ve been playing the Grünfeld my entire life and there is, I think, only one player who consistently made me feel like I didn’t understand the opening, and I got kind of ground underfoot, or trampled underfoot, would be a better way to term it – and that’s Vladimir Kramnik. I lost at least one very painful game in Linares to Vladimir where this exact thing happened, basically. The two bishops and the pawn on d6 just completely demolished me, and Magnus today won what I think will become an instant Grünfeld classic from the white side, so kudos to him.

Don’t miss Peter’s analysis:

And here’s Magnus Carlsen himself talking to Judit Polgar and Anna Rudolf on the live show after the game:

He was asked about the format for this year’s Norway Chess, and echoed something Peter Svidler said earlier in the day about more chess only being good:

It’s obviously not like "classical" classical, since there is this shortened time control, but I think it’s enough time to play interesting games and so far I like the tournament very much. There’s been plenty of fight in the classical games, and having the Armageddon just gives it an extra dimension. It’s just extra excitement every day. I’m sure there are people who like it, people who don’t like it, but I think it’s been very exciting so far and I look forward to the future.

The immediate future involved a cookery competition on the rest day, with Magnus commenting, “It’s one of the most difficult challenges I’ve been posed so far!” His cooking partner was his opponent in Round 3:

One person taking the cooking very seriously was Levon Aronian…

He had reason to be in good spirits, since after missing a number of wins against Magnus in Round 2 he hit back in the next round. As Magnus put it, “It has to be said that he bounced back very nicely today, so he’s apparently not too broken!”

Mamedyarov 0-2 Aronian

The pawn on c2 proved too much | photo: Lennart Ootes, Altibox Norway Chess

Levon put his failure to win the game against Magnus down to “trying to play extremely precisely” and thinking too much instead of trusting his gut feeling. How had he been able to bounce back?

It’s not the first time I have been an idiot – it continuously happens! You kind of relax and you forget.

He was helped in the next game by getting a position he enjoyed against Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, one he described (while apologising to Hungarians Judit and Anna) as, “like a Budapest Gambit with five extra tempi”. It seems 19.Bc4?! was a turning point, while the position after 22…Kf7 was where Shak realised he was in for a tough day at the office:

He’d gone for this position intending to play 23.cxb6, when White would be fine except for the move he’d blundered – 23…Qf6!, hitting both rooks (24.Rd7+ Ke6! doesn't help). So after 27 minutes’ thought Mamedyarov played the sad retreat 23.Rd1!?, and after 23…bxc5 24.Re1 c4 25.Bd2 Levon took the chance to play 25…g5! He explained his decision:

It’s one of those things I learned from Dorfman’s book… one thought is very important: if you have a strategical risk you have to play fast. Definitely Black has more strategical risk, because once White’s pieces come out, I’m busted!

Iossif Dorfman’s book The Method in Chess is currently out of print, but luckily he’s just filmed a video series on his method with Jan:

Meanwhile, back in Stavanger, 29.Ba1? was the final straw:

29…c3! was a killer blow, since 30.Rc1 runs into 30…Qxe3+, winning the rook (that was why 29.Bd4!, defending the e3-pawn, would have put up more resistance). The game ended 30.Rf2 Be4 31.Rc1 c2 and White resigned.

Ding Liren 2:0 Fabiano Caruana

Ding Liren is well on course to qualify by rating for the 2020 Candidates Tournament, where Caruana already has a place | photo: Lennart Ootes, Altibox Norway Chess

Arguably the game of the day was world no. 3 Ding Liren, who has often been criticised for rarely beating the very best guys, picking up the scalp of world no. 2 Fabiano Caruana. The Chinese star unleashed the novelty 9.Bb2, and after almost half an hour Fabiano went for 9…cxb3?!, a decision that came in for heavy criticism:

Ding Liren himself called it a “mistake”, and said he was expecting Black to play 9…e5 10.Nf3 Nc6, though it’s not clear how good that would have been either. The game continued 10.Qxb3 Nc6!? 11.Nxc6 bxc6 12.Bxf6 gxf6 13.Qc3!

Ding Liren: “Even if I didn’t have Qc3 at the end I was also better. After this the position is just winning for White, I think.” Ding picked up the pawn on f6 and would later win a piece, but he regretted the amount of counterplay he gave Fabiano, who perhaps had chances for more:

39…a2!? 40.Qxa2 Qc3! would have posed White problems. 39…Qg5 was also energetic, but soon after 40.Nh5 Qxg4+ 41.Ng3 (giving up a pawn to consolidate) Caruana exchanged off queens, when Ding was finally sure he’d win. Playing on 10-second increments didn’t increase the defending side’s chances and Liren went on to win in 77 moves.

Ding Liren was struggling with a cold after the game, but compared to breaking his hip a year ago things are going pretty well! | photo: Lennart Ootes, Altibox Norway Chess

Wesley So 2:0 Yu Yangyi

It was a similar story in this game, where Wesley So came well-prepared for his opponent’s Petroff Defence. It seemed like the kind of position that should quickly fizzle out into nothing (or rather, Armageddon), but Yu Yangyi got tangled up:

Here 25.h5! gxh5 26.Bf5+ Kb8 27.e6 kept the game alive, and at every point when it seemed Yu Yangyi was approaching safety Wesley found a new resource, until eventually the Chinese player was unable to hold things together on increment.

As in the blitz Yu Yangyi won two matches before losing the third | photo: Lennart Ootes, Altibox Norway Chess

That was the last game to finish, while the day had featured just one Armageddon:

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave 0.5:1.5 Vishy Anand

In the classical game in this encounter Maxime surprised Vishy with a rare 10th move in the Ruy Lopez, and 10 moves later he was forced to make a move he admitted was ugly:

20…c6 cut the black bishop on a8 out of the position, but no suffering followed, and in fact it was Black who was slightly better when a draw was agreed on move 32.

After two tough days Vishy picked up a win | photo: Lennart Ootes, Altibox Norway Chess

Vishy talked about the tricky question of what to do in the 15 minutes before the Armageddon, though he managed to race back to his room and check things out with his computer and second Grzegorz Gajewski. In Armageddon it was Maxime who varied first, but 13.Nh4? almost ended the game as a contest:

Maxime hadn’t blundered 13…Nxe4?, since 14.Rxe4 is good for White there, but he had blundered 13…Na5!, when if White plays 14.Bc2 Black can now play 14…Nxe4! and pick up a pawn, since the bishop on a8 is now covering e4.

Maxime was forced to play 14.Nf5, but after 14…Nxb3 Black was simply better, and that didn’t change until the game ended on move 40 with Maxime offering a draw when both players still had over three minutes on the clock. That draw offer was of course the same as a resignation.

The "draw" left Maxime with 1 point out of 6 | photo: Lennart Ootes, Altibox Norway Chess

So it was a good comeback for Vishy after what he described as his “really embarrassing” loss to Mamedyarov the day before. Things haven’t improved for Maxime, who has now lost two Armageddons and a classical game against Caruana after starting so well in Norway in the blitz. At least Vishy and Maxime combined well in the cooking contest on the rest day!

The standings after three rounds have a familiar player on top, and in this case it’s thanks to Armageddon! In classical chess Magnus has won once and drawn twice, as have Ding Liren, Levon Aronian and Wesley So, but the difference is he’s also won both Armageddon games he’s played:

Saturday’s Round 4 sees Carlsen-Mamedyarov, with Magnus no doubt beginning to think about records again. For instance, if he scores 4.5/6 in the remaining classical rounds he’ll have surpassed his previous best official FIDE rating. Tune in to all the live action with Peter Svidler and Jan Gustafsson from 17:00 CEST!

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