Norway Chess: Caruana wins to stand above the rest

by André Schulz
6/8/2018 – Tension to the end! After Carlsen and Vachier-Lagrave drew early and Nakamura and Aronian followed the example a bit later, it was up to Caruana and So to decide if we would see a clear winner or a five-way playoff. So attacked bravely, but in a wild time-scramble, Caruana gained the upper hand and thus became tournament winner. Games annotated by GMs DANIEL FERNANDEZ and DANIEL KING | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Norway Chess

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Two consecutive tournament wins ahead of Carlsen

Four players were at the top in the Norway Chess tournament at the start of round nine: Wesley So, Magnus Carlsen, Fabiano Caruana and Hikaru Nakamura. Caruana and So met each other, while Carlsen was dealt black against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, and Nakamura faced off against Levon Aronian, also with black. Even Viswanathan Anand, with 3½ points, had chances jump into a tie for first with a win, although the 15th World Champion was black as well, against Sergey Karjakin.

Last round excitement | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Carlsen, was in no mood to take any chances against Vachier-Lagrave. When the game was in full swing on just move 17, the players began repeating moves in a position reached several times before. It certainly played a role that the two players trained together for Carlsen's 2016 World Championship title defence, as Magnus himself pointed out in the "confession box" (in Norwegian):

Carlsen explained that they had studied this line and it was a bit boring (56 seconds, Norwegian)

The World Champion conceded half the point. Considering his chances to reach a tiebreak as about 50/50, he was content to watch his rivals fight it out.

Levon Aronian and Hikaru Nakamura followed a variation of the Queen's Gambit which they had played once before, last year in London, through the 20th move.

 

With 20...Nge6, Black deviated from their previous encounter. The game continued for more than 20 moves, but there was no great tension. Gradually, most of the pieces disappeared and ultimately it made little sense to play the rook endgame.

 

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Like Aronian and Nakamura, Karjakin and Anand also fought their game in the terrain of the of the Bf4 variation in the Queen's Gambit Declined. Karjakin chose a line with long castling and Anand answered with a plan Karjakin himself played against Ivanchuk last year. Karjakin, in contrast to Ivanchuk, followed an earlier stem game, Kasparov-Vaganian, 1992, when he played 13.Rxd5 (also the engine's top choice) and here Anand had a small innovation in store.

 

Karjakin vs Anand

Karjakin and Anand

In a spirited game, chances were equal for some time, until Karjakin had a blackout.

 

Here White played 26.h4? and after 26...Ne5 the black knight has dual threats against c4 and also the more gruesome ugly 27... Ng4. The game lasted a few more moves, but White could not recover from the blow. A disappointing end to the tournament for Karjakin.

Fabiano Caruana and Wesley So entered an initially calm variation of the Ruy Lopez. Then So launched his g-pawn on the kingside, going for an attack whil castling on the opposite side, and the game's intensity begame to ramp up.

 

On the 32nd move, the pace quickened further as the players ran low on time. So sacrificed a pawn with 32...e4 and attacked the white king with Qe5 and Ng4. 

Caruana vs So

The game reaches a critical phase | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Caruana defended himself and, at move 40, he thought he was winning — but he had overlooked a perpetual check opportunity after 41...Rd2 (instead of 41...Rd3 as So played in the game). Here's that fateful moment as seen on the live webcast:

So played Rd3 almost instantly, despite having earned an extra 50 minutes on the clock to consider his options — a huge oversight.

When the dust settled, So found himself in a hopeless endgame with a queen against two rooks and a bishop — not enough to continue playing, and tournament victory for Caruana.

“It’s just a lucky break for me,” Caruana noted afterwards, adding that while two tournament wins ahead of Carlsen is fantastic, he was not as proud of this one as his April triumph in Baden-Baden. He credited the pleasant Norwegian summer weather as providing important distraction after his first-round loss to Carlsen, and also noted the irony that he had been teamed up with Karjakin in the friendly rest-day cooking competition, only to go on to beat the Russian in their direct encounter the following day.

Here were the winner's thoughts in full, shortly after the game:

Caruana with commentators GM Simen Agdestein and IM Anna Rudolf

Congratulations quickly poured in on Twitter, many of which resembled this from Danish FM Carsten Hansen:


Final standings

 

Round 9 round-up show

GM Daniel King provides our final daily video review


Games of Round 9 (annotated by GM Daniel Fernandez)

 

Translation and additional reporting: Macauley Peterson

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André Schulz started working for ChessBase in 1991 and is an editor of ChessBase News.
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KWRegan KWRegan 6/11/2018 05:27
Did Karjakin miss 27.Rd8 Qxd1+! ?
ketchuplover ketchuplover 6/9/2018 02:03
Go Naka!
KevinC KevinC 6/8/2018 05:02
Excellent fighting spirit from Caruana and So.
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