Norway Chess: Carlsen clinches with a round to spare

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
10/16/2020 – Magnus Carlsen has secured first place at the Norway Chess Tournament with a round to spare after beating Alireza Firouzja in classical chess. The youngster first gave his opponent chances from what seemed to be destined to end in a draw; Carlsen then made a mistake and the position was balanced again; and finally Firouzja blundered horrible in a king and pawn endgame to lose the game. Levon Aronian and Fabiano Caruana won in Armageddon. | Photo: Lennart Ootes

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Nerves

The battle of generations between Magnus Carlsen and Alireza Firouzja favoured the older star. Firouzja came from an undefeated run in classical chess in the tournament, while Carlsen had lost his 125-game undefeated streak against Jan-Krzysztof Duda in round 5. It seemed like a good time for Firouzja to leave a strong mark by beating the world champion, but it was not meant to be. The youngster will surely get more chances in the future!

The ever-competitive Carlsen knows that this win was not only relevant for the tournament standings:

It’s always pleasant to clinch a tournament. Also, Alireza is going to be around for a long time, so giving him a bit of an unpleasant memory, that’s not a bad thing for me (smiles).

Carlsen had an amazing string of strong results online in the last few months, and now confirmed he is still the strongest ‘over the board’. Or, as he calls it, the ‘wooden screen’.

Meanwhile, Firouzja, who has climbed to 18th place in the live ratings list, proved that he can battle on equal terms with the best in the world. The one thing that failed him in his key matchup against Carlsen was his ability to control his nerves — twice in the game he made mistakes he would almost certainly not make under different circumstances, especially his blunder in a rather elementary endgame.

The penultimate round also saw Fabiano Caruana and Levon Aronian winning in Armageddon. Thus, both top-10 stars still have chances to get second place on Friday.

Alireza Firouzja

Alireza Firouzja is having an amazing tournament nonetheless | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Firouzja 0 : 3 Carlsen

Firouzja seemed to have everything under control well into the middlegame, with Carlsen going to the confessional and mentioning that he was not happy with his opening choice. At some point, however, the youngster was too eager to exchange pieces and, instead of keeping the tension, exchanged his dark-squared bishop for Black’s knight. Carlsen went back to the confessional and said he had a minuscule chance to fight for a win.

On move 33, Firouzja took a wrong turn and quickly found himself in a tough spot:

 

White needed to keep the status quo with 33.Rd2 or 33.Bd5, while the forcing 33.Rc3 can be responded by 33...Rxc3 34.bxc3 Nb3 when Black has good chances in the endgame with minor pieces and pawns. The game continued 35.Ke1 Bc5 36.Nc2:

 

After getting an unlikely opportunity to get a win, Carlsen played 36...Nc1, a move that he described as “almost criminal” — White can neutralize his rival’s initiative with 37.Bd5 Nd3 38.Ke2 Nxf2 and 39.Bc6. In the diagrammed position, 36...f5 is the human way to make progress, increasing the pressure, while the computer also shows 36...g5 as a good continuation for White.

The position was once again balanced, with commentators and fans alike ready to see a draw agreement and an Armageddon. And then came the shock:

 

Carlsen explained that he continued to play here because he noticed his opponent was really nervous — besides the fact that Firouzja was down to less than 5 seconds on his clock. Here the youngster erred horribly with 69.Kc3, allowing Black to gain the opposition and the game with 69...Kc5. Keeping the distant opposition with 69.Kd2 would have led to a draw.

The world champion explained:

At the end, he didn’t give the appearance of somebody who was sure about everything, so I had some minor hopes of fooling him somehow by moving the king around.

 

Alireza Firouzja, Magnus Carlsen

Right after 69.Kc3?? | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Tari 1 : 1½ Aronian

Tari was very close to winning his first classical game of the event, as Aronian played speculatively in the opening, going for g7-g5 with black on move 10, a move that Tari described as “just horrible”. Unfortunately for the Norwegian, Aronian is also a stubborn defender and managed to take the matchup to Armageddon in the end. 

Perhaps Tari would have won the classical game had he exchanged rooks on move 28:

 

Avoiding to exchange material from the attacking side, White played 28.Rf1 and had trouble finding a way to break through later on. Instead, 28.Rxd8+ Kxd8 29.h4 would have given him great chances to win, as Black’s pieces and pawns are very uncoordinated.

In the tiebreaker, it was Tari who went for the kill early on. His more experienced opponent, however, managed to stave off the attack and converted his material advantaged into a 34-move win.

 

Aryan Tari, Levon Aronian

Aryan Tari could not finish off the ever-creative Levon Aronian in their classical encounter | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Duda 1 : 1½ Caruana

A tense classical game was dynamically balanced throughout, although Caruana later confessed that he felt his opponent was better prepared than him in the Sicilian Taimanov, as his preparation (Caruana’s) is still not “all-encompassing”. Near the end, however, it was the American who had the initiative:

 

Caruana went for 37...Rxe4 here, and was the one infiltrating the opposite camp with his queen after 38.fxe4 Qxe4 — White cannot save the rook on a8 as it would allow Black to create a deadly attack. However, Caruana thought that 37...Qxg3 would have given him better practical chances, as the ensuing positions are more dangerous for white.

The game was finally drawn and the contenders went to Armageddon. Caruana later mentioned that he does not like to play these tiebreakers with black. Luckily for him, this time around Duda misplayed the opening and allowed the American to get a smooth 30-move victory.

 

Fabiano Caruana, Rustam Kasimdzhanov

Fabiano Caruana with top aide Rustam Kasimdzhanov | Photo: Lennart Ootes


Standings after Round 9

1. Carlsen 19.5
2. Firouzja 15.5
3. Aronian 14.5
4. Caruana  14
5. Duda 9.5
6. Tari 2.5

Round 10 pairings

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


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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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basler88 basler88 10/16/2020 08:32
That shows he is just human! :-)
fgkdjlkag fgkdjlkag 10/16/2020 03:06
I can't believe he could play Kc3 in that position... Just stunning.
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