Reports Jun 13, 2019 | 1:10 PMby Colin McGourty

Norway Chess 7: Caruana spoils classic as Carlsen's lead grows

Magnus Carlsen now leads Altibox Norway Chess by two points with two rounds to go, after Wesley So blundered on move 16 of their Armageddon game. Levon Aronian moved into second place by beating Yu Yangyi and complained about Carlsen’s opponents “just handing it to him”, but for once the top action was in the classical games. Ding Liren won a near perfect game against Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, while Fabiano Caruana played a brilliant rook sacrifice only to spoil everything against Vishy Anand and almost lose. A win in Armageddon was some consolation.

Caruana-Anand was nearly a repeat of Fabi's brilliant win in the 2018 Olympiad | photo: Lennart Ootes, Altibox Norway Chess

Replay all the games from Altibox Norway Chess 2019 using the selector below:

And here’s the Round 7 commentary from Jan Gustafsson and Peter Svidler:

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The race for first place

Two match-ups in Round 7 were critical when it came to the fate of the Norway Chess 2019 title – leader Magnus Carlsen taking on 4th placed Wesley So, and 2nd placed Yu Yangyi playing Black against 3rd placed Levon Aronian.

Wesley handing it to Magnus? | photo: Lennart Ootes, Altibox Norway Chess

The victory of Wesley over Magnus in the 2018 edition of the tournament gave some hope of an upset, but although the US star again had the white pieces he chose the 7.Bg5 Sveshnikov (not the new 7.Nd5 main line) and seemed to take every opportunity to drain any tension from the position. The 36-move draw was perhaps frustrating for the World Champion, whose hopes of setting new rating records in the tournament were finally over. On the other hand, you can always find a record or milestone if you look hard enough! (Maxime Vachier-Lagrave also had a 67-game unbeaten streak before So, though Ding Liren's 100 games is the new goal for the world elite)

Magnus would no doubt be a lot more disappointed about the classical games if it wasn’t for the fact that he’s won every Armageddon he’s played in Stavanger, with the 1.5 points for winning a mini-match in sudden death only slightly worse than the 2 points you get for a classical victory. The 2nd game saw Wesley play the 3.f3 Grünfeld we also got in Ding Liren-Mamedyarov, and in his video on that game (embedded below) Peter Svidler commented on Magnus’ 10…f4!? pawn sacrifice:

A very, very fresh approach pioneered among others by that promising young chess player called AlphaZero!

Wesley rejected the sacrifice with 11.Bf2 and after 11…Nb4 12.a3 a5!? he rejected a full piece as well by playing 13.h4. The game continued as a contest for only a few more moves: 13…Be6 14.Nh3 Na2+ 15.Nxa2 Bxa2 16.d5??

Wesley’s pawn push would work after 16…Bxd5?? 17.Bxb6!, but not after 16…Nxd5 or the even better 16…Qxd5! that Magnus played in the game.

It emphasised just how bad White’s position was that Magnus could blunder a tactic later on (23.Nxh7!, and if 23…Nxh7 24.Bxh7+ Kxh7 there’s the double-attack 25.Rxh5+!) and it still didn’t make the slightest bit of difference.

The last three rounds are being played in the Stavanger Concert Hall, with the Norwegian TV studio featuring a sea view | photo: Lennart Ootes, Altibox Norway Chess

Levon Aronian lamented how easily Carlsen’s opponents were rolling over, but Judit Polgar didn’t miss the chance to point out that Levon was as much to blame as anyone – he’d squandered a totally winning position in their classical game in Round 2.

Levon did even more to make Magnus’ life easier, since in Round 7 he beat Yu Yangyi, who had been the closest pursuer at 1.5 points back.

There's at least one moment in every game when Levon threatens to turn into the Incredible Hulk! | photo: Lennart Ootes, Altibox Norway Chess

The classical game saw Levon meet the Four Knights with the fashionable 9…Bg4 pawn sacrifice introduced by Vidit in a game against Wei Yi last year. Jan also recommends that choice in his recent video series on the Four Knights, with Levon following Jan's line all the way until Yu Yangyi varied slightly on move 15.

Jan’s belief that Black had absolutely no problems wasn’t called into question by the game, where if anything Black was better before a draw was agreed on move 31. Yu Yangyi had won all four of his Armageddon games so far, but he met his match in Aronian. Ultimately it all came down to one move that Peter Svidler said at the time he was “in awe of” – 22…Qh6!

The knight on e5 is left en prise, but 20.Bxe5 runs into 20…Qe3+!. Levon also had to check 20.g5!? Qxg5 21.Bxh7+ Kh8 22.f4, but in that case 22…Qh6! again saves the day. In the game after 20.Bxh7+! Qxh7 21.Qxh7+ Kxh7 22.Bxe5 material was equal in a quiet endgame. Yu Yangyi did everything he could to apply pressure, but there was no way to rock the boat, and since Levon was Black a draw meant he won the Armageddon. He’s now two points behind Magnus.

Maybe Grischuk was also a fan of Qh6! | photo: Lennart Ootes, Altibox Norway Chess

Meanwhile at the other end of the table… MVL-Grischuk was a match-up between two players who started the day in the last two places. Alexander Grischuk has been having a miserable time in Stavanger, and just when he thought he’d got a good advantage out of the opening…

17.Bxb4! came as a shock to Grischuk. Maxime said that “was clear by his face, and he told me after the game”. The little tactic of course works because the a8-rook is unprotected, and after 17…Bxb4 18.cxb4 Qxb4 19.Ra4 White was at the very least out of danger. The game ended in 43 moves with an unusual repetition that the French no. 1 found aesthetically pleasing.

Maxime had a few shaky moments at the start but went on to win the match | photo: Lennart Ootes, Altibox Norway Chess

Although Maxime had won two Armageddon games by drawing with the black pieces it was a curiosity that he hadn’t won any of his first 12 games in the main event in Stavanger this year. He put that right in the 13th with a nice win with the white pieces:

Maxime hadn’t expected 21…Qe8, but he came up with the attractive 22.Nc6!, which he said was “created out of necessity”. Grischuk lost the thread of play around this point and an exchange sacrifice soon left White with unstoppable pawns:

30.a6! was a nice flourish, with the point that after 30…Qxc6 31.Qxc6 Rxc6 32.b5! Black can’t stop one of the pawns queening.

But now let’s get to the real highlights of the day!

Ding Liren 2:0 Mamedyarov

Chinese no. 1 Ding Liren has now beaten both the world no. 2 and the world no. 8 in classical chess in this event, becoming the first player to reach a +2 score – quite an improvement on the previous year, when he drew three games before fracturing his hip and having to pull out of the tournament!

Ding Liren is the only player so far to win two classical games | photo: Lennart Ootes, Altibox Norway Chess

The victory over Shakhriyar Mamedyarov was in part down to excellent home preparation in the 3.f3 Grünfeld. Ding was refreshingly honest that his 20.Qe1 was based on chess engine recommendations, and it was only 21.Bd2 which was finally a new move. After 21…Be6 22.e5 Ding couldn’t remember focusing on 22…Bxe5!? - “I just looked at this position yesterday so I didn’t believe I had such a bad memory!” The best move looks to be 22…Na4!, but after 23.Bd3 Mamedyarov’s delayed 23…Na4? was called “a very bad move” by the Chinese star.

21...Na4? here was a losing move

The computers agree the move is a mistake with the bishop on e5, but it still took some brilliant play for Ding to convert the advantage into a full point.

Don’t miss Peter Svidler’s analysis of the game:

And now we really have saved the best for last!

Caruana 1.5:0.5 Anand

Fabiano Caruana almost played a brilliant attacking game | photo: Lennart Ootes, Altibox Norway Chess

We’re told that the democratisation of chess knowledge brought by computers and the internet has meant the kind of bombshell novelties that Garry Kasparov used to unleash on his victims are a thing of the past, but this was another game where a new opening idea proved almost decisive. Here in this Open Ruy Lopez both Karjakin against Anand, and Caruana himself, had played the main move 12.Nxe4, but it turns out all White needed to do to trouble a former World Champion was play the computer’s top line, and a novelty in top-level play, 12.Re1:

It looks like Black should play 12…Nxe5!, but Vishy went for  12…Nxd2?!, a move Fabiano labelled simply a “mistake”, adding, “and he has a bad position for the rest of the game, basically”.

You can argue over the exact point at which a bad position became completely lost (the computer still gives Black some hope after 18…Qe6! 19.g4 and now not 19…Bg6 20.Bd2!, as mentioned by Fabi, but 19…Bxg4!?), but the thrilling final stages began on move 29:

Vishy has attacked the e1-rook, but Fabiano sacrifices it with 29.Bxg6!!, a move that took 5 of his remaining 10 minutes. 

Vishy Anand deserves credit for conquering the urge to resign! | photo: Lennart Ootes, Altibox Norway Chess

After 29…Qxe1+ 30.Kh2 Vishy fought on with 30…Rd5!, a resource that left Levon Aronian on the live show unsure how to proceed. Fabiano knew this one, though, and played the powerful 31.Rc1!, only to stumble when the last try 31…Rg5! appeared on the board:

“Basically I just panicked a bit because I was low on time”, he commented. He said he’d missed both 32.Bf7+! and 32.Bxh7+!, which win easily. Even 32.Bxg5 Qxe6 33.Bh6! is clearly winning. You can’t criticise his natural 32.Qf3!? too much, since it should still be enough to take home the full point, but now after 32…Qxe6 33.Qxa8+ Kg7 the move 34.Bd3? (34.Be4!) really did give away the lion’s share of the advantage. The problem was 34…Qd5!, threatening mate on g2 and forcing off queens:

Caruana commented:

I just thought this was over, and then Qd5 came - I blundered this move. The rest of the game was also embarrassing, because I was basically losing.

The world no. 2 missed the moment to switch to playing for a draw (“I did a crazy thing!”) and could have been in serious danger on move 64:

After 64…Re4! 65.f5 Rxh4 Fabiano felt the black king would creep into the position and he’d lose to some zugzwang, but after 64…Kg7?! 65.Bg6 in the game the moment had passed and a draw was soon agreed.

The players are now playing on an even more impressive stage | photo: Lennart Ootes, Altibox Norway Chess

Normally you’d expect Caruana to be in a dark place psychologically after spoiling “a great attacking game” (MVL), but since he’d also nearly lost Fabiano admitted he was “kind of relieved”, which helped him to forget what had gone before. He went on to smoothly outplay Vishy in the Armageddon in what he described as “a pretty clean game”. The final position is a good summary of how things had gone:

Watch Fabiano talking to Judit Polgar and Anna Rudolf on the official live broadcast:

Caruana will have a chance to make the tournament interesting when he faces Magnus Carlsen with White in the final round, but for now the World Champion has a comfortable 2-point lead at the top of the table. Ding Liren’s bragging rights as the leader in classical chess once again mean little on the tournament table, since his four losses in Armageddon have left him with only a mathematical chance of 1st place:

Can anyone stop Magnus? | photo: Lennart Ootes, Altibox Norway Chess

Thursday’s penultimate round with be critical, since if Magnus wins with White against 3rd placed Yu Yangyi it’s perfectly possible he could wrap up tournament victory with a round to spare. 2nd placed Levon Aronian has White against Fabiano. Watch all the action live here on chess24 from 17:00 CEST!

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