Reports Oct 13, 2020 | 12:47 PMby Colin McGourty

Norway Chess 7: Carlsen & Firouzja find a way to win

Magnus Carlsen came close to losing a classical game to Fabiano Caruana for the first time in five years, but what he admitted was “a bit of luck”, plus brilliant defence, saw the World Champion survive before going on to win in Armageddon. That kept Magnus in second place, a point behind Alireza Firouzja, who also won in Armageddon after Levon Aronian lost on time. The only player to pick up a full three points was Jan-Krzysztof Duda, who eventually punished Aryan Tari's offbeat opening.

Levon Aronian knows he's let Alireza Firouzja off the hook! | photo: Lennart Ootes, official website

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Caruana ½-½ Carlsen (Magnus wins in Armageddon)

In their first game in this year’s Altibox Norway Chess, Magnus Carlsen had beaten Fabiano Caruana in classical chess for the first time in over two years, ending a sequence of 19 draws. In this clash, however, the question was whether Fabiano could beat Magnus in classical chess for the first time in five years... and he came very close!

A tough day at the office for Magnus Carlsen | photo: Lennart Ootes, official website

During the earlier win, Magnus had noted he thought during the game that he had the best position he’d had against Fabi since Game 1 of their 2018 World Championship match, and we returned to that battleground in Round 7 with Magnus playing the Rossolimo Sicilian (1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 g6) which he chose in that game. With 5.c3, however, Fabi had already left the positions seen in the match, and when 10.Bd6!? appeared on the board it was clear we were in for a fierce fight.

The only top-rated player to try this is English GM Mickey Adams, a player who has worked as a World Championship second for both Magnus and Fabiano. He tried it in Round 1 of this year’s Gibraltar Masters and had a winning position in 20 moves, but Magnus had already deviated from that game with his reply 10…b5. The way the game went had been covered at Chessable, in the Fight Like Magnus: The Sicilian course endorsed by Magnus:

But he was struggling here, spending well over half an hour on the next two moves.

Fabiano described his own preparation as “not so deep”.

I was a bit surprised he didn’t know this line because it’s a very straightforward line, or maybe he knew it, but didn’t really remember exactly how he’s supposed to play, and it is very dangerous.

Magnus confirmed Fabi’s impression in the confessional during the game, saying that although he knew the line he was mixing things up, like a chess dyslexic. The critical moment seems to have come after 17.Bd5.

The computer suggests grabbing the pawn on h4 now, while you can, with a dynamically balanced position. Instead Magnus played 17…Na5?! 18.Bxb7 Nxb7 19.Ne4 Re8 20.h5! and the pawn went on to be a thorn in Black’s side.

Fabiano Caruana seemed to have a great chance to pick up a precious win | photo: Lennart Ootes, official website

The World Champion summed up:

I wasn’t so disappointed after the opening, but I went wrong with Na5, and after that it was just horribly difficult. I think it’s a typical situation when you have a lot of very, very poor choices, then you spend a lot of time on them and that’s what happens.

Magnus had already fallen a full hour behind on the clock before he played 20…Rc8, though that was time in which Vladimir Kramnik and Judit Polgar were able to talk about what makes Magnus such a strong player.

He was going to need to show all his best qualities to survive, and that’s just what he did, with Fabiano reflecting that, although it might have been better to play Qd2 before hxg6, he didn’t really do anything wrong with White. Magnus kept finding resources, but admitted that on another day it might not have been enough after 29.Ne5.

29...Qxd6?? is impossible as after 30.Qe2! disaster will strike on the d7-square, but Magnus correctly played 29…Qc8!. Fabiano thought there should be a win, but he couldn’t find it in the 18 minutes he spent here, for a simply reason – it wasn’t there! As Magnus commented:

I thought for sure it was extremely dangerous and the fact that I’m holding after all this Ne5, Qc8 stuff it’s a bit of luck, I would say. Sometimes these things just collapse, but fortunately it didn’t today!

Play continued 30.Qd5 Re6 31.Ng4 Kh7 32.Qd4 Qf8 33.Qa7:

Judit initially thought this was a big advantage for White, but Vlad quickly pointed out the defence Magnus had seen: 33…Rxd6! and if 34.Rxd6 Black has 34…Qxd6!, since 35.Qxb7 runs into 35…Qd1+, picking up the loose knight on g4. It was by such a thread that the position was holding, but it meant that at the very end it was even Magnus who could have chosen to play on for a win!

Fabiano commented:

He had to play a lot of really, really accurate moves, but he played them all, and at the end I was already a pawn down. I think it should be a draw and he was low on time, so I kind of expected him to take a draw, but I was hoping for more in that game.

“It’s worth many victories, such a save!” said Kramnik, though the day’s work wasn’t over for the World Champion. He now had to play Armageddon, but he was helped by his opponent’s play in the opening. Magnus played the Berlin and Fabi shocked Kramnik by playing the drawish 5.Re1 in a must-win game. As Fabi pointed out, however, he certainly did “go for it” when he went on to play another outlandish Bd6 move.

This time it was less convincing, however, and after 16…Re6 17.c5? (“a bit too ambitious” – Caruana) 17…Ne8! 18.Bc4 Nxd6! 19.cxd6 Bxa1 20.Qxa1 Rxd6 Magnus simply had a huge edge in a game he only needed to draw. He confessed things “got a bit out of hand” later, and it felt as though if Fabi was truly committed to flagging his opponent he might have succeeded, but as it was Magnus went on to win a 6th mini-match in 7, with the classical loss to Duda the only slip-up.

Firouzja ½-½ Aronian (Alireza wins in Armageddon)

Alireza Firouzja has also now won 6 mini-matches in 7, with his only slip-up coming when he lost on time against Magnus in Armageddon. This year the focus is less on Armageddon, however, with only half a point on offer for winning that game, and Alireza would also be leading if only classical games were counted – he’s scored an unbeaten +3, and in his Round 7 encounter was the player pressing for more.

Another day, another impressive performance by Firouzja | photo: Lennart Ootes, official website

What seemed a quiet opening got sharp when Alireza went for 17.d5 and then 19.f4 and 21.f5:

“I think I was much better at some point, but I couldn’t find how to break,” said Alireza, who also called Levon’s 21…f6! here “a very good move”. It seems also to have been an only move, but after that Black was holding, even if it meant defending an uncomfortable rook ending a pawn down.

Levon also had Black in the Armageddon and, considering he needed only a draw, was in a very comfortable position for most of the game. The best chance to end the contest came after 42.Ne2.

When Levon thought for half a minute and picked up his rook it seemed he’d found the win, but the rook went one square too far with 42…Rc2? Levon’s tactical justification for that move was 43.Kxc2 Ne3+, but after 43.Rg7 the game was roughly equal. Instead he could have played 42…Rc3+!, when another fork, 43.Nxc3 Nxf4+!, wins, as does 43.Kd2 Rxa3.

“It’s insane how he missed Rc3 here!” said Alireza, with Kramnik agreeing:

What is very strange is that Rc3 is easier to see than Rc2. That’s why if you see already Rc2 normally you see Rc3 as well!

After that miss the rest of the game was about the clock, and Alireza had learnt from the loss on time to Magnus.

I think once you lose on time one game then you understand what is one second [increment]! You should just press the clock. He was not concentrated on the clock, I think!

It became a race, and with tricky knights on the board it was always likely one player would flag. That player was Levon, though there was a funny moment at the very end. Alireza first played 61.Ng3, seemed to let go of the piece for a fraction of a second, then played 61.Ng7 instead. 61.Ng3 was perfectly playable as well, however, and by this point Levon’s flag had already fallen – for an Armageddon time scramble the players were pretty careful with their pieces!

Only one clash in Round 7 didn’t go to Armageddon:

Duda 1-0 Tari

No-one expects the 4...f5!? Ruy Lopez | photo: Lennart Ootes, official website

chess24 can take some credit (or blame) for the bizarre start to this game, since it was our Norwegian editor, 21-year-old IM Sebastian Mihajlov, who introduced Aryan Tari to this line in the Offerspill Invitational in June this year. Back then it was Sebastian who played not the relatively well known 3…f5 Jaenisch or Schliemann Gambit that GM Roeland Pruijssers covers in his chess24 video series, but 3…a6 4.Ba4 f5!?

Duda was understandably surprised, but his 5.d4, played after 7 minutes’ thought, was the main move instead of the 5.d3 Aryan himself played in the earlier game.

Black had soon trapped a White piece, but Duda was doing well until 11.Nc3!? gave his opponent the chance to equalise fully. The critical moment came after 11…Qb6! 12.Nd5

12…Qc6! and Black could easily take over, but after 12…Bxd5? 13.Qxd5 it was White dictating play, with Black never having a good moment to take on b3. Duda wrapped up victory in 27 moves.

That meant that while Aryan has lost every game except for an earlier draw and Armageddon win against Duda, Duda has now beaten both Norwegian players, Tari and of course Magnus Carlsen, in classical chess. “I’m playing not so good here, but I have my moments at times!” the Polish no. 1 said afterwards.

We’re now down to just three rounds to go, with Round 8 on Tuesday before the final rest day. 

Leader Firouzja now faces the world numbers 1 and 2 in consecutive rounds, with Caruana up first. Fabi was full of praise for his opponent.

He’s playing great. He is in general a great player, and he’s also having a good event. It’s one of my important chances to try and fight for first place, so I’ll try to put pressure on him tomorrow.

“No mercy, I hope!” said Magnus about his clash with compatriot Aryan Tari, while Aronian will be hoping to bounce back from two disappointing rounds when he takes on Duda.

Tune in to live commentary with Vladimir Kramnik and Judit Polgar from 16:50 CEST.

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