Norway Chess: Missed chances, and a King’s Gambit

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
9/9/2021 – An action-packed second round in Stavanger saw all three classical games ending in draws, with Aryan Tari and Richard Rapport failing to make the most of clearly superior positions against Magnus Carslsen and Sergey Karjakin respectively. In the Armageddon tiebreakers, Carlsen, Rapport and Ian Nepomniachtchi won and collected 1½ points. Nepo played the King’s Gambit to take down Alireza Firouzja in their sudden-death encounter. | Photo: Lennart Ootes

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Fierce defenders

Top grandmasters are tough defenders. In round 2 of the Norway Chess Tournament, both Magnus Carlsen and Sergey Karjakin — a.k.a. the Minister of Defence — were on the ropes against Aryan Tari and Richard Rapport respectively. And they both survived, showing how difficult it is to convert a superior position when facing players that have spent years at the very top of the world ranking.

While Carlsen went on to beat Tari in Armageddon, Karjakin drew with white against Rapport (Black gets draw odds in the tiebreaker). This was the second day Carlsen got in trouble in one of the two games of each round, and for a second time in a row he came out a winner, collecting 1½ points in both rounds to now stand in clear second place behind Rapport.

Meanwhile, Ian Nepomniachtchi, who could not make it in time to play the first round, kicked off his participation with a stunning win over Alireza Firouzja. After drawing the classical game, Nepo employed the King’s Indian to take down his dangerous opponent, who was clearly not ready to face the double-edged opening. 

In round 3, sole leader Rapport will have the white pieces against Carlsen, a day before the world champion gets to face his next challenger for the world crown.

Norway Chess 2021

The playing hall at the Clarion Hotel in Stavanger | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Nepomniachtchi 1½ - 1 Firouzja

Out of a highly theoretical Spanish Opening in the classical game, Nepo, playing white, got the upper hand in the middlegame, but a single misstep on move 20 by the Russian allowed Firouzja to equalize and eventually save the draw.

After showcasing resourcefulness in such a high-class game, though, Firouzja was not prepared to face the good old King’s Gambit. The players followed a game between ∼2300 rated players until move 10, when the youngster already made a critical mistake.

 

Black is a pawn and an exchange up, but only his queen is developed, while White has created a host of killer threats with his queen and minor pieces. Blocking the e-file is clearly a priority here, but 10...Be6 is not the right way to do it — 10...Be7 should be preferred, since Black will be able to castle in the next move.

After both bishop moves, the engines give 11.Nc3 as best, which explains why getting a chance to castle after moving the dark-squared bishop was the way to go. Moreover, after 11...g5, White continued to make use of the initiative by playing 12.d5

 

Since 12...Bxd5 fails to 13.0-0-0, finishing White’s development and bringing one more piece to the attack, Firouzja opted for 12...gxf4 13.dxe6 Bd6. But again, even before capturing on f7, Nepo demonstrated how the King’s Gambit is all about activity and played 14.0-0-0.

White had a massive lead in development and went on to get a 25-move victory. It was a remarkable debut in the tournament for the World Championship challenger!

 

Alireza Firouzja

Alireza Firouzja | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Carlsen 1½ - 1 Tari

Out of an Italian, the world champion found himself on the back foot with the white pieces against his younger compatriot. Tari missed a big chance to break through on move 26.

 

Tari opted for 26...Ree2, when White is forced to give up his queen for the pair of rooks with 27.Qxe2 Rxe2 28.Kxe2. The 22-year-old, however, had 26...Rxf2+, and after 27.Kxf2 Qg3+ 28.Kg1 Qxh4, defending the position is incredibly difficult for White.

After the text, Carlsen coordinated his pair of rooks and continued to put up obstacles for his compatriot. A draw was agreed on move 46.

In the tiebreaker, Carlsen got the initiative on the kingside and went on to smoothly convert into a 47-move win.

 

Ian Nepomniachtchi, Mangus Carlsen, Aryan Tari

Ian Nepomniachtchi looking on as Magnus Carlsen suffers in his classical game against Aryan Tari | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Karjakin 1 - 1½ Rapport

Two remarkably fighting games were seen in this matchup, with Rapport getting a strong initiative in the classical encounter.

 

Black has left his king in the centre, where it is clearly less vulnerable than the white counterpart. At this point, Karjakin knew it was time to take drastic measures — the game continued 25.Ne3 Nxe3 26.Rxg5 Rxg5. The Russian gave up the exchange, knowing all too well that he had a tough defensive task going forward.

In the imbalanced position with queens still on the board, Rapport kept trying to make good use of his material advantage, but Karjakin, much like Carlsen, showed great defensive skills and eventually got a draw.

The tiebreaker saw Karjakin giving up his queen for a rook and a knight.

 

In this position, the engines consider Karjakin’s 14.exf6 Rxd1 15.Raxd1 to be the strongest continuation. Soon enough, however, the Russian once again found himself on the defensive.

The former World Championship challenger incredibly kept the balance for a second time in a row, but this time around his opponent had draw odds. Rapport collected the 1½ points to keep the sole lead in the tournament.

 

Richard Rapport

Richard Rapport | Photo: Lennart Ootes


Standings after Round 2

Player Games Points
Richard Rapport 2
Magnus Carlsen 2 3
Alireza Firouzja 2 2
Ian Nepomniactchi* 1 1½
Sergey Karjakin* 1 1
Aryan Tari 2 1

*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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