There were just four games on Friday as Ding Liren underwent surgery for a fractured hip, but for the first time in the 2018 edition of Altibox Norway Chess two of them were decisive – and we got winners other than Magnus Carlsen. Sergey Karjakin and Levon Aronian chose the same day to play the out-of-fashion Classical Grünfeld, and while Karjakin’s fine preparation turned into a decisive attack against MVL, Aronian ground down Shakhriyar Mamedyarov in a technical ending. Carlsen remains the sole leader after a quiet draw against Hikaru Nakamura.
It’s traditional that the first rest day in Altibox Norway Chess doesn’t involve too much rest for the players. Last year they found themselves on a farm, while this year their culinary skills were put to the test by HTH Norge in the kitchen of the Clarion Hotel Air. The players competed in pairs, with the hot favourites Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Levon Aronian. Surprisingly, though, the French-Armenian dream team would go on to finish last. “I think separately we’d have done a better job,” said Levon after Round 4, though he had sharper words on the day itself!
The winners were Vishy Anand and Ding Liren, and you could feel Vishy’s pride at winning another World Championship:
Peter Svidler remarked during the Round 4 commentary:
I always mistrusted Vishy when he told me he didn't cook. He steadfastly denied he cooked, but he is now proven to the entire world as a magnificent chef of the first order, so I will no longer trust him on this subject.
In second place were Magnus Carlsen (“I always liked cooking, I just never did it very much”) and Wesley So. They didn’t necessarily entirely know what they were doing…
…but their food was richly appreciated by some:
As Magnus said of his coach Peter Heine Nielsen and his dad after his Round 4 game, though:
I wouldn’t read too much into what they’re saying, as they eat a lot and they eat absolutely everything!
It was clearly a fun time for all concerned, but it turned out there was a darker side to the day.
Ding Liren had hobbled to the event and mainly chopped vegetables sitting down, since he’d fallen off his bike earlier in the day. It later turned out that he’d fractured his hip – a serious injury that required surgery on Friday and meant the game against Fabiano Caruana had to be postponed. It will now be played on Monday’s second rest day, unless Ding has been forced to drop out of the tournament completely. If that happens his results will be discarded.
UPDATE: Ding Liren has had to withdraw from the tournament.
So there were just four games in Round 4, but half of them ended decisively:
Replay the day’s commentary with Peter Svidler and Jan Gustafsson:
Peter Svidler summed up Round 4 as, “a welcome return for the Classical Grünfeld”, with both Karjakin-MVL and Aronian-Mamedyarov featuring 7.Bc4 and reaching the main "tabiya" on move 10 (by a slightly different move-order):
There was a funny moment in the last interview of the day between Anna Rudolf and Levon (during the official live broadcast):
Anna: When did you see you were playing the same opening?
Levon: When Karjakin complimented me on a good choice!
Here the players' paths diverged. Shakhriyar Mamedyarov chose 10…Na5 11.Bd3 b6, of which Peter Svidler commented in his Grünfeld video series:
I'm proud to say I was the original inventor of this line, mainly due to absolutely murderous jetlag.
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave instead played something Svidler played against Magnus Carlsen in the 2011 Tal Memorial, 10…b6 11.dxc5 Qc7 12.Nd4. Svidler commented in his series:
The reason I'm not recommending this line, or going into any detail, is that after this move I believe Black holds, but what he holds is one of a number of endgames a pawn down (White even has a choice). Frankly, the idea of holding an endgame a pawn down, even if you do truly believe it's holdable, isn't to everybody's taste. It's ok to do it every now and again, especially in a game where you're not favourite to win to begin with, as was the case in my game against Carlsen (against him a passive position a pawn down also isn't an ideal solution, but there you go!), but in a normal game going for an endgame like this isn't everybody's cup of tea.
Theory had moved on since, though, and Carlsen commented during the game, “This line with 10…b6 is basically the reason people stopped doing it with White”. Maxime was in for an unpleasant surprise, though, since Sergey demonstrated the idea of 21.Nc4:
He explained afterwards:
It was preparation and of course the computer shows that Black is fine, but in a practical game it’s not so easy to play.
At first Maxime responded well with 21…e6 22.h3 Bh5 23.exf5 exf5 24.Bg5, but here he couldn’t resist taking the most active approach:
Karjakin later commented, “I think 24…Rf8 should be played and Black is very solid”, but Maxime chose 24…f4!? instead, as the watching Carlsen had known he would!
I thought 24…f4 was a really typical Maxime move. I saw the position before and I was sure he was going to go f4, because that’s how he likes to play.
Maxime’s mistake appears to have been to follow up 25.Qf2 with 25…f3?!, though it looked natural and got the (qualified) approval of Hikaru Nakamura, “Even if it might be objectively bad it’s much easier for Black to play”.
The problem, though, was that Sergey found the concrete problem with Black’s play, and after 26.Bxd8 Rxd8 27.Qh4 fxg2 he had 28.Rfe1! (“I thought Rfe1 is a great move, after which I don’t have time” – MVL)
When going for 24…f4 Maxime had felt that with the bishop pair and being “decently well-coordinated” he would be fine, but here he realised he’s in trouble. The h5-bishop would like to go g6, but then 29.Rb7! would win on the spot, so the awkward 28…Bf3 had to be played instead, allowing White to gain a tempo with 29.Re3. After 29…Bc6 30.Rbe1 Rf8 31.Ne5 Bd5 32.Rg3 f6 33.Nd3 we reached the point of no return:
33…Kh8 or 33…Bf7 and Black still has some chances, but after 33…Bxa2? 34.c4! there was no longer a defence against the kingside attack: 34…Qd6 35.Nf4 Qd4+ 36.Kh2 Bxc4 37.Qh6! f5 38.Nh5!
An impressive victory by Sergey Karjakin, who won the first
two editions of Norway Chess but then failed to win a game while finishing last in
2017. He’s now in sole second place just half a point behind Magnus, and he’s
moved above Maxime to 6th place on the live rating list with 2788.2, matching
his peak rating of 2788 set all the way back in July 2011.
Meanwhile, in the other Grünfeld game, Mamedyarov seemed to have good compensation a pawn down against Aronian, but his position gradually became unpleasant. Levon suggested 20…Bxc1 was necessary and said he was “really happy” once he got to play 22.c5. Shak wasn’t going to go down without a fight, though, and found a good sequence after 24.Bc4:
24..Nd4! 25.Bxd4 exd4 26.Bxe6 dxc3 27.Bxd7 Qxd7 28.Nxc3, and although White was temporarily two pawns up that deficit could be reduced to one. White now needed to play precisely not to see his advantage fizzle out, but Levon was up to the task!
39.f5! Bd8 40.f6+ Kh7 41.e6! (the point of 39.f5) 41…fxe6 42.Rf2 Bc7
43.f7! Bxg3+ 44.Kg2 Bd6 45.f8=Q Bxf8 46.Rxf8 and now White was up a piece for two pawns. It was still objectively drawn, it seems, but all it required was a couple of inaccuracies for Levon to go on and pick up the full point.
He’s now back in with a chance of defending his title.
The man still in pole position, of course, is Magnus Carlsen, but his draw with the black pieces against Hikaru Nakamura was instantly forgettable. The players agreed that if anything of note was going to happen in their Queen’s Gambit Declined Hikaru would have had to play the isolated pawn position after 12.exd4. He said he wasn’t in the mood to do that, though, and some precise play (Hikaru noted Carlsen’s 16…b6!) led to a quick draw in 33 moves.
The 12 wins to 1 record for Carlsen must be hard for Nakamura to forget, but it’s almost three years now since he last lost a game to his nemesis.
Anand-So always looked destined to end in a draw, but it had far more to offer spectators, who were treated to numerous little tricks and zwischenzugs. It ended with what Vishy described as “a cute finish”:
29…Rc2! 30.Qxc2 Qg4+ and Black was able to give perpetual check a rook down. In fact after 31.Kh1 Qf3+ 32.Kg1 he was even able to take the time out to threaten mate with 32…Rxe5, but soon it was back to checking and a draw.
So the standings after four rounds are as follows, though note that Ding Liren and Fabiano Caruana have played one less game:
For Round 5 it's now been confirmed that So-Ding Liren will not take place, since Ding Liren has had to withdraw from the tournament...
…but Carlsen-Anand, Caruana-Karjakin, Mamedyarov-Nakamura
and MVL-Aronian should provide more than enough action in any case. Don’t miss our live coverage with Peter
Svidler and Jan Gustafsson!
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