Norway Chess: Caruana remains perfect, Carlsen wins on time

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
10/7/2020 – Fabiano Caruana took the sole lead of the Altibox Norway Chess tournament by beating Jan-Krzysztof Duda with the white pieces to reach a perfect 6/6 score. Meanwhile, on his 38th birthday, Levon Aronian inflicted Aryan Tari’s second loss, and Magnus Carlsen defeated Alireza Firouzja in Armageddon after the latter failed to make the most of a very favourable position and lost on time. | Photo: Lennart Ootes

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Aronian wins on his birthday

Armenian star Levon Aronian was born on October 6, 1982 in Yerevan. On his 38th birthday, he found himself in Stavanger facing Aryan Tari with the white pieces. Aronian won the classical game and now shares second place with Alireza Firouzja in the standings table. Right after signing the scoresheets, Aronian was surprised by the Norwegian organizers, who hired classical musicians to give a small concerto as a birthday gift — the world number nine is known for his love of music

Aronian was the first one to finish his game. The second winner of the day was Fabiano Caruana, who became the sole leader by beating Jan-Krzysztof Duda with white out of a Slav Defence. The American’s play so far in Norway was praised by commentators Judit Polgar and Vladimir Kramnik.

Just when Caruana was being interviewed, Magnus Carlsen and Alireza Firouzja were going through time trouble in their Armageddon encounter. Firouzja came from having got a clearly superior position in the middlegame. But beating the world champion is no easy task — Carlsen kept on fighting and ended up getting his second win in sudden death when Firouzja’s time ran out in a rook endgame.

Caruana noted:

I should mention that we had a players’ meeting and the initial regulation was supposed to be a 3-second increment from move 40 — we decided it was too much of an advantage for black, and so we changed it to a 1-second increment. And I guess this cost the game to Alireza.

Altibox Norway Chess 2020

The concerto for Aronian | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Carlsen 1½:1 Firouzja

In the classical game, the players followed a line from a game in which Maxim Rodshtein defeated Pavel Eljanov with white in 2019. Firouzja deviated on move 12, and a critical position was reached three moves later:


The most natural continuation — the one that Kramnik would play almost automatically, as he noted — is 15...c4 here. However, Firouzja spent almost 20 minutes before opting for 15...Bf8, perhaps fearing Carlsen’s strategical abilities. When asked about this particular position in the post-game interview, the world champion mentioned that, in fact, he “was kind of hoping for 15...c4”.

In hindsight, we can praise Firouzja for his decision to keep more tactical possibilities in the position, as he had no trouble holding a draw against the strongest player in the world.

For a second day in a row, Carlsen was one of the contenders in the only Armageddon decider of the round. The Norwegian’s position did not look good at all in the middlegame:


Black is a pawn up and has good piece coordination. At this point, the cool retreating move 30...Ne7 was called for, consolidating Black’s edge. Firouzja’s 30...Bd5 was not a mistake, however, but it allowed 31.Rxf3:


Now that the battle turned tactical, Black needed to be precise in calculation and go for 31...Rxf3 32.Qxf3 Qxh2+ and, for example, 33.Re2 Qxg3 34.Qxf5 Rxf5 35.Nxg3 Rf8 when Black has a winning endgame. Most likely, Firouzja would have found this in a slow game, but things get more complicated in a 10-minute sudden-death encounter against the world champion.

The youngster went for simplifications with 31...Nxg3 32.hxg3 Rxf3 33.Qxf3 Rxf3 34.gxh4 Bxe4 35.Rxe4, and the position is equal — after all, Firouzja only needed a draw!

The tragedy came twelve moves later, when Firouzja’s time ran out in an equal rook endgame. Carlsen confessed:

It was obviously pretty undeserved, the Armageddon thing. But it happens.

Talking about his overall play so far in Stavanger, the world champion explained:

I feel like I missed too many things today. It’s about the opponent as well, since he has a very tricky style — he always plays for some little tactics. I feel that today was not great, so I still have a way to go.

Given how the scoring system this year vastly favours classical wins over wins in the Armageddon tiebreaker, Firouzja is actually ahead of Carlsen in the standings thanks to his win over Duda in the opening round.


Magnus Carlsen, Alireza Firouzja

The moment Carlsen points out that Firouzja’s time has run out | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Caruana 3:0 Duda

For a second day in a row, Duda made some strange decisions in the opening. First, on move 15, he decided not to go for a very natural-looking pawn push:


Kramnik and Polgar wondered why the Polish number one rejected 15...b5 and opted for 15...Qa5 instead, a curiosity that was seconded by Caruana later on. White got a comfortable position, but it was still too soon to call it a winning advantage, until Duda erred inexplicably on move 23:


23...b6 was followed by 24.Na6, and Black was in deep trouble strategically. As Caruana explained:

I mean, 23...Nbd7 was forced. [...] 23...b6 — I couldn’t really believe it with my eyes when he did it, because it looks completely dead lost. 

However, after finding himself in a tough spot, Duda started showing resilience in defence, creating small tactical tricks every chance he got. In the end, Caruana needed 94 moves to get the win. Referring to his 57th pawn push to e4, the American confessed:

I was expecting the game to end immediately; then I didn’t see a clear way to do it.


Fabiano Caruana

Sole leader Fabiano Caruana | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Aronian 3:0 Tari

Surely Aryan Tari, the lowest-rated player in the field, must have prepared heavily to face such strong opposition in this tournament. Playing black against Aronian, he went for the Marshall Attack, a system he used for the first time in his life on Tuesday:


In this system, Black gives a pawn early on to get a strong initiative against White’s king. Unfortunately for Tari, though, Aronian has played this so much with the black pieces that he knows — and remembered, despite probably not having prepared it specifically for this game — how to tamper the attack. 

In the diagrammed position, White played 29.Qg4, and after 29...Qxg4 30.Nxg4 f5 31.Ne5 White has managed to consolidate his position a pawn up. From that point on, Aronian played precisely until getting his first victory of the event. The Armenian quipped:

I wasn’t worried at all, I’ve seen this happening so many times...


Levon Aronian

Birthday boy Levon Aronian | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Standings after Round 2

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

Round 3 pairings

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


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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