Magnus Carlsen beat compatriot Aryan Tari in a model positional game to retake the lead in Altibox Norway Chess with two rounds to go. Alireza Firouzja now trails Magnus by a point before they meet in Round 9 after surviving a tricky position in classical chess but then getting outplayed by Fabiano Caruana in Armageddon. Levon Aronian can still challenge for 1st place – he faces the Norwegian duo in the last two rounds – but had another frustrating day as he lost a 4th Armageddon in 4 attempts, this time to Jan-Krzysztof Duda.
You can replay all the games from Altibox Norway Chess using the selector below.
And here’s the Round 8 live commentary from Vladimir Kramnik and Judit Polgar.
“No mercy, I hope!” is how Magnus Carlsen said he was going to approach this game against his struggling 21-year-old fellow Norwegian Aryan Tari, and what followed was a beautiful positional crush. “You don’t very often get these games where you get to win with hardly any tactics”, the World Champion commented afterwards.
Aryan Tari had suffered after playing an offbeat opening with an early f5 the day before against Jan-Krzysztof Duda, and this time he “tried to reset and play a normal game”.
To say it didn’t work out would be an understatement. Magnus had huge experience in the 6.d3 Ruy Lopez lines seen in the game, though it’s a curiosity that his “improvised” 11.Bg5 that he criticised when he first entered the confessional had previously been played by Fabiano Caruana against Veselin Topalov in the 2016 Sinquefield Cup. That game was notable for Topalov whipping up a winning attack but then failing to win the game, while this time Magnus felt Aryan had gone badly astray when he played 14…b4.
I think certainly when he played b4 that plan was pretty misguided. I think he wanted to trade some pieces, but he should have played something else like Qc7, maybe, and just kept the tension.
The game continued 15.Nc4 Nxc4 16.Bxc4 bxc3 17.bxc3 Qc7 18.Qc2 Bb5 19.Bxb5 Rxb5 20.Bxf6 Bxf6 21.Nd2 and that, it seems, was that!
I thought already after Nd2 that strategically the game is kind of decided. This does not mean that it’s going to be an easy win, but basically the strategical battle is over at that point - it’s clear that I have a large advantage and the only question is whether I can win it.
The white knight is heading to d5 via c4 and e3, White controls the a-file and Black is powerless. Aryan lamented:
It’s like a text book example of strong knight against bad bishop and he will break through on the kingside, so there is nothing I can do.
The 14th World Champion was already explaining what would follow on our live commentary (“Kramnik wrote the script!” as Judit said afterwards) and the 16th World Champion also outlined his plan of assault when he visited the confessional again. By the time 36.h3 appeared on the board there was no longer any doubt, since Magnus couldn't be stopped from pushing g4 and g5, when the f6-square would be fatally weak. You could choose whether to assess the position by computer…
…or with the human touch!
But the assessment was the same. Play continued 36…Rd8 37.g4 hxg4 38.hxg4 Rd7 39.Ra8 f6 40.g5 f5 41.Qh3 Rf7 and it was time to choose your kill.
Magnus later had some regrets here:
I felt that actually in the spirit of the game 42.Qh4, followed by Nf6, would have been a more appropriate finish, but still it was nice!
That theme of zugzwang and just leaving Black to fall on his sword with 42…Kg8 43.Nf6+ Rxf6 was also pointed out by Kramnik.
But the path Magnus chose was quick, clean and beautiful, so you could hardly complain! 42.Re8!! Qxe8 43.Qh6+ Kg8 44.Qxg6+ Kh8 (other options run into the same killer blow) 45.Nf6! and Black resigned.
To play on, Black would have to play Rxf6, but then of course the queen on e8 is lost.
Kramnik told Carlsen:
I guess it was not too difficult for your level, not that difficult a game, but actually we found it very educational. For kids, for young players, the planning and the execution of the plan was really beautiful, so congratulations!
“It was certainly a very pleasant experience and you don’t get to play these games too often”, said Magnus, though he did point out that Judit Polgar had won a very similar game against the great Vishy Anand, in Wijk aan Zee in 1998. There as well Judit dominated positionally with a knight on d5, but the tactical finish was even nicer.
Here Judit played 56.Rh8+!! and Vishy resigned, since he’s losing a piece after 56…Kg7 57.Qd4+ Bf6 58.Qxf6+!! Rxf6 59.Rh7+ Kxh7 60.Nxf6+.
The remaining two matches featured less simple chess and more of the messy, hard-to-judge positions we’re used to from the modern game.
17-year-old Alireza Firouzja has been loyal to his Caro-Kann in Stavanger, but such loyalty runs the risk of targeted preparation by your opponent, especially if you’re up against a player as well-prepared and experienced as Fabiano Caruana. The world no. 2 met 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 with 3.f3!?, a line Jeffery Xiong has tried on a few occasions recently but which Fabi himself seems never to have played. Firouzja faced it against Wei Yi in the Lindores Abbey Rapid Challenge, where he chose 3…Qb6, but here he relatively quickly opted for one of the main lines, 3…dxe4.
Alireza was soon half an hour down on the clock and only managed to get Fabi thinking with the dubious 10…Bh5?!, which ran into Ne3-Nf5. Alireza is always looking for tactical solutions to his problems, however, and after 15.Bg5 he seized his chance.
15…c5!? led to mass exchanges with 16.dxe5 Nxe5 17.Nxe5 Qxe5 18.Bxf6 gxf6 19.Bxb5 Bxe4 (our commentators’ suggestion of 19…c4!? may have been better) and soon the game headed towards a draw, though it was Fabi pressing all the way until that draw was agreed on move 60.
That meant Armageddon, with Firouzja looking for a fourth win in a row (one of his victims had been Fabi) in the format, but both players agreed that it was a mistake for Alireza to allow the same 3.f3 line. This time he replied 3…g6, but he’d had just 20 minutes to do some running repairs!
In Armageddon I think I should have changed completely the opening. These f3-positions are always very dangerous… I was expecting it, but I didn’t really have time to prepare against it, so I think my decision was wrong.
I was happy with it in the classical game – I got a good position, and so I saw no reason not to repeat it. He played, I think, a fine move 3…g6, but it is kind of the ideal position for a must-win Armageddon game. All the pieces are on the board, I have a space advantage - it’s a perfect fighting position!
So it proved, with Fabi winning the strategic battle (12…e6? was a mistake) and Alireza feeling the need to sacrifice pawns to try and retain counter-chances – it’s notable that Kramnik pointed out both 15…c5!? and 27…d4!? as moves he'd try himself before they happened. Black’s hopes lay either in the clock or in Fabi getting confused by the wealth of options at his disposal.
“I decided just to go for it not to spend too much time worrying about if it was 100% correct”, said Fabi of sacrificing a piece with 33.fxg6! Bxf3 34.gxh5! fxg6 35.hxg6 Bg7 36.Qf4! and there was just no way to defend the black king. Alireza avoided mate but couldn’t change the outcome of the game.
Jan-Krzysztof Duda played the “hyper-accelerated” Dragon with 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 g6 and seemed to allow Levon a comfortable edge, but his 16…Rcb8 was an idea Duda had played in last year’s World Rapid Championship. Back then Leinier Dominguez replied 17.Nc3 with a draw offer, while this time after 17…b5 18.Nd5 Bxd5 19.cxd5 Duda uncorked the pawn sacrifice 19.Nc5!?
Exchanging twice on c5 would leave Black with a very good bishop against White’s bad bishop, but in the game after 20.g5!? Bb2! 21.Rc2 Ba3! most of the intrigue had gone. Levon commented:
I probably shouldn’t allow Bb2. Once the bishop gets to a3 it’s difficult to make progress.
Duda, who had lost a much more drawish position to Aronian in their first Norway Chess game, was surprised when his opponent repeated moves for a quick draw, while in the Armageddon he didn’t repeat Firouzja’s mistake. The Polish no. 1 switched openings, to the French, and said his aim was to play a position, “as simple position as possible that doesn’t require any calculation”.
He succeeded, and when Levon overpressed to try and get the win he needed, Duda went on to score a comfortable win.
“I’m happy I’m not losing every game”, said Duda, while although Levon is still within striking distance of 1st place – he plays Tari and then Carlsen in the final round - he sounded downbeat after three days without a win. Will he come back stronger after the rest day? “I certainly hope so. This cannot continue!”
The standings look as follows with just two rounds to go.
Alireza Firouzja has lost his lead but still has everything in his own hands as he now plays Magnus with White on Thursday before also having White against Duda on Friday. Things couldn’t be set up better!
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