Norway Chess: Carlsen retakes the lead

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
10/14/2020 – With two rounds to go after the rest day, two players still have realistic chances to win the tournament — Magnus Carlsen and Alireza Firouzja. Firouzja was leading the tournament before round 7, but lost in Armageddon against Fabiano Caruana on Tuesday, while the world champion collected 3 points by beating Aryan Tari in classical chess. Carlsen now has a one-point lead over his 17-year-old colleague. Firouzja and Carlsen will face each other on Thursday. | Photo: Lennart Ootes

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Big showdown coming up

Although 17-year-old Alireza Firouzja still has much to prove to be considered an absolute elite player, by now we can reasonably call him a likely contender for the World Championship title in years to come, especially due to his markedly young age. In Stavanger, he is already fighting neck in neck for first place with the ever-dominant Magnus Carlsen.

Firouzja will feel the pressure on Friday, when he faces Carlsen with white in what may become a frequent battle of generations in coming events — they have already played memorable matches online during the coronavirus crisis. Notwithstanding, Carlsen will also try to confirm his status as the absolute king by beating the youngster on home soil. 

In round 8, Carlsen obtained a clean victory over his compatriot Aryan Tari, while Firouzja held Fabiano Caruana to a draw in the classical game but could not stop his famed opponent from beating him in a rather lopsided Armageddon decider. Meanwhile, Jan-Krzysztof Duda and Levon Aronian finished the day early, as they signed a quick draw in classical and played the tiebreaker while Carlsen was still finding his path to victory against Tari — Aronian could not get much with white and ended up overpressing and losing against a resurgent Duda.

Alireza Firouzja

Alireza Firouzja will face the world champion on Thursday | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Carlsen 3 : 0 Tari

It was a textbook victory for the world champion, with commentator Vladimir Kramnik noting that we do not get to see these “educational” games often in elite tournaments. Carlsen felt his compatriot chose the wrong plan on move 14:

 

Here 14...Qc7 or 14...Nc6, as suggested by Kramnik, were the most natural ways to continue with black, while Tari’s 14...b4 simply gave white a strategical edge after 15.Nc4 Nxc4 16.Bxc4 bxc3 17.bxc3.

The light-squared bishops were exchanged a couple of moves later, and Carlsen immediately gave up his other bishop for the knight on f6, thus getting the superior minor piece as his knight had much more scope than Black’s ‘bad bishop’. Carlsen transferred his knight to d5, activated his queen and went on to win the game in style:

 

The good-looking 42.Re8 was the killer blow — 42...Qxe8 43.Qh6+ Kg8 44.Qxg6+ Kh8 45.Nf6 and Black resigned. Mate is threatened on g8 and Black will lose the queen if he captures the knight. Carlsen told Kramnik and Polgar:

It’s very nice when you can just follow a plan and you don’t have to calculate much.

 

Magnus Carlsen

Magnus Carlsen | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Caruana 1½ : 1 Firouzja

Firouzja stuck to his guns and played the Caro-Kann once again. However, it was Caruana who came better prepared, as he was still blitzing his moves until move 9 (including the novelty 8.Na3) while Firouzja had spent over half an hour between moves 7 and 9. When the dust settled, Caruana had the better-looking position:

 

White has the better pawn structure, but Black — as Firouzja showed in the game — can create dynamic counterchances by placing his rook on g8, forcing White to permanently keep an eye on g2. A long manoeuvring battle ensued, and a draw was finally signed after 60 moves.

In the tiebreaker, Caruana quickly found himself in a strategically superior position:

 

Kramnik and Polgar were very critical of Firouzja’s 12...e6, as it all but gives up the dark squares while hindering Black’s development. The young star quickly noticed the weakness of his plan and gave up a pawn on c5 to get some dynamic chances. Caruana, however, never let go of his advantage and nicely converted it into a 49-move victory.

 

Fabiano Caruana

Fabiano Caruana | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Aronian 1 : 1½ Duda

After signing a 30-move draw with white in classical chess, Aronian went on to lose his fourth Armageddon decider of the event — out of four tries. Duda played the French and looked for simplifications every chance he got. In the end, he found himself in an equal endgame with knight against bishop:

 

By this point, the commentators thought White still had chances to create something from this position, but quickly Duda showed that he had everything under control, activating his king and controlling key squares with his knight — remember that Black only needed a draw.

In the end, Aronian tried a faulty plan to try to confuse his opponent, but found himself forced to resign on move 71.

Aronian will face Tari and Carlsen in the last two rounds, while Duda will be paired up against Caruana and Firouzja on Thursday and Friday. 

 

Jan-Krzysztof Duda

Jan-Krzysztof Duda | Photo: Lennart Ootes


Standings after Round 8

1. Carlsen 16.5
2. Firouzja 15.5
3. Aronian 13
4. Caruana  12.5
5. Duda 8.5
6. Tari 1.5

Round 9 pairings

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


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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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