Norway Chess: Caruana and Firouzja get off to a good start

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
10/6/2020 – In a fighting first round at the Altibox Norway Chess tournament in Stavanger, Fabiano Caruana and Alireza Firouzja (pictured) grabbed the early lead by beating Aryan Tari and Jan-Krzysztof Duda without going to Armageddon. Meanwhile, Magnus Carlsen defeated Levon Aronian in sudden death after signing a 30-move draw in the classical encounter. | Photo: Lennart Ootes

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Carlsen wins in Armageddon

It seems like we are in for a couple of weeks of lively chess action, as the over-the-board elite tournament in Stavanger kicked off with three entertaining matchups. Magnus Carlsen did not take many risks with the black pieces against Levon Aronian in the classical game and went on to win a double-edged Armageddon decider, while Fabiano Caruana and Alireza Firouzja both won with black without needing to go to sudden death.

Talking to star commentators Judit Polgar and Vladimir Kramnik, Caruana referred to the Candidates Tournament, which is supposed to resume on November 1. Noting that Wang Hao has raised some concerns regarding the corona-related safety measures taken by FIDE, Caruana explained:

There’s pretty much constant negotiations. I can’t really go into too much detail. [...] I think that FIDE is really doing their best — because it’s such an incredibly difficult situation. [...] There are a lot of scenarios in which there are basically no good solutions, like if someone gets sick in the middle of the tournament. 

For the American, the result in the event has ceased to be his main concern:

To be honest, I think we should’ve just completed the tournament when we were there. [...] But that’s already in the past. I hope it happens and it goes smoothly. For me right now the main thing is not even the result, the main thing is just that it happens.

Nonetheless, the world number two managed to leave these concerns behind during his game against Aryan Tari. In the second round, Caruana will face Jan-Krzysztof Duda with the white pieces; Carlsen and Aronian will also have white, against Firouzja and Tari respectively.

Levon Aronian, Magnus Carlsen

Namaste! Aronian and Carlsen found a way to “shake hands” while keeping the social distance | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Aronian ½:1½ Carlsen

In the classical game, Carlsen had a good position out of the opening with black, but he did not go into the most critical continuation on move 15:


Instead of 15...bxc5, leading to a sharper struggle, the world champion played 15...Nxc5. When Kramnik asked him why he had chosen the more conservative alternative, Carlsen responded:

The answer is very simple — it’s the first game in a long time. I just feel that 15...Nxc5 was one-hundred percent safe for me, and I just wanted to play a normal game.

Carlsen’s approach led to a safe 30-move draw. In the Armageddon decider, a complex battle ensued with kings castled on opposite sides. White had the initiative, but Black had the better structure. Aronian was in the driver’s seat throughout the middlegame, but gave up his initiative in the heavy-piece endgame:


Aronian went for 25.b3 here, and Black infiltrated on the kingside with 25...Qg4. As Carlsen pointed out, 25.Kb1 would have prevented this idea due to 25...Qg4 26.Qd7, while Polgar and Kramnik were analysing the more ambitious 25.h5 for the Armenian, who needed a win with the white pieces.

This slight imprecision did not give Black a better position, but it allowed the world champion to show his practical skills when both players had little time on the clock. Finally, Aronian blundered his rook on move 37 and resigned.


Select an entry from the list to switch between games

Magnus Carlsen

Focused — world champion Magnus Carlsen | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Tari 0:3 Caruana

Right out of the opening, the well-versed commentators were understandably surprised by Caruana’s 13th move:


Here Black gave up a pawn with 13...Bxe314.fxe3 Be6 15.Qxd6 Rc8. Although this was not a novelty per se, apparently it was played voluntarily for the first time, as Caruana explained:

It’s been played before, but I think it’s a novelty in the sense that people played it and it was a blunder. [...] In terms of serious games, this is a completely new idea.

The American grandmaster confessed that it was Rustam Kasimdzhanov’s idea, and that they had worked on it just a day before. White was a pawn up, but had trouble coordinating his pieces:


Here Caruana continued improving his pieces with 20...Nb6, but the commentators suggested the more direct 20...Rxc3, further damaging White’s pawn structure. Caruana showed how deep he had looked into this line — and his general remarkable understanding — when he explained why he had not gone for the exchange sac:

It’s often an idea in this line, and one of the main ideas, but usually the point is that the pawns should be on h6 and h2, so after White plays h4 we can play Kh2, g5 and if Bh3, g4.

As it happened, Black slowly upped the pressure until getting a 55-move victory. Tari was not happy about his decision on move 29:


29.Bf3 was naturally followed by 29...g4 and White went back with 30.Bg2 in a strange sequence. Instead, Polgar looked at 29.g4, when the white bishop will get some open diagonals to have a bigger say in the game.


Fabiano Caruana

World number two Fabiano Caruana | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Duda 0:3 Firouzja

Out of a Caro-Kann — Firouzja’s main weapon with black — Duda decided to avoid entering a typical struggle in the opening by capturing a poisoned pawn on b7:


The Polish grandmaster had already spent over half an hour on his 15th move, and now it took him almost 15 minutes to decide on 17.Qxb7, grabbing a pawn while granting Black open lines for an attack. Carlsen gave his opinion about Duda’s decision:

Practically it’s a terrible choice I think, especially against Alireza.

Or as Firouzja himself put it:

I will always have the initiative. This attack is endless.

The game continued 17...Nd5 18.Qa6 Rb8:


The world champion correctly pointed out that 19.dxc5 was absolutely necessary here, while after Duda’s 19.Bd2 “White is strategically lost”.

Indeed, Firouzja kept calling the shots from that point on and even forced White to give up an exchange. The conversion was not trivial though, as at some point the engines gave a 0.00 evaluation. Nonetheless, withstanding the pressure for so long took its toll on Duda, who ended up faltering on move 46:


Black’s kingside pawns became unstoppable after 46.a5 h3 47.gxh3 e4 48.fxe4 g2 and White resigned four moves later. In the diagrammed position, the passive 46.Ng1 was necessary.


Jan-Krzysztof Duda, Alireza Firouzja

Jan-Krzysztof Duda knows there is no way to stop Black’s pawns | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Standings after Round 1

1-2. Caruana, Firouzja 3
3. Carlsen 1.5
4. Aronian 1
5-6.  Duda, Tari 0

Round 2 pairings

Magnus Carlsen – Alireza Firouzja
Fabiano Caruana – Jan-Krzysztof Duda
Levon Aronian – Aryan Tari


Carlos Colodro is a Hispanic Philologist from Bolivia. He works as a freelance translator and writer since 2012. A lot of his work is done in chess-related texts, as the game is one of his biggest interests, along with literature and music.


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