Magnus Carlsen is on course to win his first Altibox Norway Chess tournament after a move 12 novelty gave him an effortless win over his great rival Vladimir Kramnik. The biggest obstacle in his path is now Levon Aronian, who survived a shaky middlegame to beat Pavel Eljanov and remain a point behind Magnus before playing him with White in Round 8. The other games were all fighting draws, with Nils Grandelius in particular coming agonisingly close to a first win.
It felt as though all the players were jockeying for positions as the 2016 edition of Altibox Norway Chess approached its conclusion, but only Carlsen and Aronian succeeded in improving their chances:
Before the tournament began Magnus was asked who he wanted to beat and replied, “Kramnik, I always want to beat Kramnik”, while Vladimir himself said that if he was going to lose in Stavanger it would most likely be to Carlsen. That all came to pass in the Stavanger Concert Hall on Wednesday, in a strangely one-sided encounter.
Kramnik played a pet line that co-commentator Jan Gustafsson described as “the Berlin for 1.d4”, in which Black accepts a ruined pawn structure in exchange for the two bishops. The old main line the players followed had been thought to be holding for Black, but 12.Ne2! proved to be a very important new wrinkle.
The knight is heading to f5, and suddenly Black’s standard plan of bringing his own d7-knight to d6, to cover the f5-square, is too slow. Kramnik immediately went wrong with a queenside assault that was easily refuted, and when he failed to acknowledge that defeat and accept a simply bad ending he was soon lost. In essence the game was a miniature, though it dragged on to move 50.
Spanish Grandmaster Pepe Cuenca has the full details:
During the game itself Magnus went to the confessional to credit his second Jon Ludvig Hammer with the new idea – one which ruined the Norwegian no. 2’s hitherto perfect prediction record:
Anish Giri described the novelty as “very clever”, but was incredulous when told who was responsible:
How can Jon Ludvig come up with such an idea?! Maybe Magnus told him to look for somewhere Ne2 works…
Magnus himself felt there was very little to talk about, summing up:
After like 16 moves my position plays itself and it’s pretty hard to screw it up.
Vladimir agreed, responding to the statement that it had been a bad day at the office:
Not even a day, but half an hour, I would say! 14…Na4 was a mistake, I just missed 15.Ngf5… I just feel like I haven’t played today… The position after 16.Rb1 was so bad that I just didn’t know what to do.
Kramnik will be hoping to avoid the kind of finish he had to his previous Norway Chess tournament in 2014, when he lost three of his last four games, including a game with Black against Veselin Topalov. He can perhaps take comfort from the fact he’s found a desert island buddy, though. He’d named Carlsen as the player he’d choose to be stranded with and now Magnus named him (after first pleading, “I really have to choose one, right?”):
I think Vlad, probably. With him you don’t ever stop having something to talk about, because he will talk!
If that seemed like a backhanded compliment it was nothing compared to the treatment meted out to his second Peter Heine Nielsen:
I wouldn’t take Peter anyway, because he doesn’t understand anything. He’s the sort of person you have to explain a joke to! You don’t want to be explaining jokes on a desert island.
Ouch! You can watch the full, almost 6-hour show, including all the player interviews, below:
The day’s other win was less convincing:
Levon Aronian opened with the “Moscow Candidates Tournament opening” 1.c4, but by move 19 things had gotten out of hand:
Our commentators described Pavel Eljanov’s play:
Some of the decisions were too trusting. We understand it’s Levon, but you want to grab central pawns at times!
Here there was nothing wrong, and a lot right, with 19…Nxe4! 20.Bxe7 Nxe7 21.dxc5 Nxc5 22.b4, when Black has 22…Nd3!. Levon admitted, “honestly speaking, I forgot Nd3!”
Instead Pavel went for 19…a6, and a series of doubtful decisions – 29…Rb6 “after you do that my hands are untied” (Aronian) and the weakening 31…f6 – left the initiative firmly in White’s hands, with 35.d5! signalling the start of the end:
After 35…e5 36.g4! Aronian was able to transfer a knight to f5 to deliver the final blow. The way the game ended recalled Eljanov’s own victory the day before over Grandelius, with the computer counting down to mate in the final position.
The other games were all fierce battles, where it was extremely tough to identify any clear goal-mouth opportunities.
Anish Giri is back! Not so much as an immovable object on the chessboard, but as an unstoppable force in the post-game press conferences. After his loss to Harikrishna left him almost lost for words he immediately demonstrated things were back to normal when Svidler said the players could interrupt the commentators at any moment:
It’s not so easy to interrupt you, Peter!
Anish then rounded on Jon Ludvig Hammer (see above) before turning to his game against Veselin Topalov and insisting that Black was somewhere between “extremely comfortable” and much better for most of the game. Veselin was unconvinced, and our silicon friends largely supported his case – even pointing out a chance for White to get a serious edge at one point – but in the end the draw was a fair result, and Anish deserves kudos for the way in which he earned it:
37…Rxh2!! 38.Rxd7 (38.Kxh2 Qxc7 is good for Black) 38…Rh1+ 39.Kf2 Rh2+ 40.Bg2 Rxg2+! (40…Ra2+ loses to 41.Re2!) 41.Kf1 Rh2! and Black gave perpetual check.
What had perked up Giri’s spirits? Well, perhaps an unstrenuous rest day:
Though it should perhaps be mentioned that was already
trolling either Hikaru Nakamura, or Norwegian cuisine, or both!
Food was also on the mind of Veselin, who decided his reasoning for picking Anish to spend time with on a desert island – “he’ll listen to me” – was a little flawed.
We don’t have a vegetarian guy in the tournament? Levon? Then I should pick him as I won’t be in danger!
Pentala Harikrishna took a leaf out of Magnus’ book by playing a novelty that involved putting a piece on e2, where it seemed to impede natural development:
Maxime’s response was much better, though, with the Frenchman taking 16 minutes to decide on 8…Be5! – a move he later said was recommended in his files in many places for similar positions. After 9.Be3 he followed up with the hyper-aggressive 9…f5! and for a while seized the initiative, though later things swung back in White’s favour. Afterwards Harikrishna felt he’d missed a clear chance, though nothing was clear in the analysis, until he was ultimately the one who had to force a repetition at the end. Maxime feels he’s playing pretty well, though he wasn’t too proud of leaving himself with only 20 seconds to make his 40th move.
With no chess in St. Louis (tonight of course sees the incredible Ultimate Blitz Challenge with Garry Kasparov!) it seemed like being an early night for European chess fans, but Nils Grandelius and Li Chao had other ideas.
The Chinese grandmaster admitted to having failed to predict his opponent’s first move, and the Caro-Kann position he ended up with wasn’t the best:
Magnus Carlsen joined the live commentary team at about this point and summed things up:
It’s about the ugliest position you can have without being material down! Dark-square hell for Black for the rest of the game.
Li Chao dug in, though, and the perfect moment to break through the defences never seemed to come. Grandelius tried 69.d5:
But after 69…exd5 70.cxd5 cxd5 71.Bxd5?! (71.Rxd5 avoids the trick) he ran into 71…b6+! and the worst was over for Black. In fact Li Chao even went on to be a pawn up nine moves later, and it was the kind of game that might have driven a lesser man to drink.
Nils Grandelius, though, incorrigibly retained his good spirits, much to Svidler’s amazement:
I’m playing a bit better than I did previously, so I don’t see why I would be upset!
The day’s results now put Magnus Carlsen a close to untouchable point ahead of the field with two rounds to go:
The one way he could be made to look very touchable again, though, is if Levon Aronian can win his game with the white pieces against the World Champion in Round 8. Meanwhile MVL, Giri and Kramnik all have White, so we can expect to see them pressing hard for wins.
At the end of Round 7 Peter Svidler remarked on a job well done: “Very glad we finally worked up to some serious level of nonsense today!” Tune in to Peter and Jan's live commentary on Altibox Norway Chess Round 8 from 16:00 CEST on Thursday. You can also watch the games in our free mobile apps:
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