Magnus Carlsen took the lead after four rounds of Altibox Norway Chess by beating Fabiano Caruana after the two players had drawn their previous 19 encounters. “Yeah, it’s a very good day!” said Magnus, who felt he had the best position against Fabi since Game 1 of their 2018 World Championship match. The other two encounters went to Armageddon madness, with Alireza Firouzja winning again, this time against Levon Aronian, while Aryan Tari beat Jan-Krzysztof Duda in a clash that saw both players finally get off the mark!
You can replay all the Altibox Norway Chess games using the selector below.
And here’s the day’s live commentary from Vladimir Kramnik and Judit Polgar, who were joined early on by Russian violin virtuoso Vadim Repin, a prodigy who Kramnik’s mother used to use as an example for her son!
There's only one place to start! The clash between the world numbers 1 and 2, and the last players to battle it out in a World Championship match, was the undisputed game of the day, but we’d become somewhat blasé about these encounters. There had been no less than 19 classical draws in a row between the two stars, with the last decisive game Magnus Carlsen’s victory on May 28th, 2018... in Round 1 of Norway Chess!
Since then Carlsen missed beating Caruana by a whisker in the Sinquefield Cup later that year when he infamously did his “shush” celebration too early in the confessional, but other than that, as Magnus pointed out, he’d come closest in Game 1 of the London World Championship match. He began his interview with Fiona Steil-Antoni:
Yeah, it's a very good day! Frankly speaking, I was thinking during the game that this was probably the best position I'd had against him since the first game of the match, so it was obviously very, very sweet to get that win.
It was a strange game, with Magnus playing a known line of the 4.Qc2 Nimzo-Indian until Fabiano thought for 20 minutes in the following position, one covered in Jan Gustafsson’s A repertoire against 1.d4, Part 3: Nimzo-India Defence.
11…Qe7 is the most common move here, and a move Fabiano himself used against Shakhriyar Mamedyarov in the 2018 St. Louis Rapid & Blitz, when he got a good position before later losing to a one-move blunder. His play in that game would be echoed in Norway Chess.
This time Fabiano instead went for the rarer 11…Qd7, later commenting:
It was a bad game from my point of view. The opening I was a bit surprised and I couldn’t really remember stuff, so I just went for a line which is relatively stable.
All previous games in the chess24 database had ended in draws…
…but Magnus noted in the confessional, “the line that he played is known to not equalize completely”, and if there was anyone you’d bet on squeezing out a win in the position it was the current World Champion. His predecessor Vladimir Kramnik made that point live after only rooks, knights and pawns were left on the board.
The critical phase of the game began after 25.Kf3.
Fabi was critical of his 25…c3!?, a break he’d also played in that earlier blitz game against Mamedyarov, but his suggestion of playing the rook ending a pawn down after 25…f5!? and mass exchanges on c4 looks like no fun either - in the confessional Magnus said he felt he had “decent chances” there.
After 26.bxc3 Fabi took another 18 minutes, explaining:
I thought 25…c3 26.bxc3 Nc4 would be an easier draw, but then I realised after 27.Nxc4 Rxc4 and 28.Rd1, for example, I don’t actually have a good way of playing this position, because very often he’s invading with the rooks on the 7th rank.
Again, Magnus had pointed out exactly the same thing in the confessional, so that Fabi’s 26…Rc5 seemed like a reasonable option, and our commentators were convinced of a happy ending for Black until move 30.
Best here, it seems, was for Black just to “do nothing” with 30…Ke7, and although White would still be pressing there’s no immediate kill. Instead 30…Rc6? shocked Kramnik, who wondered what was up with Caruana. Fabi agreed “I’m basically just done” after Magnus was able to break the blockade with 31.c5!, though the position remained tense until the desperate 39…e5? signalled the end.
Magnus took the pawn and soon wrapped up a convincing victory against his biggest rival.
That last win in 2018 had left Magnus 36 points clear at the top of the rating list, while now it’s 38 points – 2866.5 to 2828.6.
The World Champion couldn’t ask for more.
Obviously the last game and a half have been a dream for me, but there’s a long way to go and Fabi has struck back very well after losses before, so I think he’s a force to be reckoned with, as well as Levon and Alireza.
Let’s take a look at the game between those other two rivals for Magnus.
The most interesting position in the hard-fought classical game between these two players was perhaps the last, where Levon offered a draw after 31.Ne3. The computer likes White and the black king may be kicked around further by c4 or g4, and Kramnik felt the draw offer was a sign of fear, or at the very least respect, for 17-year-old Alireza. “You offer a draw only to a player of your calibre!”
I felt that I was better before and now there is this very unclear position, and I didn’t think I was better. Ok, I probably over-estimated the danger of my position. Probably it’s more comfortable for me to play it still, but before that I allowed him to get this bishop on b6, which was very unpleasant, so I was thinking that now I am the one fighting for equality - so that explains my offer.
Indeed the computer liked Black briefly after the bishop got
to b6, though it seems the momentum had shifted again before the draw offer.
In any case, it meant that Alireza would play a 3rd Armageddon game in a row, with this one getting off to a strange start. Firouzja had Black and 7 minutes to Levon’s 10, but in fact he started the game with only 5 minutes and 20 seconds on his clock, since he’d come late to the board.
Alireza said he’d been told the wrong time by the arbiter, and that the arbiter told him he'd waited 3 minutes extra to give the youngster a chance. Alireza accused the arbiter of lying (when he joined the live commentary), but the chances of a major incident were lessened by the fact that he went on to win the game!
Arild Rimestad later gave his side of the story on Facebook:
Just to clear things [up], both Aronian and Firouzja were told that the Armageddon would start at 20:45. Firouzja came about 1½ minute late to his game. After he had won the game, we talked a little and it was clear that both players knew they had been informed about the 20:45 starting time. Somehow his father had informed him it was 20.50! Afterwards his father apologised. Let's hope players will be on time and leave the drama to be settled on the boards. Enjoy the games, the commentators and the tournament.
Alireza again played the Caro-Kann and was briefly better before ending up much worse. Levon lamented, “I thought I was winning and then I think I just played too slowly, like in the match with Magnus,” and he missed numerous good chances before an extraordinary sequence of moves unfolded with both players down to a minute on the clock.
33.Ndf5!! was a winning blow, both blocking the 5th rank to allow g6! and opening up the b2-bishop’s path to g7. Instead Levon blocked the 5th rank with 33.c5, but that in fact allowed the surprising 33…Qxa2!, spotted by Kramnik, when the threat of mate on b1 is a killer. Instead Alireza stopped g6 by playing 33…g6 himself, when Levon got to play the spectacular 34.Qh8+!
After 34…Kxh8 35.Nc6+ queens were exchanged, but the problem for Levon was that he needed to win on demand. Instead Alireza made no mistake and won his second Armageddon game in a row.
This was a clash between two players who started the day on 0 points, and by this stage Norwegian no. 2 Aryan Tari said he’d decided it was time to go “all-in”. He played the Grand Prix attack, a favourite of English chess players and, it turned out, a young Vladimir Kramnik!
Duda welcomed the Grand Prix attack, but called his 12…Qd7 “a stupid move” (12…gxf5! was a possible try), since it invited 13.Bh6!. Kramnik noted that usually in his early games Black had castled kingside by this point and he’d soon deliver mate, but in this case after 13…Bxh6 (costing Duda 30 minutes) 14.Qxh6 0-0-0 the king had fled. The position remained sharp, however, and after 18…Qxh3 Vladimir was shocked by Aryan recapturing the black queen by doubling his own pawns with 19.gxh3!?
In this case, however, our silicon overlords are fully on Aryan’s side, and he went on to develop a big advantage only to let it slip. Duda identified one win for White as coming after 26…Rh4:
27.Kg2! was the key move, with the king able to advance to g3 if it comes under fire on the long diagonal. Instead after 27.Rxe6!? d5! the game soon fizzled out into a draw.
That meant both players could breathe a sigh of relief since they’d ensured themselves at least a single point, while the Armageddon would decide who got an extra half point. What followed was described as “very random” by Duda and “very crazy” by Tari, with Duda first winning a piece, then blundering a piece, before Aryan emerged victorious!
That left the standings looking as follows after four of the 10 rounds - Magnus has hit the front!
From Duda’s post-game interview with Fiona Steil-Antoni we learnt that the Polish player thought there was another round before the first rest day, but there isn’t!
That means Duda has a day to contemplate the oddity that he now faces Magnus Carlsen two days in a row, first with White on Saturday and then with Black on Sunday.
In my current form every opponent is difficult so obviously playing Magnus doesn’t help. I will do my best, but I’m not convinced in my skills anymore!
Of course rest days in Norway Chess aren’t always about rest, with Vladimir Kramnik clearly still traumatised from the year he ended up milking a cow. Magnus commented:
There are some shenanigans planned tomorrow for the free day, so I’ll be interested to see what they are!
Here on chess24 we have Banter Blitz with English Grandmaster Gawain Jones, from 18:00 CEST!
Then Norway Chess is back on Saturday. Tune in from 16:50 CEST live here on chess24.
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