Norway Chess: Carlsen's unfortunate bishop

by Marco Baldauf
6/4/2018 – Wesley So showed his usual modesty when he declared that he had "caught Magnus on a bad day", after defeating the World Champion for the first time in his career. Carlsen was not at his best today — his light-squared bishop looked particularly tragic, as it spent most of the game stranded on the b1-h7 diagonal. The remaining games ended in a draw. | Photo: Lennart Ootes

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Caruana and Mamedyarov reach quick draws

Shak Mamedyarov had given away a White in Saturday's game against Hikaru Nakamura, as the American defended successfully from the Black side of a trendy line in the Nimzo-Indian. In fact, the draw was agreed in just over half an hour. Thus, the world's current No. 3 was well rested before today's game. Against Anand, he played a Spanish with 3...g6, a line he had used to win his first game at the Candidates. Anand's opening approach was not convincing, as it allowed Mamedyarov to equalize easily, and the game ended in a draw without any hassle.


Shakhriyar Mamedyarov | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Altibox Norway Chess

Fabiano Caruana accomplished his task even faster than Mamedyarov. He was "Black against Aronian", a pairing that would never be described as a walk in the park. However, Caruana came from defeating the Armenian, not once but twice, in the Candidates tournament.


Fabiano Caruana drew confidently | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Altibox Norway Chess

Caruana chose the Vienna Variation against Aronian, the same opening he had used in Berlin. It was a risky decision, as Aronian is considered one of the best connoisseurs of this sharp system. For Caruana, however, this was not reason enough to avoid it. Nonetheless, Aronian adopted a fundamentally different strategy than the one he had used in Berlin. Right out of the opening, he went for an endgame with a very small edge, avoiding any risks. In the Candidates, Aronian urgently needed a victory, so he exposed himself too much, and at the end had to leave empty-handed.



Aronian vs Caruana

Aronian avoided any risk against Caruana | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Altibox Norway Chess

So 1-0 Carlsen

Wesley So stunned the chess world today. Magnus Carlsen was having a great tournament until the sixth round, leading by a full point, apparently headed to an undefeated tournament victory. On top of this, Wesley So had never defeated him in his career. The American often played too solidly, and was not able to throw the World Champion off balance. Today, however, the game took a very different turn. The final position itself is worth a diagram: had you ever seen Carlsen in such a bad position?


A crumbling World Champion

So is only a pawn up, but that is enough to win, as it will queen after 45.c7 and 46.Rb8. Carlsen's a-pawn is too slow to counter this threat. The bishop on h5 is fenced by white pawns and, in the truest sense of the word, has become a marginal piece.


Wesley So: "I caught Magnus on a bad day" | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Altibox Norway Chess

So was very happy about getting his first win against Carlsen. This seemed more important to him than the fact that the fight for first place in Norway is now completely open again. Carlsen still leads the standings, but So is only half a point behind — and Magnus has played one extra game! (Carlen will rest tomorrow, as he is paired against Ding Liren).

Carlsen played the Exchange Variation of the Slav, a provocative choice that avoided the main lines after 6...a6 and 10...Nd7. Nakamura's verdict was that Carlsen's play in the opening was to blame for his defeat.


White's Nc5 is faster than Black's ...Nc4

So threatens to make further progress on the queenside with 14.b4, therefore, Carlsen activated his knight with 13...Na5. "White, however, is faster" (So), and after 14.Nc5 White already had a slight advantage. A rare circumstance against Carlsen, who in the past had always been able to neutralize So's somewhat tame white repertoire. Probably, this was the crux of the matter: Wesley's calm play proved to be too much of a provocation for Carlsen who, after a very strong performance in the tournament, arrived to the game highly confident.


Magnus Carlsen was provoked in the opening | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Altibox Norway Chess

The fate of the game started to take shape when Carlsen's bishop was driven back to g6 after 18.f3. This bishop — often an annoyance to Slav players — eventually degenerated into a tragic figure. Wesley soon managed to take it out of the game with e4, and it was cornered down even further with the advance of another White pawn to f5. The final position is the best proof that the game did not go well for the proud bishop.


The bishop was destined to oblivion

Ten moves later, when 28.e4 was played, it was clear to everyone in Stavanger that the position of their hero was not going anywhere today.


The bishop's position keeps deteriorating

The next shock did not take long to arrive. After 34.f5, Carlsen's fate was sealed. Vachier-Lagrave and Nakamura talked about this game during their post-mortem interview and stated clearly that the position was already lost for Carlsen. This was not what the Norwegians wanted to hear.


Carlsen already lost

Nakamura and MVL were right. After 34.f5, the h-pawn started to plough ahead and, finally, So's g-pawn stormed to g6. It was over.


The start of a remarkable game, which the World Champion needs to brush off quickly | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Altibox Norway Chess

Nakamura ½-½ Vachier-Lagrave

Nakamura treated the opening creatively but did not prevail at the end. A draw was agreed, and both seemed satisfied with it, even though they continue to be winless in Stavanger.



Maxime Vachier-Lagrave remains at 'minus-one' | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Altibox Norway Chess

Round-up show

GM Daniel King on the round six action

Standings after six rounds


All games rounds 1 to 6


Translation from German by Antonio Pereira


Marco Baldauf, born 1990, has been playing since he was eight. In 2000 and 2002 he became German Junior Champion, in 2014 he became International Master. He plays for SF Berlin in the Bundesliga.


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