Poland’s Jan-Krzysztof Duda beat Magnus Carlsen in Round 5 of Norway Chess, becoming the first player to defeat the World Chess Champion in a classical game since Shakhriyar Mamedyarov shocked Magnus in Biel 2 years, 2 months and 10 days ago. Duda’s win overshadowed the fact that world no. 2 Fabiano Caruana also lost, to Levon Aronian, with the Armenian no. 1 taking over as the tournament leader. In second place is 17-year-old Alireza Firouzja, who won his 4th match in 5 by defeating Aryan Tari.
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And here’s the day’s live commentary from Vladimir Kramnik and Peter Svidler, with the 8-time Russian Champion filling Judit Polgar’s boots for one day.
It was a momentous day for Polish sport, with unseeded 19-year-old Iga Świątek winning the French Open without losing a single set…
…but 22-year-old Duda’s feat was every bit as astonishing. He said afterwards that until this point he’d been having perhaps the worst tournament of his life, losing in classical games against Firouzja, Caruana and Aronian and then in Armageddon to Tari. Magnus Carlsen was on a high after ending a sequence of 19 draws to beat his arch-rival Fabiano Caruana, and you had to fear for the young Pole.
On the other hand, Jan-Krzysztof had little to lose, saying afterwards that he’d reasoned that with how his tournament had gone, “losing to Magnus is nothing terrible at all, so that was what was kind of relaxing me”.
There was also a precedent. Duda scored a miserable 4/11 in the preliminary stage of the Lindores Abbey Rapid Challenge and failed to qualify for the knockout, but his wins were memorable! As well as beating the eventual winner Daniil Dubov, he also scored an impressive first win over Magnus Carlsen – a game that saw him congratulated by his namesake, Polish President Andrzej Duda.
The opening of Duda-Carlsen in Norway Chess promised fireworks, with Magnus playing the Caro-Kann and going for a line he’d played against Peter Svidler in the final round of the 2018 European Club Cup, Magnus’ last game before his World Championship match against Caruana. That event was most memorable for Magnus escaping from a lost position against Ding Liren that could have seen him lose the world no. 1 spot for the first time since 2011.
At the time it was Ding Liren who was on a streak (it was his 93rd game unbeaten), while Magnus had lost to Shakhriyar Mamedyarov less than three months earlier, on the 31st July. In what would become a trademark of the two years that followed, however, Magnus found a way to survive.
The same applied to the game against Peter Svidler, who in the following position played 9.Be3!? and ultimately got a technical ending that was close to winning – as Peter said in our Norway Chess live commentary, the feeling was that if it had been a Carlsen-Svidler game not a Svidler-Carlsen game White would have won!
Duda, however, played the main line, 9.Ne2 and Magnus followed up with 9…h5, a move championed by his teammates in the European Club Cup, Nils Grandelius and David Howell.
Things got really interesting, however, when after 10.Be3 Nd7 11.0-0-0 Magnus played the rare 11…b5, and Duda only went for 12.d5! after a 19-minute think.
Duda was feeling the pressure.
I was surprised by this opening and I was very uncomfortable, because I didn't seriously bother to analyse it, and at some point he even had the idea of Rxe3 fxe3 and Ne5, playing for positional compensation. And it was very uncomfortable, because Black has easy play on my king, and I have to defend very precisely.
This was the first chance to play the exchange sac, which Kramnik and Svidler felt was very promising, but instead Magnus only gave up a pawn with 12…c5 13.Bxb5 Rb8 14.c4 a6 15.Ba4 Re7 16.Ng3 Ne5!?
Magnus was attacking without sacrificing (for now), but the risks he was running were clear to any computer-armed spectators, since 17.Bd2! was being given as a big advantage for White. Duda had played has knight from e2 to g3 on the previous move, however, and was now delighted to be able to play 17.Ne4. He felt he’d dealt with his problem piece and was now in a position to start making threats of his own.
Magnus sensed the moment and thought for 34 minutes over 17…Reb7!, after which Duda would take over 40 minutes on his next two moves. The World Champion was hopeful, and it seemed with good reason.
Play continued 18.b3 Rb4 19.Bd2 Rxa4! 20.bxa4 Bf5 21.Rde1 and here Magnus again thought for almost half an hour.
This time, however, it seems it was “long think, wrong think”, as 21…h4?! was a slow move. Duda said he “started to play kind of randomly” and worried that his 22.h3!? gave him an unnecessary weakness, but the momentum had shifted, and when Duda was later able to capture the black bishop on d6 he was clearly winning.
That’s one reason why 21…Ng4! would have been the best move in the above position, not just threatening Nxf2 and Nxe4, but freeing the e5-square for the bishop, which can spearhead an attack on the white king. 22.Ref1? Be5!, for instance, is winning for Black.
In the game, however, Duda was suddenly playing fast, as he had to, but also well, until 30.Qe4!? proved to be a “winning blunder”. Jan-Krzysztof had totally overlooked that Magnus could play 30…Qg2.
His intention here, as Vladimir Kramnik guessed during the live commentary, was to play 31.Qxf4??, but he at least spotted in time that that runs into 31…Rb1#! As Duda commented:
I almost blundered checkmate in one move! I was lucky that I had this 31.Rhe1, and after that I don't know what it is, but I'm not losing by force, I think. At least it's very complicated for Black.
It turns out White is winning, while Magnus had also blundered something big. He said afterwards that he thought he was winning with 31…Qxa2?, only to be hit by 32.Qc2! (32.Kc1 is close to equal)
It looks at a glance as though Black can solve his problems with 32…Qxc4, but the problem is that after 33.Re8+ you can’t play 33…Rxe8, since play would continue 34.Rxe8+! Kh7...
...35.Rh8+! Kxh8 36.Bxg7+ Kxg7 37.Qxc4 and White wins the queen and the game.
Magnus deviated with 33…Kh7, but after 34.Rxb8 he found himself a rook and an exchange down. The game continued since the white king was still in danger, Duda was low on time (he got down to 3 seconds on a couple of moves!) but mainly, it felt, because this was the end of an era in chess! After losing to Shakhriyar Mamedyarov on 31st July 2018 in Biel, Magnus had come back the next day to beat Nico Georgiadis in a shaky last round game and then stretched that streak to an incredible 125 games and over 800 days. But all things come to an end.
Who knows if the 125-game unbeaten streak will ever be beaten in top-level chess again, but for now the suspicion is that freeing himself of that burden will only make Magnus more dangerous than before. He has a chance to take instant revenge, since a quirk of the pairings in this year’s Norway Chess is that the Round 6 pairings are the same as Round 5, just with colours reversed. Magnus won’t be the only player out for revenge…
On any other day this would have been the game of the day. Levon Aronian seized the lead, and moved up to world no. 6, with a 3rd win in five games, inflicting a second loss in a row on world no. 2 Fabiano Caruana – or a 3rd loss in a row if you include the Armageddon against Firouzja. That outcome didn’t look so likely by move 11 of a hyper-sharp 4.f3 Nimzo, when our commentary team felt Levon had gone astray.
Levon is famous for not giving away details of his openings, and when asked if he’d mixed something up commented only, “Maybe I did, I’m not sure - I didn’t prepare for that line!”
It would be understandable not to be prepared, however, since Caruana’s 10.Ne2 looks to be a novelty, varying from Levon’s own 10.Be3 against none other than Magnus Carlsen in the last round of the 2019 Grand Swiss – a game where Levon failed to get the win he needed to have a chance of qualifying for the Candidates Tournament.
Vlad and Peter noted that it might already be time for Levon to go “all-in” with 11…f5!? 12.dxe6 Bxe6 13.exf5 Rxf5! and that’s in fact what happened, with the subsequent play incredibly sharp and double-edged. Fabi seemed to have got things under control with 21.Qb5.
If queens are exchanged, White is on top, but here Levon found the move 21…c4! that was also spotted by Kramnik. The exchange of queens happens on Black’s terms with the pawns advancing dangerously close to the white king.
30.Ne2? (30.Nd3! and Black can’t play the knight manoeuvre as his rook is attacked) seems essentially to have been the last mistake of the game.
Levon continued 30…Nb5! 31.Kb2 Na3!, and when asked when he thought he was on top in the game replied:
I think once he allowed me to get my knight to a3. I think he underestimated this plan! Then it looks rather unpleasant for White to play, because I finally got the harmony. That’s the problem of my position, I don’t really have squares for my knights. The only squares are c3 or a3, and I managed to put my knight on the best square.
Levon was happy with the way he wrapped up victory.
After three matches that had gone to Armageddon, Alireza Firouzja picked up his second classical win of the tournament by defeating Aryan Tari in what he described as “a very decent game by me”.
The only hiccup was in the opening, an Italian, where he mixed up his moves by playing 15.d4!? instead of 15.Nf1 and then spent 30 minutes to come up with 16.b5!? Aryan later regretted not taking that pawn, but his day really became difficult when he decided to grab another pawn.
Aryan said his first instinct was to play 21…c5!, but he saw there were difficulties there and ultimately played 21…Rxe4, when after 22.Qc6! the white queenside is suddenly coming under serious pressure. Alireza commented:
Taking the pawn was a little bit strange to me, because his position was fine anyway, I think. There was no need to go for these complicated things.
25…Bb8?! was a sign of how badly things had gone wrong.
Aryan could find no way back after 26.Qxc8 Rxc8 27.Rb7!, with Alireza eventually trading down into a winning pawn endgame.
Impressive stuff from the 17-year-old, who is now up to 2nd place and will likely be hungry for another win against Tari in Round 6!
As mentioned, the players now swap colours as the second half of the tournament begins, and Magnus will have the white pieces against Duda. You don’t need to be Nostradamus to predict he'll be hoping to bounce back with a win!
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