Norway Chess: Naka beats Pragg to grab the lead, Carlsen beats Caruana

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
5/31/2024 – For the first time in this year’s edition of the Norway Chess super-tournament, all three games in a single round ended decisively. Hikaru Nakamura defeated former leader R Praggnanandhaa to climb to sole first place; Alireza Firouzja is Nakamura’s closest chaser after beating world champion Ding Liren; while Magnus Carlsen stands in third place thanks to his victory over Fabiano Caruana. | Photo: Stev Bonhage / Norway Chess

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Carlsen still number one, Ding struggling

The two highest-rated players in the world faced each other in round 4 of the Norway Chess super-tournament. Magnus Carlsen came from losing against R Praggnanandhaa, while Fabiano Caruana came from beating Ding Liren. These results had left Caruana at a distance of 14.2 points from Carlsen in the live ratings list — it does not seem to be a particularly small gap, but the Norwegian is used to having a wider margin atop the ranking.

Thus, a win for Caruana would have shortened the gap considerably. However, it was Carlsen who prevailed with black in the contest, gaining 4.7 rating points to get a healthy 23.6-point advantage over Caruana in the live ratings list. Carlsen later confessed that he would have been happy to recover from the loss against Pragg with a draw, but as the game progressed, he began to realise he could realistically go for the win.

Carlsen was not the only player to grab a classical win on Thursday, as all three encounters in the event finished decisively. Hikaru Nakamura defeated former leader Praggnanandhaa to climb to sole first place in the standings, while Alireza Firouzja inflicted a second consecutive loss on an out-of-form Ding Liren.

Ding’s back-to-back losses have left him in the cellar of the standings at a 2.5-point distance from fifth-placed Caruana. Worryingly for the world champion, his loss against Firouzja was a rather one-sided affair, as Firouzja himself noted:

Clearly, he is not playing his best. I hope he finds his shape because I didn’t do anything [particularly special] today.

Ding’s 19...e5 was already a big mistake, since after 20.dxe5 fxe5 21.Bh6, White has a strong initiative on the kingside. At first sight, pushing the e-pawn to open the centre seems to make sense, as the white king has lost the right to castle, but specific calculation demonstrates that it is Firouzja who can put pressure on his opponent after the pawn break.

Firouzja had little trouble converting his advantage into his first classical win of the event.

Alireza Firouzja, Ding Liren

Alireza Firouzja defeated world champion Ding Liren | Photo: Stev Bonhage

Carlsen, on his part, showcased his great technical ability to outplay Caruana in a queen endgame which engines evaluate as drawn.

Black grabbed White’s e-pawn with 45...Qg5+ 46.Kg1 Qxe4, and Carlsen needed 21 moves from this position to provoke a losing mistake by his opponent. The local hero now stands barely 1 point behind the tournament leader.

Magnus Carlsen

Endgame virtuoso Magnus Carlsen | Photo: Stev Bonhage

Expert analysis by Robert Ris

Nakamura got to show deep home preparation in his game with white against Pragg. The US grandmaster thus gained a big advantage on the clock, which allowed him to conscientiously simplify into a superior endgame.

White has a knight for two pawns, and after 32.Na5 Rd2 33.h4 Ra2 34.Nc4 a5 35.Rh3, he managed to activate his rook by skilfully manoeuvring his knight on the queenside.

Nakamura still had to work hard to force his young opponent’s resignation, as Pragg only threw in the towel after White’s 86th move.

Expert analysis by GM Daniel King

Standings after round 4

Rk Name FED Rtg Pts
1 Hikaru Nakamura USA 2794 7
2 Alireza Firouzja FRA 2737 6.5
3 Magnus Carlsen NOR 2830 6
4 R Praggnanandhaa IND 2747 5.5
5 Fabiano Caruana USA 2805 5
6 Ding Liren CHN 2762 2.5

All games - Classical

All games - Armageddon

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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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