Norway Chess 6: Firouzja leads as Carlsen hits back

Norway Chess 6: Firouzja leads as Carlsen hits back

17-year-old Alireza Firouzja has powered into the Altibox
Norway Chess lead with four rounds to go after defeating Aryan Tari for a second day in a row. In second place is Magnus Carlsen, who got instant revenge
for losing his streak with a smooth win over Jan-Krzysztof Duda. Levon Aronian
had a great chance to take the lead, move up to world no. 4 and inflict a third
loss in a row on Fabiano Caruana, but with the Armenian in deep time trouble it
was Fabi who won a game of which Vladimir Kramnik said, “I haven’t seen
anything as entertaining as this for quite a while!”

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

And here’s the day’s live commentary from Judit Polgar and
Vladimir Kramnik, who were joined on the show by polyglot and chess player
turned businessman Joel Lautier – meaning we had two players commentating who
have a plus score against Garry Kasparov in classical chess!

Carlsen 1-0 Duda

Jan-Krzysztof Duda wasn’t given long to bask in the glory of
ending the 125-game unbeaten streak of perhaps the greatest chess player of all
time. The unusual pairings system at this year’s Norway Chess meant he faced
Magnus Carlsen again, this time with the black pieces, and no-one was shocked
to see the World Champion roar back. Magnus afterwards talked about the streak
ending.

To be honest, losing wasn’t that big a deal. 100 games, and
then the record streak, those were the ones that I really cared about, and
after that I knew I was going to lose at some point, especially since I was
taking risks in my games. But anyway, losing a poor game like yesterday is
obviously unpleasant no matter what’s at stake. I was mostly upset about losing
in general, not so much the streak. But at least now there’s no streak, so I
don’t have to worry about that!

Magnus surprised his opponent in the opening with 8.Nge2
(Duda said 8.Nf3 would have transposed to positions he’d analysed) and knew
that the position after 10.Ng3 was good for White… but he wasn’t sure how!

I knew the position after Ng3 and basically all the way up
to that point I was sort of thinking I know Ng3, but how am I going to respond
to 10…c5, and I couldn’t see anything other than this pawn sac, so I was just
hoping that it would be good!

After thinking for 18 minutes, Magnus did go for the pawn
sacrifice with 11.cxd5 cxd4 12.Nce4!, which in fact seems to have been stronger
than either he or his opponent imagined. Both players felt it only gave White sufficient
compensation for the pawn, with Duda comparing it with the pawn sacrifice Magnus made the day
before.

Yesterday I was much more scared than today, definitely!

Things collapsed for Black with startling speed, however.
Magnus felt Duda’s 16…Nc5, the first new move of the game, followed by 17…Ba6,
“just didn’t work tactically”, although it seems it might have if 18…Nd5! had been played instead of 18…Qe8?!. 19…Rc8? was already the point of no return.

Magnus said he “couldn’t refute” putting the rook on d8
instead, which had been Duda’s original intention, but the Polish player said
he “miscalculated terribly” here and then “missed the house!”

20.b4! Nb7 left Black with utterly miserable minor pieces on
a6 and b7, and little hope of stopping the assault on his king. At least
Kramnik felt there was no need for Duda to worry about the outcome
of the game, since he could no longer change it! 

And in general, why be scared when facing a great player?

Duda was refreshingly honest afterwards.

Here he confessed he’d missed Carlsen’s devastating 24.Nf6+!,
threatening a fork on e6, among other things, and the game swiftly ended 24…Kh8
25.Qxe6 Ra8 26.Qxd5! Black resigns

That proved to be enough for 2nd place for Magnus, since his
hottest young rival had moved up to first.

Tari 0-1 Firouzja

Alireza Firouzja again played the Caro-Kann and was already
worrying his opponent when he laid the foundations for an assault on the white
king with g5 and Rg8. Alireza was very clear, however, about where the decisive
mistake was made.

Here Aryan went for 21.c5?, with Alireza commenting:

I think he shouldn’t close the centre with this b5, c5. He
should have kept the centre, because then my attack got very dangerous and he
didn’t have any plan, I think, so the game got very easy for me – my moves are
very logical.

Both players in fact talked about logic afterwards, with
Aryan lamenting:

I was trying to make logical moves, but it just… I don’t
know… chess is difficult! He’s amazingly strong, of course, and I think he
played very well these two games. What can I say?

With the centre closed, Alireza had free rein to attack, and
while 22.g3 was weakening (the bishop would stay en prise on f4 for the
next 10 moves!) it’s hard to suggest alternatives.

Our commentators felt Alireza should have sacrificed the
bishop on g3 here, but 22…g4! was perhaps even stronger, and certainly more
stylish. After 23.hxg4 Rxg4 24.Bh3 Rg7 25.Kh1 (Alireza suggested giving up the
exchange with 25.Nf1 might be a better try)…

25…e5! heralded the final assault, with White given no time
to shore up the defences. 26.Bxd7 Qxd7 27.Nh2 Qh3! and there was no way to deal
with the black pieces massing around the king. Alireza went on to win in 34
moves.

The youngster is having a dream return to over-the-board
chess and has now leapfrogged Duda into 17th place on the live rating list,
with a 2744.5 rating.

Aronian 0-1 Caruana

This was the Game of the Day, at least when it came to
entertainment. Fabiano Caruana came into it after losing classical games to Carlsen
and the same opponent Aronian, and it was even three losses in a row if you
count the Armageddon game against Firouzja. “My motivation was basically at
zero,” Fabi told Fiona Steil-Antoni.

He explained how he approached the game to Kramnik and
Polgar:

Yesterday I was about as demoralised as I can get. I really
didn’t feel like playing… but you have to! At least I thought I should try to
play a normal game, because the last two games were really, really bad, not
just the result but the quality was also… especially against Magnus, I was
really disgusted with my play! So I at least got to play a normal game. I was
actually really happy that I got a fight out of the opening – at least it wasn’t
some boring position where I have no chances and I just have to slowly
equalise. At least I thought this is a very sharp fight.

In a c3-Sicilian it was Levon who was burning up time on the
clock early on, but Fabi admitted that he’d overlooked 21.Bc2! and it turned
out he was one tempo short with his counterplay. The game turned on the position after 22…f5.

Fabi commented, “Levon also felt that he was much better and
objectively he probably was, but it just felt like an unclear game from
beginning to end to me”. Our commentators had the same impression, but the
computer here gives 23.Ng5! as simply winning, with the pressure on the f7 and
e6-pawns too great. After 23….Be8 24.Qe2! the computer finds nothing better
than sacrificing the exchange on d4, while other defences also fail. 23…Kg7
24.Rxe6! is the most spectacular, but 23…Kg8 24.Bb3! and taking on f7 next also
wins the house.

“I was very happy to see 23.g4?!”, said Fabi, and it didn’t
help that Levon made that move with just 16 minutes left on his clock. 23…Qf4
equalises on the spot, according to the computer, but Fabi was drawn to the
fantastically complicated lines after 23…f6!?. In practical terms that was a
good choice, since soon after 24.g5 (not as bad a move as Fabi thought) 24…Qf4 25.gxf6 Qg4+
the world no. 2 had the option of repeating moves for a draw.

Fabi rejected the repetition, however, which made perfect
sense, given Levon had only 45 seconds to make 8 moves, with no increment
before move 40. “At some point it wasn’t even clear if he would make the time
control,” said Fabi, later telling Judit and Vlad:

The only thing that was missing was mutual time trouble,
because I kind of always had time on my clock. If I was also down to seconds it
would be quite a bit more exciting!

The critical moments came after 32…Qc4+! (rejecting the
repetition) 33.Bd3 Rxd3!

Levon here could have played the amazing 34.Ne5!, and the computer says it’s a draw, but as Fabi
asked, how can you allow discovered check with just seconds on your clock? If Levon had gone for it, he might have been rewarded,
since after Fabi’s planned 34…Re3+ 35.Kd2 Rxe5 36.Rxe5 Black is actually
winning with 36…Rd8+! Of course Levon might miss the best lines with no time on
his clock, while Fabi would no doubt have stopped to think and might have
played the computer’s drawing 34…Nf4+! 35.Kf1 Rg3+! instead.

In the game, Levon’s 34.Rxd3 was a decent move, but to
prolong the contest he needed to meet 34…Nf4+ with 35.Qxf4!! After 35.Ke3 Fabiano
was picking up material with check: 35…Qe4+ 36.Kd2 Qxd3+ 37.Kc1 Qxf3 38.f7 Qg4.
Levon was out of time and out of luck.

That remarkable turnaround cost Levon Aronian the lead and a
chance to move up to world no. 4 on the live rating list, while it means
Fabiano now goes into his second game against Magnus with a chance not only to
take revenge but to overtake the World Champion if he can win their game.

Levon also has a chance to get back into the lead, but he
needs to beat Alireza Firouzja with the black pieces. Duda-Tari remains, for
now, a battle for last place.

Tune in to live commentary with Vladimir Kramnik and Judit Polgar from 16:50 CEST.

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