Veselin Topalov had been riding high through the first seven rounds of the Norway Chess tournament, scoring an undefeated 6-1 that was a combination of strong play (against non-Norwegians) and good fortune (against Norwegians). He led by 1.5 points with just two rounds to go, but in round 8 he finally received his comeuppance at the hands of the youngest player in the tournament, Anish Giri. Topalov played an uncharacteristically passive line of the Queen's Indian/Catalan with Black, hoping to draw the resulting technical position. This really isn't Topalov's forte, however, and Giri simply outplayed him, step by step.
As a result tournament victory is still up for grabs, but Topalov is still in good shape. He is half a point ahead of Viswanathan Anand and a point or more ahead of everyone else, and he has White against Anand in the final round. If he can draw with White (or win), he wins the tournament; if he loses, then Anand wins. Anand obtained this opportunity by beating Jon Ludwig Hammer. Hammer was fine out of the opening and into the early middlegame, but drifted into a bit of pressure and then blundered a pawn on move 27 and some more material a few moves after that.
Hikaru Nakamura could have been in the running as well, had he managed to convert an extra pawn against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. The Frenchman was slippery though, and Nakamura couldn't manage to neutralize his opponent's counterplay and keep his extra pawn at the same time. With the draw Nakamura is a point out of first, tied for third with Giri half a point behind Anand.
The other games had no implications for first place (surprisingly). Fabiano Caruana slightly outplayed Alexander Grischuk with Black, but it wasn't enough to win the game. Finally, what would normally be one of the absolute highlights of any chess tournament, a battle between Magnus Carlsen and Levon Aronian, was almost an afterthought with both players near the bottom of the tournament table. Aronian played a terrific opening with Black and was somewhat better, only to go wrong with 21...Qb6. This gave Carlsen a very slight edge, which was neutralized, and then Aronian went awry again with 31...Nd3? and 34...Qxb2? Now he was losing, but when Carlsen with 36.Rc2?? Aronian had the chance to be better with 36...Qb8! Both players missed it, but a kibitzing Anand spotted it right away. (If only he had spotted ...Nxe5 in some game played in 2014....) Instead, Aronian blundered back and resigned on his 40th move, down a rook with no counterplay and the queens coming off.
The games, with my notes (except to Grischuk-Caruana), are here. These are the last-round pairings:
- Vachier-Lagrave (3.5) - Grischuk (3)
- Aronian (3) - Nakamura (5)
- Hammer (2) - Carlsen (3.5)
- Topalov (6) - Anand (5.5)
- Caruana (3.5) - Giri (5)