Norway Chess: Firouzja still ahead

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
10/13/2020 – Alireza Firouzja continues to impress at the Norway Chess Tournament as he beat Levon Aronian in Armageddon to keep the sole lead in the standings. Meanwhile, the main event of the day, Magnus Carlsen versus Fabiano Caruana, saw the world champion defending a tough position in classical chess and winning the Armageddon decider. Jan-Krzysztof Duda defeated Aryan Tari in their classical encounter. | Photo: Lennart Ootes

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Real chances for Firouzja

The 17-year-old top junior player in the world, Alireza Firouzja, has real chances to win his first elite tournament in Stavanger, as the youngster remains undefeated in classical chess at the Norway Chess Tournament. Firouzja lost one game in Armageddon though, and he lost it on time, from a superior position, against world champion Magnus Carlsen.

On Monday, it was his turn to get a win on time. After defeating Levon Aronian, he explained:

Once you lose on time then you understand what is one second only. Yeah, you should just press the clock. He was not concentrated on the clock I think. [...] I got lucky of course, but I’ll take it.

This is not the first time, incredibly, that he finds himself in this situation. Back in January, he was leading the Tata Steel Masters after seven rounds, a tournament that also included Carlsen and Fabiano Caruana in the lineup. Later on, he would lose three games in a row, against Carlsen, Caruana and Vishy Anand to give away his chances to win the traditional Dutch event. Naturally, he left a strong impression nonetheless!

With three rounds to go in Stavanger, he has his biggest challenge ahead of him, as he will face Caruana and Carlsen on Tuesday and Thursday (Wednesday is a rest day) before ending the tournament playing white against Jan-Krzysztof Duda.

Alireza Firouzja

Will Alireza Firouzja get his first supertournament win on Friday? | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Firouzja 1½ : 1 Aronian

One would think that what has allowed the youngest player in the field to lead the standings is the fact that ha can take the fight to a blitz decider, where his incredible speed helps him to beat his older colleagues. However, if we look at the classical games only, Firouzja would also be leading the event, as he is currently the only player undefeated in classical, with three wins and four draws to his name.

The 17-year-old thought he “played a good game” against Aronian. No major mistakes were made, but the stellar duo in the commentary booth — Vladimir Kramnik and Judit Polgar — nevertheless looked deeply into a line that might have given the youngster better chances in the middlegame:


Fioruzja played 21.f5 and his initiative was quickly neutralized by Aronian. Instead, he could have gone for 21.Bxc6, and after 21...Rxc6 22.Nd5 Black needs to find the only move 22...Qb7 to continue the struggle — 22...Qc5 is bad due to 23.b4. An example of how quickly things can get messy from this position.

As it happened, however, the game ended in a draw on move 59.

In the Armageddon, another balanced struggle ensued, but Firouzja was more wary of his clock when both players were very on time. Aronian could have simplified his task greatly on move 42:


White’s 42.Ne2 was a blunder, as it allowed 42...Rc3+ 43.Nxc3 Nxf4+ 44.Kd2 Nxg2 and Black has a winning knight ending — and, more importantly, he would have simplified into an easier-to-handle position with little time on the clock, while only needing a draw. Aronian missed this chance and went on to lose twenty moves later. 


Alireza Firouzja, Levon Aronian

Don’t forget to press the clock! | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Caruana 1 : 1½ Carlsen

As was pointed out during the broadcast, it has been over five years since the last time Caruana defeated the world champion in a classical game. The dry spell seemed close to end on Monday, as the American had a very promising position out of the opening:


This position has been seen before, and clearly both players were still following their home preparation — so we know that Carlsen entered this position voluntarily. However, as Kramnik noted, he would never go for this setup, as he simply “[did] not like the look of it”. 

The world champion knew what he was doing though, and he stubbornly defended against White’s threats until managing to get a draw by repetition on move 39.

In sudden death, Caruana strangely played the 5.Re1 variation against the Berlin while in a must-win situation. Carlsen kept things under control and was very cautious even when his position seemed promising, as he knew that a draw was enough to win the day. In the end, Caruana gave up trying and lost on time.


Fabiano Caruana, Magnus Carlsen

World numbers one and two | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Duda 3 : 0 Tari

This will certainly be a memorable tournament for Duda, who started badly, ended Carlsen’s streak on Saturday, lost the rematch against the world champion the day after and now beat Aryan Tari in a sharp game.

Tari must receive credit for his uncompromising play throughout the event. On Monday, he played a Delayed Schliemann Variation out of a Ruy Lopez giving way to a highly tactical struggle in an open position:


This was the situation on the board after 14 moves. White’s bishop is trapped on b3, but White is also a pawn up, has a safer king and his pieces are better developed. Not one to shy away from complications, Duda also thrives in these positions, as he went on to show precise calculation to get a 27-move victory.


Jan-Krzysztof Duda, Aryan Tari

Having a friendly chat | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Standings after Round 7

1. Firouzja 14.5
2. Carlsen 13.5
3. Aronian 12
4. Caruana  11
5. Duda 7
6. Tari 1.5

Round 8 pairings

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


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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