Norway Blitz: Magnus Carlsen is untouchable

by Albert Silver
6/6/2017 – Norway Chess is here, and brings 10 of the top 12 players in the world. This may easily be the strongest tournament of the year, and will certainly rank as one of the strongest of all time. The roster brings names such as Magnus Carlsen, Wesley So, Vladimir Kramnik, Fabiano Caruana, and more. The opening blitz tournament was held to determine the pairings and Carlsen swept through the field like a hurricane. Illustrated report with GM analysis.

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All photos by Tone Marie Haubrick

When first announced, the Norway Chess tournament was touted as the first tournament to feature the all the Top 10 players. This is still almost true, and the organizers cannot be blamed for lack of prescience as a couple of the top ten were moved around. Shakhriyar Mamedyarov surged incredibly with a monster 28 Elo gain in a single list, while Ding Liren continued his superb phase. Nevertheless, if two players ‘left’ the Top 10, it is by a handful of Elo, a bit like saying that the two-meter tall man is now beat by another who is one centimeter taller. The list of players is of course, mouthwatering for chess fans:


Blitz Elo
1 Carlsen 2832.0 2943.8 26
2 So 2812.0 2784.2 23
3 Kramnik 2808.0 2759.8 41
4 Caruana 2808.0 2770.6 24
6 Vachier-Lagrave 2796.0 2828.8 26
7 Aronian 2793.0 2786.4 34
8 Anand 2786.0 2755.8 47
9 Nakamura 2785.0 2878.0 29
11 Karjakin 2781.0 2794.2 27
12 Giri 2771.0 2723.4 22

The list is hardly an entire makeover from previous years, at least not in spirit, but a few changes are worth noting: the rise of Wesley So to clear no.2 over the past year, bringing him a string of tournament wins, a superb 67 unbeaten game streak (just two shy of Sam Shankland’s 69-game run in 2014-15), and a serious narrowing of just 20 Elo from no.1 to no.2. There can be no question that behind Magnus Carlsen himself, Wesley So will be the player most closely followed, to see whether he can continue this streak.

Naturally, this is not to suggest that the only players of note are those two, nor that this is a two-horse race. Sergey Karjakin’s wins at the first editions of Norway Chess certainly should put that ludicrous idea to rest, but the fact remains, with a mere 20 Elo between the world no.1 and no.2 (and just 24 Elo separating him), any seriously divergent results could also mean a change in the top spots.

Magnus Carlsen is all too aware of this of course, and has never been one to shirk a challenge. His fighting spirit is unquestioned, and he began in the opening blitz tournament, organized to determine the pairings of the event. The top five players would get an extra white, but ‘top five’ was not what the World Champion had in mind, and he was in imperial form as he steamrolled the field with a fantastic 7.5/9, raising his FIDE Blitz rating to 2948.

World no.1, Magnus Carlsen's supremacy has never been challenged as seriously as this past year

The very first round of the blitz event was between top two blitz players, Carlsen and Nakamura. The game was hard-fought and seemed to favor Magnus, but Hikaru showed his trademark resilience and held on.

His form was impressive, as can be seen by his beautiful win over Sergey Karjakin below:

Sergey Karjakin vs Magnus Carlsen

[Event "Altibox Norway Chess 2017-Blitz"] [Site "Stavanger"] [Date "2017.06.05"] [Round "5"] [White "Karjakin, Sergey"] [Black "Carlsen, Magnus"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A90"] [WhiteElo "2791"] [BlackElo "2914"] [Annotator "A. Silver"] [PlyCount "66"] [EventDate "2017.??.??"] [EventType "blitz"] 1. d4 f5 2. g3 Nf6 3. Bg2 e6 4. c4 d5 {Magnus plays his pet Stonewall.} 5. Nd2 {Very offbeat, Karjakin seeks to exit theory as early as possible.} (5. Nf3 Bd6 6. Nc3 c6 7. Bf4 Bxf4 8. gxf4 O-O 9. e3 Bd7 10. Qb3 Qc7 11. O-O Be8 12. Rfc1 Qe7 13. Qa3 Qxa3 14. bxa3 Nbd7 15. Rab1 Rb8 16. a4 a5 17. Rb2 {0-1 (60) Eljanov,P (2755)-Carlsen,M (2840) Wijk aan Zee 2017}) 5... Bd6 6. Nh3 O-O 7. O-O Nc6 $146 {Seeking to take advantage of the white knights. One that is on h3 and the other on d2 leaving the d4-pawn unprotected.} 8. e3 {Although this may seem obvious, it is also what Carlsen had in mind: to force White to play it and close off the bishop on c1.} b6 9. b3 a5 10. Bb2 Ba6 11. Nf4 Bxf4 12. exf4 Ne4 13. Re1 Re8 14. Re3 Qd7 15. Nxe4 fxe4 16. f3 ({Another idea was} 16. Bh3 $5 {and White is threatening cxd5 Qxd5 Bg2 with a huge advantage.} Qd6 ( 16... dxc4 17. Rxe4) 17. Bg4 $14) 16... dxc4 17. fxe4 cxb3 18. d5 exd5 19. Qxb3 {[#]} a4 $1 {A fantastic shot that will leave White reeling.} 20. Qxa4 Bf1 21. Qd1 Bxg2 22. Kxg2 Na5 $1 {This is the key idea. Black traded off the light-squared bishops to allow the knight a peerless outpost on c4.} 23. Rc3 d4 $19 {Now the passed pawns are king.} 24. e5 Nc4 {Black is in inspired form.} 25. Rf3 ({Obviously not} 25. Rxc4 $4 Qd5+ {and Black wins the rook.}) 25... c5 (25... Nxb2 {was worse due to} 26. Qb3+ Kh8 27. Qxb2 $17) 26. Bc1 Qd5 27. Kh3 $2 (27. Kg1) 27... Rad8 28. Rd3 Re6 29. Qf3 Qxf3 (29... Rh6+ $2 30. Kg2 $17) 30. Rxf3 d3 31. Be3 d2 32. Rd1 Rd3 33. f5 Rxe5 (33... Nxe3 {failed to} 34. fxe6 Nxd1 {and now White plays} 35. e7 $1 $11 {threatening mate. Black must take the perpetual.} Rxf3 36. e8=Q+ Rf8 37. Qe6+ Rf7 (37... Kh8 {loses to} 38. Qd6) 38. Qe8+ Rf8 39. Qe6+ {etc.}) 0-1

Levon Aronian has also been in good form, and had a fantastic event at Grenke, where he took first ahead of Carlsen. Wesley So (right) was not stellar in the blitz though, and came in 8th. He will face Carlsen in the first round.

Vishy Anand and Sergey Karjakin are two more players rounding up the roster. They are also the most recent challengers for the world title match against Magnus Carlsen.

Daniel King analyzes the Norway blitz games


Blitz crosstable


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Born in the US, he grew up in Paris, France, where he completed his Baccalaureat, and after college moved to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He had a peak rating of 2240 FIDE, and was a key designer of Chess Assistant 6. In 2010 he joined the ChessBase family as an editor and writer at ChessBase News. He is also a passionate photographer with work appearing in numerous publications, and the content creator of the YouTube channel, Chess & Tech.


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