Vachier-Lagrave wins Norway Chess opening Blitz

by Antonio Pereira
6/4/2019 – The 2019 Altibox Norway Chess Tournament officially kicked off Monday in Stavanger. The traditional Blitz Tournament, which takes place in lieu of the drawing of lots, was won by Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. The Frenchman overpowered Magnus Carlsen in their final round deciding match-up and became the highest-rated player in the blitz ratings list. Levon Aronian and Carlsen shared second place. | Photo: Lennart Ootes / norwaychess.no

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Three (blitz) wins in a row

Breaking news: It is 2019 and Magnus Carlsen did not finish first in a tournament — he won all five events he played in this year. His nemesis in the opening blitz tournament of Stavanger was none other than Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, the same player that had defeated him twice in the blitz section of the Abidjan Grand Chess Tour event. The Frenchman not only won the nine-round single round robin, but did it by defeating Carlsen in the final round, thus getting a third straight victory over the Norwegian.

Final standings - Blitz tournament

 

Besides losing to MVL, Carlsen had finished undefeated in the blitz phase of the Abidjan GCT. In Stavanger, on the contrary, he lost his first encounter, against Levon Aronian. Magnus overplayed his hand with the black pieces and was left a pawn down in the middlegame. The Armenian star lost a portion of his advantage later on, but — most importantly — kept the initiative, an all-important factor in blitz play. In the end, Levon infiltrated Black's camp to get a morale-boosting victory in round one.

 

Levon Aronian

Levon Aronian won the 2017 edition | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Aronian continued strong, taking down Wesley So with Black in round two, but in the third game of the day he only got a half point against Shakhriyar Mamedyarov. Meanwhile, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave had won all three of his games — particularly exciting was his round two victory over Mamedyarov, who let a big advantage go to waste and ended up getting almost mated on the board.

 

In round four, Aronian became the sole leader after beating Alexander Grischuk while MVL lost against Fabiano Caruana. Round five saw four games finished drawn (Mamedyarov defeated Yu Yangyi), with the big clash between Maxime and Levon set for the next round. Vachier-Lagrave won that game and overthrew Aronian atop the standings table.

 

Magnus Carlsen

World Champion Magnus Carlsen | Photo: Lennart Ootes

By then, Carlsen had caught up with the contenders for first place — MVL was on 4½/6; Aronian and Carlsen on 4/6. Both Magnus and Maxime won in round seven, while Levon only got a half point against Vishy Anand. The same results were seen in the penultimate (eight) round, so everything was to be decided in the final round encounter between Carlsen and Vachier-Lagrave (with Magnus a half point behind).

Carlsen had White and surprised his opponent by going 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.b4!?. MVL took the pawn and kept his cool afterwards, provoking Magnus to over-push, which resulted in him giving up a rook without getting to mate the black king. The Frenchman won the game, and the tournament, after 35 moves.

 

The main purpose of the blitz tournament is to give the players a chance to pick their seeding numbers in the main event. In the past, those on top naturally decided to get five games with White...but with the new format — in case of a draw, an Armageddon game decides the faith of the match-up (more on that below) — getting Black might be considered an advantage.

Perhaps more noteworthy, however, was the fact that Vachier-Lagrave has now taken over Carlsen in the Blitz live ratings list. Before these nine rounds, Carlsen was only two points above Vachier-Lagrave, while now MVL (2947.8) is twenty-eight points ahead of the World Champion (2919.6).

Alexander Grischuk, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave

Alexander Grischuk and tournament winner Maxime Vachier-Lagrave relaxing while checking out a good-looking chess set | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Radical changes in the main event

The organizers of the Altibox Norway Chess Tournament decided to deal with the problem of excessive draws in the elite (there is some disagreement in the chess world regarding this topic) by proposing a radical solution: every single game will have a winner. If a game is drawn, a sudden-death encounter will follow immediately (they will not wait for all the classical games to finish). Also, a faster time control will be used in the classical games, with each player getting two hours for the whole game — without increment! 

From the Norway Chess press release:

Each player will have 2 hours on the clock per game, without any increments.

2 points will be given for victory, ½ point for draw and 0 points for loss.

The players that have games that end with a draw will continue in an Armageddon play-off only a few minutes after their game. The player with the white pieces will continue with white in the Armageddon game. With this, there will be a winner in each game due to the fact that black pieces will win if the game ends in a draw. The winner in the Armageddon play-off gets 1 point.

The Armageddon games will not add to the rating of the players, only contributing to the results list in the tournament, which is FIDE rated.

Players will get following points per round:

  • Victory main game: 2 points
  • Loss main game: 0 points
  • Draw main game & loss Armageddon: ½ point
  • Draw main game & victory Armageddon: 1½ points

Fabiano Caruana, Rustam Kasimdzhanov

Rustam Kasimdzhanov (here sitting next to Fabiano Caruana) proposed a system similar to this one in the past | Photo: Lennart Ootes

A lively discussion was staged in the comments section of our webpage when the new rules were announced. The experiment starts Tuesday...and ten players from the world's top-20 will be the ones doing the testing:

1. Magnus Carlsen (Norway). Ranked number 1 in the world.
2. Fabiano Caruana (USA). Ranked number 2 in the world.
3. Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (Azerbajian). Ranked number 3 in the world.
4. Ding Liren (China). Ranked number 4 in the world.
5. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (France). Ranked number 5 in the world.
6. Viswanathan Anand (India). Ranked number 8 in the world.
7. Alexander Grischuk (Russia). Ranked number 9 in the world.
8. Levon Aronian (Armenia). Ranked number 11 in the world.
9. Wesley So (USA). Ranked number 12 in the world.
10. Yangyi Yu (China). Ranked number 13 in the world.

Altibox Norway Chess 2019

To no one's surprise, Alexander Grischuk stole the show during the press conference | Photo: Lennart Ootes

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Antonio is a freelance writer and a philologist. He is mainly interested in the links between chess and culture, primarily literature. In chess games, he skews towards endgames and positional play.
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siamesedream siamesedream 6/4/2019 12:16
Will there be increment in classical games? According to: https://norwaychess.no/en/regulations-2019/: "Each player will have 120 minutes on the clock with an increment of 10 seconds after move 40."
Deep_Thought Deep_Thought 6/4/2019 03:42
Deep_Thought
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