Reports Jun 12, 2017 | 9:39 AMby Colin McGourty

Norway Chess 5: Carlsen's slump continues

Magnus Carlsen was angry with himself after stumbling into a worse position with the white pieces against Anish Giri before taking a draw that leaves him 1.5 points behind leader Hikaru Nakamura with four rounds of Altibox Norway Chess to go. There was an outside chance the World Champion’s lead on the rating list could be cut to a couple of points as world no. 2 Vladimir Kramnik pressed against Nakamura, but in the end nothing could stop a day of five draws.

Another day, another reluctant handshake for the World Champion | photo: Lennart Ootes

After the mayhem of Sunday we got a very different day of chess on Monday:

You can replay the day’s commentary with Peter Svidler and Jan Gustafsson below (to watch them live and support such shows in future please consider going Premium):

In Round 4 in the Aronian-Carlsen game we got an example of the thrilling chess that can ensue after one side unleashes some deep home preparation, but in Round 5 we saw a more familiar picture of what tends to happen at the elite level when both players are more or less ready for what’s thrown at them.

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave has a disappointing four draws and one loss so far in Stavanger | photo: Lennart Ootes

Barely had the games begun when MVL and Aronian blitzed out the same 19 moves of Marshall theory that they’d played a week earlier in the blitz tournament. Then, in a position where Maxime and also Harikrishna, Saric, Naiditsch, Adams and Caruana had all played 20.Kg2, Maxime went for 20.h4:

The French no. 1 commented, “I thought h4 was a clever try”, but although Levon spent nine minutes on 20…Rxe1+ it’s unlikely the computer’s second line came as a deep shock to him, just as it’s unlikely Maxime was as surprised as he claimed to be by Levon’s next few moves. The moment at which the draw looks to have become an inevitable outcome was on move 24:

MVL: After Nb6 I realised it’s not going to be my day.

Aronian: I was hoping it would be my day!

Simply abandoning the c6-pawn to its fate solved all Black’s problems, but no more, and a draw was reached on move 38. By this stage of the tournament it seems the Sofia Rules no longer require the players to find a repetition of moves to draw.

Levon Aronian is just half a point behind the leader | photo: Lennart Ootes

In Round 3 Fabiano Caruana played the Petroff Defence against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and drew more or less effortlessly despite the game being played on until bare kings. In Round 5 he tried the same variation against Sergey Karjakin, but although the game ended in exactly the same outcome this was chess for masochists, after Sergey took up the challenge of grabbing material.

Here Maxime had played 13.bxc3, a move Peter Svidler tried against Vladimir Kramnik in a draw in Wijk aan Zee in 2007. Then a month later at the Linares tournament Svidler tried the move 13.Qxb7 to which Vassily Ivanchuk replied 13…Qd7, preventing capturing the rook, and again a draw ensued. In Stavanger on Sunday, though, Caruana played 13…Ne4!?, a move that Svidler in our live commentary said he’d looked at in some depth and concluded didn’t work.

Fabiano Caruana's life choices came in for some criticism on Sunday | photo: Lennart Ootes

Peter later clarified, however, that by “didn’t work” he meant that it simply left White a pawn up. In the confessional Vladimir Kramnik said he’d looked at the line for his 2004 match against Leko (when Svidler was his second) and concluded it was “narrowly holding for Black”. Ultimately both Russian experts proved correct, though Caruana confessed to forgetting some of his analysis and had to spend a painful 42 minutes on move 26 looking for a way to successfully bail out. He found one, though “fun it was not” sums up playing a rook ending a pawn down against Karjakin:

As mentioned, it ended with bare kings, this time on move 73. 

Caruana later defended his choice of opening by noting the Petroff puts a lot of pressure on opponents who are looking to achieve an advantage, while many white players would be reluctant to play the position they got where there was almost no chance to win and to do so would require absolute accuracy. This was Karjakin we were talking about, though, and he summed up the game succinctly:

I would say it was a forced draw from the first move!

Five draws out of five for Karjakin so far - if he's going to complete a hat-trick of Norway Chess triumphs he needs to speed up in the finishing straight | photo: Lennart Ootes

In Anand-So another opening bomb failed to explode:

Can Black take the d3-pawn? Well, after 9 minutes 25 seconds Wesley did just that, with Vishy concluding:

The fact that he entered into it pretty quickly meant that he’d also taken a look at it.

The position that followed looked promising for White, but Wesley didn’t put a foot wrong and the 33-move draw was the logical outcome.

Little has gone right for Vishy so far in Stavanger | photo: Lennart Ootes

That leaves the day’s two most interesting games, with Kramnik-Nakamura in particular a fully-fledged and well-played game by both sides. 

Kramnik looks in fine form, but couldn't quite squeeze out a crucial win | photo: Lennart Ootes

After an offbeat Sicilian, Nakamura entered what Kramnik considered a “dubious” ending, and when Vladimir played 26.Rd7! it looked possible we might get to see a beautiful win by the current world no. 2:

If now 26…Rxa8? White would play 27.Rxb7! and with the g2-bishop raking down to c6 and a8 the best Black can do is end up a pawn down. In the game there followed counterplay with 26…Rh2! 27.Be4 Re2 and Kramnik took on c6 immediately, while the computer spots that the intermezzo 28.Bf3! Re3 may have been the best chance to get more out of the game. The point behind that move, which Kramnik rejected as it leaves the g3-pawn en prise, can be seen in the position that was reached on move 31:

Here Kramnik was forced to defend with 32.Nb4 c5 33.Nd3 Rxa2, when the white advantage was all but gone, since 32.Nc7 loses to 32...Rxa2 due to the threat of mate and the weakness of b2 and c3. If the rook on e2 is on e3, however, White can play Nc7, since there’s no immediate mating threat and b2 isn’t ready to fall.

Nakamura again wins the "most animated player" award | photo: Lennart Ootes

The chances of victory in that case still wouldn’t have been huge, but they would have been greater than in the game. Kramnik emerged with an extra pawn, but despite a memorable exchange between MVL and Aronian while watching the encounter…

MVL:  Pawns are the farmers of chess.

Aronian: We have to trust the farmers!

…there was no realistic hope of the win that would have seen him leapfrog Nakamura to become the sole leader and narrow the gap on Magnus Carlsen.

So far it looks as though the brilliant performance in the blitz tournament was a false dawn for Magnus, though there are still four rounds to go | photo: Lennart Ootes

And so we come to Carlsen-Giri, one of the great grudge games in world chess. Giri famously won their first encounter back in Wijk aan Zee in 2011 and held on to that plus score until Bilbao last year. Giri’s loss there perhaps reduced the entertainment value of the clash, but the trash talking has never ended:

Add to that the fact that Magnus was coming off the back of a painful loss to Levon Aronian the day before and that a mediocre (by his standards) run of results had seen his rating plunge...

...and there was no doubt the World Champion would be out for blood.

What followed, though, as so often in encounters between these two top players, was a strange and disjointed game. Magnus played the Giuoco Piano and was doing well until, for the second time in Stavanger this year (the other time was his Round 1 game against Wesley So), he meekly offered up an exchange of bishops on e3. He called that decision “completely superficial”. Soon White was actually losing a pawn:

23…dxe4 24.Nxe4 Qd5!, but a few moves later after 25.Ned2 cxb5 26.e4 Qc6 27.Kh1 Giri threw it all away:

He went for 27…Rc8?, noting “my aim was to provoke Rc1”, but instead 28.d5! turned the tables. Giri regretted not going for 27…exd4!, when although White can try to win the pawn back with 28.Nxd4 and then taking on b5, Black’s knights and queen are ready to terrorise White’s weakened king. 

Anish missed a rare chance to kick Magnus while he was down... | photo: Lennart Ootes

Anish tried to console himself by noting his edge wouldn’t have been great:

It was a pity not to use this opportunity here… a real chance to be slightly better.

In the game Giri felt he might still be on top until 31.Qb4 came as a cold shower. He then realised he needed to be careful not to end up worse:

He’s still a very good player, though, and forced the draw with 31…fxe4 32.d6 Nd5! 33.dxc7 Nxb4 34.Rxb4 exf3 35.Rxb7 f2! and Black was just in time to prevent the c7-pawn from becoming a danger. A draw was reached on move 41.

Giri was asked if he'd put his Round 1 loss behind him - "It’s behind me, but it’s still in the tournament standings!" | photo: Lennart Ootes

Magnus concluded:

Today I played like an ass. He plays so badly against me every time and I can't punish him. I’m angry about it!

So what now? Well, there are just four games remaining, and if Nakamura maintains his good form he’s not going to be easy for Carlsen to catch. Magnus’s next four opponents? MVL, Kramnik, Karjakin and Anand! The standings are as follows:

Round 6 is the last game before the second rest day, and the last game Peter Svidler will be able to commentate on before he heads to play for Russia in the World Team Championship. Don’t despair, though, since Jan Gustafsson will be joined by Swedish no. 1 Nils Grandelius, who played in Norway Chess in 2016 and was also on Team Carlsen for the Karjakin World Championship match.

Carlsen-MVL is perhaps the game to watch, depending how the opening goes, while Aronian-Kramnik is a classic encounter. Tune in for all the action live here on chess24 from 16:00 CEST onwards. You can also follow the games in our mobile apps:


See also:

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