Norway Chess: Carlsen starts with the only win

by André Schulz
5/29/2018 – An omen for the upcoming World Championship? Magnus Carlsen played the opening round of the Altibox Norway Chess tournament against Fabiano Caruana, his next challenger in for the World Champion's title, and won, improving his classical record against the American. The remaining games ended in draws. | Photos: Lennart Ootes / Altibox Norway Chess

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World Champion form

In recent years, Magnus Carlsen has not always been given a convincing performance in his home tournament, Altibox Norway Chess in Stavanger. "At home" there may just be too much hype and of course expectations run high. The World Champion has, however, won three of the four opening blitz tournaments, but he failed to win a fourth — perhaps a contrarian view holds that this time Carlsen trumps the classical tournament again?

The final standings of the blitz tournament determined the draw for pairing numbers of the main event, and so Magnus Carlsen started today with the white pieces against Fabiano Caruana. It was the fifth time in a row that the pair has been paired in the first round of a classical round-robin tournament — a highly improbable coincidence!

Since the two highest rated players will play a match in November this encounter has an even more special meaning currently than usual. The match of the first round in Stavanger is likely to be the last game the two play against each other before the London match, although an Olympiad meeting is not impossible. 

The moves 1.e4 e5 2.Bc4 indicate that Carlsen did not feel like facing a Petroff Defence, which is currently very popular with Caruana. What does that mean for the World Championship? Will Magnus avoid the Petroff there too? Or has he already prepared some poison dart line that he did not want to show here yet? The opening mavens have some sleuthing to do. 


Fabiano Caruana

While it is true that you can reach the Italian much more conveniently via this move order without having to worry about the intricacies of the Petroff Defence, there are also a few independent variations to consider. And if you want to play with black in principled style, then after 2...Nf6 3.d3  you should play the move 3...c6. And so did Caruana. Incidentally, 2.Bc4 could hardly have been surprising for the US Grandmaster, because Carlsen has often played this way against proponents of the Petroff.


8...a5 has rarely been played so far. Carlsen continued with 9.c3.

In the early middlegame, the game got its strategic face when Caruana pushed his pawn to b4.


Carlsen took on b4, after which he received a passed pawn on the a-line. Later he besieged the b4-pawn, won it and then had a noticeable advantage in the ending with his queenside passers.


Magnus gradually consolidated his advantage in the face of tenacious defence by Fabiano Caruana that was ultimately futile.

Carlsen has rarely won the first round of a round-robin tournament, and it's a big boost to his chances to do it here against Caruana, not to mention the modest psychological impact of winning what may be their last game before the World Championship contest.

GM Daniel King analyses Carlsen's win

Four draws for the rest of the field

In his white game against Sergey Karjakin, Wesley So, the winner of yesterday's blitz tournament, tried a new concept in which he advanced his queenside pawns early and thus gained space.

Wesley So

Wesley So 


Karjakin kept to the classical rule to meet a flank attack with play in the centre, had to temporarily manage a weak isolated pawn on d5, but then successfully repaire his structure with a piece exchange on e4. After the queens came off, the endgame with one rook each, same-coloured bishops and pawns arose with mainly cosmetic advantage to White. But the bishops soon disappeared, the rook endgame was a draw. 

Ding Liren once again lived up to his new reputation as the "Great Wall of China" — previously the mantle of Wang Yue at hsi peak. In an English Mikenas variation, Hikaru Nakamura and Ding moved quite early on into unknown terrain. Soon a very exciting position appeared, with attacks on both flanks.


Ding would have considered 25.Bh6 Bf8 26.Nh4 with the idea of 27.Bxg7, for instance against 26...Re6. But his 25.Qf5 was also strong. White, however, found no compelling continuation of the attack and finally sacrificed a knight just five moves later to lead the game to a perpetual check draw.

Levon Aronian offered a Berlin Defence as a black against Viswanathan Anand, but Anand refused with 4.d3. The Armenian ace then chose a line with an early d7-d5. Aronian gained comfortable equality and after a short middlegame, the game landed in a double-rook ending, in which no side could play for a win. Draw in the 31 moves.


The game between Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave lasted only 25 moves. In a rare sideline of the Gruenfeld Defence, the Azeri won a pawn, but then forced the draw by repeating the position.


Mamedyarov has been saddled with a toothache for which he's undergoing treatment during the tournament, and an effort was reportedly made to replace him with Anish Giri, which Giri declined.

Standings after Round 1


All games


Translation from German: Macauley Peterson


André Schulz started working for ChessBase in 1991 and is an editor of ChessBase News.


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