Wesley So has beaten Magnus Carlsen for the first time at a classical time control to blow Altibox Norway Chess 2018 wide open going into the final rest day. Wesley commented that the win “for some reason took a long time to come”, but when it did it was a crushing victory that Peter Svidler analyses for us. The other games were all drawn, meaning that five players remain on 50%, with only Magnus and Wesley on a plus score.
As so often in this year’s Altibox Norway Chess, Round 6 was all about one game:
You can replay the full commentary with Peter Svidler and Jan Gustafsson below:
Predicting the outcome of chess games can be a thankless task. As they’re obliged to say in financial advertising, “past performance is no guarantee of future results”:
The winless player in each of the lopsided matchups would be the one who won or came closest to winning in Stavanger on Sunday, but it was the World Champion who would most live to regret tempting fate:
Wesley So had drawn 13 games since winning his first two games in the US Championship, but he picked the perfect time to strike:
When Wesley So won the 2016 Grand Chess Tour in the middle of a 67-game unbeaten run it was an open question as to whether he was the world’s best player at that moment in time. The greatest obstacle to believing that, even during a mini-slump for the World Champion, was that Wesley had never shown that he could beat Magnus in classical chess. Some of his losses have been painful, such as the 26-move defeat in Bilbao 2016 or the 29-move defeat in the 2017 Sinquefield Cup. In Norway Chess this year, with Magnus flying right from the start and having briefly crossed 2850 again, it didn’t seem like the moment to catch him.
The opening also promised nothing for Wesley, since after Magnus played the Slav, 1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6, Wesley sank into an 8-minute think before finally going for the Exchange Slav with 3.cxd5. It would later prove to be an inspired choice, and Wesley revealed that he was far from as unprepared as his time management might suggest:
I looked at the Exchange Slav before with another grandmaster… I studied it recently, and what's the point of studying if I'm not going to play it?
With moves such as 10…Nd7
Magnus took the game into less chartered waters, but he would later be
criticised by his colleagues Hikaru Nakamura and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave:
Nakamura: He provoked him. Magnus played a line which is slightly dubious. Wesley wasn’t ready for the Slav, so he played this boring exchange, and Magnus tried to provoke him and now Magnus is in a lot of trouble.
MVL: Wesley is a very decent player, so provoking him is not really a wise idea. Provoking any player in this tournament is sort of begging for trouble!
It may have been more that Magnus was unlucky, since Wesley had also looked at the sidelines and, for instance, knew he had to play 12.h3! to avoid trouble with a g5, h5-pawn storm on the kingside. Maxime described 13.a3 as “a very nice move”, and with 15.b4! the point became clear:
White temporarily gives up the a3-pawn, but by the time White had won back the pawn with 21.Qxc4 the situation was already becoming critical:
Wesley said afterwards he was expecting 21…Bg5 here to exchange some pieces, but instead he was shocked by 21…Qe8?!, which made him think, “for some reason he’s playing for a win again!” It went from bad to worse for Magnus, and after 22.Bg3 e5 23.Nb3 Bd8?! (“I was really surprised… it seems he just miscalculated” – So, “He just gave up a pawn for nothing – this is just crazy!” - Nakamura) things were looking bleak for Black:
24.Qd5! left Magnus in the unfamiliar situation of facing a choice of how to lose material, and our commentary team noted that it’s hard to develop the Karjakin-like skill of playing bad positions if you rarely get them. 24…Qb5?! here was another dubious choice, and it soon just became a question of whether Wesley would convert a huge advantage against the World Champion. For a while it looked as though the answer was, “yes, and without any drama”, but then after the misstep 36.Rc2!? (Wesley said he was trying “to be very intelligent” and avoid playing 36.Rc3! because it could be hit by axb4 in some lines) 37…Bh5! appeared on the board:
Suddenly the normal 38.Rg2 would run into 38…Bf3, and although the computer calmly claims a win there with 39.b5! Qxb5 40.Rb2! that was a paradoxical line for a human player to find. Wesley was also calculating 38.gxf6!, another good move, but had his fans worried as he spent almost 9 minutes and only finally opted for 38.g6+!? with 1 minute and 13 seconds remaining.
He reasoned that the weakness of Black’s back rank would be significant, which turned out to be true, but there could have been serious difficulties converting if Magnus had followed 38…Kh8 39.b5 Qxb5 40.Rb2 with the natural 40…Qd7! instead of 40…Qc6? (as Wesley said, it was “an off day” for the World Champion):
That provoked 41.Rb6!, but that was a move as natural and good as it looked, and after 41…Qc8 42.Qd5 Magnus didn’t follow through with 42…Bxg6 43.fxg6 Qg4+, the only option that could have justified his choice. He knew that was also losing, but in the game after 42…a4 43.Rxb7 Rg8 44.c6! the pawn “race” was no contest and he decided it was time to resign:
He was making no excuses:
For all the details of that game check out Peter Svidler’s analysis:
And here’s Wesley immediately afterwards:
The remaining games were all interesting opening battles, but did little to distract from that encounter. Fabiano Caruana played the Vienna (1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 d5 3.c4 e6 4.Nc3 dxc4) against Levon Aronian, meaning we were in the realm of Jan Gustafsson’s video series A Repertoire against 1.d4 | Part 2: The Vienna. You might say, however, that the fun only really lasted until move 7:
Here Fabiano had twice before played the main line 7…Nxc3 (also Jan’s recommendation), losing to both Nakamura and Topalov in the Champions Showdown in St. Louis. Instead he chose 7…Nf6, as Pavel Eljanov had against him, commenting:
The problem is that 7…Nxc3 is very interesting and 7…Nf6 is generally very boring, but I thought I’d played Nc3 twice in rapid... Nf6 is much more solid.
Aronian said he’d spent too long preparing for 7…Nxc3 to recheck his plans after 7…Nf6, and after 8.Qa4+ Nc6 9.Ne5 Caruana played not 9…Be7?!, as Levon once had against Jan, but 9…Rb8! when 10.d5! was already the signal for mass exchanges. The players quickly reached a draw on move 28, though curiously without repeating moves to comply with the regulations.
Shakhriyar Mamedyarov played the 3…g6 Ruy Lopez he’d used to beat Sergey Karjakin in the Berlin Candidates, but Vishy Anand seemed to come well-prepared and chose sidelines (6.0-0 not 6.d4, 9.Bc2 not 9.Bb3). In the end, though, he was the one who ended up confused, as he went astray in the following position:
“11.Re1+? was simply a mistake - I don’t know what I was thinking,” said Vishy later. After 11…Be6 12.Bg5 Mamedyarov could play 12…Qd7, without blocking his bishop, which was much better for Black than if Anand had played 11.Bg5! immediately. In that case the queen is forced to go to d6 and can later be hit by a knight coming to e4. Vishy realised he had to switch to damage limitation mode and managed to draw comfortably in the end – “it kind of fizzled out very fast”.
The most interesting of the draws by far was Nakamura-MVL, which started with the curious 1.e4 c5 2.Nc3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Qxd4 Nc6 5.Qd2, the “Carlsen line” (MVL) that Magnus had used to beat Radek Wojtaszek in Shamkir Chess earlier this year.
Nakamura followed the same b3, Bb2 fianchetto plan Carlsen had, but here Maxime fianchettoed himself with 5…g6 rather than Radek’s 5…Nf6. After 6.b3 Bg7 7.Bb2 Nf6 8.0-0-0 0-0 9.Kb1 Qa5 10.Nge2 the game took a dramatic turn with 10…e5:
That’s not a common move with your dark-squared bishop on g7, but Vishy Anand commented:
I was very shocked and impressed with 10…e5, because it’s such a strange move in this position, but it turns out it’s a pretty decent move anyway.
That sent Hikaru into a 27-minute think before playing 11.f3, a move he was kicking himself for afterwards, although it’s the computer’s clear first choice. It was hard to pinpoint where he went wrong after that, but by the time Vishy was talking about the game he commented:
I imagine Maxime has just solved his problems… This just looks like a typical Najdorf, although it tried very hard not to be!
If anyone was better it was Black, and the reason was summed up by a puzzle Vishy posed to Anna Rudolf (in a position like this one):
“Quick, tell me where is White’s light-squared bishop?” It was easy to miss, since it had simply blended into the pawn structure. In the end Black couldn’t get anything either, though, and a draw was reached on move 41.
That left Nakamura on 50% along with Aronian, Anand, Karjakin and Caruana. Mamedyarov and MVL are on -1, while Carlsen and So are on +1. That situation is complicated somewhat by Ding Liren’s withdrawal from the tournament, meaning some players, notably Magnus, have played a game more (6 rather than 5 in the “P” column):
Magnus now has two days’ rest (he was meant to play Ding Liren in Round 7), while with 3 rounds to go anyone could still win the tournament – or this could happen:
Monday is the final rest day, but that also means Banter Blitz with our live commentators. You should Go Premium to challenge Jan and Peter, but anyone can watch: