Magnus Carlsen will now remain world no. 1 on the July rating list after finally grabbing a win in the penultimate round of the 2017 Altibox Norway Chess tournament. His risky decision to sac a pawn in time trouble against Sergey Karjakin paid off handsomely, while his ratings rival Vladimir Kramnik pushed too hard and lost to Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. Levon Aronian remains the tournament leader and can now only be caught by Hikaru Nakamura or Anish Giri.
Round 8 saw no change in the battle to win the Altibox Norway Chess tournament, but the hugely unlikely bottom two of Magnus Carlsen and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave finally had something to cheer about (click a result to replay the game with computer analysis):
Magnus Carlsen's World Championship seconds Jan Gustafsson and Nils Grandelius were on hand as their boss finally won a game.
You can replay the commentary in full below (to watch live and support such shows in future please consider going Premium):
At one point on Thursday a Vladimir Kramnik victory over Maxime Vachier-Lagrave couldn’t be ruled out, while Magnus Carlsen went for what was objectively a dubious pawn sacrifice against the ever-dangerous Sergey Karjakin. If Sergey and Vlad had won we would have had a new world no. 1 and the Carlsen crisis would have grown ever deeper, with only Black against Vishy Anand to look forward to in the final round.
Instead, Magnus has regained a comfortable 12.8 rating point lead over his new nearest rival, Wesley So. Sergey Karjakin found some fine moves in mutual time control, but missed other chances to consolidate and then, after thinking for 26 minutes and 52 seconds on move 41 made the losing move, 41.Bd6?
The Russian explained afterwards that he’d spent most of his time trying to find something better and had then decided to “fix a draw”, having missed that after 42.Rh8+ Ng8 43.Re4 Qg7 White has the final blow:
44.Rxg8+! After 44…Qxg8 the best move is 45.Qf6, but the nice trick 45.Rg4 Qh7 46.Rh4! and Rh8 next move also does the job. Nils Grandelius takes us through a game that while by no means flawless was high on drama:
Magnus received a rousing round of applause afterwards with the relief of local fans and the Norwegian TV crews palpable.
The World Champion himself, as quoted in Tarjei J. Svensen’s Matt & Patt, was of course relieved:
This makes a very big difference. Now I'm not last as long as I don’t lose tomorrow.
He wasn’t getting carried away, though. Despite the fact he can no longer lose his no. 1 spot he admitted that, “if anyone else had been in fighting shape I’d have lost it already”. He added:
If I was on sick leave, then I'm not recovered yet.
French no. 1 Maxime Vachier-Lagrave had exactly the same
thoughts as Magnus after he also scored his first win in a tournament where he’d
previously suffered two defeats, commenting:
Even today my play wasn’t convincing, so it’s clear that something has gone quite wrong in this event.
He added that the win, “is very good for my spirit!”
The opening was a highly theoretical Anti-Berlin where the players blitzed out their first 19 moves, although only the first 12 had been seen before, in Caruana ½-½ Xiong from this year’s US Championship. White seemed to be breaking all the rules on pawn structure and development, and when Maxime admitted to forgetting his analysis storm clouds were looming. Then, however, the fight back began:
31.Rf3! Rxg4 32.Na4! Rxg2 33.Nc5! and at the cost of two crippled pawns White suddenly has a dangerous initiative. Maxime felt that Black could still easily force a draw, but players like Kramnik live and die by the sword. Still playing for a win, the Russian no. 1 took the risky decision to exchange off his bishop for White’s knight and enter a rook ending where White’s queenside pawns had a headstart.
Maxime’s calculation is arguably the best in the business, and it seems he gave Vlad no chance in the play that followed. The final blow came on move 48:
48.Rxh4! After 48...Rxh4 49.Kb5+ would pick up the white rook on a4 with a trivially won ending, so Kramnik resigned.
Both bottom-placed players winning had the consequence that Sergey Karjakin, who had triumphed in both his previous outings at Norway Chess, is now in last place. When he was informed of that by Nigel Short he replied:
Oh dear. Maybe in Stavanger I’m first or last!
Initially it had seemed we might get another “quiet after the storm” round.
Nakamura-So featured a small opening surprise from Hikaru Nakamura that was easily defused by Wesley So, the player with the only “perfect” record in Stavanger:
After the game Wesley commented:
I’d prefer they removed the draw result in chess, as here we just played perfect chess.
His preference is for the old Kasimdzhanov/Shipov suggestion that a drawn game would be replayed immediately afterwards with colours reversed, and at ever faster time controls, until a decisive outcome is reached. Challenged that that might mean the death of classical chess he commented, “You have to adapt and change – there are computers nowadays!”
That draw for Nakamura meant that Levon Aronian could almost clinch the 2017 Altibox Norway Chess title with a win over Vishy Anand, and the Armenian no. 1 had about as good a position as you could hope for out of the opening. He got to play a beautiful bishop sacrifice on an empty square - 28.Bh7+
If Vishy took the bishop then 29.Qc2+! would pick up the c8-rook and win the game, but of course he did no such thing, and after 28…Kh8 29.Bb1 Kg8 Levon decided he was happy to take a half-point lead into the final round and repeated moves.
That left the day’s longest game, Giri-Caruana, which followed the pattern of the tournament for both players. Fabiano once again decided to play the Queen’s Gambit Accepted as Black, and once again he ended up defending a miserable position. Anish Giri, who has been getting great positions in almost all his games, described it as “classical suffering”, but had missed what seems to be the drawing move:
Giri fancied his chances in a rook ending, but here 37…Rb7! forced a minor piece ending, since e.g. 38.Rc6? fails to 38…Rb2+ and the bishop is lost. The ending after 38.Rxb7 looks to have been a draw, and the position was confirmed as a mathematical draw as soon as tablebases (databases of “perfect play” that have been calculated for positions with up to 7 pieces) kicked in. Fabiano could have brought proceedings to an end at least an hour earlier if he’d played a more forcing move at one stage, but eventually Giri put an end to his efforts on move 67:
That such an apparently overwhelming position for White can be a draw got Nigel Short onto his favourite hobby horse of making stalemate not a draw but a loss for the side unable to move, which allowed Giri to get in one of those quips that might put him in physical danger against a less mild-mannered opponent!
If (stalemate) is not going to be a draw then Fabiano has to change his style entirely. He’ll just have to change his opening repertoire. He’ll have to stop being an accountant and start being a chess player. That’s too much to ask of Fabiano, I think.
That result means that Giri and Nakamura are still in with a chance of catching Aronian in the final round. A tie for first place will result in a rapid playoff: two 3-minute + 2-second increment blitz games followed, if necessary, by an Armageddon game, where White has 4 minutes to Black’s 3, but a draw counts as a win for Black.
Almost anything is possible, since all three players in contention for the title face different opponents – and very tough games with Black. Aronian has the rock that is Wesley So, Nakamura has his compatriot Caruana, while Giri faces Kramnik, a player who has a 6:0 score in classical wins against him (Kramnik won their first five encounters when he had the white pieces).
Karjakin - MVL and Anand – Carlsen are of course also of interest for prestige and the battle to avoid finishing in last place, though in financial terms the places at the bottom barely differ:
Tune in for all the action with live commentary from Jan Gustafsson and Nils Grandelius here on chess24 from 16:00 CEST onwards. You can also follow the games in our mobile apps: