Reports Jun 10, 2019 | 8:54 AMby Colin McGourty

Norway Chess 5: How (not) to play Armageddon

Magnus Carlsen increased his lead in Altibox Norway Chess 2019 to 1.5 points after drawing two effortless black games against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave to maintain a 100% winning record in his mini-matches. All five encounters went to Armageddon, with wins for Vishy Anand (vs. Wesley So), Yu Yangyi (vs. Fabiano Caruana), Levon Aronian (vs. Ding Liren) and Alexander Grischuk (vs. Mamedyarov). Although Levon won he was deeply embarrassed by how he almost lost a totally won position, while there was no “almost” about Fabiano’s game.

Ding Liren is distraught after Aronian pulls off a great escape in Armageddon | photo: Lennart Ootes, Altibox Norway Chess

You can replay all the games from Altibox Norway Chess 2019 using the selector below:

And here’s the day’s live commentary on chess24 with Jan Gustafsson and Peter Svidler:

To watch Jan and Peter live you need to be premium on chess24, and now’s a great chance to try it out, as we have two offers to choose from:

Five classical draws

It would be a rare case of Maxime not beating Magnus... | photo: Lennart Ootes, Altibox Norway Chess

As in Round 1, all the classical games ended in draws in Round 5, but the only one that never really got going was MVL – Carlsen. Maxime was the latest player to take on Magnus in the 7.Nd5 “World Championship” Sveshnikov, but although the Norwegian talked a good game…

…the encounter fizzled out with exchanges from move 19 that left a dead draw by the time the players shook hands at move 30. It was a result that neither player could be thrilled with – Maxime had failed to apply any pressure with White, while Magnus lost 1.3 rating points and now has four draws in five classical games.

It was great to see Grischuk's fortunes finally turn | photo: Lennart Ootes, Altibox Norway Chess

So – Anand was the other quiet game, though it was a tense strategic battle that lasted 46 moves. Mamedyarov – Grischuk ended in just 26 with a repetition, but it featured a funny moment after Shakhriyar Mamedayrov played 14…f5!?:

That looked like a nice pawn sacrifice after 15.Bc4+ Kh8 16.dxe5 appeared on the board, but Alexander Grischuk had a confession to make afterwards:

Grischuk: I was not too interested in my game. I’m mostly a spectator now - I gave up on my tournament!

Polgar: But you made a very interesting pawn sacrifice.

Grischuk: But it was mostly a blunder!  

It turns out Grischuk had seen that 15.dxe5? fxe4 16.Bc4+ runs into 16…Be6, but had missed the immediate 15.Bc4+ completely! The game soon fizzled out after that moment. You can watch Alexander’s first appearance on the official broadcast below:

Meanwhile a fascinating double-edged battle in Ding Liren-Aronian was going Black’s way until 24…Nd8?, a move an embarrassed Levon Aronian said he thought “stops all the tricks”:

Instead it allowed Ding Liren to solve all his problems with the brilliant sequence: 25.a6! Bxa6 26.Bxa6 Rxa6 27.Nc4! dxc4 28.Qxd6! Rxa1 29.Rxa1 Qxf3 30.Qxe7 and it was Levon who had to scramble to draw with 30…Ne4! 31.Qxd8 Kh7 32.Rf1:

32…Nxg3! 33.fxg3 and a draw was agreed, since there’s no escaping Qxg3+, Qh3+ and perpetual check.

Levon sips from his mysterious beverage | photo: Lennart Ootes, Altibox Norway Chess

That leaves the fantastically unbalanced Yu Yangyi – Caruana, which was full of deep and puzzling ideas, one of which was Fabiano’s 22…e5!?

Giving up this central pawn was an incredibly bold decision, with the point apparently being that after 23.Bxe5 Qd7 Black has stopped White’s obvious plan of attack with Qg4. The game soon ended in a repetition, though in a position where the computer was crying out for Yu Yangyi to continue playing for a win.

Fortunately for us, Jan has analysed that game, and the dramatic Armageddon that came next, in the following video:

That meant that all the matches went to Armageddon.

How to play Armageddon

There’s always a debate when it comes to Armageddon games about whether it’s better to be White or Black. In the traditional 5 minute vs. 4 minute format players have tended to favour Black, but, for instance, Alexander Grischuk is known for always choosing White. There was a feeling the 10 minute vs. 7 minute format in Norway might favour White more, but Levon commented after Round 5:

Everybody’s happy with Black these days – I’m so surprised! I would imagine that White would have the advantage, but so far the results indicate that it’s unclear.

In fact Black was dictating play in all the matches in Round 5, with the former and current World Champions showing the way. Vishy Anand had a good position after a dozen moves against Wesley So and never lost control, with Grischuk commenting, “Vishy drew 100, if not 1000, such games!” That made it three Armageddon wins in a row for the Indian.

There was no tricking Vishy | photo: Lennart Ootes, Altibox Norway Chess

Magnus Carlsen was at least tested by some creative play from Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. Just when queens were exchanged and it looked as though the position was dead, Maxime came up with 15.Be5!?, and suddenly the c7-pawn is in the firing line:

Magnus was caught off-guard, but exchanged that pawn for the a2-pawn with 15…Re8 16.Nxb6 axb6 17.Bxc7 Rxa2 and although 18.Ne5! was another spark of genius, the World Champion had seen that one coming and knew how to defuse it. 

Job done for the World Champion | photo: Lennart Ootes, Altibox Norway Chess

It was a 4th victory in four in Armageddon for Magnus. He quipped:

From here on things got much shakier. Alexander Grischuk played a good move, 10…d4!, against Shakhriyar Mamedyarov:

After 11.exd4 exd4 12.Qxd4, however, he spent a minute on each of his next two moves, later explaining:

d4 is supposed to be very good for Black, but I could not remember why, so it was not a very nice moment… It’s for sure good for Black – you need 5 seconds with a computer and you’ll be fine – but I don’t have such a luxury!

All Grischuk really needed to do was check out Jan's Nimzo-Indian Defence series, where he gives 12...g5! here and not 12...Re8!? as played in the game

Mamedyarov had chances, but was clearly worse by the end, even if there was a funny final moment:

Grischuk explained:

He played 38.Rd6+??!, he trapped me! And now if 39…Be6 40.Ng4+ and the rook falls!

The only problem with that operation was that White was in check, so it was an illegal move. Shakhriyar resigned.

The final two Armageddon games are a perfect example of what not to do when you have a big advantage with the black pieces and know you only need a draw. 

Levon's shirt and drink were nicely colour-coordinated, but his Armageddon technique was a little shaky | photo: Lennart Ootes, Altibox Norway Chess

By move 20 Ding Liren’s kingside play against Levon Aronian had failed, and the counterattack looked unstoppable. By move 25, resignation seemed just around the corner:

It’s not just that White is struggling to survive – he needs to win the game! Here 25…b4! was crushing, while there was nothing wrong with Levon’s 25…Rab8, played with a relatively comfortable 4 minutes remaining on the clock. There was more concern when after 26.Qc2 Levon burned up 51 seconds on 26…Nxc4, and after 27.Nxc4 bxc4 28.Qc1 he spent another 43 seconds deciding to take the objectively dubious decision to exchange queens. As he would later comment:

Then I said to myself, time to make a draw! Time to be professional!

When Levon later needlessly exchanged off bishops to enter a rook ending it was suddenly possible to imagine things going completely wrong, as they did at breakneck speed. Levon summed up his thought processes as, “I wasn’t considering anything, I was just panicking!”, and he had two real problems. One was the clock – in the end he made it to move 61 and the 3-second per move increment with 1 second to spare. The other was the position, and Levon had ended up lost, until 55.Kd4? threw him a lifeline:

After 55…Rd3+! 56.Ke4 d5+ the connected passed pawns, rook and king were enough to set up a fortress. 34 out of 35 of Levon’s last moves were Kd1 or Kd2, and, despite describing himself as “extremely embarrassed,” he’d still taken the full point. Grischuk noted that Magnus Carlsen wouldn’t have let the chance slip the way Ding Liren had.

In any case, it was great fun to watch, and our Spanish colleagues could be relied upon to capture the emotion when things got out of hand!

The remaining Yu Yangyi-Caruana Armageddon game was similar, but had no happy ending. Once again, Black had an overwhelming advantage:

19…g4! is very strong, while Black is also much better after the sacrifice 19…Bxh3!?. Instead after 19…Kh8?! Caruana soon actually let White take over and a complex battle ensued (you can see much more detail in Jan’s video earlier in this report). 

Yu Yangyi claimed yet another major scalp | photo: Lennart Ootes, Altibox Norway Chess

There was yet another bitter Armageddon moment to come for Fabiano, who had a draw in touching distance right at the end:

Peter Svidler wondered immediately whether 63…g4! was a draw, and it’s clear that’s also what Fabiano spent 32 seconds pondering, but he played 63…Kd5?? instead and had to resign two moves later. The world no. 2 has lost all three of his Armageddons in Stavanger, all but extinguishing any hopes of retaining his title.

Peter Heine Nielsen checks how his boy's doing | photo: Lennart Ootes, Altibox Norway Chess

The crosstable is all about Armageddon. If it were only a classical tournament we’d still have a 4-way tie with Carlsen, Aronian, So and Ding Liren all on +1. Magnus has won all four Armageddons, however, while Wesley and Levon have lost twice, so they trail by 2 points, and Ding has lost 3 times and trails by 3 points. That’s allowed Yu Yangyi to sneak into second place with 50% in the classical games but 3/3 in Armageddon:

In Round 6, the last before the final rest day, the highlight is perhaps world no. 1 Carlsen vs. no. 3 Ding Liren. Tune in to all the live action with Peter Svidler and Jan Gustafsson from 17:00 CEST!

See also:

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