Norway Chess: A lively start

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
9/8/2021 – The 9th edition of the Norway Chess Tournament kicked off on September 7 at the Clarion Hotel in Stavanger. Richard Rapport grabbed the lead by beating Aryan Tari in their classical encounter. Meanwhile, Magnus Carlsen and Alireza Firouzja drew their classical game — the world champion won the Armageddon decider (drew with black) after surviving a dead-lost position. | Photo: Lennart Ootes

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Rapport wins, joins the world’s top 10

Despite only two out of the three scheduled games taking place in round 1 of the Norway Chess Tournament, there was no lack of excitement for the online audience. On Monday, it was announced that Ian Nepomniachtchi would arrive late to Stavanger due to visa issues. His game against Sergey Karjakin was postponed to the rest day, on September 11.

In the classical games that did take place, Richard Rapport beat Aryan Tari while Magnus Carlsen held Alireza Firouzja to a draw with the black pieces. As has been the case since 2019, the regulations of the super-tournament in Norway do not allow for draws in each individual encounter — i.e. if the classical game finishes drawn, an Armageddon tiebreaker follows. On Tuesday, Carlsen ‘won’ the sudden-death encounter by drawing with black against his young opponent.

A ‘win’ in Armageddon does not grant as many points as a victory in the classical encounter, though. Thus, Rapport grabbed the early lead with 3 points (Carlsen collected 1½ points). The victory allowed the Hungarian grandmaster to join the world’s top 10 in the live ratings list.

Richard Rapport

Richard Rapport | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Fearless against the world champion

Once and again, Firouzja has proven not to fear any higher-rated (and, invariably, more experienced) opponent, including the world champion. His boldness has worked wonders, as he is the strongest U20 player in the world at 18 and is viewed by many as a future contender for the World Championship title.

Facing Carlsen with white, the youngster employed a sharp novelty out of a Rossolimo Sicilian.

 

With 7.h4, Firouzja had the world champion thinking for almost 8 minutes as early as move 7. Carlsen responded with 7...a6 and continued to find moves that challenged White’s concept.

Soon enough, the Norwegian star gained a big advantage on the clock, but despite the time pressure, Firouzja kept things under control until a draw was signed on move 39.

Alireza Firouzja

Gutsy — Alireza Firouzja | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Another Rossolimo was seen in the Armageddon decider, except the second time around it was Carlsen who played not a novelty but a very rare move — 5...b6. Firouzja was out of book, but did not shy away from playing critical continuations. 

 

Carlsen responded to 13.e5 with 13...f5, when after 14.exf6 Rxf6 White has 15.Bg5, skewering Black’s rook and queen. However, the world champion had seen far ahead when he entered this line.

 

The bishop on c5 is crucial in this position — there followed 15...Rxf2 16.Bxd8 Rf3+ 17.Kh1 Rxg3 18.Bxb6 Bxb6 19.hxg3 (feel free to try your own moves or follow the game’s variations on any of the diagrams).

 

Black came out of the complications an exchange down, but with two incredibly strong bishops pointing at the white king. The engines, in fact, think Black is better, and they also point out that the natural-looking 19...Bf2 was an inaccuracy — 19...Rf8 was better.

What followed elucidates why activating the rook was the way to go. The game continued 20.Re2 Bxg3 21.Ne4 Be5 22.Nc5 Bc8

 

Firouzja, a quickplay specialist, had found the most testing moves, forcing his famed rival to place the light-squared bishop on its initial square with the queenside rook still on a8. From this point on, already with less than 4 minutes on the clock for both players, White improved his position until getting a clear advantage.

It seemed like the youngster was about to upset the perennial favourite, but Carlsen is also known for his blitz and bullet skills. Amazingly, the world champion survived a clearly inferior position and went on to get a draw. Since he was black, he got the extra point for the standings table.

A great showing by Firouzja, but it is never easy against the champ!

 

Select an entry from the list to switch between games

Rapport outplays Tari

Local representative Tari played the Norwegian super-tournament for the first time last year, when he had a tough time against a field as strong as the one featured in this edition. In round 1, he faced Rapport’s French Defence and quickly found himself on the back foot, with his dark-squared bishop failing to find a way to activate itself against a dominant knight on c4.

 

This position was reached on move 16 and, remarkably, the white bishop on c1 and the black knight on c4 remained on their respective squares until move 38. Rapport made the most of his positional advantage, until forcing his opponent to sacrifice his worst piece.

 

There is nothing better for White than 38.Bxf4 Nf5+ 39.Kh3 gxf4 40.Nxf4+, and Rapport was a piece up in the endgame. The Norwegian continued fighting, but to no avail. Resignation came on move 55. 

 

Standings after Round 1

Player Games Points
Richard Rapport 1 3
Magnus Carlsen 1
Alireza Firouzja 1 1
Aryan Tari  1 0
Ian Nepomniachtchi* 0 0
Sergey Karjakin* 0 0

*Will play their round-1 game on Saturday, September 11


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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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calcomar calcomar 9/8/2021 03:04
@Frits Fritschy - Agreed! I've changed the wording of that paragraph in the article. Thanks.
Frits Fritschy Frits Fritschy 9/8/2021 10:50
(41 Nxb5 of course)
Frits Fritschy Frits Fritschy 9/8/2021 10:48
'The world champion survived a position he would have certainly resigned in a classical game': that seems a bit over the top (and probably based on faulty engine evaluation). After the engine move 40 Kh2, for instance after 40... Bd7 41 Rf3 Bxb5 42 Rf7 Be8 43 Rxg7 Bg6 44 Re7 Nd4 45 Bh3 Kc5 46 Bxe6 Kd6 47 Rd7+ Kxe6 48 Rxd4 Kf6, the machine gives +2, but in fact it's a tablebase draw. There may be better moves (for both), but this end position might be the problem for white in more lines. Of course both players made several mistakes later on, the position probably changing from lost to draw several times, but that's blitz.
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