Norway Chess: Duda ends Carlsen’s streak, Aronian leads

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
10/11/2020 – Round 5 of the Norway Chess tournament saw tail-ender Jan-Krzysztof Duda defeating former sole leader Magnus Carlsen, thus ending a 125-game undefeated streak in classical chess that lasted over two years. In the meantime, Levon Aronian and Alireza Firouzja also collected 3 points each by winning their classical games — Aronian inflicted Caruana’s second straight loss while Firouzja defeated Tari with the white pieces. | Photo: Lennart Ootes

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The streak is over

For a while it seemed like the world champion’s undefeated streak was meant to go on forever, but finally on Saturday Jan-Krzysztof Duda became the first player to defeat Magnus Carlsen since Shakhriyar Mamedyarov beat him at the Biel Chess Festival in July 2018. Curiously, Duda came from having a disastrous first four rounds, when he lost two classical games, two Armageddons, and only managed a draw against Aryan Tari. Carlsen, on the other hand, was leading the event after having obtained back-to-back victories over Tari and Fabiano Caruana.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki used Twitter to congratulate Duda for his win. On a good day for sports in Poland, 19-year-old Iga Świątek surprised the whole world by winning the women’s section of Roland Garros.

Duda told Fiona Steil-Antoni, referring to the fact that he changed his approach in comparison to his matchup against Levon Aronian:

I’m very happy obviously, I didn’t expect to win this game at all. [...] Against Levon, I wanted to play Armageddon badly, but I couldn’t have foreseen that I wouldn’t be able to draw this position, this endgame, so after that I thought that it’s nonsense to play for a draw with white, so I won’t play like that any more, at least in this tournament.

Given how the pairings’ system works, Duda will play Carlsen for a second time in a row on Sunday, this time with the black pieces. We can expect the world champion to reach the playing hall eager to get back at his Polish colleague.

In a very entertaining round, none of the games went to Armageddon, with Aronian and Alireza Firouzja also winning their classical encounters. Aronian defeated Caruana with black to become sole leader and climb to sixth place in the live ratings list. Meanwhile, Firouzja got the better of Tari with white and is now second in the standings table, a point behind the leader.

Jan-Krzysztof Duda, Magnus Carlsen

Not a common sight — Magnus Carlsen resigns a classical game | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Duda 3:0 Carlsen

Carlsen surprised his opponent in the opening, going for an unusual variation of the Caro-Kann. A critical position was reached on move 12:


Duda spent almost 20 minutes deciding on 12.d5, and later confessed that he had not analysed this position deeply enough. At that point, commentators Vladimir Kramnik and Peter Svidler — who substituted Judit Polgar on Saturday — were praising the world champion, comparing him to Garry Kasparov in his prime, insofar he not only was the best player but also the player with the best preparation in the circuit.

The Russian duo thought that it was very likely for Carlsen to continue with the strong exchange sacrifice 12...Rxe3, but the Norwegian decided to give up a pawn instead with 12...c5. Carlsen was on the attack, and he did give up an exchange when he got a second chance seven moves later:


Black opened up the b-file with 19...Rxa4, and after 20.bxa4 Bf5 21.Rde1 the world champion faltered after thinking for almost half an hour:  


21...Ng4 was called for at this point, attacking f2 and leaving e5 vacated for the dark-squared bishop, which would create deadly threats against the white king. Carlsen’s 21...h4 was too slow and ended up allowing Duda to consolidate his position in the next ten moves.

Once the Polish grandmaster had a stable advantage, he played a killer blow on move 33:


After 33.Re8+, Black cannot capture with 33...Rxe8 due to the spectacular 34.Rxe8+ Kh7 35.Rh8+ Kxh8 36.Bxg7+ Kxg7 37.Qxc4 and White is left with a queen against a pair of minor pieces. Carlsen had nothing better than 33...Kh7, agreeing to play the remainder of the game a rook and an exchange down.

The world champion kept trying to create threats against the somewhat vulnerable white king until move 63, when he finally resigned a classical game for the first time in 2 years, 2 months and 10 days.


Magnus Carlsen

Will Magnus Carlsen get even on Sunday? | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Caruana 0:3 Aronian

Besides Carlsen, Aronian is the only player to have participated in all eight editions of the Norway Chess Tournament, and he now has a good chance to win the event for the first time. The Armenian came from winning the rest-day activity, when he cooked the best cake among the participants. Out of a Nimzo-Indian with 4.f3, Aronian showed his creative talent when he played 21...c4:


Black’s pawn push was the only chance he had to fight for an advantage. After 22.Qxa5 Rxa5 23.Rd4 Rc8 the black pawns on the queenside are protected and threaten to continue advancing down the board. Caruana found it necessary to play 24.b3 and gave up an exchange after 24...Nc6:


White’s best chance here is 25.Rxc4 Bxc4 26.Bxc4+ and he gets a pawn for the exchange. A technical struggle ensued, in which Aronian manoeuvred his knights precisely and ended up getting a 52-move win.


Levon Aronian

Sole leader Levon Aronian | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Firouzja 3:0 Tari

Out of an Italian Opening, Black (Tari) seemed to be doing well in the early middlegame. However, the Norwegian took a wrong turn on move 24:


Tari unnecessarily got in trouble with 21...Rxe4, as White got a strong initiative with 22.Qc6 d5 23.N1d2 Re6 24.Qxd5 Nf6 25.Qb7.

Firouzja explained:

Taking the pawn was a little strange to me because his position was fine anyway. There was no need to go for these complicated things. After he took the pawn, I think my position is very comfortable with the bishop on a7.

The 19-year-old went on to swiftly convert his advantage and is now in sole second place in the standings table.


Alireza Firouzja

A force to be reckoned with — Alireza Firouzja | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Standings after Round 5

1. Aronian 11
2. Firouzja 10
3. Carlsen 9
4. Caruana  7
5. Duda 4
6. Tari 1.5

Round 6 pairings

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


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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Keshava Keshava 10/12/2020 12:59
It was amazing for Carlsen to avoid a loss in classical games for so long. He has given new meaning to the word 'chess machine'. However, he may be somewhat relieved that the pressure of keeping that streak going is finally off.
Nordlandia Nordlandia 10/11/2020 10:52
After 26. Bxc4+ white get a pawn for the exchange in addition to possessing the bishop pair. Usually this is sufficient compensation for the exchange. But Caruana played the weak 30. Ne2. 30. Nd3 was needed or 30. Kb2 to keep the tension. BBP vs RN is usually ample compensation.