17-year-old Alireza Firouzja has powered into the Altibox Norway Chess lead with four rounds to go after defeating Aryan Tari for a second day in a row. In second place is Magnus Carlsen, who got instant revenge for losing his streak with a smooth win over Jan-Krzysztof Duda. Levon Aronian had a great chance to take the lead, move up to world no. 4 and inflict a third loss in a row on Fabiano Caruana, but with the Armenian in deep time trouble it was Fabi who won a game of which Vladimir Kramnik said, “I haven’t seen anything as entertaining as this for quite a while!”
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And here’s the day’s live commentary from Judit Polgar and Vladimir Kramnik, who were joined on the show by polyglot and chess player turned businessman Joel Lautier – meaning we had two players commentating who have a plus score against Garry Kasparov in classical chess!
Jan-Krzysztof Duda wasn’t given long to bask in the glory of ending the 125-game unbeaten streak of perhaps the greatest chess player of all time. The unusual pairings system at this year’s Norway Chess meant he faced Magnus Carlsen again, this time with the black pieces, and no-one was shocked to see the World Champion roar back. Magnus afterwards talked about the streak ending.
To be honest, losing wasn’t that big a deal. 100 games, and then the record streak, those were the ones that I really cared about, and after that I knew I was going to lose at some point, especially since I was taking risks in my games. But anyway, losing a poor game like yesterday is obviously unpleasant no matter what’s at stake. I was mostly upset about losing in general, not so much the streak. But at least now there’s no streak, so I don’t have to worry about that!
Magnus surprised his opponent in the opening with 8.Nge2 (Duda said 8.Nf3 would have transposed to positions he’d analysed) and knew that the position after 10.Ng3 was good for White… but he wasn’t sure how!
I knew the position after Ng3 and basically all the way up to that point I was sort of thinking I know Ng3, but how am I going to respond to 10…c5, and I couldn’t see anything other than this pawn sac, so I was just hoping that it would be good!
After thinking for 18 minutes, Magnus did go for the pawn sacrifice with 11.cxd5 cxd4 12.Nce4!, which in fact seems to have been stronger than either he or his opponent imagined. Both players felt it only gave White sufficient compensation for the pawn, with Duda comparing it with the pawn sacrifice Magnus made the day before.
Yesterday I was much more scared than today, definitely!
Things collapsed for Black with startling speed, however. Magnus felt Duda’s 16…Nc5, the first new move of the game, followed by 17…Ba6, “just didn’t work tactically”, although it seems it might have if 18…Nd5! had been played instead of 18…Qe8?!. 19…Rc8? was already the point of no return.
Magnus said he “couldn’t refute” putting the rook on d8 instead, which had been Duda’s original intention, but the Polish player said he “miscalculated terribly” here and then “missed the house!”
20.b4! Nb7 left Black with utterly miserable minor pieces on a6 and b7, and little hope of stopping the assault on his king. At least Kramnik felt there was no need for Duda to worry about the outcome of the game, since he could no longer change it!
And in general, why be scared when facing a great player?
Duda was refreshingly honest afterwards.
Here he confessed he’d missed Carlsen’s devastating 24.Nf6+!, threatening a fork on e6, among other things, and the game swiftly ended 24…Kh8 25.Qxe6 Ra8 26.Qxd5! Black resigns
That proved to be enough for 2nd place for Magnus, since his hottest young rival had moved up to first.
Alireza Firouzja again played the Caro-Kann and was already worrying his opponent when he laid the foundations for an assault on the white king with g5 and Rg8. Alireza was very clear, however, about where the decisive mistake was made.
Here Aryan went for 21.c5?, with Alireza commenting:
I think he shouldn’t close the centre with this b5, c5. He should have kept the centre, because then my attack got very dangerous and he didn’t have any plan, I think, so the game got very easy for me - my moves are very logical.
Both players in fact talked about logic afterwards, with Aryan lamenting:
I was trying to make logical moves, but it just… I don’t know… chess is difficult! He’s amazingly strong, of course, and I think he played very well these two games. What can I say?
With the centre closed, Alireza had free rein to attack, and while 22.g3 was weakening (the bishop would stay en prise on f4 for the next 10 moves!) it’s hard to suggest alternatives.
Our commentators felt Alireza should have sacrificed the bishop on g3 here, but 22…g4! was perhaps even stronger, and certainly more stylish. After 23.hxg4 Rxg4 24.Bh3 Rg7 25.Kh1 (Alireza suggested giving up the exchange with 25.Nf1 might be a better try)...
25…e5! heralded the final assault, with White given no time to shore up the defences. 26.Bxd7 Qxd7 27.Nh2 Qh3! and there was no way to deal with the black pieces massing around the king. Alireza went on to win in 34 moves.
The youngster is having a dream return to over-the-board chess and has now leapfrogged Duda into 17th place on the live rating list, with a 2744.5 rating.
This was the Game of the Day, at least when it came to entertainment. Fabiano Caruana came into it after losing classical games to Carlsen and the same opponent Aronian, and it was even three losses in a row if you count the Armageddon game against Firouzja. “My motivation was basically at zero,” Fabi told Fiona Steil-Antoni.
He explained how he approached the game to Kramnik and Polgar:
Yesterday I was about as demoralised as I can get. I really didn’t feel like playing… but you have to! At least I thought I should try to play a normal game, because the last two games were really, really bad, not just the result but the quality was also… especially against Magnus, I was really disgusted with my play! So I at least got to play a normal game. I was actually really happy that I got a fight out of the opening - at least it wasn’t some boring position where I have no chances and I just have to slowly equalise. At least I thought this is a very sharp fight.
In a c3-Sicilian it was Levon who was burning up time on the clock early on, but Fabi admitted that he’d overlooked 21.Bc2! and it turned out he was one tempo short with his counterplay. The game turned on the position after 22…f5.
Fabi commented, “Levon also felt that he was much better and objectively he probably was, but it just felt like an unclear game from beginning to end to me”. Our commentators had the same impression, but the computer here gives 23.Ng5! as simply winning, with the pressure on the f7 and e6-pawns too great. After 23….Be8 24.Qe2! the computer finds nothing better than sacrificing the exchange on d4, while other defences also fail. 23…Kg7 24.Rxe6! is the most spectacular, but 23…Kg8 24.Bb3! and taking on f7 next also wins the house.
“I was very happy to see 23.g4?!”, said Fabi, and it didn’t help that Levon made that move with just 16 minutes left on his clock. 23…Qf4 equalises on the spot, according to the computer, but Fabi was drawn to the fantastically complicated lines after 23…f6!?. In practical terms that was a good choice, since soon after 24.g5 (not as bad a move as Fabi thought) 24…Qf4 25.gxf6 Qg4+ the world no. 2 had the option of repeating moves for a draw.
Fabi rejected the repetition, however, which made perfect sense, given Levon had only 45 seconds to make 8 moves, with no increment before move 40. “At some point it wasn’t even clear if he would make the time control,” said Fabi, later telling Judit and Vlad:
The only thing that was missing was mutual time trouble, because I kind of always had time on my clock. If I was also down to seconds it would be quite a bit more exciting!
The critical moments came after 32…Qc4+! (rejecting the repetition) 33.Bd3 Rxd3!
Levon here could have played the amazing 34.Ne5!, and the computer says it's a draw, but as Fabi asked, how can you allow discovered check with just seconds on your clock? If Levon had gone for it, he might have been rewarded, since after Fabi’s planned 34…Re3+ 35.Kd2 Rxe5 36.Rxe5 White is actually winning. Of course Levon might miss the best lines with no time on his clock, while Fabi would no doubt have stopped to think and might have played the computer’s drawing 34…Nf4+! 35.Kf1 Rg3+! instead.
In the game, Levon’s 34.Rxd3 was a decent move, but to prolong the contest he needed to meet 34…Nf4+ with 35.Qxf4!! After 35.Ke3 Fabiano was picking up material with check: 35…Qe4+ 36.Kd2 Qxd3+ 37.Kc1 Qxf3 38.f7 Qg4. Levon was out of time and out of luck.
That remarkable turnaround cost Levon Aronian the lead and a chance to move up to world no. 4 on the live rating list, while it means Fabiano now goes into his second game against Magnus with a chance not only to take revenge but to overtake the World Champion if he can win their game.
Levon also has a chance to get back into the lead, but he needs to beat Alireza Firouzja with the black pieces. Duda-Tari remains, for now, a battle for last place.
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