Reports Jun 14, 2014 | 11:13 AMby Colin McGourty

Norway Chess Rd 9: Karjakin denies Carlsen again

And so it ends. “The strongest 10-player tournament in history” (Grischuk) has finished with Sergey Karjakin repeating last year's success to finish half a point clear of Magnus Carlsen. Karjakin won the key battle of the round against Fabiano Caruana, so that Carlsen’s hard-fought win over countryman Simen Agdestein fell short of forcing a play-off. Alexander Grischuk finished third, after inflicting yet another defeat on Vladimir Kramnik. In this final report we look at how the tournament as a whole went for each player.

Sergey Karjakin continues to play the usurper in Magnus' kingdom | photo: Even Emberland, official website

The final standings of No Logo Norway Chess 2014 were as follows:

1Karjakin, SergeyRUS2771½11½0½11½626.254
2Carlsen, MagnusNOR2881½½½½1½½½123.52
3Grischuk, AlexanderRUS27920½011½½1½5213
4Caruana, FabianoITA27910½1½½1½0½19.752
5Topalov, VeselinBUL2772½½0½½½01119.52
6Aronian, LevonARM2815100½½½½½½418.251
7Svidler, PeterRUS2753½½½0½½½½½418.250
8Giri, AnishNED27520½½½1½½0½417.751
9Kramnik, VladimirRUS27830½010½½1½4172
10Agdestein, SimenNOR2628½0½½0½½½½15.750

Let’s take the players one by one:

1.‌ Sergey Karjakin: 6/9 (4 wins, 4 draws, 1 loss)

In purely statistical terms it’s impossible to argue with the 24-year-old Russian’s victory. He was the only player to score four wins and can be forgiven for losing a game to world no. 2 Levon Aronian, while he posted a performance rating of 2899, gaining 15.4 rating points to move up to world no. 6.

When you look a bit closer, though, it seems only destiny could explain his victory! A poor start could have been much worse if he’d lost a dead lost position to Simen Agdestein in Round 3, while in Round 4 he pulled off an unlikely win after an exchange sacrifice born of desperation against Alexander Grischuk. His late tournament surge began with an incredible Lazarus-like victory from another lost or at best drawn position against Anish Giri, while in the last round he also required some help from Fabiano Caruana. 

Caruana was close to the win he needed to force a play-off against Magnus Carlsen | photo: Even Emberland, official website

Spanish IM David Martinez looks at the crucial moments of that game:

Caruana has achieved a dominant position. The c6-square is very weak and can serve as a trampoline for various pieces, but especially for the rook to capture on b6. However, he commits a terrible error of calculation which turns the game on its head.

32. ♘a4? The idea is to take on b6, but the knight will remain very weak here, as Karjakin proceeds to demonstrate.

32. ♘e4! ♕e7 33. ♗xd7 ♖xd7 34. ♖c6 was the simplest way to press. In case of 34... ♖b7 White could choose between 35. d5 exd5 36. ♘f6+ or simply 35. h5, in both cases with a big advantage.

32... ♗xc6 33. ♖xc6

33. bxc6 b5 34. c7 bxc4 35. cxd8Q ♕xd8 36. ♕xc4 ♕a8 is similar to the game. The pawn has great value.

33... ♕b4! 34. ♘c3

34. ♘xb6 ♕xb5 As the weakness on b6 has disappeared Black will again have an advantage due to the a-pawn.

34... a4! Black has definitely activated!

35. ♕c2 a3 36. ♖xb6 ♖c8! Very precise. This enables Black to recover the pawn while retaining the a-pawn.

37. ♖c6 ♖xc6 38. bxc6 ♕c4 39. c7 ♕xc7 The victory is now easy since the a-pawn immoblises the white pieces and Black only has to find how to penetrate with his queen.

40. ♕b3 ♕a5 41. ♕c2

41. ♔g2 ♕a6! entering on d3, because if 42. ♕c2 then 42... ♕c4 is winning.

41... ♕b4 Once again threatening to pin the knight with Qc4.

42. ♘a4 ♕e1 Mission accomplished! The game is over, but Caruana makes one last attempt to get some counterplay.

43. ♘c5 ♕xe3 44. ♘d7 ♕xd4 45. ♕c8 ♕b4 Karjakin has everything under control.

46. ♘f6+ ♔g7 47. ♘e8+ ♔h8 48. ♕c7 ♕e7 49. ♕e5+ f6 50. ♘xf6 ♗g7 51. ♕b8+ ♕f8


It’s only, of course, if you have the ability to play sections of games with fantastic precision (witness the wins against Kramnik and Grischuk), that you can get the “luck” Karjakin had in this tournament. He also managed to overcome two potential liabilities coming into the event. The first was his recent marriage and honeymoon in Qatar. 

He actually credited his new wife Galiya as being the closest thing to a second he had in Stavanger:

She helped me psychologically. She was preparing me for the games. She was telling me what I should do and what I shouldn’t do, because she knows me very well.

He also added:

Mikhail Tal married and then half a year later became World Champion, so sometimes it’s good!

Galiya can also help out in other ways, as Tarjei J. Svensen found out:

Tarjei: You won 100,000 Euro for the second year in a row. How will you spend the money?

Sergey: I don’t know.

Galiya (whispering): I know!

Sergey (laughing): She knows! Maybe better than me.

The other potential problem for Sergey, and one flagged up by Magnus Carlsen in his pre-tournament video, was the drawing streak with which he came into the event. In the end he only added one to his tally, thanks to losing to Levon Aronian in Round 2:

Ok, I was a bit unhappy because I had a good position, but I thought ok, finally I’ve stopped my drawing series, which was I think 17 games in a row. And finally I started to play well after that!

Like most of the players, Sergey will now travel to Dubai for the World Rapid and Blitz Championships.

2. Magnus Carlsen: 5.5/9 (2 wins, 7 draws)

Magnus Carlsen fell just short - yet more evidence for the theory that in chess it's harder to play at home? | photo: Even Emberland, official website

With the World Cup just beginning it seemed we might have another chance to reel out the Carlsen version of Gary Lineker’s famous football quote: “22 men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end the Germans always win”.

Although Magnus failed to get into his stride and was almost out for the count against both Levon Aronian and Fabiano Caruana, he still came into the final rounds undefeated and ominously poised to strike. In the event, he was let down by his failure to win an overwhelming position against Peter Svidler, although that was perhaps symptomatic of a more general malaise – even the last-round win against Simen Agdestein initially wasn’t as convincing as we’ve come to expect:

Magnus had a clear advantage out of the opening, but once again he faltered when it came to finishing things off and let almost all of his edge slip. However, the moment he reached a technical position his strengths came to the fore and he began to squeeze his opponent until eventually Agdestein commited some inaccuracies that cost him a point.

31. ♔e2 Taking away the black queen's points of entry. The threat now is Qc6, so Black's response is forced.

31... ♕c8 Magnus now starts to slowly improve his pieces. He first advances both rook pawns in order to prevent future jumps by his opponent's knight.

32. a3 ♔e7 33. h3 ♔d8 34. ♕e4 Carlsen centralises his queen.

34... ♔c7 35. ♘h7 And now he improves his knight.

35... ♕e8 36. ♘g5 The gradual improvement of the white pieces leaves Black feeling suffocated, and Agdestein decides to break on the queenside:

36... b5 Agdestein looks to "stretch out" on the queenside, but this creates tension which Carlsen exploits to perfection - since this is his only point of entry! If Black just holds on, for example with

36... ♕d7 I can't find a way to break down the black wall. 37. ♕d3 is a possible attempt, but the ending after (37. ♕a8 is met by 37... ♕a4! ) 37... ♕xd3+ 38. ♔xd3 ♘h6 is a draw because White can't enter, despite the apparent black weaknesses.

37. ♕d3 a6 38. ♔d2 Once again Carlsen and his improvement of his pieces - on this occasion the king joins the party.

38... ♔b6 39. ♔c3 ♕e7 40. ♘e4 The focus - and the knight - switches from the kingside to where the action is.

40... ♕c7 41. ♔b3 ♔c6 42. ♘c3 Yet again Carlsen has ratcheted up the tension in the position as far as it will go. Agdestein now needs to be very careful in order to hold, and in any case he'll have to suffer.

42... bxc4+? After thinking for 13 minutes he fails to find the most resilient defence and soon slips into a lost position. It was still better to maintain the tension with

42... ♕a5 so that when the queen invades with 43. ♕e4+ ♔b6 44. ♕a8 he could play 44... bxc4+ and the king can't take since the a3-pawn will fall. After 45. ♔b2 ♔c7 46. ♕a7+ ♔d8 47. ♕b7 the white pressure is still very uncomfortable, since the white knight is threatening at any moment to come to the help of its queen via e4, but it's possible that after 47... ♘e7 followed by Nc8 Black will manage to hold the position.

42... ♕b6 was the other normal option, looking to play b4. 43. cxb5+ axb5 44. ♕e4+ ♔d7 45. ♕a8 c4+ 46. ♔c2 would also be promising for White, although there are large drawing chances.

43. ♕xc4 ♕b6+ 44. ♔c2 ♕a5 45. ♕e4+ ♔c7 46. ♕a8 Black doesn't have sufficient counterplay to counteract the white invasion.

46... c4

46... ♕xa3 fails to 47. ♘b5+

47. ♕f8 ♔d7 48. ♘e4! Precision!

48. ♕xf7+ would be met by 48... ♘e7 and if you pick up the knight now with 49. ♘e4 Black gets counterplay with 49... ♕a4+ 50. ♔d2 c3+ Distracting the knight. 51. ♘xc3 ♕xa3 And White can't escape perpetual check.

48... ♕a4+

48... ♘e7 is impossible due to 49. ♘f6+ and the knight is lost.

49. ♔c1 The key is that a3 is defended.

49... ♕c6 50. ♕xf7+ The invasion of the white queen and knight now really is decisive.

50... ♔c8 51. ♘d6+ ♔d8 52. ♕f8+ ♔c7 53. ♕c8+ ♔b6 54. ♕b8+


Carlsen summed things up in the final press conference:

I don't think I played particularly well. Not too disastrously either, but I just never got going and obviously I missed my chance yesterday. If I'd won that game then we'd have had a playoff.

3) Alexander Grischuk: 5/9 (3 wins, 4 draws, 2 losses)

Alexander was unquestionably one of the highlights of the tournament. Not only did he provide a wealth of decisive games – starting with two wins and two losses in the first four rounds – but he also entertained the viewers and media in the post-game press conferences, although he did add:

I’m not like Peter who thinks about what he’ll say at the press conference for the whole game.

Grischuk was generally scathing about his play, although he admitted his mood was improved by his last-round victory over fellow Russian Vladimir Kramnik. 

Despite fierce competition Grischuk is currently Russian no. 1 | photo: Even Emberland, official website

He’d mentioned in a previous press conference that Kramnik seemed to be on a mission to out-do Tal with crazy sacrifices, and this was another case in point:

By his body language I thought he was just going to repeat, but he found some crazy idea to give away all the pawns but just to mate me.

This time the general idea was sound, but the whole game turned on a couple of moves, when Vladimir Kramnik made the classic mistake of rushing in his opponent’s time trouble:

31.d7? Rd4! 32.Qf3? (32.Qc2 was the only option) 32…e6! and with the queen covering the f8-rook nothing works for White, who’s simply material down. Instead the intermezzo 31.fxg6! was winning, since 31...hxg6 32.d7 Rd4? no longer works due to the crushing 33.Rxg6!

That moment gave Grischuk another chance to comment on his “luck”, a leitmotif of his post-game press conferences:

I was lucky, first that he blundered, though everyone blunders, but also that after 32…e6 it’s just absolutely game over. That’s of course just luck. Better lucky than good.

Such luck saw Grischuk end the tournament by cementing his rating as world no. 3.

4. Fabiano Caruana: 4.5/9 (2 wins, 5 draws, 2 losses)

After an uninspired blitz tournament the young Italian shot out of the blocks in the main event, starting with wins against Alexander Grischuk and Peter Svidler, even if both his Russian opponents had reasons to curse themselves for those games. In Round 3 he repelled a Carlsen attack to find himself on the verge of victory, but that was the high water mark of his tournament. He only drew and went on to lose to Kramnik, although he was still in contention to the very end. A win from a winning position against Karjakin would have forced a play-off, but instead he lost a must-win game in the final round for the second tournament in succession.

Caruana was highly critical of his own play:

I played two games well – maybe not even well, but decently – just two games. I deserved to lose at least one of these games in the past few days so I guess it was logical it would come at some point. It wasn't a good result, but you have to play well to have a good result, and I just didn't. The tournament started very well, then after that I just for some reason collapsed. I was feeling a bit tired at the end, but I think everyone was.

After crossing 2800 on the live rating list for the second time in his career in Round 2 Caruana ended up back on "only" 2788.6.

5. Veselin Topalov: 4.5/9 (2 wins, 5 draws, 2 losses)

Veselin was one of the few players to finish the tournament on a high. After failing to win a game in two Norway Chess blitz tournaments and the whole of the main event last year it seemed the same situation was repeating itself – with avoidable losses such as those to Grischuk and Giri failing to help his mood. That all changed when he beat his arch-rival Kramnik in Round 6, and then playing the celebrity tournament with Linni Meister seemed to give him the necessary boost for the last two rounds. 

In fact, it could have been even better if he’d finished off an unsuspecting Levon Aronian in the following position:

Simply 24.Qxb5 axb5 25.d5 would have left the black queenside pawns dropping like flies. Instead after 24.h4 c5! Levon had everything under control.

Topalov was also a success off the board, gaining fans for his modesty and openness in the post-game press conferences, where he even chatted amicably with his sometime adversary Nigel Short. We never got to see him and Kramnik in the same press centre, but then as it later turned out Kramnik had decided not to attend after any loss…

6. Levon Aronian: 4/9 (1 win, 6 draws, 2 losses)

This wasn’t the Levon Aronian we’ve grown accustomed to. There were warning signs in the first round when he was on the ropes against Simen Agdestein, although he did come back to score his first and only win of the event in Round 2 against Alexander Grischuk. He went one worse than Caruana by not only failing to beat but actually losing to Carlsen in Round 5, and after that he drew his remaining games.

Peter Svidler suggested afterwards that Aronian was so “emotionally invested” in the Candidates Tournament that his failure there might take longer to recover from, though Aronian himself had a simpler explanation:

Generally I was playing badly. I wasn’t feeling 100%. I just had a little operation and the doctor told me I’d be playing my best in a month. The Olympiad is the place where I’ll have my revenge!

What was he talking about?

In any case, the Armenian no. 1 said the medicines he’d been taking had caused him issues with concentration. In the circumstances the Norway Chess tournament was perhaps a reasonable exercise in damage limitation. Aronian lost 10.5 rating points, but remained above 2800.

7. Peter Svidler: 4/9 (8 draws, 1 loss)

Our show got a ratings boost, and not only in terms of viewer numbers, when Peter Svidler phoned in from Stavanger

Despite his protestations the Russian chess24 author almost certainly did “win” the post-game press conferences, but he failed to spark on the chessboard, never quite recovering from the gaping hole Fabiano Caruana exposed in his opening preparation in Round 2.

The seven-time Russian Champion didn’t lose another game, but despite playing some interesting chess he also failed to notch a win. In the post-game press conference after the final non-event against Giri he summed up:

It was a disaster – not a huge disaster, but a disaster. What I always feel the most bitter about are the completely unforced errors that I seem to be making more and more these days.

His personal nadir came in the first half of his game against Magnus Carlsen in the penultimate round:

About yesterday's game I kept hearing the word “awesome” – but that would be number 79 among the words I’d use about that game and my play. I checked some of the Twitter reactions... I felt acutely embarrassed about the game but it seems people enjoyed it immensely. Sometimes you play a very nice game and it goes unnoticed but then you play chess like a 7-year-old and remember how to play at the end and you get complimented for it.

8. Anish Giri: 4/9 (1 win, 6 draws, 2 losses)

It was a hard tournament to categorise for the youngest participant, 19-year-old Anish Giri. His one win required Veselin Topalov to blunder in a winning position in Round 5, and he was lucky to survive against Grischuk, but if his Herculean efforts against Karjakin in Round 7 had ended logically in a win for him he’d have been leading with two rounds to go. In the end it was a mildly disappointing result (he lost two rating points) that he ended with a mildly disappointing refusal to keep playing in a better position against Svidler.

Giri was quick to switch focus:

9. Vladimir Kramnik: 4/9 (2 wins, 3 draws, 3 losses)

It can’t be often that an ex-World Champion ends a 10-player event as the participant with the most losses, although Kramnik’s aggressive approach since he lost the title has taught us not to rule out such debacles. It was more remarkable given that just as in the blitz event Kramnik had started off in fine fashion, winning a minor masterpiece against Anish Giri and then squeezing out an endgame win against Caruana to take the sole lead on 3.5/5 with only four rounds to go.

Another tournament to forget for Vladimir | photo: Even Emberland, official website

The wheels came off, however, against Topalov, and Kramnik could manage only 0.5/4 in those remaining rounds (he’d managed 0.5/5 at the end of the blitz!). It wasn’t all bad, as he played potentially beautiful games with the white pieces against both Aronian and Grischuk, but his troubles with the black pieces continue. In general, he’ll be searching to put things right before Dortmund and the Olympiad, though first on his future To Do list may be avoiding sitting down at the board opposite a certain Veselin Topalov!

10. Simen Agdestein: 3.5/9 (7 draws, 2 losses)

It’s with a heavy heart that we have to state that Agdestein finished, as expected, in clear last place, since the players and observers were unanimous in acclaiming him as the revelation of the tournament. 

Perhaps the way most of us would look if we sat down to play a game of chess against Magnus Carlsen | photo: Even Emberland, official website

For seven rounds he strode the stage as a colossus and had the very best players in the world quaking in their boots. He was unlucky not to pick up wins against such heavyweights as Aronian, Karjakin and Caruana, and reasonably felt that even his final losses were nothing to be ashamed about:

I think I played well in the last two games here, even when losing. I'm incredibly tired. I can barely open my eyes… I'm quite happy that it's over. It's been a fantastic experience I must say. I'm glad I got the chance, and I learned enormously.

Carlsen chimed in:

I think he did extremely well apart from the last two games and I'm hoping it will give him some encouragement for the Olympiad and whatever may come next.

So that was that… All that remains is to give a final shout-out to our commentary dream team of GM Jan Gustafsson and IM Lawrence Trent. If you missed the final show you can watch it below, with guest appearances from such stars as Peter Svidler and Veselin Topalov:

The remaining commentary on Round 9 can be replayed at Livestream.

There was also some exceptionally good news from the closing dinner that the Norway Chess event has been secured for at least another three years. A new chess tradition has begun!

We can’t wait for next year, but in the meantime no-one should suffer elite chess withdrawal symptoms, since the World Rapid and Blitz Championships in Dubai kick off on Monday! We’ll of course be following the action here on chess24. 

See also:

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