Altibox Norway R1: Nakamura victorious

by Alejandro Ramirez
6/6/2017 – Despite the numerous draws, it was quite an interesting day in Norway. Kramnik and Aronian were putting very strong pressure on Karjakin and Caruana respectively, but had to settle for a draw. The only win came from a long endgame squeeze by Nakamura over Giri, which was certainly reminiscent of Fischer's famous "minor exchange" idea!

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Altibox Norway Chess has in only a matter of a few years grown to be one of the world’s biggest chess tournaments. Altibox Norway Chess has proven from the start to be a world-class event and is celebrating its 5th anniversary in 2017. This super-tournament had the aim of inviting the ten strongest chess players in the World, and they proclaim themselves as the strongest tournament in the World.

The events began with a 3+2 blitz tournament, won by Magnus Carlsen, to determine the pairing order.

The time control is 100 min for 40 moves + 50 min for 20 moves, + 15 min for the rest of the game with an increment of 30 seconds per move, starting from move 61. The prize fund for the main event is 249,000 Euros.

Round One

All photos by Lennart Ootes for the Official Website

Despite the numerous draws, it was quite an interesting day in Norway. Kramnik and Aronian were putting very strong pressure on Karjakin and Caruana respectively, but had to settle for a draw. The only win came from a long endgame squeeze by Nakamura over Giri.

Round one, go!

Round 1: June 6, 2017 in Clarion Hotel Energy
Hikaru Nakamura
Anish Giri
Levon Aronian
Fabiano Caruana
Magnus Carlsen
Wesley So
M. Vachier-Lagrave
Vishy Anand
Vladimir Kramnik
Sergey Karjakin

We kick off with the sole victory. It wasn't the flashiest of games, but it really does showcase Nakamura, who in the past was known for his crazy and aggressive style, as a solid technical player:

A magnificent display of the superiority of bishop over knight by Hikaru

[Event "Altibox Norway Chess 2017"] [Site "Stavanger"] [Date "2017.06.06"] [Round "1"] [White "Nakamura, Hikaru"] [Black "Giri, Anish"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "D80"] [WhiteElo "2785"] [BlackElo "2771"] [Annotator "Ramirez Alvarez,Alejandro"] [PlyCount "133"] [EventDate "2017.??.??"] 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 d5 4. Bg5 Ne4 5. Bh4 Nxc3 6. bxc3 dxc4 7. e3 Be6 8. Qb1 b6 9. Nh3 Bh6 10. Bg5 Bxg5 11. Nxg5 Qd5 12. Nxe6 Qxe6 13. Qb4 Qd5 14. Qxc4 Qxc4 15. Bxc4 e6 16. Be2 Nd7 17. a4 Ke7 18. a5 c6 19. Kd2 b5 20. Rab1 Rab8 21. Rb2 f5 22. Rhb1 Kd6 23. f3 e5 24. c4 exd4 25. cxb5 cxb5 26. Bxb5 dxe3+ 27. Kxe3 {Let us start looking at the game here. Before this, it was a Grunfeld and we got to this position which, though perhaps almost equal, does hold a bit of danger for Black. Bishops are superior to knights, and the kingside pawns will be vulnerable to an attack by the light-squared diagonal user. This endgame is a bit reminiscent of what Fischer called the "minor exchange".} Nf6 28. Bc4 Rxb2 (28... Rhe8+ 29. Kd4 Rbd8 $1 {Was the unnatural, but best way, to hold. The point is that the rooks create an unsafe environment for the kings, which makes it difficult for White to make progress.} 30. Rb7 Kc6+ 31. Kc3 Re3+ 32. Kc2 Rd4 {for example}) 29. Rxb2 Re8+ 30. Kd4 {Notice how Black's knight is uncomfortably controlled compared to White's bishop.} Re7 31. Rb8 Rd7 32. Rc8 Rb7 33. a6 $1 {Puttin in the squeeze. The rook can't stay on the seventh rank, but there isn't enough time to create counterplay.} Rb4 (33... Re7 34. Bb5 { and the surprising checkmate on c6 is not so easy to parry.}) 34. Kc3 Ra4 35. Kb3 Nd7 36. Bb5 (36. Kxa4 Nb6+ 37. Kb5 Nxc8 38. Bg8 h6 {is no dangerous for Black as there is no penetration square once the knight reaches e7}) 36... Ra5 37. Kb4 Ra1 38. Rd8 Rb1+ 39. Ka5 Ra1+ 40. Kb4 Rb1+ 41. Ka4 Ra1+ 42. Kb3 Rb1+ 43. Kc4 Rc1+ 44. Kd3 Rc7 45. Kd4 {Black has stabilized from now, but he is far from out of danger.} Ke7 46. Ra8 Kd6 47. h4 $1 {Now phase two, if you will: White advances a bit on the kingside to creat threats} Ke7 $2 {An unfortunate timing} (47... Nb6 48. Rh8 Ke6 49. Re8+ Kd6 50. h5 {is still very hard to hold} ) 48. Bxd7 $1 {Nakamura does not miss his chances. The rook endgame is hopeless.} Rxd7+ (48... Kxd7 49. Kd5 Ke7 50. Rh8 Kf6 51. Kd6 {and everything falls apart} Rc2 {! the only way to resist} 52. Rxh7 Rxg2 53. Rxa7) 49. Ke5 Kf7 50. Rb8 {This is the killing maneuver. Any rook trade is hopeless.} Re7+ 51. Kd5 Kf6 52. Rb7 Re5+ 53. Kd4 Ra5 54. Rxa7 {This endgame is sometimes a draw, but not in this csae, with a weak kingside and the pawn on the sixth and not the seventh, as you will find out why soon!} f4 55. Kc4 Ra2 56. Kc5 h5 57. Ra8 Rc2+ 58. Kb6 Rb2+ 59. Kc5 Rc2+ 60. Kb6 Rb2+ 61. Ka7 Rxg2 62. Rb8 Rf2 63. Rb6+ Kg7 64. Kb7 Rxf3 65. a7 Ra3 66. Ra6 Rb3+ 67. Kc6 1-0

Photo taken before the Rook/Knight vs. Rook/Bishop endgame

MVL was unable to find very much against Vishy Anand in a Caro-Kann, and though the game was rather interesting, it didn't seem as if Black had any real problems. Simplifications led to a drawn pawn endgame.

The Frenchman hit a solid wall in Vishy's Caro-Kann

Carlsen was always the one putting pressure, but it wasn't good enough

Carlsen came out with the Italian looking for a victory against So, but the American proved to be too solid. Despite winning a pawn, the resulting knight endgame was impossible to win for Carlsen due to the reduced amount of pawns and the activity of Black's pieces. The final tactic that simplified into a drawn pawn endgame is rather instructive.

What happens when you lose your no-losses streak? You start counting again!

The other Italian of the day was between Kramnik and Karjakin, a Russian duel that was a close call for the recent challenger for the World Championship

Big Vlad put enormous pressure on his opponent

[Event "Altibox Norway Chess 2017"] [Site "Stavanger"] [Date "2017.06.06"] [Round "1"] [White "Kramnik, Vladimir"] [Black "Karjakin, Sergey"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "C50"] [WhiteElo "2808"] [BlackElo "2781"] [Annotator "Ramirez Alvarez,Alejandro"] [PlyCount "88"] [EventDate "2017.??.??"] 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Bc5 4. O-O Nf6 5. d3 O-O 6. a4 a6 7. c3 d5 8. exd5 Nxd5 9. Nbd2 Kh8 10. Re1 f6 11. d4 Ba7 (11... exd4 12. Nb3 Ba7 13. Nbxd4 Nxd4 14. Nxd4 {was on the better side for White in Giri-Tomashevsky of September last year. White's pressure stems from the space advantage on the queenside and the weakness on e6. It isn't very serious, and probably black can hold with precise play, but it's much more comfortable to play white.}) 12. dxe5 Nxe5 13. Nxe5 fxe5 14. Nf3 (14. Ne4 {seems natural, but it releases the pressure on e5. Nf3 is a bit more ambitious but it clearly has a couple of problems, mainly the weakness on f2.}) 14... c6 (14... Bxf2+ {was already possible, but not entirely clear} 15. Kxf2 Qh4+ 16. Kg1 Qxc4 17. Rxe5 {and after a forced sequence White's position is still slightly more comfortable. His pieces are a bit more active, even though again, black should be ok.}) 15. Bg5 {Choices aren't easy in chess, and Kramnik presents his opponent with three distinct ones:} (15. Bxd5 $5 cxd5 16. Rxe5 Bg4 {looks a bit dodgy. White will retain extra material (at least one pawn, more if he wants) but his structure on the kingside will be shattered and his king permanently exposed. These kinds of positions sometimes boil down to style, and Kramnik here prefers the initiative.}) 15... Qb6 $6 {Not the most precise. Kramnik ditches the f2 pawn for piece activity and central control} (15... Bxf2+ 16. Kxf2 (16. Kh1 Qd6 17. Re2 Be6 $1 18. Rxf2 e4 {is also wildly unclear}) 16... Qxg5 17. Kg1 Qd8 18. Nxe5 $14 {seems to be a bit better for White}) (15... Qd6 $5 {Keeping the defense on the e5 pawn, now for example:} 16. Bh4 $5 (16. Re4 Qg6 $1 17. Bxd5 cxd5 18. Rxe5 Bg4 19. Kh1 $1 {with a huge mess}) 16... Bg4 17. Bg3 Bxf3 18. gxf3 Rf5 $13) 16. Bxd5 cxd5 (16... Qxf2+ 17. Kh1 cxd5 18. Qxd5 {with e5 falling next, White's king is much safer than Black's.}) 17. Be3 $1 Qxb2 18. Bxa7 Rxa7 19. Qxd5 {Kramnik is a cunning trickster} b6 (19... Qxc3 $2 20. Qd6 $1 Rg8 21. Qb8 {and the rook cannot be saved!}) 20. Rab1 $6 (20. Qc4 {the pawn deserved to live. This move also threatens Ra2, winning on the spot} e4 $1 21. Ra2 Rc7 22. Qxc7 Qxa2 23. Rxe4 $16) 20... Qxc3 21. Rxb6 Raf7 22. Qxe5 Qxe5 23. Rxe5 {White is up a pawn in the resulting endgame, but because of the pressure on f2, the superiority of a bishop over a knight, and the reduced amount of pawns, winning is tough.} Bg4 24. Re3 Kg8 25. Ne5 (25. Rxa6 Bxf3 26. Rxf3 Rxf3 27. gxf3 Rxf3 {is a draw as the rook gets in behind the pawn}) 25... Rxf2 26. h3 Bc8 27. Nc6 Rf1+ 28. Kh2 R1f6 29. a5 h6 30. Ne7+ Kf7 31. Nc6 Kg8 32. Rc3 { White retains some pressure, but now Black can neutralize it and Karjakin has no problems doing so.} Kh7 33. Ne7 Bd7 34. Nd5 Rf5 35. Rd6 Bb5 36. Nc7 Bf1 37. Rd7 Rf2 38. Rg3 R8f7 39. Rxf7 Rxf7 40. Rc3 Rf5 41. Rc1 Bd3 42. Rc3 Bf1 43. Rc1 Bd3 44. Rc3 Bf1 1/2-1/2

Caruana essayed the Queen's Gambit Accepted against Aronian, an opening that is not in vogue but has never quite died. This game will do little to bolster its reputation, as the pressure that White exerted straight from the opening was considerable. Aronian, however, played a few inaccurate moves and allowed Black's pieces to reposition. Caruana was able to build a solid configuration, and the presence of opposite colored bishops sealed the draw.

Aronian, who was described by Caruana in the post-mortem as a "cheapo artist". Levon agreed, but today it wasn't enough to reel the full point in.

A tournament wouldn't be complete without a giant chess set

Today's commentators from Norway were Dirk Jan ten Geuzendam and Nigel Short

Replay games of the round


Pairings and results of Norway Chess 2017

Round 1: June 6, 2017 in Clarion Hotel Energy
Hikaru Nakamura
Anish Giri
Levon Aronian
Fabiano Caruana
Magnus Carlsen
Wesley So
M. Vachier-Lagrave
Vishy Anand
Vladimir Kramnik
Sergey Karjakin
Round 2: June 7, 2017 in Clarion Hotel Energy
Hikaru Nakamura   Levon Aronian
Anish Giri   Sergey Karjakin
Fabiano Caruana   Magnus Carlsen
Wesley So   M. Vachier-Lagrave
Vishy Anand   Vladimir Kramnik
Round 3: June 8, 2017 in Clarion Hotel Energy
Levon Aronian   Anish Giri
Magnus Carlsen   Hikaru Nakamura
M. Vachier-Lagrave   Fabiano Caruana
Sergey Karjakin   Vishy Anand
Vladimir Kramnik   Wesley So
Round 4:  June 10, 2017 in Clarion Hotel Energy
Hikaru Nakamura   M. Vachier-Lagrave
Anish Giri   Vishy Anand
Levon Aronian   Magnus Carlsen
Fabiano Caruana   Vladimir Kramnik
Wesley So   Sergey Karjakin
Round 5: June 11, 2017 in Clarion Hotel Energy
Magnus Carlsen   Anish Giri
Vishy Anand   Wesley So
M. Vachier-Lagrave   Levon Aronian
Sergey Karjakin   Fabiano Caruana
Vladimir Kramnik   Hikaru Nakamura
Round 6: June 12, 2017 in Clarion Hotel Energy
Hikaru Nakamura   Sergey Karjakin
Anish Giri   Wesley So
Levon Aronian   Vladimir Kramnik
Fabiano Caruana   Vishy Anand
Magnus Carlsen   M. Vachier-Lagrave
Round 7: June 14, 2017 in Stavanger Concert Hall
Wesley So   Fabiano Caruana
Vishy Anand   Hikaru Nakamura
M. Vachier-Lagrave   Anish Giri
Sergey Karjakin   Levon Aronian
Vladimir Kramnik   Magnus Carlsen
Round 8: June 15, 2017 in Stavanger Concert Hall
Hikaru Nakamura   Wesley So
Anish Giri   Fabiano Caruana
Levon Aronian   Vishy Anand
Magnus Carlsen   Sergey Karjakin
M. Vachier-Lagrave   Vladimir Kramnik
Round 9: June 16, 2017 in Stavanger Concert Hall
Fabiano Caruana   Hikaru Nakamura
Wesley So   Levon Aronian
Vishy Anand   Magnus Carlsen
Sergey Karjakin   M. Vachier-Lagrave
Vladimir Kramnik   Anish Giri


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Grandmaster Alejandro Ramirez has been playing tournament chess since 1998. His accomplishments include qualifying for the 2004 and 2013 World Cups as well as playing for Costa Rica in the 2002, 2004 and 2008 Olympiads. He currently has a rating of 2583 and is author of a number of popular and critically acclaimed ChessBase-DVDs.
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Petrarlsen Petrarlsen 6/7/2017 09:31
@ and @ blueflare : Perhaps TeimourGH goes with ArGH !!
parselmouth parselmouth 6/7/2017 08:41
I was reading this interesting sci-fi book about a sentient cat species call the Kzinti. They become mortal enemies with the humans species. Anyways, one thing you don't want to do is show your teeth when you smile at a Kzinti. I think Nigel wouldn't do well around such a species. His smile is not so much disarming as it is alarming.
blueflare blueflare 6/7/2017 07:40
Radjabov in the schedule haha and TEIMOURGH my goodness
blueflare blueflare 6/7/2017 07:38
2797 Category 24 --- must be the strongest tournament with 10 players in it 6/7/2017 07:35
It's rather incredible to see that "Teimourgh Radjabov" is playing Black against Wesley So in Round 4! :)
Petrarlsen Petrarlsen 6/7/2017 03:55
@ Alejandro Ramirez : Thanks for the time controls !