ten players entered Thursday’s penultimate round with chances of winning the tournament,
and it showed! Each game could have ended decisively, and in fact
it beggared belief that World Champion Magnus Carlsen failed to defeat Peter
Svidler. That allowed Sergey Karjakin to move into pole position with a round
to go by defeating his “client”, Vladimir Kramnik. Only Carlsen and Caruana can
now prevent the young Russian from winning Norway Chess for a second year in a row.
Replay the chess24 commentary (watch live here)
GM Jan Gustafsson and IM Lawrence Trent yet again commentated live from chess24's Gibraltar studio, while IM Malcolm Pein and Macauley Peterson called in from Stavanger and there was also a cameo appearance for "friend of the show" (well, almost) IM Sopiko Guramishvili:
The remaining commentary on Round 8 can be replayed at Livestream.
Round 8 results
Svidler 1/2 – 1/2 Carlsen
When the players came in to the press conference after the first game to finish Dirk Jan ten Geuzendam started off by saying “it looked so winning”, provoking:
Svidler: It didn’t look winning...
Carlsen: It didn't look winning...
Svidler: It was winning!
That was actually something of an understatement, with Carlsen adding “it’s really the sort of position you don’t analyse”.
Peter Svidler had complained in an interview two days ago of the difficulty of playing White against Magnus, saying “his black repertoire is so solid that nobody seems to be completely sure what to do”, and he clearly hadn’t found a solution in the intervening period. On the day the World Cup kicked off in Brazil his English Opening was met by route one stuff from the World Champion, who played the Grand Prix Attack with reversed colours in an obvious attempt to deliver mate at the earliest opportunity. The Russian Champion’s play was “flailing”, to use one of his own words, and he confessed:
I’m extremely embarrassed at the way I played the first half of the game. It’s abysmal.
His friend Alexander Grischuk helpfully added:
He was reading a comic book during dinner. If you're playing 1.c4, at least read Marin's book.
German Grandmaster Ilja Zaragatski looks at where it all went wrong, and then right, for Svidler!
1. c4 e5 2. ♘c3 ♘c6 3. ♘f3 f5 4. d3 This modest move is considered fairly uncritical. At least for White! An almost Carlsenesque approach to the game from Svidler, who renounces any prospect of an opening advantange and relies on his skills in the following stages of the game. But whether that's the right strategy against the World Champion...
6. ♗d2 , avoiding doubled pawns on the c-file, is perhaps even better.
6... ♗xc3+ 7. bxc3 d6 8. 0-0 Straightforward! Carlsen doesn't need to be asked twice and has seized the first possible opportunity to mess up White's pawn structure. Of course White gets the bishop pair, but the doubled pawns rob him of many options on the queenside and in the centre. I like the black position! And it's scored excellently.
10. ♕b3 The first of many concrete moves that provoked outspoken self-criticism from Svidler in the post-game press conference. In the absence of other active plans White must do something to counter Black's idea! There were certainly options:
10... b6! The white queen's outing no longer serves a purpose. Svidler:
I completely forgot b6 is a legal move.
12... ♖b8 Also good were
12... e4 and
12... ♗b7 , eliminating the long-range English bishop. White will suffer due to his worse pawn structure and the lack of any active plan. 13. ♗xb7 ♘xb7 14. ♘xf5 ♕h5=/+ with a double attack on f5 and e2, as well as the threat of Ng4. Black is better.
13. ♗e3⁈ After this it's really serious.
13... f4! Carlsen kicks things off and goes all-out to attack the king. Meanwhile the white queen at the other end of the board is only busy with itself.
The machinery of the black attack swings into motion. He has four pieces in the attack while White defends with three, and notably without the strongest which is stranded on a3. Pawns play no great role here - it's all about piece activity!
15. ♘f3 ♗h3 16. ♗xh3 ♕xh3 17. ♔h1 ♖be8 18. ♕b2 e4 On each move Carlsen has a choice between several equally promising continuations. That says everything you need to know about the evaluation of the position!
Resigning would not be out of place in this position, but it’s a miserable thing to do with material arguably equal. No-one would have blamed me for resigning here, but I made one more move and then suddenly something happened.
24. ♕b5 The black position is so good that the biggest problem is choosing among the many winning lines.
24... ♖fxf4? Not the best... Carlsen:
Any move but Rfxf4. Any piece to any square.
Good, for example, were
24... c5 25. ♕d7 ♘cxe3 26. fxe3 ♘f2+ 27. ♔g2 ♕g4+ 28. ♕xg4 ♘xg4−+ each of them bringing total domination. The last one was the variation the Russian had feared most, and not without reason - it would have robbed White of his last hint of fun in the game.
28. ♖xg7+! Finally Svidler also gets to play a part in the game. After being on the ropes for so long... a rook sacrifice! Beautiful :)
28... ♔f8⁈ Carlsen had to take the rook.
28... ♔xg7 29. ♕d7+ ♕f7 30. ♕g4+ (30. ♕xf7+ ♔xf7 31. ♔xe2 ♘xc3+ 32. ♔d3 ♘xb1 33. ♗xc7∓ ) 30... ♕g6 31. ♕d7+ ♔h8 32. ♕d8+ ♕g8 Stopping the perpetual check. Black still has a slightly better endgame that he can play for a win. 33. ♕xg8+ ♔xg8 34. ♔xe2 ♘xc3+ 35. ♔d3 ♘xb1 36. ♗xc7=/+
29. ♔xe2 ♘xc3+ 30. ♔f2 ♘xb5 31. ♖bg1 And suddenly the game is wide open again! Not only that, but the position is also utterly confusing and highly complex. Time trouble is approaching and both kings are fair game. Your commentator would prefer to be White...
This game was a missed opportunity for Carlsen - both to get a full point and to win the tournament. While we've hardly ever seen the world no. 1 look more desolate Svidler seemed ashamed of the first half of the game. Both left the press conference with their heads held low!
After the game Carlsen was asked what he thought about his chances of still winning the tournament:
I don’t think if you screw up like this you’re entitled to think about first place.
Two players who lost any hope of first place were world nos 2 and 3 Levon Aronian and Alexander Grischuk. They both let huge advantages slip:
Aronian 1/2 – 1/2 Caruana (replay)
Levon Aronian soon seized the initiative with the diabolic novelty 8.e4!, a move he credited to his second IM Ashot Nadanian:
It paid dividends almost immediately, but just when Aronian had won a pawn and was on verge of victory he missed a trick:
Aronian went for 29.Nc3? (“I chose a tempting move and it was terrible”), allowing the black queen to invade with 29…Qg1+ 30.Kb2 Qf2+ 31.Ka3 Qd2!, the move Aronian said he “blundered”. There was no way to make progress. The path to victory was instead the elegant queen manoeuvre 29.Qb5+ Kc7 30.Qa4!, attacking the a7-pawn, and if Black tries to defend the a-pawn with his king Qd7 will decide matters.
Agdestein 0 – 1 Topalov (replay)
Like Wile E. Coyote, Simen Agdestein seemed to be capable of defying gravity and everything the world’s best could throw at him, but he finally fell in Round 8:
Still, at least the ex-football professional (see the video in our FIFA World Cup article!) went down fighting! 23.e4?! was another display of ambition, offering an exchange on g1 for attacking chances:
Alas, Topalov’s 23…d5! was a fine intermezzo (as a rule of thumb e3-e4 should only be played when backed up by Ashot Nadanian's analysis!), and Topalov seized an advantage he never relinquished to score the day’s most convincing victory.
Agdestein lay the blame on his exhaustion, although it wasn’t exactly a problem with his sleep:
I slept fantastically, even before the game. I just felt like sleeping today… Playing chess when you’re tired isn’t good and losing when you’re tired makes it worse.
Topalov, meanwhile, may have been inspired by his rest-day activities. He’d assumed all players had to attend the Celebrity Tournament on the final rest day, only to find he was the only one there. There were compensations, however, as he was teamed up with Linni Meister, “Norwegian glamour model, pop singer and sex columnist”.
Grischuk 1/2 – 1/2 Giri (replay)
Neither player will look back on this game with any great affection. Giri played an opening that the consensus seemed to be could be described as a Benoni-gone-wrong, and then “sacrificed” a pawn on h5:
The sacrifice looked tempting, but the problem is the knight is completely misplaced on f7.
In the end Grischuk won another pawn and Giri admitted - a theme of the day! - to fighting an urge to resign, but ultimately he managed to hold the rook and knight ending.
Alexander Grischuk wasn’t throwing out any of his classic one-liners, and was asked whether he was tired or disappointed:
Disappointed… It's never very enjoyable when you don't have chances for first before the last round. For me it's much better to have a completely won position in the last round and then if I win, I win the tournament, or if I blunder I lose, but I just want to be in contention.
Karjakin 1 – 0 Kramnik
Norway Chess has turned on the finest of margins. Giri was a whisker away from consigning Karjakin to last place in Round 7, before an amazing blunder completely turned the tables. In Round 8 Karjakin had few ambitions after the opening:
Basically I decided to make a draw. If there weren't Sofia Rules of course I'd offer a draw. He could have repeated moves…
Instead Kramnik made a strange blunder and fell to his fourth defeat with the black pieces against his young compatriot. The overall score in classical chess is now 4:1 in Karjakin’s favour, with Kramnik scoring his only win in the recent Candidates Tournament.
Spanish IM David Martinez examines the game:
1. c4 e6 2. ♘c3 d5 3. d4 ♘f6 Kramnik is always a benchmark when it comes to theory, and it's significant that he prefers this move to 3...Be7, which is the usual finesse in order to force 4. Nf3 and not give White the possibility of developing the knight to e2.
4. cxd5 exd5 5. ♗g5 c6 6. e3 h6 7. ♗h4 ♗e7 8. ♗d3 0-0 9. ♕c2 ♘h5⁉ A very rare alternative in this position, where 9...Re8 is usually played. We'll doubtless see it much more often at the top level after this game.
11. ♘ge2 is the normal move, developing the knight to its dream square and also preventing the black kinght from jumping to f4.
12... ♘d7 13. 0-0-0 ♘g6 A provocative move, since on this square the knight will clearly be exposed to attack by the white pieces. Kramnik's idea is to play the knight to h4 in order to exchange it for the f3-knight, but Karjakin avoids that with his next move.
13... ♘e6 was the more normal alternative, followed by b5 and Bb7, seeking counterplay on the queenside.
14. h4 Preventing Black's plan, although it was also possible to allow it with
14... ♕f6 A good square for the queen, from where as well as overprotecting g6 it also prepares to liquidate on f5.
14... ♖e8 15. ♗d3 ♘f6 was a more aggressive way of handling the position. If White accepts the material he can run into problems: 16. ♗xg6 fxg6 17. ♕xg6 ♘g4 , followed by Rf8 and Bf5, with compensation on the light squares.
16. ♖dg1 , preparing the pieces for a future kingside advance, would have been the choice of someone more aggressive, but Karjakin has no problem playing semi-equal endings!
25... ♘a8 Aiming for the new weakness on b4.
26. ♘d3 ♘c7 27. ♖g4 ♘a6 28. ♖f4 ♘e4 29. ♔b2 ♔h7? A very strange decision, since the king is no better off on this square and, above all, it allows an exchange on e4 when Black is forced to take with the pawn since otherwise the f7-pawn would be hanging. Any other move would have maintained equality, while after this move Kramnik at no stage manages to equalise the game.
35. ♘xf7? would again be met actively with 35... g6! 36. ♘xd8 gxf5 and the contrast between the knights is obvious. One of them is wreaking havoc by entering on d3 while the other is close to being lost on d8.
42... ♖f6 43. ♖e2 b6 44. ♖b7 The lesson in technique that Karjakin has given since Kramnik's mistake on move 29 is magnificent. Vladimir now decides to enter an ending an exchange down, but one where he maintains some activity.
50. ♖xe3 An interesting way of transforming the advantage, returning the exchange but securing two passed pawns in the ending.
63. b5 h5 64. ♔e3 ♔g3 65. a7 h2 66. ♖xh2 ♔xh2 67. b6 ♔h3 68. b7 ♖xa7 69. b8Q ♖g7 70. ♕e5 ♖g3+ 71. ♔f2 h4 72. ♕e4 A game in which Karjakin played the opening very solidly until the outcome was effectively decided by a strange mistake by Kramnik.
So against all the odds last year’s winner Sergey Karjakin is again in the lead going into the final round:
The table can only be fully understood in light of the last-round pairings:
Since Caruana takes on Karjakin one of them must reach at least 5.5 points, meaning Magnus Carlsen is the only other player who can win the tournament. To do that he needs not only to beat his old coach Simen Agdestein with the white pieces, but also to win a blitz play-off against either Karjakin or Caruana. Karjakin’s fate, meanwhile, is in his own hands, as a victory over Caruana would guarantee him clear first place.
Don’t miss the action, which starts one hour earlier than usual at 14:30 CET. Jan Gustafsson and Lawrence Trent will again be the double act to watch, exclusively live here at chess24!
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