“More or less everything that you would want from a chess game” is how Peter Svidler described Levon Aronian beating Magnus Carlsen for the 2nd year in a row at Altibox Norway Chess. There was mayhem wherever you looked, as Hikaru Nakamura took the sole lead by demolishing MVL in a Najdorf, while Anish Giri struck to take down Vishy Anand. Vladimir Kramnik was nearly the day’s third World Champion casualty but he found some brilliant defence to withstand Fabiano Caruana. Sergey Karjakin did the same against Wesley So.
Those looking to explain the explosion of action we saw in Round 4 pointed to two main culprits: the players’ visit to a farm on the rest day…
…and Jan Gustafsson’s ever-reliable predictions:
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Beating Magnus Carlsen two years in a row in the same tournament would be enough for most people, but Levon Aronian also went on to do it in glorious style. Peter Svidler summed up the encounter:
This game in particular I think is hugely important because it features more or less everything that you would want from a chess game: an important theoretical novelty followed by a very interesting exchange sacrifice with a motif you don’t normally see very often of isolating and playing against a black queen which you do not catch in two moves. It’s sort of a long-term plan aimed at playing against the horrible queen on a3, and then a very beautiful, if perhaps unnecessary, sacrifice on h7. Some mistakes did creep in towards the time control, but in general a very, very well-played game, in particular by Lev, of course. To win a game like this against the World Champion is of course extremely gratifying.
We often hear players complain that nowadays novelties have to be played at the first possible opportunity, since otherwise someone else will get there first. On this occasion, though, Levon revealed he’d come up with 10.Bc2 (“a brilliant opening idea in a line that no-one plays” – Giri) back around 2003.
Its first outing couldn’t possibly have gone better! Don’t miss Peter Svidler’s video analysis:
Afterwards a justifiably proud Levon commented:
I just fight, I want to fight. It’s pleasant to play against someone as strong as Magnus - much more exciting than playing against some guy who wants to make a draw!
Anish Giri hasn’t been out to draw in Norway Chess, and in Round 4 he got his reward. The opening saw him repeat a line of the English he’d used against Alexander Grischuk in the recent Moscow Grand Prix. He’d prepared an improvement over the early g4 that had seen him flirt with disaster there, but it was Vishy who deviated first with 7…Nc6. Compared to what was going on elsewhere the game seemed relatively tame...
…but then suddenly, as time grew short for both players, 31…Nc5? 32.g6! was game over!
The threats of taking on f7 and Qh5 are simply too strong, while 32…f5 33.Qh5 Qg4+ 34.Qxg4 fxg4 loses prosaically to 35.Re1! and there’s no way to parry the threat of Re7 and taking on g7 (White can also play 31.Ra1 to head for g7 via a7).
Or to put it another way:
In the game Vishy seemed to hold things together with 32…Qd7 but 33.Bb4! was pinning and winning, creating the simple but lethal threat of d4 next move. Vishy had seen enough and resigned.
The return of the Najdorf Sicilian has been one of the most spectator-friendly trends in top-level chess in the last couple of years. Players have been trying almost anything on move 6, and on this occasion Hikaru went with 6.Bd3, the 10th most popular move according to the chess24 database.
Soon the game had become a race, and it was impossible not to compare it to Carlsen-Nakamura in Round 3, but with colours reversed! This time it was Nakamura who was dominating on the queenside and MVL who was hunting mate on the other side of the board. Nakamura commented:
It’s kind of like my game against Magnus – you’re going for it, it’s impossible to turn back!
Both players agreed Black’s position looked promising, but after playing 27…f4 Maxime had to face harsh reality:
28.cxb7 is already an option here, but Nakamura played the calm 28.Kg1 and then only after 28…e3 29.hxg4 hxg4 went for 30.cxb7! The pawn is simply too strong, and after a couple of spite checks – 30…exf2+ 31.Rxf2 g3 32.Rxf4 Qh2+ 33.Kf1 Black had nothing better than to resign.
Was it karma after how Maxime spent the evening after being on the farm?
That made Nakamura’s classical score against MVL five wins
to zero, and with two wins in the first four rounds Nakamura is now the man to
beat in Norway Chess. His chances of overall victory are boosted by the fact he’s
already played the World Champion.
We could very easily have had five decisive results in Round 4, but some heroic defence from the event’s Russian contingent came to the rescue. Initially, however, it didn’t seem as though defence would be required. Vladimir Kramnik came racing out of the blocks and was pushing on both sides of the board with the black pieces:
Here Vlad saw that he’d have a “very comfortable position” with 15…b4, but instead he went for more with 15…f4? only to discover he’d simply blundered 16.Qg4+ and a few moves later he was down a pawn. We were now moving into the phase when Fabiano’s Instagram vow to milk his opponents came into play:
Kramnik feared the worst, but then saw glimmers of hope:
After blundering a pawn usually you don’t save a game anymore in this tournament, but I was surprised to see my position was quite “fightable”.
Caruana clearly missed opportunities to bring home the bacon, but Vladimir showed some superb resourcefulness and precision to hold on:
42…a5! was a move that bamboozled even Peter Svidler, but the computers tell us it’s absolutely the best in the position, with capturing en passant allowing …c5 while the a-pawn can be blockaded. Caruana replied 43.Ra1, but that didn’t stop 43…c5! 44.bxc6 Rxc6, when Fabi saw nothing better than giving up an exchange with 45.Rxa5!?.
Kramnik later correctly gave up the g-pawn to infiltrate the white position and ultimately, despite all the extra passed pawns, White had nothing better than a repetition after 49…Re1+:
50.Kd2 Rf1 51.Ke3 Re1+ 52.Kd2 Rf1 53.Ke3 Game drawn
Afterwards Kramnik revealed that what the day on the farm had taught him is that he’d really like to learn how to drive (not necessarily a tractor) – “The rest - milking cows - I’m already excellent, so I don’t see any point to continue!”
His compatriot Sergey Karjakin seems to be one of the few elite chess players who owns a driving licence, though it was Wesley So who was at the wheel for most of their Round 4 game.
In Shamkir recently, So outplayed Karjakin with the white pieces after doing the same to Kramnik the day before. They seemed to be following the same script in Stavanger, with Wesley giving up an exchange for total positional domination. With time running low, however, he made the fateful decision to grab a pawn on c4:
That left the e1-rook undefended and allowed Black’s hapless knight to escape its cage with 34…Nf6! and soon make it to the perfect outpost on d5 (almost any other 34th move - e.g. 34.Kf2 - would have kept White on top).
The position was suddenly more or less equal, but it’s testimony to Wesley’s composure and persistence that he nevertheless continued to apply pressure and seemed to come very close to picking up the full point:
61.g5! An elegant break on a day of elegant chess, but although the black king was soon driven back it found salvation in stalemate:
69…R8xe7! 70.Bxe7 Re5+! 71.Kxe5 (there’s nowhere the king can go to escape the rook!):
A fittingly picturesque end to a wonderful day of chess.
Those results left Nakamura out on his own at the top, while you know it’s quite some tournament if you have Carlsen, MVL and Anand in 8-10th spots!
Although none of Magnus’s closest rivals won, his lead at the top of the live rating list has been cut to under 13 points, meaning there’s a realistic subplot that by the end of the tournament we could have a no. 1 other than Carlsen for the first time since 2011!
In Sunday’s Round 5 Magnus has White against Giri, who vowed to try and avoid endgames so headline writers wouldn’t be able to talk about Magnus milking an advantage… It’s also a fair bet that Kramnik will do all he can to leapfrog Nakamura into the lead!
Tune in for all the action with commentary from Peter Svidler and Jan Gustafsson LIVE here on chess24 from 16:00 CEST onwards. You can also follow the action in our mobile apps: