Reports Sep 15, 2021 | 1:27 PMby Colin McGourty

Norway Chess 7: Carlsen, Rapport & Firouzja all win

“I’m probably the luckiest I’ve ever been,” said Richard Rapport, as the Hungarian outplayed Sergey Karjakin to take a 3.5-point lead at Norway Chess and climb to world no. 6, above Alexander Grischuk, Anish Giri and Wesley So. Magnus Carlsen has the white pieces against Richard in Round 8 and could cut the gap to half a point after squeezing out another win, this time against Aryan Tari. Meanwhile Alireza Firouzja bounced back to defeat World Championship Challenger Ian Nepomniachtchi.

Richard Rapport has had a dream tournament, with just three rounds now remaining | photo: Lennart Ootes, Norway Chess 

You can replay all the games from Norway Chess 2021 using the selector below.

And here’s the day’s live commentary from Judit Polgar, David Howell and Dirk Jan ten Geuzendam. 

Norway Chess continues to get more spectacular by the round, with all three games ending decisively in classical chess in Round 7.

Rapport 1-0 Karjakin

For once even Sergey Karjakin's defensive skills weren't enough | photo: Lennart Ootes, Norway Chess 

Richard Rapport is now the only unbeaten player in classical chess in Stavanger, and he’s won four games to leave his rivals in his wake. Instead of just breaking into the Top 10 he’s gained 18.4 rating points to climb 7 places to 2778.4 and world no. 6, with Levon Aronian in 5th and even Ian Nepomniachtchi in 4th now potentially in danger. How could Richard explain it?  

I’m probably the luckiest I’ve ever been. I think all the things that over the years I missed, or some things that were not for me, came back in this one tournament, seemingly.

Magnus Carlsen, who has a more or less must-win game against Richard Rapport in Round 8, wasn’t buying the “luck” explanation.

I didn’t expect him to be an unbeaten +4, that’s for sure, but what can you do? He’s played really well and frankly he was also much better against Karjakin in his 1st game, so it’s not like he’s taken all his chances either, and he was really pragmatic against me in the first game, which I think speaks to the fact that he came here to win, nothing else, and I just have to play a good game tomorrow, that’s all that counts. 

Richard has at times criticised his openings in Stavanger, but it was Sergey who seemed already to be in some difficulty when he went for 10…c6?! instead of the 10…Nc6 that had been played by the likes of Hikaru Nakamura, Levon Aronian and Ding Liren.

That slow move, neither putting pressure on d4 or threatening e5, gave Richard the time to go for 11.g3! Nd7 12.Bh3!, before Sergey pushed his c5-pawn again with 12…c5!?

An interesting strategic battle now ensued, as after 13.dxc5 b6 14.c6! Qxb2 15.0-0 Nc5 16.Nd4! the question was whether the pawn on c6 was a strength or a weakness.

Richard summed up:

I felt like it’s an extremely difficult position, because it’s very unique. I felt like I’m better, I have the initiative, but if he consolidates he has a better structure and I have nothing, and I could just get worse very easily, so I had to find only moves to keep the initiative going and I felt like I managed this, because eventually I ended with a pawn up. 

Richard picked up that pawn on move 33.

It was another of those situations where you thought that if anyone could save the position it was Sergey, but with relentless precision from Richard, and some help from the clock, the Hungarian went on to win with relative ease. 

An amazing result that means Richard has the potential to win Norway Chess with two rounds to spare.

Tari 0-1 Carlsen

Aryan Tari had a wonderful chance to beat Magnus in the first half of the tournament — he wasn't going to be given a second chance | photo: Lennart Ootes, Norway Chess 

If one man is going to stop Richard Rapport, it’s likely Magnus Carlsen, who picked up a second win in a row to move into second place. The World Champion didn’t exactly feel he was firing on all cylinders…

…but after all, such games are what originally made him World Champion in 2013 and saw him climb to 2882 on the rating list a year later.

The game against Norwegian no. 2 Aryan Tari had one standout early moment, when Magnus took a remarkable 46-minute think after the quiet 14.h3. It was one of those cases when despite all the effort expended you do what you were planning immediately anyway…

Magnus explained afterwards that the position in which he took his think was one that’s known to theory, but with White to move. Magnus said he couldn’t find any good way to exploit his extra tempo, however, and was worried he’d have an unpleasant position after 15.dxc5, so that 15.Ng4 came as a relief. Mass exchanges followed more or less by force, and after 24.Qe1 Magnus confessed that he was tempted to take a draw.

24…Nxe3 and exchanging rooks as well on e3 would almost certainly have ended peacefully, but instead Magnus went for 24…Nd6, and keeping things alive paid off handsomely. 27.Ne3?! and 30.a3?! already left White struggling, while 41.Ne3?, abandoning the a3-pawn, was the last straw.

After 41…Qa1+ 42.Kh2 some care is required, since 42…Qxa3? 43.Qd4+! would throw away the win, but Magnus was ruthless with 42…Qe5+ 43.Kg1 Nxe3 44.fxe3 b4! 45.d6 Qa1+! 46.Kf2 bxa3 47.d7.

This is a curious situation, since the white d-pawn can’t be stopped, but it turns out Carlsen’s two a-pawns beat Tari’s single pawn! After 47…Qf6+ 48.Ke2 a2 49.d8=Q Qxd8 50.Qxd8 a1=Q 51.Qxh4 a3 there are no checks and the latest a-pawn will go on to queen. Aryan resigned. 

So Magnus is back in the hunt for first place, but to give himself a good chance he really needs to beat Richard Rapport next. He commented:

I’m never pessimistic about my chances to win with White. Obviously considering the form he’s in it’s going to be hard, but I’m going to try, of course, and just the fact that I have a chance, I’m very happy about that. That was not obvious after the game against Karjakin.

Firouzja 1-0 Nepomniachtchi

A few days earlier it had seemed Nepomniachtchi was having a good World Championship warm-up while Magnus was struggling, but things have turned around very fast | photo: Lennart Ootes, Norway Chess 

You might have thought that Alireza Firouzja would have been broken after his tough endgame loss to Magnus Carlsen the day before, but he’s not the kind of player to let setbacks hold him back for long. We could see that, for instance, in Norway Chess 2020, when he suffered a much more painful loss to Magnus in the penultimate round before coming back to beat Jan-Krzysztof Duda in the last round and take clear 2nd place.

The other factor was that while it felt to the outside world that Alireza was being tortured by Magnus, the Iranian-born star was not only treating it as a learning experience but actually enjoyed it! He commented:

Magnus is very good in these endgames with bishops and a few pieces on the board. He beat a lot of people like this, and ok, I was not an exception! A lot of things it’s possible to learn in that endgame, already some people discovered — I think it’s just another world! … It didn’t feel like torture, I was enjoying it, how he was playing, and I was also defending pretty good, I think, and then at the end I made a mistake. It was a very good game, I think.

Magnus backed Alireza up, pointing out that the youngster wasn’t wasting time, as he'd thought, but had seen problems for Black that Magnus had overlooked. 

That helped explain why Alireza was, if anything, energised by his loss, but it was another matter to beat the World Championship Challenger on demand. Alireza put his success down to his opponent’s unfamiliarity with the Italian setup played in the game, and assumed that Ian is hiding his main openings, such as the Najdorf, for the World Championship match.

Initially it seemed as though Nepo got a very healthy position, but when he didn’t go for any pawn breaks such as d5, Alireza was able to take over and gradually push back the black pieces. It went from bad to worse for Ian, with 37…c5? perceived by David Howell as a huge positional concession that needed to have some tactical justification. 

It seems there was none, with Nepo telling Alireza after the game that he’d overlooked 40.Qd6!

The knight ending after exchanging queens is hopeless, but giving up a key pawn with 40…Qd7 41.Nfxe5 Nxe5 42.Qxe5 Qxa4 43.Qxc5 was no bed of roses.

Alireza Firouzja is now again the only player other than Rapport to have picked up rating points so far in Norway | photo: Lennart Ootes, Norway Chess 

Alireza was able to push his e-pawn, while 46…b5 was the last test he faced. 

Here Firouzja found the star move of the game, 47.Qa8!, with the point that after 47…Qxc4 or 47…bxc4 White just replies 48.e7! and the pawn promotes and wins the game. Alireza commented:

Qa8 is a trick, of course! I think he missed it, but anyway it’s winning even if I move the knight, probably it’s winning.

In fact it seems that after 47.Ne3 Qxb2! Black would have been right back in the game, but after 47.Qa8 Kh7 48.Qe4+ (there are parallels between this game and Magnus’ win, where the queen moved from a1 to e5 and also prevented any counterplay with checks) 48…Kh8 49.Nxa5 the lone black b-pawn was never going to win any races. The e-pawn cost Nepo the knight on g8, and soon it was time to resign. 

So Ian Nepomniachtchi is back to 50% in classical chess in his World Championship warmup, while in the overall standings he’s dropped below Magnus to 3rd place.

Richard Rapport is powering on with +4 compared to Magnus’ +1 in classical chess, but if Magnus can win their Round 8 encounter he’ll become the favourite to win the event, despite still trailing by half a point. 

Nepo will be hell-bent on hitting back against Aryan Tari, whose minimum goal for the rest of the tournament will be to outscore last year (when he picked up only 3.5 points — he currently has 3), while Karjkin-Firouzja will be an interesting battle between players who have had mixed fortunes in the last few rounds. 

Don’t miss live commentary from Judit Polgar and David Howell right here on chess24 from 11:00 ET/17:00 CEST!

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