Magnus Carlsen had already wrapped up victory in Altibox
Norway Chess with a round to spare, but as in 2019 his mood was spoilt by a
last round loss, this time in classical chess to Levon Aronian. “Mostly I felt
pretty clueless throughout the tournament,” confessed the World Champion, while
17-year-old Alireza Firouzja, who beat Jan-Krzysztof Duda in the final round, was
understandably happy with his event apart from the blunder against Magnus.
Levon’s win meant that counting only the classical games, with standard
scoring, we’d have had three players tied for first.

You can replay all the games from Altibox Norway Chess 2020
using the selector below.

And here’s the final day’s commentary from our dream team of
Vladimir Kramnik and Judit Polgar.

Magnus Carlsen had won Altibox Norway Chess with a round to
spare, but the picture of dominance was marred by the final round, which left
just a point separating 1st from 2nd, and 2nd from 3rd.

You can see the detailed scoring of individual games below –
it was 3 points for a win and 1 point for a draw, while after a draw there was a
half-point bonus for the winner of the Armageddon game. You can click on any of
the numbers below to go to that game.

The prizes were as follows, with a big pay day for young
Alireza!

Rather than going game by game, let’s take a look at how the
event went for each of the players.

1. Magnus Carlsen: 19.5 | 5 wins, 3 draws, 2 losses
+ 3/3 Armageddon wins | -0.8 Elo

There are not many Magnus Carlsen weaknesses to target, but
one of them seems to be playing the final round after winning your home
supertournament with a round to spare! A year ago Magnus faced Fabiano Caruana in
the final round and was a
move away from losing the classical game
before he got outplayed and lost
in Armageddon.

Fast forward a year and things had only got worse. This time
Magnus, who until the loss to Duda had gone 125 classical games unbeaten, lost
with the white pieces. Losing to Levon with either colour is the kind of thing
that can happen to anyone, but it was also about the quality of the moves. “Today
his play was really bad, for his level”, said the watching Vladimir Kramnik,
who had spent much of the event praising
the current World Champion
.

Carlsen, Aronian and Kramnik all had their doubts about the
decision Magnus took to play Kf1 rather than, for instance, castle queenside.
This wasn’t a game in Kramnik’s proposed chess variant where neither player is
allowed to castle, as Levon demonstrated with 15…0-0.

White may have been fine after that, but the plan with
18.Rh3!? raised eyebrows, while it seems after 18…Qb3 it may have been time to exchange queens. When 23.Qb5+ appeared on the board Kramnik was already predicting
that Magnus was going to lose with the white pieces.

After 24.Kg1 Rxe5 Levon revealed that Magnus come close to losing on the spot!

It was a funny moment, because Magnus was just about to play
Rxg6 here! He probably thought that I’m just going for a draw, but in fact I
just thought that I’m slightly better without any risk and I will press the
whole game.

The problem with
25.Rxg6+?? is that instead of forcing a draw by perpetual check after 25…fxg6
26.Qxg6+ and so on it actually runs into 25…Kh7! and White can resign.

It’s tempting to say of the rook ending that soon followed
that there were lots of “ups and downs”, but when Fiona Steil-Antoni said that
to Levon he countered, “What do you mean ups and downs, I was better the whole
game!”

He also had a point! Although objectively the game swung
from a winning advantage to a draw a couple of times, Magnus was the one on the
ropes and trying to survive. Levon also had a bone to pick with Vladimir
Kramnik when it came to the final twist in the game.

Here Magnus, with just over 2 minutes to Levon’s 20, played
50.Rxf6? and after 50…b3! the black pawns were unstoppable. Instead 50.Rg7+ Kb6
51.Rg8 b3 was a draw, but not after the 52.Rb8+ at first suggested by Kramnik. 52.g5,
52.h5 or even the fun 52.Ke3 b2+ 53.Kd2 b1=N+ 54.Kc1 Nc3 55.Kb2 all draw, but
Vlad was definitely going a bit far that in saying that it was Levon who would
need to force a draw!

There were no more twists, so for Magnus losses in classical
chess had been like London buses – you wait forever and then two come along at
once.

The World Champion had no complaints, except about his own
play:

But leaving aside the inhumanly high standards Magnus sets
for himself, it had been a pretty decent tournament. He’d wrapped up victory
with a round to spare, won half his classical games (5 compared to the 4 won by
Levon and Alireza) and won all three Armageddon games he played. He also won
the games which you imagine mattered most – finally beating his greatest
current rival, world no. 2 Fabiano Caruana, and then doing the same to a
potential future challenger, Alireza Firouzja.

Over the years Magnus has struggled with the extra pressure
and media obligations of playing in Norway, but he’s now the only player to
have won Norway Chess three times over the course of its 8-year history.

2. Alireza Firouzja | 18.5 | 4 wins, 5 draws, 1 loss
+ 3/5 Armageddon wins | +20.6 Elo

You could say, however, that the tournament still belonged
to Alireza Firouzja. A lacklustre summer of online chess had seen some begin to
doubt the 17-year-old prodigy, but in his first tournament back at the wooden board he
picked up where he’d left off and continued his rise – gaining rating points on
every day except when he lost to Magnus in the penultimate round:

How he bounced back from that loss – winning a third
classical game in a row against Jan-Krzysztof Duda, to both guarantee the
runners-up spot in the tournament and climb above Duda to world no. 17 – spoke
volumes.

Alireza seemed to shrug off the painful defeat to Magnus. It
was partly that he correctly pointed out that drawing or losing that game
wouldn’t have altered the standings dramatically (Magnus would have gone into
the final round in the lead either way), but also that he felt it was more about how he’d
played rather than how Magnus had played.

I lost to myself, I think! It was not about nerves, but
maybe I was a bit excited to play, but in general I was a little disappointed
because the game got very equal and I wanted to get a complicated game because
of the tournament situation.

That burning ambition and self-belief was also evident in
his summary of the event.

Today I feel happy but in general I’m a bit disappointed
because I was very close to win the whole thing, but I guess it happens!

Using the standard scoring system Alireza scored the same
number of classical points as Magnus (and Aronian), a +3 6.5/10, and in fact
the difference between them would have been wiped out if Alireza hadn’t lost on
time to Magnus in an Armageddon game where he seemed to be cruising to victory.

Magnus could legitimately echo Kramnik’s 2010, “for
now Magnus is my client”
about Alireza, but we all remember how that worked
out!    

3. Levon Aronian | 17.5 | 4 wins, 5 draws, 1 loss +
1/5 Armageddon wins | +14.4 Elo

The other player who had a great event was Levon Aronian,
who picked up over 14 rating points and is now world no. 6 on the live rating
list – if he’d won a winning position in the second game against Fabi he would
have been world no. 4. He lost that game, however, and admitted it wasn’t always smooth
sailing.

The result is good, the play desires to be improved! The
usual story, but it’s much better than playing well and having a bad result. At
least there is some hope when you play badly and you get a good result.

The cherry on the cake was of course the final round win
over Magnus, which also had an element of exorcising old ghosts! A year ago in
Stavanger Levon had been on the verge of ending Magnus’ unbeaten streak in a
very similar rook ending to the one we saw this year.

It’s a race on both sides of the board, but 54.g5! should win for Levon. Instead after 54.h5 b4 Magnus went on to defend the
position.

It wasn’t just about the chess, however. Levon was playing
against the troubling backdrop of the Armenia-Azerbaijan war suddenly flaring
up again, something he said made it hard to prepare for the games. It was also a
year in which Levon lost his wife, while it seems his girlfriend contracted the coronavirus
during the event.

No-one would have been surprised if Levon was simply unable
to play, but instead he beat the World Champion and was his hilarious self
after the game.

Joking aside, however, if we never get to see a Carlsen-Aronian
World Championship match it will go down as one of those intriguing what-might-have-beens
of chess history.    

4. Fabiano Caruana | 15.5 | 3 wins, 5 draws, 2 losses
+ 3/5 Armageddon wins | -5.4 Elo

Fabiano Caruana is the last player in the standings to post
a plus score in classical chess, but his +1 didn’t set the world on fire. As he
commented:

Overall it wasn’t great. A bit mixed. It started very well,
I had this really tough period in the middle, two bad games I played, my game
against Magnus was really disappointing and there were a few disappointing
moments where I could have maybe pressed a bit more. I feel like I had a good
chance with White against Magnus, with White against Alireza, maybe today [a
draw vs. Tari] I was hoping for more, but the position really didn’t give me
much, so I can’t be too disappointed by that. Overall I didn’t really fight for
first place or anything and my performance wasn’t what I’d hope for.

There was a major distraction for Fabiano, however, since
Norway Chess was supposed to function as a warm-up for the resumption of the
Candidates Tournament on November 1st. In normal circumstances he would have to
choose carefully what opening weapons to reveal, but in this case he also had
to handle complete uncertainty.

That was also a bit of an annoyance that during the
tournament we were constantly kind of dealing with the Candidates, wondering if
it would happen or not. The general feeling was that it wouldn’t happen even
before it became clear that there was just no way that it could happen on
November 1st or even later in November. It started getting pushed back a bit
first to November 5th, November 15th and then at that point it was kind of
clear that things would just not work out this year.

We now know that the Candidates has been pencilled
in for Spring 2021
instead, though it’s anyone’s guess if it will in fact
take place then. In a way it makes it more impressive that Norway Chess managed
to hold an over-the-board event at all, with the October scheduling looking
inspired in hindsight. The worsening pandemic situation in Europe and beyond
might soon rule out further top events.      

In any case, Fabiano put in a decent performance in the
circumstances, with his final three Armageddon wins over Firouzja, Duda and
Tari more evidence that he can be a strong speed chess player, an area where he
seemed to improve over the online summer.

5. JK Duda | 9.5 | 2 wins, 3 draws, 5 losses + 1/3 Armageddon wins | -14.2 Elo

22-year-old Jan-Krzysztof Duda was perhaps the greatest
disappointment of the tournament. The Polish no. 1 failed to stake a claim to
be a member of the world chess elite and in fact lost 14 rating points. It all
began to go wrong in Round 1, when he rejected a draw offer and lost a
rollercoaster game to Firouzja. Alireza noted after the tournament was over:

If Duda was not going to lose the first round maybe he was
going to win this tournament!

There are two reasons Duda shouldn’t feel too annoyed
himself. First, he was at the handicap of being a late replacement for Anish
Giri, so he had less time to prepare for the event. Opening preparation has
never been Jan-Krzysztof’s strong point, and this made things worse. The other
factor that might balance out everything else that happened is that Duda beat
Magnus Carlsen, ending the World Champion’s 125-game unbeaten streak! That’s a
feat that will be recalled long after everything else that happened in Norway
Chess 2020 is forgotten.  

6. Aryan Tari | 3.5 | 0 wins, 3 draws, 7 losses + 1/3
Armageddon wins

It’s hard to accentuate the positives when you lose 7
classical games and win none, but 21-year-old Aryan Tari was always going to
face a baptism of fire against a field where every player outrated him by
more than 100 points. Aryan won one mini-match, against Duda, and held Caruana
and Aronian to draws, though in fact that game against Levon was a huge missed
opportunity to pick up a win. “If it doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger,”
they say, and this is the kind of experience Tari can build on.

So that’s all for Altibox Norway Chess, an event that showed
that it is possible to hold a supertournament in the year 2020! We hope you
enjoyed it, and particularly the commentary duo of Vladimir Kramnik and Judit
Polgar.

For a Russian peasant Vlad has come along way, now making it to Twitter!

It’s not clear that we’ll see any more elite over-the-board
events soon – Wijk aan Zee seems the next on most top players’ radars – but
that doesn’t mean the stars won’t be in action! The $1.5 million Champions
Chess Tour, the successor to the Magnus Carlsen Chess Tour, is a year-long
series starting in late November.

Right now a final qualification spot is being
decided in the Chessable Qualifier, with Peter Svidler and Rauf Mamedov both on
3/3 after Day 1. Jan Gustafsson and Laurent Fressinet are commentating
live on all the action
.

See also:


Chess Mentor

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