There was some drama in the last round of the Norway Chess supertournament, but it was a little surprising that it mostly came from the victor, Sergey Karjakin, rather than his main rivals. Magnus Carlsen and Viswanathan Anand were half a point behind, and with Karjakin having the white pieces against Veselin Topalov it seemed they needed to win to have a chance.
Carlsen had Black against Levon Aronian, and never came close to getting anything. He equalized with no problem in a Queen's Gambit Declined, but the opening is so solid that even once Carlsen obtained a token edge Aronian didn't have much difficulty steering the ship to the drawing harbor after trading almost all the pieces.
Anand, by contrast, not only didn't come close to winning; he even lost against the resurgent Wang Hao. Like Carlsen, Anand came out of the opening (an unusual Symmetrical English) in fine shape with the black pieces. That was the good news, but from 17 on it was all bad news. If Anand had traded queens he would have kept equality; instead, 14...Bxa2? 15.Qa4! got him in trouble, and then 16...Rfd8 sealed his fate. Perhaps Anand missed Wang Hao's 16th and 17th moves, or maybe the oversight had to do with something that happened later in the sharp tactical sequence that followed. Whatever the case, Wang Hao finished with a material advantage, and in the end Black had no hopes of a fortress against White's powerful queen.
Radjabov-Svidler was a short draw, preventing Svidler from catching up to Carlsen, but Hikaru Nakamura did catch Carlsen by defeating Jon Ludwig Hammer. Hammer has gone after his opponents in this tournament, not just trying to draw or even win but to win by landing haymakers - knockout shots. So it was here too, as Hammer went all-out on the white side of a Noteboom, shoving pawns in the center and going for a kingside attack as his queenside collapsed. It looked a little scary and made for a great show for the spectators, but Nakamura had everything well-calculated. Had Hammer not resigned when he did, on move 34, he would soon have found himself down a queen and a rook and getting mated. Sometimes when you go for broke, you wind up broke!
That left Karjakin-Topalov. Karjakin was surprised not by the Najdorf, but by Topalov's choosing 7...Qc7 (after 6.Bg5 e6 7.f4) for the first time in his career. He handled things a bit unsurely, and after 16.Nd5 (16.Na5 was better) Black enjoyed an edge. There were no big swings through the time control, with neither player being more than slightly better, and the position was so difficult to play that inaccuracies were easy to make. I don't know if Karjakin was playing for a win or just to hang on, but it's clear that Topalov was pushing, whether or not he was objectively better. Topalov's 45...Rbb5? changed that, however, as 46.Qc2 left White clearly better. (Topalov may have missed that on 46...Rb3 47.Nd2 Rcxc3 White has 48.Rc4+, winning. Even if he throws in 47...Bxd2 48.Rxd2 and only then plays 48...Rcxc3, 49.Rc4+ is very strong here as well.) In the end Karjakin repeated moves from a position of strength, preferring guaranteed tournament victory to the chance for a few more rating points. (It would have pushed him to #4 in the world, but he can pursue an additional 3.8 rating points another day.)
Congratulations to the victor, Sergey Karjakin! I'm reminded that showcase events don't always turn out as the organizers planned. 100 years ago a double round-robin tournament was organized in Havana, Cuba, but hometown hero Jose Raul Capablanca finished second, half a point behind Frank Marshall - thanks in good part to losing a game to him in the second cycle. 50 years ago the First Piatigorsky Cup was organized in part for Bobby Fischer's benefit; he didn't show up. Three years later he did play in the Second Piatigorsky Cup, only to finish half a point behind Boris Spassky, who beat him in their game from the first cycle. And so it was here: Norway had their first super-tournament, and Magnus Carlsen finished half a point behind. (A consolation: his "great predecessors" went on to become world champions.) Here are the full standings:
1. Karjakin 6 (out of 9)
2-3. Carlsen, Nakamura 5.5
4-6. Svidler, Aronian, Anand 5
7. Wang Hao 4.5
8. Topalov 4 (one loss and eight draws!)
9. Radjabov 3 (losing 12 more rating points - he has dropped 60 points since the start of the Candidates!)
10. Hammer 1.5