Reports Jun 3, 2014 | 10:03 PMby Colin McGourty

Norway Chess Rd 1: Caruana takes early lead

At the start of the day this was world no. 3 Grischuk vs. world no. 4 Caruana... | photo: official website

A time trouble blunder by Alexander Grischuk enabled Fabiano Caruana to claim the only win in the first round of Norway Chess 2014. The remaining games were hard-fought, with the favourites failing to exploit the white pieces. Anish Giri’s perfect defence meant Magnus Carlsen still hasn’t managed to beat the young Dutchman, while Levon Aronian almost crashed and burned after overlooking a fine exchange sacrifice by underdog Simen Agdestein.

Grischuk 0 – 1 Caruana (replay)

The day’s one decisive game saw Fabiano Caruana leapfrog Alexander Grischuk into the world no. 3 spot on the live ratings, although for much of the game it seemed little was happening - mainly because the players were moving so slowly! The opening went well for the young Italian, causing Grischuk to spend no less than 50 minutes on 16.Ne4. Moves followed at glacial speed, until a burst of activity that culminated in Grischuk picking up a pawn with 24.Nxc5!

Grischuk - Caruana after 24.Nxc5

Caruana didn’t take the piece, with Nigel Short speculating that had a lot to do with memories of the disaster Fabiano had suffered against Carlsen on the same long h1-a8 diagonal the day before. The position remained well-balanced, but the time situation was critical. Caruana made an amazing admission after the game:

I actually thought we were at move 40 and I started to get up, but it was move 30 – then I realised I only had 1 minute! So I decided to speed it up a bit...

The players blitzed out the moves that followed, with a draw by repetition looking on the cards until 38.Qa2?? ruined Grischuk’s day:

Grischuk-Caruana after 38.Qa2

38…Rxd3! 39.exd3 Rb2 brought an end to proceedings, although Caruana almost overlooked it:

I just noticed Rxd3 at the last moment – I thought it was a dead draw.

Grischuk is rarely a bundle of joy in press conferences, but on this occasion was obviously shell-shocked:

I couldn’t imagine I could lose this position – I thought I could win or I might not, but to lose it…

He was making no excuses about his time trouble problems, though:

It’s tough to switch from increment to no increment, but it’s always your fault.

The outcome of the other games was far more logical.

Karjakin 1/2 – 1/2 Topalov (replay)

The day's most confusing struggle... | photo: official website

This was a murky affair that developed into the day’s longest encounter and would perhaps require deep analysis to work out exactly what was going on – for a short summary, though, it’s hard to argue with Veselin Topalov:

It wasn’t a great game, but probably we didn’t make any serious blunders.

Svidler 1/2 - 1/2 Kramnik (replay)

So far Svidler hasn't let chess24 down! :) | photo: official website

In this all-Russian affair Vladimir Kramnik repeated a line that he’d famously lost with against Magnus Carlsen at the 2009 London Chess Classic. In the post-game press conference the players, as they often do, competed to claim they were uncomfortable with the opening:

Kramnik: The problem in my pensionary age is I didn’t really remember…

Svidler: The problem is this is actually my preparation with Black. We looked at this preparing for London with “my boys” – and came to the conclusion it was very comfortable for Black.

Both players agreed that Svidler’s 20.h4?! was a mistake due to 20…Rb8!

Svidler-Kramnik after 20...Rb8

Black has dealt with the threat of taking on c7, as after 21.Qxc7 Qxc7 22.Rxc7 Rxd3 White can't pick up the pawn on b7. Kramnik nevertheless took 35 minutes to make the move, commenting, “If it had occurred to me sooner I’d have played it immediately”.

Svidler felt he was being outplayed but went for a forced line which both players considered just enough for White. Svidler summed it up: “A reasonable game”.

Aronian 1/2 – 1/2 Agdestein (replay)

World no. 2 vs. world no. 160 | photo: official website

This was perhaps the surprise of the day, and an encounter we hope Grandmaster Jan Gustafsson will analyse in a separate article for chess24. Few would have given Simen Agdesten strong chances of surviving against a player who outrated him by 187 points, especially with the black pieces, and especially as he was feeling less than perfect:  

And the opening did nothing to dispel those fears, as Aronian built up a seemingly dominant position. Agdestein, however, never cracked, and just when Aronian began to feel he could do anything (including 29.Kf2!?) he got a very rude awakening with 30…Rb4!, a move he admitted he’d completely overlooked:

Aronian-Agdestein after 30...Rb4

Nigel Short asked how it was possible to overlook such a move given Aronian came from the country that produced World Champion Tigran Petrosian, the most famous advocate of such exchange sacrifices. Aronian:

This is very normal. The best tacticians in the world always blunder tactics. Being Armenian I have the ability to blunder Armenian ideas!

Aronian then compounded his mistake:

Of course taking on b4 was ridiculous. I was thinking, “alright, I’ll go with the flow… let’s see where it leads”… I wasn’t really in the state of considering things, I was in a state of shock!

You don’t get to world no. 2 for nothing, and Aronian managed to return the exchange and navigate to a safe draw, much to Simen’s disappointment - although he'd already proved many doubters wrong:

Asked about his health, he explained:

I felt quite horrible before the game. But I’ve learned you don’t need to feel well to play well.

Aronian, not unusually, generated the biggest laugh of the post-game press conferences when Short asked if it was hard to play against an opponent who’s unwell:

Not really. It makes you happy!

That leaves only arguably the day’s best game, which wasn’t a million miles away from being a masterpiece:

Carlsen 1/2 – 1/2 Giri

None other than Garry Kasparov made Magnus Carlsen's first move | photo: official website

Spanish IM David Martinez takes a look at the action:

1. c4 A small surprise. We're used to Magnus being unpredictable in the openings, but on the other hand 1. c4 is the fourth most popular choice in his games, of course after advancing one of the central pawns or 1. Nf3.

1... c5 2. ♘f3 ♘f6 3. ♘c3 d5 Giri's not afraid of preparation (Magnus isn't someone to fear in the opening - just everywhere else!) and repeats the same line he used to draw against Nakamura a few months ago at Tata Steel.

4. cxd5 ♘xd5 5. e3 An interesting move - less popular than g3, d4 or e4, but one which Carlsen himself had to a suffer a little against in 2013 in order to equalise against Andreikin.

5... ♘xc3 6. bxc3 ♕c7 A novelty which, as we'll see, transposes to a known line on the next move, but which Giri explained afterwards was aimed at preventing an idea of Peter Svidler's.

6... g6 7. h4 occurred in Svidler - Nepomniachtchi, Russian Championship 2013, when White won a tense struggle.

7. d4 g6 8. ♗b5+ And now we're already in uncharted territory.

8. ♗e2 ♗g7 9. 0-0 0-0 10. ♗b2 (10. e4 ♖d8 , with Nc6 to follow, putting pressure on the white centre.) 10... b6 11. e4 ♘d7 12. ♕d3 ♗b7 was seen in Le Quang - Nepomniachtchi, Khanty-Mansiysk 2013, where Black eventually won.

8... ♗d7 9. a4

9. ♗e2 makes some sense here, since the d7-bishop is badly placed. 9... ♗g7 10. 0-0 0-0 11. e4 and in contrast to the line given for 8. Be2 the pressure on d4 with Rd8 and Bc6 doesn't come immediately, so Black is forced to play 11... ♗g4 and after something like 12. ♗e3 ♘c6 13. ♖c1 ♖ad8 14. d5 I prefer White, but that's mainly because I really like having a big centre!

9... ♗g7 10. 0-0 0-0 11. ♗a3 b6 Giri: "I thought I’d be a bit more principled, but I regretted it." The other option was

11... ♗xb5 12. axb5 ♘d7 , followed by a6, which could have been sufficient to equalise the game.

12. dxc5 Entering a line that gives Magnus the slightest of edges, but probably not one sufficient to win.

12. ♕e2 was the less forcing alternative, with the whole game still ahead.

12... bxc5 13. ♕d5 The black position seems cramped, but Giri defends with precision.

13... ♗xb5 14. axb5 ♘d7 15. ♖fd1 ♖fd8 16. ♘g5

16. ♕c6 achieves nothing due to 16... ♖ac8 17. ♕xc7 ♖xc7 18. ♗xc5 ♖xc5 19. ♖xa7 ♖xb5 and the c3-pawn falls - a draw.

16... e6 Anish spent 45 minutes before making this move, which was surprising given he had no other way of defending f7, since 16...Ne5 losing the c5-pawn. He explained his thought process: 

I missed the idea of giving an exchange and once I saw it I got pretty sweaty because it looks like I’m completely dominated and it took me a very long time first to see that that I’m not losing and then to make myself believe that I’m not losing.

17. ♕c6 ♕xc6

17... ♖ac8 was also playable and sufficient to draw.

18. bxc6 ♘e5 19. c7 ♖dc8 20. f4 h6! A necessary intermezzo so that White's rook invading on the 7th rank doesn't threaten the f7-pawn.

21. ♘e4 ♘c4 22. ♖d7 ♘b6 The draw seems close, but Magnus has a last trick up his sleeve:

23. ♖ad1 A fine exchange sacrifice, since the white minor pieces are in no way inferior to the black rooks.

23... ♘xd7 24. ♖xd7 ♗f8 Looking to simplify.

25. c4

25. ♗xc5 fails to force matters, since after 25... ♗xc5 26. ♘xc5 ♔f8 27. ♘a6 ♔e8 the black king is close to the action. White can still try to break through on the other side with 28. ♖d1 ♔e7 29. ♖b1 but after a temporary sacrifice the game would end in a draw. 29... ♔d6 30. ♖b8 ♖cxb8 31. cxb8Q+ ♖xb8 32. ♘xb8 a5 The white knight is trapped! 33. ♘a6 ♔c6 34. ♔f2 ♔b6 35. ♘b4 axb4 36. cxb4 ♔b5 37. ♔f3 ♔xb4 38. ♔e4 A last attempt to break through. 38... f6 Cutting off the road! A draw.

25... a5 Also logical. The a-pawn is... Black's most active piece! And enough to maintain equality.

26. ♘c3

26. ♗b2 does no good either. For example, 26... ♗g7 27. ♗xg7 ♔xg7 28. ♘d6 ♖f8 and if 29. c8Q ♖fxc8 30. ♘xc8 a4! 31. ♘e7 a3 32. ♖d1 a2 33. ♖a1 and once again we find ourselves with a white knight trapped in enemy territory. 33... ♔f8 34. ♘c6 f6 The intruder will soon be eliminated.

26... a4 27. ♘b5 ♖e8 28. e4 ♖ac8 A nice manoeuvre that threatens Re7.

29. ♘a7 ♖a8 30. ♘b5 ♖ac8 31. ♘a7 ♖a8 32. ♘b5 There's nothing more Carlsen can do. A good game that was very accurately played by both sides.


All that was lacking today for Carlsen was "one guy playing badly as well" | photo: official website

The post-game press conference questions inevitably focused on whether Magnus was upset that he still hadn’t beaten Anish Giri, but Carlsen stuck to his story:

The way I played I thought in the position that was on the board it was the only way to play and it forced him to make a lot of forcing moves and accept a dangerous looking position, but with precise moves it’s all a draw. I would have liked to find some way to press but today just he defended well and there was nothing left.

Despite his relative failure in the pre-tournament blitz event Giri was in high spirits:

People forget with Magnus playing so well that in order for the game to end in a result there must be one guy playing badly as well.

Although he felt Nigel Short pointing out there was “a large drawing margin in chess” was going a bit too far:

The guy’s 2882 – don’t tell him about drawing margins! It’s not as big as it seems, apparently.

So a score table isn't strictly necessary – after the first round Fabiano Caruana leads, Alexander Grischuk is bottom and the remaining 8 players have half a point.

Today’s chess24 live broadcast featured not only regulars Jan Gustafsson and Lawrence Trent, but also a cameo role for Spanish no. 1 Paco Vallejo...

Sorry, this is the video we meant to include!

The earlier section of the broadcast can be found here at livestream.

Norway Chess Round 2 on Wednesday 4 June features:

  • Levon Aronian – Sergey Karjakin
  • Vladimir Kramnik – Magnus Carlsen
  • Fabiano Caruana – Peter Svidler
  • Veselin Topalov – Alexander Grischuk
  • Simen Agdestein – Anish Giri

The game that catches the eye, of course, is Kramnik – Carlsen! Given all that’s been said between the players it should be fascinating to watch their interaction both at the board and in the post-game press conference, so don’t miss our broadcast of all the games here at chess24! The action starts at 15:30 CET.

See also:

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