Magnus Carlsen has won his 7th tournament in a row after winning the classical game against Yu Yangyi in the penultimate round of Altibox Norway Chess. Magnus took risks in the opening and credited the influence of his “heroes” Daniil Dubov and AlphaZero with helping him become “a very different player” this year. Levon Aronian needed to win to keep the race for first place alive, but the Armenian instead went down in flames against Fabiano Caruana, who will have White against Carlsen in the final round.
You can replay all the games from the 2019 edition of Altibox Norway Chess using the selector below:
And here’s the Round 8 live commentary from Jan Gustafsson and Peter Svidler:
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Magnus has not only won all eight of his mini-matches in Stavanger, and all six of the tournaments he’s played in 2019, but he’s done it in style, playing sharp, sacrificial openings where he’s ready to stake everything on attacking play. Where opponents used to fear getting ground into dust after some innocuous start to the game they can now expect a fast and violent execution if they go astray. What’s brought about that change? Magnus commented after the game:
I’ve been influenced by my heroes recently, which is AlphaZero and also one of my seconds from the World Championship, Dubov, who has a lot of these ideas with sacrifices in the opening. In essence I’ve become a very different player in terms of style than I was a bit earlier, and it’s been a great ride!
The comment about Daniil Dubov was particularly relevant to the final round game against Yu Yangyi, since Carlsen said he was surprised by his opponent’s Slav Defence and chose to meet it with the 5.e4, 6.Be2 sideline that saw Dubov win a spectacular miniature against Evgeny Postny in the 2018 European Championship. Yu Yangyi sidestepped by playing 6…b4 rather than 6…e6, however, and Peter Svidler considers 7.e5!? bxc3 8.exf6 to have been “a bit of an opening bluff” by Magnus:
Yu Yangyi must have assumed Magnus had something prepared after 8…cxb2!, but it seems Black is simply better there, since the lines where both sides quickly make new queens on a1 and h8 are heavily in Black’s favour.
Yu Yangyi instead looks to have tried to play solidly, but after 8…exf6 9.bxc3 White was already comfortable, and one inaccuracy followed another. Svidler considered 13…Bc7!? a conceptual mistake (the bishop should have gone back to f8 to prevent Ba3 and allow Black to defend the c6-pawn), while 16…Nc4? (16…Qd7!) turned out to be the move that essentially lost the game:
Magnus commented, “I think Nc4 was just a huge mistake – you can call it a blunder”. Computers tells us that 17.Bxc6 is objectively winning and indeed the best move in the position, but as Svidler noted, “it leads to messes”. Magnus was also sure his opponent had been busy calculating the consequences there, but had completely missed 17.Qd3! That all but forced liquidation: 17…Rxe3 18.Rxe3 Nxe3 19.Qxa6 Nc2 20.Rd1 Nxa3 21.Qxa3 Qd6 22.Qxd6 Bxd6:
At first sight this doesn’t look so terrible for Black, but Magnus used the pin of the c6-pawn to play 23.c4! Rc8 24.c5! and it turned out the endgame was simply hopeless, at least against this particular opponent. Svidler described Carlsen’s subsequent play as, “an exemplary display of positional domination”.
Don’t miss Peter’s full analysis of the game:
Afterwards Judit Polgar and Anna Rudolf asked Magnus to assess his tournament:
I would say this tournament the classical part has not been so convincing, because I feel like I’ve gotten great positions, or at least very interesting positions, especially with White, but I haven’t really managed to use them well. In a couple of games I’ve either been lost, against Levon, or much worse, against Ding, so it hasn’t been that great.
The difference in this year’s Norway Chess, of course, was that Armageddon was a big part of the picture:
Clearly at some point I didn’t care so much about classical since I knew that I was winning the Armageddon games, but in terms of ideas it’s been great. I feel like there are still a lot of ideas from the World Championship match.
It’s been an incredible run since the match:
How has Magnus managed to find the motivation to reinvent himself after over a decade at the very top?
It’s been easy this year, since I played so badly in most of 2017 and 2018 in classical so I really wanted to regain my position in the rankings and everything! The motivation part has not been a difficult thing at all. I still feel like I can do better.
Ominous words, though Magnus couldn’t help but smile while he said them. His level so far this year will be hard to beat. Watch the full interview with Magnus Carlsen from the official live show:
The one player who could have stopped a coronation for Magnus was Levon Aronian, but to do that he needed to win the classical game against Fabiano Caruana. He picked the line with 4.e4 that he’d used in the “mate-in-1” Armageddon against Wesley So, but it was also the line famously introduced by Magnus Carlsen in the first rapid tiebreak of the London World Championship match. A loss in that game saw Fabiano’s title hopes crumble, but this time he varied with 4…Bxc3 (not 4…0-0, as Wesley also played in Stavanger), and was clearly prepared for Levon’s novelty 6.Qc2.
In fact just a couple of moves later Levon invested a lot of time in choosing a bizarre knight manoeuvre that could also have been accomplished in two moves:
All the tempi used up there ensured that by the time Fabiano later played the 21…d5! break it was only a question of how significant Black’s advantage was, while ultimately 35.Be2? would be the last straw (by this stage 35.Ng4! was an only move):
35…Nf3+! was a decisive blow. Play continued 36.Bxf3 (36.Kg2 Nd4!) 36…Rxf3 37.Qxb6 Qf6 38.Rd1 e3! 39.Ng4 Qe6! 40.Qb8+ Kh7 41.Ne5 Qh3!
White resigned, as there’s no defence against the threat of giving a check with the rook and then mate on g2.
That result still left Levon in 2nd place, but now a full four points behind Magnus. For Fabiano, it meant he’s now beaten both MVL and Aronian in classical chess in Norway, though that only takes him to a +1 score since he also lost to some fine preparation by Ding Liren in Round 3. The US star has momentum after winning his previous two matches against Alexander Grischuk and Vishy Anand, with the classical game against Vishy nearly an attacking classic. Up next? White against Magnus in the final round!
Magnus immediately pointed out that there was still work to be done when he was being congratulated on the live show:
I’m Black with Fabi, so that’s as tough as it gets. It’s nice to have a tournament victory in hand, but for me nothing is done - it’s a huge game tomorrow. We play for pride, we play for rating points, it’s a big deal always to play Fabi, so I’m looking forward to it!
The other match-ups were all decided in Armageddon:
After winning this match Maxime Vachier-Lagrave couldn’t shake off a question:
I’m still wondering what in the world was my preparation in the classical!
In an Italian Game the players ended up repeating from move 17:
Maxime pointed out afterwards that he can’t play 17.g3? here as it runs into 17…Nxd3! 18.Qxd3 Rxf3, losing a pawn. The game finished by repetition with 17.Nh4 Qh6 18.Nf3 Qg6 19.Nh4 and so on, though Ding could have tried putting his queen on g5 and playing on.
Our commentators were puzzled by Ding’s eagerness to go to Armageddon, since the Chinese no. 1 had lost four sudden death games in a row. Sure enough, this would be a 5th, despite everything seeming to be going his way. Maxime is tricky, and 25.d3!? was a nice idea:
After 25…Nxd3 he revealed his point with 26.Rxd3! and although objectively Ding’s 26…Bxd3!? 27.Bxd3 Rxf1+ 28.Bxf1 a5! seems to have been good, the two bishops always had the potential to take over after a single slip. 26…Rde8!? may have been a safer choice for Black, though Maxime had some hopes of squeezing something out of the ensuing rooks and opposite-coloured bishops position. In any case, the way the game went was again bitter for Ding Liren:
That saw the Chinese star drop to 6th place with a 50% 8/16 score, despite having matched Carlsen’s +2 in classical chess. Vishy Anand brought up Ding’s score when asked about the Armageddon system:
I think it’s slightly unfair that the tournament ranking is +1 [Carlsen], +1 [Aronian], 50% [Yu Yangyi], +2 [Ding Liren], because my whole life you think if you work for four hours that should count more than working for 20 minutes…
For me my scales are a bit confused, let’s say. Having said that, if this is a better format for television or something, then fine, but I’m used to seeing this as some kind of injustice. It feels wrong that Ding is in 4th place with +2. I’m not saying it’s unfair, because we knew what we were getting in to, but something feels wrong.
Vishy returned to the topic when asked about Magnus:
I think Magnus is showing that colours don’t matter. If you’re strong enough you just keep winning with both colours. I think all this colours is only for the other guys – Magnus just keeps on winning! Very impressive, especially given that he’s made +17 or whatever this year. It doesn’t matter that he’s +1, but I feel that Ding’s +2 should be worth something.
Vishy himself has -1 in classical chess, though he won a 4th Armageddon in the penultimate round:
Despite an opening debacle against Caruana in the Open Ruy Lopez in the previous round, Vishy stuck to his guns against Alexander Grischuk, and this time it paid off. A curious position arose after 18…h6:
Here Grischuk thought for 17 minutes and played the pretty 19.e6, but Anand said he’d checked this line to the end in his preparation, and after 19…fxe6 20.Qh5+ Kf8 21.Bf4 Qd5 it fizzled out into a 31 move draw.
The Armageddon was exciting from start to finish, with Grischuk surprising Anand with 12.b4!
The point was 12…cxb4 13.axb4 Nxb4 14.Be7!, but Vishy said of his 14…a5!, “I liked this exchange sac a lot”. Grischuk thought for 2 minutes 32 seconds before rejecting it with 15.c5!?, but Vishy had no criticism of his opponent’s time management (Grischuk started with 10 minutes to Anand’s 7, but had to win):
If you have a 3-minute advantage you shouldn’t play as if you have 7 minutes. You have to pose problems.
White did pose problems, but Vishy picked the perfect time to counterattack and “got the job done”, in his own words, in 40 moves.
That left the Indian no. 1 in 8th place, but very close to a respectable 50% for the tournament, while Grischuk is a distant last place and must be very glad the event will finally be over on Friday.
This was a match-up with relatively little at stake, but it was the day’s longest classical game as Shakhriyar Mamedyarov tried to squeeze out a win for 46 moves. After that he was forced to go all-out for a win in Armageddon, but his kingside attack never got going, and after a messy opening Wesley finally took control:
21…d4! hits the f4-pawn as well as weakening the white king, and after 22.Rc1 Qxf4 23.Rhd1 Qxh4 24.Nf3 Qxf2 White’s kingside pawns were no more. Later on Wesley took a draw in a won position, not for the first time in Stavanger this year, but it made no difference as he picked up the full Armageddon point.
Despite it not having been a particularly impressive tournament for Wesley he’s now up into the tie for 3rd place, but as you can see, the tournament has been well and truly crushed by Magnus Carlsen, who’s won every one of his matches to go into the last round 4 points clear of Levon Aronian:
Once again, though, Caruana-Carlsen is an enthralling match-up regardless of the tournament situation. If Fabiano wins the classical game he’ll have finished ahead of Magnus on classical points. If he loses, the world no. 2 spot might be at stake. Of course a draw won’t be the end of the story, as Fabi would then face yet another speed chess playoff against the playoff king.
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