Magnus Carlsen and the US team of Wesley So, Hikaru Nakamura and Fabiano Caruana are tied for the lead on 4/7 going into the final round of Altibox Norway Chess 2018. Nakamura sprung an opening novelty on Sergey Karjakin and was all but winning by move 15. Caruana had to work much harder to beat Vishy Anand, but he was richly rewarded for taking some risks in his Petroff. Carlsen had a frustrating day at the office as he squandered a good position against Shakhriyar Mamedyarov.
For just the second time in the 2018 edition of Norway Chess we had more than one decisive game:
Replay the live commentary with Peter Svidler and Jan Gustafsson:
Hikaru Nakamura drew nine games in a hugely disappointing US Championship and then drew six (or seven, if you count the Ding Liren game) in Norway, but a win in the penultimate round has now taken him into a share of the lead. It was all about the opening, where he went for a sharp line of the English. The day before Sergey Karjakin had talked about how he was hoping his “Minister of Defence” title was a thing of the past as he was avoiding bad positions that required desperate defence. Not this time, though. He played fast in the opening, picking the direction with 9…exf3 and 11…dxc4, but then he ran into an ambush: 14.Nd2
Levon Aronian and Evgeny Tomashevsky had both played the immediate 14.e4, and Sergey sank into a 23-minute think deciding how to meet the new move. Hikaru later agreed with the computer assessment that 14…Qg6 or 14…Qg5 were the way to go, but Sergey instead chose 14…Qe7!? 15.e4 Na5? 16.e5.
I think Sergey tried to play it thematically. He figured I didn’t play e4, so he could take advantage of my move order and hang onto the pawn, but after e5 I think it’s already critical.
The last best hope for Black was 16…c5!?, but instead there followed 16…Be6? 17.Ne4!
When Sergey played 16…Be6 I was just shocked by this, because I thought after 17.Ne4 he could pretty much resign.
Things escalated fast with 17…Rad8 18.Qh5 b5 19.Nf6+! There’s no surviving the position after 19…gxf6? 20.Rxf6, so Sergey played the miserable 19…Kh8.
Nakamura had a choice of how to convert his advantage and went for 20.d5 Bxd5 21.Bxd5 Rxd5 22.Nxe8 Rxe5 23.Qxf7 Qxe8 24.Qxe8+ Rxe8 25.Rae1 Rxe1 26.Rxe1 c5:
Here Hikaru confessed:
I thought 27.Re5 was simply winning… To my horror I realised he has this 27…Nb3!
28.axb3?? cxb3 there would be winning for Black, though White isn’t obliged to take. In the game Nakamura dodged that issue entirely with 27.Kf2, and the only thing of note about the remainder of the game was the picturesque pawn structure Karjakin had shortly afterwards:
It didn’t end well for Sergey. You can watch Nakamura talk about the game below:
Earlier in the tournament Peter Svidler filmed a video on The Rise and Fall of Sergey Karjakin in Norway Chess 2018, charting how Sergey had brilliantly beaten MVL in one round only to lose to Fabiano Caruana in the next. That scenario was repeated almost exactly in Rounds 7 and 8, as Fabi once again crushed the dreams of a man who had scored a brilliant win over MVL in the previous round – this time it was Vishy Anand, and both wins came with the black pieces.
Svidler went on one of the mildest rants you’ll ever see during the live commentary to dispute the common narrative that in recent months Caruana has honed the Petroff into a lethal weapon, arguing that instead in games such as the last round of the Candidates or the GRENKE Chess Classic it was Alexander Grischuk and Nikita Vitiugov who had brought on their demise by going for sharp lines against the opening. This time, though, he felt was different:
Today, if he does win this one, he will have won the quietest of all the quiet Petroffs - and today you can start perhaps speaking about the Killer Petroff by Fabi, because the other two I felt White did more to make the game unbalanced.
Peter has now provided a recap video of the round:
Fabiano himself commented afterwards:
Today was a big win for me. I wasn’t really playing for anything. I thought I’d just play my normal repertoire, and of course Vishy could have played it very safe. He did play a relatively safe line. We actually are playing the Exchange French, and I had this idea which was kind of risky, obviously very positionally risky, to put my knight on c6 and then go for Ne4, f5, which I’d analysed a little bit, but didn’t remember anything.
The real gamble came after 13.Bxd6:
Fabi explained that in his preparation he’d looked at 13.Nbd2 f5 14.Bxd6 and 14…cxd6 is a good move, but he was aware that in the diagram position it’s much less convincing. He played 13…cxd6!? anyway:
It was sort of a bluff – I analysed it, but it’s not good for Black… I remember that it wasn’t supposed to be very good for Black, but it’s some kind of a mess.
The situation was already critical, and in a game where it’s hard to pinpoint exactly where White went wrong you could argue that it was already here:
In the game after 14.Nfd2 f5 15.Na3 Be6 16.Nc2 Nxd2 17.Qxd2 f4 Fabiano said, “it’s very comfortable, I no longer risk anything”. White’s pieces struggled to coordinate and Vishy gave up the exchange, though Caruana wasn’t sure if he’d been too greedy in accepting. It worked out, though, and White was on the brink of defeat as the time control approached:
Here the tricky 36.Ra8!? ran into 36…Qf4!, but it was far from easy to suggest improvements, and the game could have ended beautifully! Caruana:
After the game [Vishy] said that 36.g3? was just a draw, but actually I was really hoping he would play this, because 36…Qf5!! was my main point.
An inaccuracy from Fabi (42…b6! looks better than 42…Ra8?!) complicated his task, and if Vishy had exchanged off queens on move 47 it’s far from certain he would have won the rook vs. bishop ending. Eventually, though, the game reached its logical conclusion, with Vishy resigning on move 50.
It was quite a turnaround for Caruana, who had tried to pull out of the event before it started and then begun with a painful loss to Carlsen in Round 1 and a blunder in Round 2. He now enters the last round tied for the lead and as the only one of the leaders with the white pieces.
The remaining two games were drawn, but while So-MVL was the longest game of the day, at 80 moves, it was also the least interesting. Wesley lived to regret challenging Maxime in his beloved Najdorf when he ended up losing a pawn, but it seems as though the rook ending was always drawn.
Carlsen-Mamedyarov, meanwhile, was much more interesting. There was no question that the World Champion, with a 5 wins to 1 record against Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, would press for a win, and there was a curious psychological situation on move 11:
This was a repetition of the MVL-Anand Open Ruy Lopez from the day before, and here Vishy had continued with the main line 11…Nc5. Shak paused for 10 minutes before going for 11...Nxd2!? instead, which he confessed he thought was “a bad move”. His reasoning, though, was that Magnus had had a free day to prepare an improvement on MVL’s play, while capturing the knight gave him a chance “for play over the board”.
It was a risky strategy, but Magnus spent 20 minutes on the next couple of moves, and soon Shak got a chance to play actively:
16…d4!? 17.Nxd4 (played after 15 minutes - 17.Bb3, 17.cxd4 and even 17.Qd2 were valid alternatives) 17…Nxd4 18.Qxd4 Qxd4 19.Rxd4 Rxd4 20.cxd4 c5! 21.dxc5 Bxc5 and Mamedyarov had reached an endgame a pawn down. That was arguably not the greatest plan in the world against a player like Magnus, but for once the champion's technique let him down. It’s not often you see Magnus play three poor moves in a row!
26.Bd1?! (“a very bad move” – Mamedyarov) 26…Rc5! 27.Bf4?! g5! 28.Bg3?! (immediately giving up a pawn with 28.Be3 is somewhat better). After 28…Kg7 29.f4 Rc1! if there were any winning chances, they were for Black, but in the end a draw was reached on move 50 in an opposite-coloured bishop ending.
Magnus wasn’t too thrilled:
For Mamedyarov it was the end of the tournament, since he was expected to play Ding Liren in the final round. On paper his 3.5/8, -1 performance wasn’t terrible for an event he started with crippling toothache, but the Azeri no. 1 wasn’t happy with how it had gone:
I think it could have been -4, -5. I think I played one of my worst tournaments in my chess career - I can’t remember when I can’t win one game.
That means we go into the final round with four players tied on 4/7 – Carlsen and the US trio of So, Nakamura and Caruana.
All four games matter, since Aronian and Anand also have a good chance of tying for first place if they can win, while if Anand won and the remaining three games were drawn we’d have a 5-way tie for 1st!
In that case the fate of the €75,000 first prize would be settled by a double round-robin 3+2 blitz tournament, while if just two players tie for first there would be two 3+2 blitz games and then, if necessary, Armageddon, where White has 4 minutes to Black’s 3 but a draw counts as a win for Black. It’s not clear if that playoff would take place on Thursday or Friday, with the decision depending on when the games finish.
What is clear is that you won’t want to miss the final round, with Jan Gustafsson and Peter Svidler commentating live here on chess24 from 16:30 CEST!