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    Entries in Norway Chess 2014 (12)

    Sunday
    Jun152014

    Norway Chess: Karjakin Wins Again!

    [Sorry about the delay - I was otherwise engaged yesterday. All of you probably already know what happened, but for completeness' sake we'll write a quick wrap-up and pretend what follows is news.]

    There was plenty of drama in the final round of the Norway Chess tournament, with three players vying for first place; two of them facing each other. Sergey Karjakin led by half a point over Fabiano Caruana - who had the white pieces against him in the last round - and Magnus Carlsen, who had White against bottom seed Simen Agdestein. Thus while Karjakin led it would be hard to describe him as the favorite.

    Indeed, Karjakin could easily have finished in third place. While Carlsen didn't get anything against Agdestein through the first time control, the latter faltered soon afterwards. Releasing the tension with 42...bxc4+ was a significant step in the wrong direction, and "consistent" play led to a speedy loss. Meanwhile, Karjakin's 31st move was an error, and had Caruana centralized his knight to e4 rather than violating old Tarrasch's maxim with 32.Na4 Karjakin would have been in trouble. Instead, Caruana lost the thread, and was completely lost by the end of the time control.

    So Karjakin is once again the winner of an event the Norwegian organizers presumably designed to showcase their star, the world champion. I believe I've asked the question before, and wonder what the stats are about how players in matches and round-robins fare in their home countries, given a multinational field.

    Moving on from brief ruminations about a possible home field disadvantage, let's quickly summarize the other results. Veselin Topalov missed a big chance to win his third game in the second half of the tournament, though it was only there for one move. Levon Aronian should have played 23...c5, when he would have had only a slight disadvantage. Instead he played 23...Bg7?, when either 24.d5 or 24.Qxb5 axb5 25.d5 would have given White a big advantage. (Topalov seemed to think it was just winning when he mentioned it in the post-game press conference.) Fortunately for Aronian, Topalov played 24.h4?, and this time Black played 24...c5 - now with equality.

    Vladimir Kramnik went loaded for bear against Alexander Grischuk's Gruenfeld, and energetic and imaginative attacking play was about to lead to success. All Kramnik needed to do was play 31.fxg6 and he would be winning or at least close to winning. The main idea is that after 31...hxg6 32.d7 Black cannot play 32...Rd4 because of 33.Rxg6+; this resource was unavailable to Kramnik after 31.d7? Rd4. After a further error (32.Qf3 instead of 32.Qc2 or the cool 32.fxg6! Rxd3 33.gxf7+ Kh8 34.Rxd3=) Kramnik was lost, and indeed went on to lose the game. Kramnik started the tournament +2 and finished -1 - another disappointing result for the ex-champ in 2014.

    Finally, Anish Giri and Peter Svidler put disappointing tournaments to bed with a 20-move draw by repetition.

    Final Standings:

    • 1. Karjakin 6/9
    • 2. Carlsen 5.5
    • 3. Grischuk 5
    • 4-5. Caruana, Topalov 4.5
    • 6-9. Aronian, Svidler, Giri, Kramnik 4
    • 10. Agdestein 3.5

    As Carlsen himself stated after the event, Agdestein's last place wasn't really a fair result, but he was unable to convert many superior positions. Had he done so, he might have been the tournament victor or at least have been in the running. Anyway, it was an entertaining event, and next up is the world rapid & blitz championship, starting tomorrow.

    Thursday
    Jun122014

    Norway Chess, Round 8: Karjakin Beats Kramnik, Leads Entering the Final Round

    It was a crazy round at the Norway Chess tournament today, with big swings in most of the games. The most pronounced drop came in Peter Svidler vs. Magnus Carlsen, where Carlsen was coasting to a quick and easy win until the very bad and wholly unnecessary 24...Rfxf4; plenty of other moves would have maintained a winning advantage.

    Levon Aronian didn't have quite the advantage Carlsen did, but he was probably winning as well against Fabiano Caruana. After the game Aronian suggested 28.Qc3 instead of his 28.Bxd5, and even after 28.Bxd5 exd5 White would have kept control with 29.Qb5+. The key was not to move his knight, but Aronian admitted to missing Caruana's idea with ...Qd2 (see move 31 in the game), after which the position was simply drawn.

    Alexander Grischuk enjoyed a significant and enduring advantage against Anish Giri, but instead of going for Re8-b8 on moves 36 or 38 played 38.Nxf5 instead. While winning a pawn, it forced his rook to defend against Black's b-pawn from a passive rather than an active location, and Giri was able to draw by a thread.

    Simen Agdestein - Veselin Topalov was a game without a hill-shaped evaluation graph. For once Agdestein was in trouble in the tournament, and unlike several of his opponents, he was unable to escape once he was in the hole. Topalov jumped back to 50%, while Agdestein dropped to -1.

    Finally, the most important game in terms of the standings: Sergey Karjakin beat Vladimir Kramnik to take over clear first. For most of the first time control it looked stably equal, and one would normally expect Kramnik to hold an equal technical position with ease. It didn't happen, in part because it didn't remain technical. Shortly before the end of the first time control Karjakin won Black's a-pawn for his f-pawn, resulting in both players having significant pawn majorities on opposite flanks. Here Karjakin outplayed Kramnik, and won very deservedly.

    And so it's deja vu all over again. Karjakin won this tournament last year, and now he leads with a round to go. It's also reminiscent of this year's Candidates' tournament, where Karjakin started poorly but came on like gangbusters at the end. It would be too soon to make any declarations, however, as he has a tough pairing while Carlsen in particular has a comparatively easy one. Here are tomorrow's last round pairings:

    • Carlsen (4.5) - Agdestein (3.5)
    • Giri (3.5) - Svidler (3.5)
    • Kramnik (4) - Grischuk (4)
    • Caruana (4.5) - Karjakin (5)
    • Topalov (4) - Aronian (3.5)
    Tuesday
    Jun102014

    Norway Chess, Round 7: Karjakin Joins The Tie For First After Giri Self-Destructs

    Round 7 of the Norway Chess tournament was a very long one, with four of the five games going past five hours, even past five and a half hours, and one game nearly reaching the whopping eight hour mark. But despite that the games were relatively uneventful. Peter Svidler and Simen Agdestein drew quickly, and the next game to finish was between Magnus Carlsen and Alexander Grischuk. Carlsen had the better structure in a knight vs. bishop ending and eventually won a pawn, but the material was too limited and Black's pieces too active for him to convert the edge.

    Next to finish was Fabiano Caruana vs. Veselin Topalov. Caruana had what chances there were with his slight material advantage (rook and two pawns vs. bishop and knight, plus other material for both sides), but Topalov's pieces were well-coordinated against the pawns. In fact, the previous sentence requires correction. There was one brief moment early in the game where Topalov had a chance: if he played 23...Nb6 instead of 23...Ne5 he would have had a serious advantage, according to the computer. Missing that one shot, the game remained very balanced for the remaining 43 moves.

    Vladimir Kramnik and Levon Aronian agreed to a draw mere moments after the Caruana-Topalov game finished, but despite similarity of result, and length both in time and moves the storyline was the reverse of its counterpart. For a long time nothing much was happening, with Kramnik trying to gnaw away at Black's slightly weak pawn on c6 (the product of the minority attack b2-b4-b5xc6). After 50 moves Kramnik was finally making some progress, but precision was needed. Apparently 51.Qb6 was the right move, because after Kramnik's very natural 51.Ba4 Aronian was ready with the tactically alert 51...f4! 52.exf4 Bxh4!, assuring himself of sufficient counterplay to draw. The follow-up with 55...Bxg3+!! 56.Kxg3 h4+ 57.Kh2 Qd6 was especially nice, after which it was clear that Kramnik needed to acquiesce in the draw lest something worse happen to him.

    That valuable bit of wisdom escaped the young Anish Giri, who suffered a rather painful and altogether unnecessary defeat against Sergey Karjakin. Giri inflicted doubled and isolated pawns on Karjakin all the way back on move 18, and then did very little for about the next 36 moves. At that point Karjakin managed to improve his structure, albeit at the cost of immobilizing one of his rooks. 20-some odd moves later Giri won the exchange, but Karjakin believed - maybe rightly, maybe not - that he had an unbreakable fortress. After collecting the exchange on move 76, Giri engaged in another long session of doing nothing/very little until he hit on a very good idea, to put the queen on h1 and go for the g4 break. The latter finally occurred at move 116, and it worked. The position was very different and somewhat dangerous for Black, and Karjakin made what should have been a fatal error when he played 118...c5. That move was desirable and worked out, but he needed to play 118...Qc7 instead. Not an easy move to play, especially as it gives up the d-pawn.

    After 118...c5 119.Qf7+ Ka6 White needed to ask himself what was Black's idea or threat, and then he would have found 120.Qd7 (or 120.Qe8), preventing Black from (safely) activating his queen with ...Qc6. Having eliminated Black's main source of counterplay, Giri could have finished Karjakin off after activating his rook. Instead he played 120.Rc2?, and after 120...Qc6! 121.Qg6 c4! Black was completely fine. Now it was White who needed to show a modicum of accuracy and - more importantly - White also needed to recognize that he was in more danger than Karjakin. Giri failed at this task, and rather than repeating the position with 131.Ka2, asking Karjakin if he had any good ideas, he played 131.Rc4?? Karjakin played 131...Bc3, and White is getting mated in pretty obvious fashion Giri resigned right away. (Games, without notes, are here.)

    As a result of this well-deserved victory, Karjakin is now tied for first, while Giri is tied for last; had Giri won the opposite would have been the case! One point still separates first place from last with two rounds to go, so everyone has all to play for on Thursday and Friday. Tomorrow is a rest day, and here's what we have to look forward to in round 8:

    • Aronian (3) - Caruana (4)
    • Karjakin (4) - Kramnik (4)
    • Grischuk (3.5) - Giri (3)
    • Svidler (3) - Carlsen (4)
    • Agdestein (3.5) - Topalov (3)

    Monday
    Jun092014

    Norway Chess, Round 6: Four Draws and a Kramnik Loss

    To Veselin Topalov, naturally. No matter what Vladimir Kramnik says in this interview pretending that he isn't affected by Topalov over the board, his fairly poor results against him since their world championship match tell a different story. Kramnik used to own him, but now, no matter how bad Topalov's form is in any given event, he is even looking like a favorite against him.

    With the loss, the Norway Chess tournament now has three co-leaders: Kramnik, Magnus Carlsen (who drew a Berlin ending with Black against Sergey Karjakin), and Fabiano Caruana (who drew with Black against Simen Agdestein). Their draws were "clean" - no one had a serious advantage at any point, and the same goes for the other two draws. Levon Aronian had White against Anish Giri, but ultimately had the (not-too-difficult) task of forcing a draw while a pawn down. Finally, Alexander Grischuk and Peter Svidler drew quickly.

    The games are here (without notes), and tomorrow's round 7 pairings follow:

    • Svidler (2.5) - Agdestein (3)
    • Carlsen (3.5) - Grischuk (3)
    • Giri (3) - Karjakin (3)
    • Kramnik (3.5) - Aronian (2.5)
    • Caruana (3.5) - Topalov (2.5)

    Sunday
    Jun082014

    Norway Chess, Round 5: Kramnik Beats Caruana, Leads; Carlsen Beats Aronian

    There were two heavyweight battles today at the Norway Chess tournament, one between Magnus Carlsen (world champion and world #1) and Levon Aronian (world #2), the other between the Fabiano Caruana (the tournament leader and world #3) and Vladimir Kramnik (ex-world champion, [now] #4 in the world and in second in the tournament). Both games were long, both games were tough, and both games had a winner.

    Taking them in reverse order, Caruana entered the round in first and in excellent shape, having already played Carlsen and with (alleged) tournament rabbit Simen Agdestein next on the schedule. All he needed was to survive Kramnik with the black pieces, and his chances of overall victory would be excellent. Not a trivial task, especially with Black, but Caruana coped with the pressure of the moment and his opponent's moves for a long time. It was only at move 50 that he cracked, and with a very simple error: 50...Ke8?? Instead 50...Kf8 or 50...Kg8 would draw easily, almost trivially. The point is that 51.Kf6 would be adequately met by 51...Rb6+, and White is going nowhere. As White has few (no?) other real ideas, it's just a draw. The problem with 50...Ke8 was that after 51.Kf6 Rb6+ White had 52.Kg7, but even here Black can put up plenty of resistance with 52...Rb3. Instead Caruana resigned, and Kramnik supplanted him in first place.

    As for the Carlsen-Aronian game, it was more heartbreaking in one way, less in another. Aronian didn't lose the game with a one-move error, but unlike Caruana who was always fighting for a draw, Aronian had a winning or nearly winning position before the time control. Playing 32...h5, as suggested by the engines and by Aronian himself immediately after the game would have kept White bottled up and in desperate trouble. Instead, Aronian made a series of mistakes up to the end of the time control, and after his 40th move he was probably lost. There were some later moments when he was briefly back in the game, but Carlsen's technique eventually told. With the win Carlsen moved into a tie with Caruana for second, half a point behind Kramnik.

    There was a third winner on the day, Anish Giri, and his win was also a piece of good luck. Veselin Topalov was always fine against him with Black in a Rauzer Sicilian, and after 29 moves the position was equal. Then Giri played 30.f5??, and was lost after 30...Re5. Fortunately for the youngster, Topalov met 31.Re1 not with 31...d5, winning material, but 31...Kh8?? not only surrendered the advantage; it gave Giri a winning position. With the win Giri got back to 50%.

    Also extremely lucky today: Alexander Grischuk. ATR* Simen Agdestein was winning with Black in the same line of the Classical French he essayed against Sergey Karjakin in round 3. Agdestein varied first, but still had a little trouble early on. Agdestein handled the complicated position better than his opponent, and Grischuk didn't have enough compensation for his two pawn deficit. Agdestein's biggest chance was a tactical one: 39...Rxg2+! would have won on the spot, leaving Grischuk only the choice between two different hopelessly lost endings three pawns in arrears. Agdestein missed it, and let Grischuk slip out of trouble with a draw. Agdestein has five draws in five games, and on paper is doing great. His result so far is surely exceeding everyone's pre-tournament expectations except maybe his own. But he has let several opportunities slip, and at some point that may discourage him.

    Finally, Peter Svidler had an advantage against Karjakin for a while, but didn't manage to keep it. It looks like the key moment was on move 23, when 23.Nh4 (rather than 23.h3) looks rather unpleasant, threatening both Nf5 and to take on c6. Black could play 23...Ne7, but after 24.Bxa8 Rxa8 25.Rxb5 it looks like White has an extra pawn for nothing. Ultimately, the game was drawn.

    The games, with my notes, are here; tomorrow's round 6 pairings follow:

    • Aronian (2) - Giri (2.5)
    • Karjakin (2.5) - Carlsen (3)
    • Grischuk (2.5) - Svidler (2)
    • Topalov (1.5) - Kramnik (3.5) (Uh oh...)
    • Agdestein (2.5) - Caruana (3)

    * ATR = Alleged Tournament Rabbit

    Saturday
    Jun072014

    Norway Chess, Round 4: Caruana Continues To Lead After A Day Of Draws

    Today's round at the Norway Chess tournament wasn't the most exciting one. Four of the five games were drawn, three pretty uneventfully. Fabiano Caruana had the most interesting draw of the day, and had some pressure against Anish Giri late in the first time control. In mutual time trouble he was unable to keep the advantage, and the game quickly petered out in the second time control.

    Vladimir Kramnik entered and exited the day in second place after a draw with ostensible tournament rabbit Simen Agdestein. After Agdestein's 13.d5, however, Black was never going to win the game, absent many serious errors by White, and while Kramnik almost managed to scrape up something out of nothing, a few accurate moves by Agdestein late in the first time control sufficed to hold the balance.

    Alexander Grischuk was tied with Kramnik for second entering the round, and when Sergey Karjakin offered a questionable exchange sac on move 17 Black (Grischuk) was objectively better. The position may have been easier for White to handle, and this was especially so after Grischuk's too-ambitious 22...b5. He hoped to achieve ...a5 and ...b4 from there, but by the time he made those moves White had achieved considerable activity. Instead, 22...b6 was more stable, keeping everything under control. Both players were in some time trouble, and by the time it was over Karjakin had managed to outplay him. It wasn't winning yet, but Grischuk failed to put up the best resistance in the second time control and lost decisively. With his fourth consecutive decisive result Grischuk fell to 50%, while Karjakin got back to 50% and won his first classical game since the Candidates' tournament.

    The games featuring the two highest-rated players weren't very interesting. Magnus Carlsen had Black against Veselin Topalov, and was a little worse at the end. Topalov found a nice pawn sac in exchange for the bishop pair and something of a queenside bind, but rather than play it out he acceded to an early repetition of moves; the game ended in a draw after 28.Bc7. Not very Topalovian, and it's curious that both Carlsen and Agdestein have drawn all their games. As for Levon Aronian vs. Peter Svidler, Aronian had a very small pull for a while in a theoretically significant 8.Rb1 Gruenfeld, but Svidler held without much of a sweat. The players continued until the time control, and then called it a day.

    The games are here (without notes); here are tomorrow's round 5 pairings:

    • Grischuk (2) - Agdestein (2) (whose streak will continue?)
    • Svidler (1.5) - Karjakin (2)
    • Carlsen (2) - Aronian (2)
    • Giri (1.5) - Topalov (1.5)
    • Kramnik (2.5) - Caruana (3)

    Friday
    Jun062014

    Norway Chess, Round 3: Grischuk & Kramnik Win, But Caruana Continues To Lead

    Round 3 of the Norway Chess tournament was eventful, with a lot of movement and excitement at the top. Fabiano Caruana entered and left the round in clear first and with a half point lead, but it could easily have been different - both ways. Early on Magnus Carlsen obtained a serious edge, and later on Caruana had excellent winning chances before the world champion scraped out a draw.

    Levon Aronian entered the round in clear second, but blundered in the opening and was lost after just 14 moves. Understandably he continued through to the end of the first time control before giving up, though Alexander Grischuk never gave him a chance to get back into the game. Grischuk now has 2/3, good enough for a tie for second and a career high (live) rating of 2797. Caruana and Grischuk might end this tournament the 7th and 8th players in chess history to obtain official ratings of 2800 or better; right now Caruana is at 2801.7.

    Also winning in round 3 and tied for second is Vladimir Kramnik, who defeated Anish Giri with the black pieces. Interestingly, both Kramnik and Nigel Short (in commentary) felt that Kramnik was dominating all the way, with the only real question being whether he could break through or not. The engine completely disagrees and isn't much impressed by either Kramnik's or Giri's play. Fortunately for humankind, the engine isn't in the tournament, and Kramnik's pressure - whether real or only felt - eventually proved too much for the young Dutch player.

    Simen Agdestein could have joined the tie for second with a win over Sergey Karjakin, and he played fantastically well through the first time control to put himself on the verge of success. Unfortunately, errors on move 48 and especially 55 allowed Karjakin to survive - barely.

    Finally, Peter Svidler and Veselin Topalov rounded out the action with a game that was interesting in its own right, but of less dramatic significance than the other four games. Svidler was able to make some progress in the middlegame; enough to force Topalov to sac a pawn but not quite enough to reach a winning endgame.

    The games, with my comments, are here.

    Friday is a rest day, and on Saturday the round four pairings are as follows:

    • Caruana (2.5) - Giri (1)
    • Aronian (1.5) - Svidler (1)
    • Agdestein (1.5) - Kramnik (2)
    • Karjakin (1) - Grischuk (2)
    • Topalov (1) - Carlsen (1.5)

    Wednesday
    Jun042014

    Norway Chess, Round 2: Caruana Wins Again

    Fabiano Caruano won his second straight game to open the Norway Chess tournament, beating Peter Svidler with what I'm pretty sure was some monster preparation in a Paulsen Sicilian. As he was the only winner in round 1 he remains the sole leader, and as an added bonus he has reached 2800 for the second time in his career. (It wasn't official the first time and it isn't yet official now, but it's still a wonderful milestone.)

    He was not the only winner today, though. Alexander Grischuk bounced back from his loss to Caruana by beating Veselin Topalov, finishing the game with a nice shot. Overall Grischuk played very well, but his persistent time trouble almost led to disaster for a second straight day. Had Topalov met 31...d4? with 32.gxf5 Grischuk would have been in trouble; instead, it was Topalov who lost the thread leading up to the time control, and he was punished severely.

    The day's other winner was Levon Aronian, who won a typical kind of queenside majority game against Sergey Karjakin. White was always better, and that advantage grew after Karjakin's optimistic decision to push his pawn from a5 to a3. He surely hoped and probably expected to swap off that pawn for White's b-pawn, but what happened instead was that White's newly passed b-pawn became a huge asset, one that ultimately won him the game.

    Vladimir Kramnik didn't achieve anything against Magnus Carlsen, and almost managed to become another victim of Carlsen's unparalleled ability to create something out of nothing. Almost, but not quite. Finally, tournament underdog Simen Agdestein drew his second straight game, this time against Anish Giri, but he was fortunate that his mistake on move 16 went unnoticed.

    The games, with my comments, are here; round 3 pairings follow:

     

    • Carlsen (1) - Caruana (2) (potentially a huge game for the final standings)
    • Grischuk (1) - Aronian (1.5)
    • Karjakin (.5) - Agdestein (1)
    • Giri (1) - Kramnik (1)
    • Svidler (.5) - Topalov (.5)

     

    Tuesday
    Jun032014

    Norway Chess, Round 1: Caruana The Sole Winner

    Fabiano Caruana may not have had much fun in yesterday's blitz tournament, but on day two of the Norway Chess event - the first day that really mattered - he wound up the only player with a win.

    The four draws were in each case the natural result, as none of the eight players was ever in serious trouble. Magnus Carlsen played a nice exchange sac against Anish Giri, but his pressure and passed c-pawn were only enough to hold the balance. The other Norwegian, Simen Agdestein, played a nice exchange sac against Levon Aronian and even had a little advantage despite the black pieces and a huge rating gap. Vladimir Kramnik had no difficulty in holding on the Black side of an English (a Reversed Sicilian) against Peter Svidler; lastly, Sergey Karjakin forced Veselin Topalov to sweat a bit after the latter's inaccurate and loosening 31...b5, but he was unable to convert it into something concrete.

    That leaves the game between Alexander Grischuk and Caruana, and it too was headed for a likely draw. Grischuk is a time trouble addict, however, and by around move 30 both players were down to their last minute. (Apparently Caruana was initially unaware of this!) Caruana was even shorter on time than Grischuk, but it was the latter who threw the game away in a single move, a blunder he probably wouldn't have made with the same amount of time on his clock in a blitz game. His 38.Qa2?? walked into an elementary combination: 38...Rxd3 39.exd3 Rb2, which would net Black an extra piece after 40.Q-anywhere normal 40...Qxf2+ and 41...Qxf3. Grischuk either resigned after 39...Rb2 or lost on time; either way it comes to the same thing. (Games here.)

    Round 2 Pairings:

     

    • Aronian - Karjakin
    • Kramnik - Carlsen (will Kramnik earn the right to engage in some new trash talk?)
    • Caruana - Svidler
    • Topalov - Grischuk
    • Agdestein - Giri

     

    Monday
    Jun022014

    Norway Chess: Round 1 Pairings

    Here are the round 1 pairings; full pairings (in crosstable format) can be found here. (HT: Allen Becker)

    • Aronian - Agdestein
    • Karjakin - Topalov
    • Grischuk - Caruana
    • Svidler - Kramnik
    • Carlsen - Giri

    There was some discussion during the live broadcast about what number one ought to pick, given the chance to choose first, and it seems that the current consensus is that pairing #5 is preferable to pairing #1. The latter gets a player the white pieces in the first two rounds, and could conceivably be just the thing for strong white players prone to jackrabbit starts. The advantage of #5 is that one has the convenient rhythm of alternating colors every game, and alone of all the pairing options lets a player both start and finish the tournament playing White.