Tari takes Norwegian Championship

by Macauley Peterson
7/16/2019 – Grandmaster Aryan Tari won his second Norwegian Championship title last weekend after narrowly edging GM Jon-Ludwig Hammer on tiebreak. Both players scored 6½/9. The tournament saw several top players withdraw in opposition to a controversial sponsorship proposal, that was eventually rejected by the Norwegian Chess Federation's Congress delegates. | Photo: Larvik Chess Club Facebook page

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Hammer 2nd place on tiebreak score

The Norwegian Championship has been held nearly every year since 1918, and for the past 30 years attracts an average of around 500 players, across several sections. The "Elite" (Championship) section has qualification requirements — for instance having an Elo rating over 2350 is one way to qualify — and this year included 26 players. Most of Norway's Top 10 were there, with the notable exception of World Champion Magnus Carlsen, who won the Championship in 2006 at age 15. Back then he beat his former trainer, GM Simen Agdestein, who was also the defending champion.

The top three this year were Jon Ludvig Hammer (2637), Aryan Tari (2620), Frode Urkedal (2566). Hammer won the title in 2018 and 2017, but this year he lost his head-to-head pairing with Tari in round four.


Hammer had to play catch up after a 4th round loss | Photo: Larvik Chess Club Facebook page

Tari played an Italian and the middlegame was quite balanced, but Hammer's crippled kingside pawns gradually gave Tari an edge. 


Tari has been targeting the black weaknesses on c7 and h5, and his queen's rook is in the midst of an epic journey that took it from a1-a3-c3-c6-c4-c3 and next back to a3-a1 and finally g1! The white bishop is well-placed and Hammer's knight has little to do even as it lands on an appealing-looking c5 square. Black was forced to take desperate measures in an attempt at counterplay.


You can move the pieces on the live diagram!

Hammer initiates an a-pawn race with 47...b5 48.bxa5 bxa4 49.a6 and now the best chance to hold on was 49...♜f8 50.a7 a3 51.♖h2 ♜a8 52.♖a2 ♞a5 when White cannot capture on a3 because ...♞c4 is threatened. 

But Hammer went for 49...c5? 50.dxc6 a3 51.h2 and realised there's no way to contain the white a-pawn 51...xf3+ 52.g1 g3+ 53.h1 xe3+ 54.a7:


After a few checks — 54...♜e1+ 55.♔g2 ♜e2+ 56.♔h3 a2 — the players reached the last critical moment in the game: 57.a8?? Amazingly, this could have let Hammer off the hook! Black can queen 58...a1♛ and incredibly, the engine flashes 0.00! 59.♕xa1 ♜e3+ 59.♔xh4 Nxa1. But Hammer played 57...e3+ and this is not the same: 58.xh4 a1 59.b7+! and with the king already on h4, Hammer had to resign as it's mate in four!

Frode Urkedal was coming in as the newly-crowned Nordic Champion. He started well with two wins and two draws, before running into the Tari Express. Aryan himself sent us the blow-by-blow of this critical fifth round game.

Annotations by GM Aryan Tari


Urkedal finished with 5½, in 5th place | Photo: Larvik Chess Club Facebook page

Sponsorship controversy in the background

Simen Agdestein would have been the fourth seed, but he withdrew the week before the tournament. And he wasn't alone. GM Torbjørn R. Hansen and IM Atle Grønn also dropped out, all three citing opposition to a controversial sponsorship deal, proposed by the Norwegian Chess Federation, with the betting company Kindred Group. Magnus Carlsen supported the deal even going so far as to organise a brand-new chess club and offering to cover the national federation's fees for new members in a bid to gain political influence over the organization's annual Congress.

But in a sharp rebuke to the World Champion, the Norwegian Chess Federation rejected the offer by a margin of 3:1, with delegates voting 132 to 44 against.

"Chess players cannot be bought"

Adgestein attended the Championship, not as a player but as a commentator, and reacted positively to the vote's outcome. "It's a great relief. I am proud that we show that we have integrity", he was quoted by VG.no.

Carlsen sees things differently, writing on Facebook before the vote that a rejection of the deal would be a "betrayal of this and the next generation of young people". He categorically denied that his support for the proposal was in any way self-serving, insisting that he had no direct financial interest in the project.

Norway will now need to find another approach to funding chess expansion in the country. As a small start, the Bergen Chess Festival has launched a crowdfunding campaign, aiming to raise at least 50,000 Norwegian Kroner (about USD $5,800) over the next few weeks, specifically to support youth chess. This year's festival begins on July 26th so, at a minimum, the outreach to the national chess community looks like a brilliant marketing move.

Tari coasts to victory

After defeating Urkedal, Tari was able to draw his remaining games, to reach 6½/9. The pressure was on Hammer to post some wins on the board, and he succeeded in winning his last two games to pull into a tie for first. The critical final round win included an instructive technical rook ending:


Top 3 finishers

A stark contrast between runner-up Hammer, winner Tari, and 3rd placed IM Kristian Holm

Final standings (top 10)


All available games



Macauley served as the Editor in Chief of ChessBase News from July 2017 to March 2020. He is the producer of The Full English Breakfast chess podcast, and was an Associate Producer of the 2016 feature documentary, Magnus.


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