Levon Aronian has beaten Vladimir Kramnik to catch Hikaru Nakamura in the Altibox Norway Chess lead with only three rounds remaining. He did it by trapping the ex-World Champion’s queen, recalling his victory over the current World Champion Magnus Carlsen only two rounds previously. Elsewhere Vishy Anand finally had something to cheer about as he positionally outplayed Fabiano Caruana with the black pieces. Anish Giri missed a win over Wesley So, while Magnus Carlsen was again frustrated – he’s now in joint last with Caruana, MVL and Anand!
Round 6 of Altibox Norway Chess 2017 was a return to the excitement of Round 4, with big fights on four of the five boards:
You can replay the day’s commentary with Peter Svidler, Jan Gustafsson and a cameo appearance by Lawrence Trent below (to watch live and support such shows in future please consider going Premium):
Let’s first get the one dud out of the way: if Magnus Carlsen was going to not only improve his tournament situation but challenge for first place he really needed to try and beat Maxime Vachier-Lagrave with the white pieces on Monday. Things started well, since apart from forgetting his glasses Magnus seemed to be in fine humour:
The opening 1.d4 Nf6 2.Bf4 signalled that Magnus was going to play the increasingly popular London System against his World Championship second (another of Magnus’ seconds, Jan Gustafsson, recently released a video series including tips on how to meet the London). Initially it went better than Magnus could have dreamed, since he’d played exactly the same moves against Maxime in the opening blitz tournament and couldn’t have counted on the French no. 1 taking an 11-minute pause for thought!
It was downhill after that for Magnus, though, since by the time Maxime played 10…Nd5 and 11…b5 he described himself as “extremely comfortable”:
He later added:
I thought only I could be better, but I didn’t really manage to prove it.
For the second day in a row the player with the black pieces was left regretting not testing the World Champion more, with Maxime feeling he should have played a little slower, though the reason he played fast was because he saw no problems whatsoever. In the end the game was the first to finish, with playing on to bare kings little more than a joke from the players.
Magnus commented afterwards:
I felt like I made several strange decisions. I sit and try to find something that isn’t there. It doesn’t work at all. It's embarrassing what I've gotten out of the two last white games.
The World Champion admitted he can no longer fight for tournament victory, but one player who certainly can is Levon Aronian, who won three games in a row with the white pieces on the way to a commanding victory in the recent GRENKE Chess Classic. He’s now made it two in a row in Stavanger, and what opponents! – current World Champion Magnus Carlsen and now ex-World Champion Vladimir Kramnik.
You have to feel a bit sorry for Vladimir Kramnik, who was kicking himself after this game:
I just made three or four blunders in one game – that’s a bit too much!
He lamented 16…Rac8 (“completely unnecessary, you’re asking for trouble” – Aronian) instead of 16…Rad8, and then the choice he made after Aronian’s 19.Nh4 challenged his queen. Vlad was right that his 19…Qg4? was a mistake, but it’s unreasonable for him to be too self-critical of what happened next. The position was extremely difficult to hold, especially as it contained one devastating motif:
I just somehow missed the whole idea of trapping my queen!
Yes, for a second game in the row Levon tormented a World Champion’s queen. Peter Svidler has the full details of an extraordinary game:
Beating Carlsen and Kramnik, not just World Champions but at the time the live numbers 1 and 2 was remarkable, with Anand still to come with White in Round 8:
Such results are not entirely unprecedented, though – for
instance, Radek Wojtaszek beat both Magnus Carlsen and Fabiano Caruana with
White in Wijk aan Zee in 2015. What is great to see is that Levon is back
where he belongs, in the 2800 club, a club which now includes six of the Top 10
and five of the players in the Norway Chess tournament:
The funny thing about that snapshot is that after being knocked down from 2nd place to 4th Kramnik then climbed back to 3rd when Anand beat Caruana, and he almost returned to 2nd... all he needed was for So to lose as well. Aronian ended the day in 4th place. To say things are fluid would be an understatement!
The day’s other decisive result was a hugely welcome victory for Vishy Anand and his fans:
Vishy had been struggling with two losses and no wins in Altibox Norway Chess, so to finally get a win, and with the black pieces, was just what the doctor ordered.
I’ll take it, it’s clear! It’s just a very nice result for me.
It was a strange game, since although Vishy was the first to deviate from known games White seemed to be doing perfectly well, up to a point:
White has the bishop pair, the option of castling on either side of the board and Black’s pieces are currently “very clumsy” (Anand). As was noted in the live commentary, Black has four or five pieces that would all love to be stationed on d5, but only one of them can actually be there at a time. However, this was the moment at which Vishy found a regrouping that unleashed the potential of his position:
The knight heads via e8 to d6 and potentially c4, while the rook can swing over to the kingside. Caruana was critical of some of his moves such as 20.Nb3, but couldn’t see what to do, with both players shocked at how quickly things fell apart for White:
Caruana: In a few moves I was basically in a hopeless situation.
Anand: I made a few moves until it hit me that I’m almost winning!
Fast forward to the position after move 33…hxg6 (the computer preferred playing more solidly with 33…Bxg6):
Fabiano suspected he might have some difficult way to stay in the game - the computer suggests 34.Bd1!? – but down to only a minute and a half his task was all but hopeless. There followed 34.h5 g5 35.h6 g6 (no counterplay for White!) and after 36.Bb2?! Bg4! it was just a matter of time.
In the final position Vishy is ready to mate the white king on the light squares:
The two remaining draws were very different. Nakamura-Karjakin was notable for Sergey having to suffer for failing to follow Jan Gustafsson’s recommendations! In his 4.Qc2 against the Nimzo-Indian series Jan pointed out that 14…Ne4 (as played by Karjakin) “runs into the strong reply 15.Ne5, when Black will remain worse”.
The correct move, as given by Jan and recommended by Nakamura after the game, is 14…Nd5.
That verdict proved correct and Nakamura did press with his bishop pair for the remainder of the game, but there was never any real opportunity to grab the full point that would have allowed him to keep the sole lead in Norway Chess. As Kramnik commented while the game was in progress:
Sergey usually holds much worse than this!
The final game to end saw a return to Anish Giri’s problems with finishing off games, since both he and his opponent Wesley So felt that White was simply winning.
Wesley admitted to underestimating Giri’s play and in particular the move 17.Rd7!, and by move 22 he was ready for drastic measures:
22…Qxa2!? "I took the pawn in desperation" - So. The move divided our commentary team
In the play that followed Giri was, for a while, showing the same kind of sharpness that had enabled him to beat Vishy Anand in an earlier round, spotting that Wesley's planned 30…Qf4? would lose to 31.Qd4! Qxh6 32.Qxa4 and the a8-bishop is lost.
A couple of moves later, though, and Giri had offered a queen exchange. Wesley gratefully accepted and then, when bishops were exchanged as well, he could finally breathe a sigh of relief:
It wasn’t trivial, but it’s no accident that Wesley has only lost one game in over 80 attempts.
Anish admitted he’d simply misevaluated the endgame:
Somehow I assumed I have huge chances in this endgame, but it’s just a draw… I thought it’s on the verge of winning, but of course it’s not.
That meant Giri and So both remained on 50%, Nakamura and Aronian lead, while we have an extraordinary foursome at the bottom of the standings!
There’s only 1.5 points dividing first and last, though, so with three rounds still remaining there’s absolutely everything to fight for. First, though, the players have a final rest day, and on the eve of it they were able to relax a bit!
The final three rounds will be played in the Stavanger Concert Hall, with Round 7 featuring Kramnik-Carlsen, while the leaders both face tests with the black pieces: Karjakin-Aronian and Anand-Nakamura:
Here at chess24 we have a changing of the guard, with Swedish no. 1 Nils Grandelius, who played in Norway Chess last year, replacing Peter Svidler, who is heading for Siberia and the World Team Championship. Tune in for all the action live here on chess24 from 16:00 CEST on Wednesday onwards. You can also follow the games in our mobile apps: