General Jun 2, 2019 | 11:39 PMby Colin McGourty

The Norway Chess revolution starts Monday

Peter Svidler and Jan Gustafsson will be commentating live here on chess24 as Magnus Carlsen, Fabiano Caruana and eight more of the world’s top players are in action in the Altibox Norway Chess blitz opener on Monday 3rd June. The main event starts Tuesday, and this year it’s all change, with the Stavanger supertournament experimenting with a system where every match-up must end with a winner. If the fast classical game ends in a draw, a 10 vs. 7 minute Armageddon game will be played for another point.

Norway Chess, now in its 7th edition, is one of the highlights of the chess calendar, and some things about the format are completely unchanged. For instance, we’ve once again got ten of the world’s very best players:

And they’re again going to start with a 9-round blitz tournament (3 minutes per player, with a 2-second increment from move 1) at 18:30 CEST, where the players get to choose their seeding number in the main draw in the order which they finish.

We’re also thrilled to be able to reunite the dream team of Peter Svidler and Jan Gustafsson to commentate here on chess24 on every round. As in previous years we’ve arranged with the organisers to have video of the players, but on the condition that the show is only for Premium members. If you’re not yet Premium now’s a great chance to try it out, as we have two offers to choose from:

We hope you’ll join and support our show, but you can of course also follow the free broadcast by Judit Polgar and Anna Rudolf on the official Norway Chess website.

Now it’s time to get to the big changes this year! First, we have a very unusual classical time control for elite tournaments of two hours per player for the whole game. There’s no extra time at move 40, but that’s the point at which the increment (bonus time added each move) kicks in. Again, though, there’s a twist, as instead of the usual 30 seconds there’s only a 10-second increment, something we’re used to seeing only in rapid games.

After a quick draw like the one Maxime and Magnus made in the last round in 2018 this year they'd have to battle it out in Armageddon! | photo: Lennart Ootes, Altibox Norway Chess

If a player wins a classical game he gets 2 points, but the real difference comes if there’s a draw. The players share half a point each, but then play an Armageddon game for the remaining point! White has 10 minutes to Black’s 7, but if there’s a draw Black gains the full point. There’s a 3-second increment from move 61. 

So to recap, in each pairing the players will either score 2 points (a win in classical), 1.5 points (a draw in classical and a win in Armageddon), 0.5 points (a draw in classical, a loss in Armageddon) or 0 points (a loss in the classical game).

Let’s look at some talking points of the tournament:

1. What strategy will the players adopt?

It’s rare that we go into a major tournament so unsure of what to expect. Will players fight harder to win in classical chess, gaining a bonus half point and avoiding the stress and potential lottery of Armageddon? Or will some instead decide to aim for a draw in classical chess as quickly as possible and make the tournament about speed chess? The regulations state that the player with White in the classical game will get White in Armageddon – might that mean that some players who do well in the blitz choose to have five classical games with the black pieces, since they prefer less time but draw odds in Armageddon? As you can see, there are a lot of questions!   

Wesley So got in some practice early in a 15-player simul in the Kvadrat Shopping Mall on Saturday | photo: Lennart Ootes, Altibox Norway Chess

2. Will the experiment be a success?

As with any true experiment, the risk of failure is real. The complicated scoring system and mixture of different time controls might diminish the status of what has always been a gold-standard classical supertournament. Armageddon chess, even with the longer than usual time control in Stavanger, always risks descending into chaos, while the waiting around between the classical games and Armageddon may irritate the players. But if it all works out, we could end up with a new format that combines the rigour of a round-robin with the guaranteed decisive action that makes knockouts captivating to watch.   

3. Can Magnus set new records?

World Champion Magnus Carlsen goes into Altibox Norway Chess on a stratospheric 2875 rating, 100 points higher than the tournament’s 5th seed Alexander Grischuk. Assuming the unusual format doesn’t stop the classical games from being rated that means multiple records are on the line. Magnus can surpass his highest ever official rating (2882), his highest live rating (2889.2) and even the 2900 barrier. As usual, Tarjei Svensen has done the math:

As you can also see, however, Magnus hasn’t found his home supertournament a happy hunting ground in the past. He’s won only once, in 2016, with Karjakin (2013, 2014), Topalov (2015), Aronian (2017) and Caruana (2018) picking up the title in the other years. It’s easy to speculate that playing at home, with additional media demands and attention, adds extra pressure.

4. Who else are the main contenders?

When past winners such as Wesley So and Levon Aronian are the 8th and 9th seeds it’s clear that all you can say is that almost anyone can win in Stavanger. Last year’s winner Fabiano Caruana would be the obvious “non-Carlsen” choice, if you were forced to choose, though his chances may be diminished by Armageddon testing his blitz skills. Alexander Grischuk has been on top form recently, but he’s one player we might expect to see getting into serious time trouble in the classical games.

In 2018 Caruana started with a loss to Magnus but won it all with a clutch win in the final round

5. How will Yu Yangyi perform?

The one obvious outsider is Yu Yangyi, who was on the verge of the top ten and looked a good choice when he was invited. Since then the 24-year-old Chinese player (he’ll turn 25 during the event) has dropped to world no. 20, however, ending his last round-robin, the Shenzhen Masters, with three losses and no wins. Norway Chess is likely to be much tougher, but the former World Junior, Asian and Qatar Masters Champion shouldn’t be written off lightly.    

Yu Yangyi lost to Giri in 102 moves in Shenzhen, but the Dutch star is the most notable absentee in Norway | photo:

6. Will Ding Liren be able to forget 2018?

The most dramatic turn of events in Norway Chess 2018 was that Ding Liren only made it through three rounds before he fractured his hip falling from his bike and ended up forced to spend much of the year in a long convalescence. Even now he’s restricted in the physical activities he can take part in, so it may bring back some tough memories for the Chinese no. 1. Meanwhile on the chessboard he might be tempted to draw his classical games, since he’s still well on course to qualify by rating for the 2020 Candidates Tournament if he can roughly maintain his current level – though it has to be said the Chinese star’s consistent results have had been much more about brilliantly calculating his way out of trouble than avoiding that trouble in the first place.

Ding Liren showed up to attempt some cooking with Vishy Anand, though it later turned out that he'd fractured his hip earlier in the day | photo: Lennart Ootes, Altibox Norway Chess

7. Can MVL dazzle in blitz again?

The show starts with 9 rounds of fast blitz on Monday, and that’s another chance for French star Maxime Vachier-Lagrave to lock swords with Magnus Carlsen. As he commented in a recent interview with chess24:

I consider myself one of a trio of players just behind Magnus, but if I maintain my new consistency in blitz I can be his number 1 rival at that time control.

So far Magnus has won the opening blitz three times, while Maxime has one victory to his name. We can also expect the World Champion to be out for revenge, since MVL won both their blitz games in Abidjan.

Jan & Peter won't be in Norway this year, but that means more Banter Blitz & analysis for us! | photo: Jose Huwaidi

The blitz action in Norway starts at 18:30 CEST, but there’s plenty of blitz to enjoy before that. Jan will be playing Banter Blitz on his own at 13:00, then he’ll be joined by Peter at 16:30. Everyone is very welcome to watch the shows, while of course if you’re a Premium member you can also challenge our commentators to a game!

And of course that’s followed at 18:30 CEST by the Altibox Norway Chess Blitz. Watch all the action LIVE here on chess24

See also:

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