Wesley So lost to Magnus Carlsen but won four of his remaining games to win the traditional blitz opener of the 2018 edition of Altibox Norway Chess. The other players to win the prize of five Whites in the main event were Hikaru Nakamura, Vishy Anand, Carlsen and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, although the Azeri no. 1 is suffering from toothache and may not play. Incredibly Magnus and Fabiano Caruana will play in Round 1 for their fifth consecutive all-play-all supertournament.
Sunday’s blitz tournament was preceded by a brief press conference with the players:
The highlight was perhaps Sergey Karjakin’s comment. As we mentioned in our preview, he’s played three times in Norway Chess, finishing first in 2013 and 2014 and last in 2017. He summed up:
For me it’s very simple, I’m either first or last. I would prefer to be first!
The blitz tournament was played at the fast time control of 3 minutes per game, with a 2-second increment after each move. You can replay all the action using the selector below – click on a result to open the game with computer analysis, or hover over a player’s name to see all his results:
The games started every 20 minutes except for one longer break, during which Peter Svidler, who arrived midway through the round from St. Petersburg, discussed with Jan Gustafsson what could be done in such an awkward break. They felt it made no sense to eat, with Peter sharing GM Eric Lobron’s alternative, “A cognac before play keeps the pressure away” – a method not without its drawbacks! Check out the full commentary on the blitz tournament:
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The heavy favourite to win the opening blitz was Magnus Carlsen, who had won three of the previous five blitz tournaments (MVL and Karjakin were the interlopers), on each occasion scoring a stunning +6, or 7.5/9. This time no-one ran away with the tournament, though, and it was a run of three wins in a row from Rounds 6-8 that saw Wesley So finish top by half a point on 6/9:
The spark came against Sergey Karjakin:
33.Nf5!? proved to be the winning move, since after 33…Qf6? there was no defence: 34.Qh6! Rf7 35.g5! Qe6 36.Rd8+ Bf8 37.Rxa8 and Black resigned. It turns out 33…gxf5! should have held, though, despite opening the g-file for an attack on the black king.
Wesley went on to score convincing wins in his next two games, but needed a little helping hand at the end to secure sole first place:
It's a tricky position, but 29…Qd7+! was winning for Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, and would have seen him finish in the top half of the table. After 29…Rd2? 30.Re7 Wesley was able to defend and clinch first place.
Wesley perhaps doesn’t have a reputation as one of the world’s best blitz players, but it’s not for nothing he’s now no. 3 on the blitz rating list!
The final standings were as follows:
The cut-off point to get five Whites in the main tournament was 5th place, and you can see that Shakhriyar Mamedyarov scraped through on a better Sonneborn-Berger tiebreak after winning three of his last four games. That was remarkable, given he almost didn’t play due to serious toothache that has been keeping him awake at night.
He may still drop out of the main event, with the organisers said to have offered Anish Giri the chance to play as a replacement. The Dutch no. 1 turned that offer down, perhaps having other plans or simply being unwilling to rush to Norway and play against the world’s best players with no time to prepare. Peter Svidler said on the live commentary that before the late invitation he’d somewhat put his foot in it during the Bundesliga playoff last week by asking Giri about Norway Chess, simply assuming the world no. 8 was playing (“because why wouldn’t he?”). Peter’s impression was that Giri was unimpressed not to have been invited. Perhaps that snub has helped inspire him to a great year so far!
Rather than look at the other games in detail, let’s instead focus on some of the blunders and other memorable moments:
Where else but in a blitz tournament do you get to witness the world’s best players occasionally made to look as much patzers as the rest of us! There were some Loris Karius-like mistakes, though fortunately there wasn’t enough at stake for any tears to be shed in the Clarion Hotel Energy in Stavanger…
Aronian 0-1 Nakamura, Round 1
Levon had played nicely to get a winning position (30.e4!) but then let things slip, then Hikaru missed a win, then it should have been a draw, but then…
After 41.Kh1 Black has no more than perpetual check, but after 41.Kg1?? Qf2+ Levon resigned, since 42…Nf4 will follow and there’s no reasonable defence against mate on g2.
Caruana 1-0 Karjakin, Round 4
Sergey Karjakin, one of the world’s best technical players and a former World Blitz Champion, has an extra pawn in a rook ending… and he managed to lose this position! How? Simple, with 35…Rb4?? 36.Rxb4 axb4 37.Ke2, and if Black can defend the pawn ending it’s only by a fine margin! Caruana instead went on to win smoothly. Of course after e.g. 35…Ra4 in the diagram position it’s just a question of whether Karjakin will win or not.
That wasn’t the worst endgame blunder, though!
Carlsen 0-1 Aronian, Round 8
After winning his best game of the day in Round 7 (read on for that), Magnus had been pressing a pawn up against Levon Aronian in Round 8, though by this stage it was already drawn…
It’s 3-minute blitz, but 52.hxg4?? probably still makes the list of worst blunders ever made by a chess world champion! Of course 52…h4 followed, and the black pawn is queening… 52.fxg4 is just a draw.
It’s notable Aronian has been involved in most of these games, and let’s end with one more of his strange encounters:
Karjakin 1-0 Aronian: Round 2
Sergey Karjakin won the game, it seems on time in the end, but while perhaps not strictly a blunder this was a pretty big missed chance to win the game on the spot!
35.Qxd5! Qxd5 36.Ne7+ was the simple win. Instead Sergey played 35.Qa8+.
There are plenty of other stories you could talk about – for instance, Hikaru Nakamura being the only unbeaten player and conserving his energy as he effortlessly took second place. The other second-placed player caught the eye more, though. Vishy Anand recalled his World Rapid Championship form with some sparkling attacks, for instance against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in Round 3. He also turned the tables and won against Ding Liren from a lost position in Round 4 and finished nicely against Aronian (that man again!) in Round 7:
41…d3! 42.Nxd3 Nf4! and the white pieces are completely overloaded as they try to defend f2. White resigned
The purpose of the blitz tournament was to determine the seeding numbers for the main event, and shortly after it was over the full pairings could be announced:
As you can see, World Champion Magnus Carlsen will again meet his challenger, Fabiano Caruana, in the very first round. It’s becoming a habit!
While the blitz tournament wasn’t a resounding success for Magnus he did get to beat the winner, Wesley So, and held his own against his former challengers such as Anand and Karjakin – with the latter taunted by 1.e3 in the opening. He also beat his future challenger in his most memorable game of the day. At first it seemed like an achievement when Caruana got his rook to the active b4-square, hitting two weak white pawns, but the careless 38…f5? sealed both the rook and Fabi’s fate:
39.b3! and suddenly the rook had nowhere to go – except to b5, when Magnus drove it there and again caged it in with 39…fxg4 40.Na2 Rb5 41.b4! It went from bad to worse after that, with Magnus not satisfied with merely being effectively a rook up and instead methodically going about winning the rook. Caruana resigned on move 53 before the rook was gobbled up:
So that was the blitz, but the main event only gets underway at 16:30 CEST on Monday. Don’t miss our live coverage with Peter Svidler and Jan Gustafsson!