Magnus Carlsen beat Shakhriyar Mamedyarov to retain a 1-point lead after Round 4 of Altibox Norway Chess, but birthday boy Yu Yangyi was the only player to win in classical chess after grinding out a win in Alexander Grischuk’s time trouble. The Armageddon games provided fantastic entertainment, however, with Vishy Anand finding a beautiful finish against Ding Liren, while Fabiano Caruana missed an even more stunning move before losing to Wesley So! Don’t miss more in-depth analysis from Peter Svidler.
You can replay all the games from Round 4 of the 2019 edition of Altibox Norway Chess using the selector below:
And here’s the day’s live commentary from Jan Gustafsson and Peter Svidler:
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The match-up that provided the least drama in Round 4 was arguably the only one to end in classical chess:
It was Yu Yangyi’s 25th birthday on Saturday, but at first things didn’t seem to be going his way. He was surprised by the Petroff novelty 12.Qb3 from Alexander Grischuk, in a position where he’d twice played 12.Rb1 himself with the white pieces. From there White seemed to be on top, with Yu Yangyi admitting, “my position I think was no good”. It was hard to pinpoint exactly where things went wrong for Grischuk (26.Qc3?! allowing 26…Qc6! was one suggestion from Yu), but once again Yangyi managed to quietly outplay a higher-rated opponent in Stavanger. He was sure he was better after Grischuk’s 34.Rxc5?!
Alexander should instead have played 34.Ra5 to control the a-pawn, since after 34…Bd2!, covering a5, that pawn became a monster. By this stage Grischuk was down to two minutes against 23, and the time situation helped the Chinese star finish things off smoothly to win in 51 moves. That was a third win in four matches for Yu Yangyi, with the two points taking him into sole third place, while the nightmare goes on for Grischuk. He's now lost all four matches, two in classical chess and two in Armageddon.
All the other matches went to Armageddon, though it had looked as though Magnus Carlsen was on course to win a second classical game in a row.
You’ve got to admire Shakhriyar Mamedyarov’s bravery in following Grischuk and playing the Grünfeld against Magnus, but it looked very likely to end in exactly the same way. The position after 12…Qa5 brought flashbacks for Peter Svidler for a second day in a row:
Peter recalled he’d had this position, via a different move order, against Brazilian GM Darcy Lima in the 1st round of the 2011 World Cup. Darcy played 13.d5 and Svidler admitted he got very worried at some stage before the game eventually ended in a draw (Peter ultimately won that World Cup!). Curiously the only other time the position was reached was a day later at the same event, when Sandro Mareco tried 13.e5 instead against Ferenc Berkes.
This is Magnus Version 2019, however, and it was time to push Harry! 13.h4!? b5 14.h5 Bb7 15.h6. After 15…Bh8 16.e5 Qc7?! things were looking very good for the World Champion:
The tactical operation 17.Bxb5 Bxg2 18.Kxg2 Qb7+ 19.Qf3 Qxb5 did nothing to reduce the pressure on Black, and after 20.Rb1! Qa6 21.Ne4 cxd4 22.cxd4 f6 we were back in the familiar position of watching the Norwegian computer Sesse give its vote of approval to Magnus:
Of course 23.Ng5! was played, but after 23…e6 Magnus went for 24.Ra1?!, a move that would have been winning if not for the move he later admitted to missing – 24…Qb6!
Shakhriyar played that almost instantly, having foreseen that the natural looking 25.d5?, a discovered attack on the black queen, actually loses material to 25…fxg5!, hitting the white queen as well. The move Magnus should have gone for was 24.Qb7!, when after 24…Qxb7+ 25.Rxb7 Nxe5 26.Nxe6 Rf7 the correct option for White was the (relatively) quiet 27.Rfb1!
Black will have to swap off rooks to contain the threat of Rb8+, and when the dust settles White has total positional dominance with a d-pawn that’s ready to roll. It really is an AlphaZero style position – sorry, Anish!
In the game, Mamedyarov was just in time to hold everything together and claim a draw in 46 moves. This year in Stavanger, however, drawing in classical chess isn’t quite enough to thwart the world no. 1.
The Armageddon that followed was a thriller where at various moments Shak seemed to be well on course for the draw that would win him a full point. Magnus was just ahead in a pawn race, however:
50.Rf7+ Kd4 51.g8=Q d1=Q 52.Qg7+. Our commentators pointed out that if you’re the first to give check in such positions you’ll usually go on to win, though it has to be said that in this case Mamedyarov had a chance right at the end:
56…Kb3! and there are suddenly no more checks, so objectively Black should draw. Shak was down to under 20 seconds and nervously checking to see if he was getting an increment (if he made it to move 61 he’d get an extra 3 seconds each move), and instead played 56…Kb5?, when after 57.Qd7+ Kb4 58.Qd6+ it was mate-in-5 and Black resigned. That made it three Armageddon games, three wins for Magnus in Stavanger.
For a full account of this match check out Peter Svidler’s in-depth analysis:
The classical game was an Italian where Ding Liren followed an idea Jorden van Foreest had played in the recent French Team Championship, though Vishy Anand was ready for the novelty when it came. In the play that followed he may have underestimated his opponent’s chances, though when Ding went astray the game swung in White’s favour. Vishy got two minor pieces for a rook and felt, with both players low on time, that this was his chance:
This is an Armageddon game! I had one minute at this point and I thought I will not get a better position than this in the Armageddon.
Eventually it petered out (“luckily I blundered into a draw”) and the match went to Armageddon. Vishy varied first with 12.Qd2 instead of the 12.d4 he played in the first game. On move 19 Vishy went in for the kill:
19.Bxh6! Vishy commented:
I played a game with Hikaru some years back in St. Louis, and I kept on delaying this opportunity to play Nf5 and Bxh6… I was very annoyed that I didn’t see how strong Bxh6 was, so today I remembered. I have no idea if it’s even correct, but it doesn’t matter anymore. It’s just Armageddon - get it over with!
The play that followed wasn’t flawless (Vishy was correct afterwards that 21.Bxe4! was stronger, and for one move only Ding could have won with 24…Re2!!), but the finish was very sweet:
25.Bxg7!! Bxf5 26.Qh6 Re6 27.Bh8!
There’s no way to stop mate. Vishy explained he’d seen that final blow earlier while calculating another line:
Then I saw this move… and I started smiling, because it was such a cute move. Then I realised I can do this immediately!
That was Vishy’s 2nd Armageddon win in a row, and he was in a good mood when he talked to Judit Polgar and Anna Rudolf afterwards on the live show:
In this clash Fabiano Caruana may have been living dangerously in the classical game when he sacrificed an exchange, but the encounter fizzled out into a 37-move draw. Then Fabiano was comfortably on top in the Armageddon, but the game will be remembered for what Svidler called, “a stunningly beautiful position you will not see very often”:
The perilous position of the black king allows White the glorious shot 46.Qe5!! and it’s simply time to resign, as after either capture on e5 White will play c4+, bxc4+ and finally fxe5, ending a rook up. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave spotted it in a second or two on the live broadcast and offered some free lessons to Fabi!
The more prosaic 46.f3 was also winning, but after 46.Qh3 Fabiano was unlucky that Wesley had 46…Qd1!!, when after 47.c4+ Rxc4 48.bxc4+ Kxc4 there’s no shielding the white king from perpetual check. Of course you couldn’t criticise Fabi for missing all that in Armageddon, but he’ll still be kicking himself, especially as he later missed a second chance:
67.Kxa4! immediately is winning for White, while 67.f7? first was only a draw. It turned out it was vital for White to keep the f7-square available for his king and rook. The win for Wesley meant he remained only a point behind Magnus in second place, while we’ve already seen how Ding Liren dropped back. The other pursuer, Levon Aronian, would also lose in Armageddon:
Levon Aronian is known to work with a conveyer belt of Armenian talent, so it wouldn’t be a huge surprise if he was working with 18-year-old Aram Hakobyan… in which case this game from Peter’s rest-day Banter Blitz might not be entirely coincidental!
Levon varied with 7.h5 instead of 7.Bf4 and after 7…g5 the reply 8.f4 already left Maxime out of book. What followed was a highly complicated battle that gave Peter the “spark of joy” he needed to soldier on!
In the end, though, Maxime would let an advantage slip on move 32:
32…Rg4! was strong, while Maxime said, “there’s no excuse for playing 32…Nd5?!”. There was an explanation, though – after 33.Ke1 Kc7 34.Rhf2 Rxh5 he’d missed the multi-purpose 35.Ng3!, hitting both rooks and covering the h1-square. A draw was agreed two moves later.
Maxime picked up his first match win in Stavanger by smoothly absorbing Levon’s aggressive opening play and then hitting back. 15…g4! left White with a grim task:
White’s kingside knight and rook aren’t going to get out to play anytime soon, and 16.b4?! proved to be desperation. With 16…cxb4! 17.axb4 Nxb4! Maxime happily sacrificed the exchange to remove White’s active pieces and ultimately the game only ended in a draw because that was all the French no. 1 needed to win the Armageddon.
We’re about to cross the midway point of the tournament and Magnus Carlsen still leads, with only Wesley So now within a point. It’s notable that the unusual scoring system in Stavanger helps to separate the players, and we only have two players tied for any position:
In Round 5 Maxime Vachier-Lagrave has the white pieces against Magnus Carlsen, a privilege that he chose after he won the opening blitz tournament. Will he manage to make White count, or will we get yet another blitz showdown between the two players – remember, Maxime has now won their last three games. Tune in to all the live action with Peter Svidler and Jan Gustafsson from 17:00 CEST!
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