Norway Chess: Carlsen grabs the lead

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
9/17/2021 – A fourth straight win prompted Magnus Carlsen to grab the lead at the Norway Chess Tournament in Stavanger. The world champion had an inferior position in the middlegame against Sergey Karjakin, but ended up making the most of his material advantage after the Russian gave up an exchange for the initiative. Meanwhile, Ian Nepomniachtchi beat Richard Rapport in Armageddon, and Alireza Firouzja scored his third consecutive win in classical chess. | Photo: Lennart Ootes

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Firouzja wins three in a row

Magnus Carlsen and Alireza Firouzja are on fire. The former has won four games in a row to climb to sole first place at the Norway Chess Tournament, while the latter has scored three wins in a row to join the world’s top 10 in the live ratings list a bit over three months after turning 18 years old.

Richard Rapport had been the sole leader throughout in Stavanger. Now, with one round to go, the world champion has leapfrogged him in the standings table and has a 1½-point lead over him before Friday’s final round. Moreover, Rapport faces an in-form Firouzja with the black pieces, while Carlsen plays Ian Nepomniachtchi in what most likely will be their last classical encounter before they meet in Dubai to fight for the World Championship title.

Given how exciting and unpredictable the tournament has been, we should not rule out a scenario in which Firouzja and Carlsen would fight for tournament victory in a blitz tiebreaker — this would be the case if both Firouzja and Nepo win their classical games on Friday.

We could also see a tiebreaker between Rapport and Carlsen, if the Hungarian beats Firouzja in classical chess and Carlsen beats Nepo in Armageddon, or if Carlsen loses his classical game and Rapport wins in Armageddon.

The special pointing system has worked wonders this year in Stavanger, although the success of the event might also have to do with the excellent lineup featuring a number of fighting, creative players. Kudos to the organizers!

Norway Chess 2021

It has certainly been an entertaining tournament | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Carlsen 3 - 0 Karjakin

Playing black, Karjakin had the upper hand in the middlegame, gaining the initiative while holding a space advantage in the centre.


After spending almost 10 minutes, Karjakin decided to break through with 30...d4, when 30...Qd8 was a better idea, patiently retreating with the queen to later push the h-pawn.

There followed 31.Nxd4 exf3 32.Nxf3 and the surprising 32...Bh3


White cannot capture the queen due to mate on f1, but he does have 33.Rf2, against which Karjakin had prepared 33...Rxf3, giving up the exchange. In what ensued, Black continued to look for attacking chances, but Carlsen was accurate in defence. Once he forced simplifications, he was simply material up and went on to score his fourth straight victory in the tournament.


Magnus Carlsen, Sergey Karjakin

Exhausted? — Magnus Carlsen and Sergey Karjakin | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Tari 0 - 3 Firouzja

Another sharp middlegame was seen in the encounter between the youngest participants of the event. On move 26, Aryan Tari played an ambitious, risky move instead of simplifying the position by swapping a pair of knights.


Firouzja identified this as the critical position of the game, since Tari’s 22.Nb6 (22.Nxe5 was playable) allowed him to quickly get the initiative on the kingside with 22...Ng4 23.Bf4 Rfe8 24.Bf3 g5


Tari was clearly on the back foot. The Norwegian defended fiercely — at some point entering a position with rook and knight against queen — but Firouzja played an excellent game and converted his advantage into a win that kept him in the race for first place.


Alireza Firouzja

Still with a chance — Alireza Firouzja | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Rapport 1 - 1½ Nepomniachtchi

After a quick draw in the classical game, Rapport missed a tactical shot early in the Armageddon tiebreaker’s middlegame.


The Hungarian played 17.Ne3, missing 17.Nxf7, when White cannot capture with 17...Kxf7 due to 18.Bxc6 Qxc6 (or ...bxc6) 19.Ne5+.

After the text, Rapport tried to create a passer on the queenside, but his plan was too slow, and Nepomniachtchi eventually got the upper hand. The World Championship challenger scored a 49-move win, and was later interviewed by Anastasiya Karlovich:


Standings after Round 9

Player Games Points
Magnus Carlsen 8 18
Richard Rapport 8 16½
Alireza Firouzja 8 15
Ian Nepomniactchi 8 11
Sergey Karjakin 8
Aryan Tari 8 6


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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