Aronian-Carlsen as Altibox Norway Chess begins

Magnus Carlsen will play his first official game of classical
chess in 7 months as he takes on Levon Aronian in today’s Round 1 of Altibox
Norway Chess. The first undisputed supertournament to be held over-the-board since
March again combines classical chess and Armageddon, so that each match-up must
be decisive, though this year the weighting puts more emphasis on the classical
games. 14th World Chess Champion Vladimir Kramnik and Judit Polgar, the best
female chess player of all time, will commentate here on chess24 from 17:00

The 8th edition of Altibox Norway Chess begins today in the Clarion
Hotel Energy in Stavanger. The previous editions had all featured 10 players,
with the world’s best invited apart from one or two “local heroes”. That was the
plan for 2020 as well, until the coronavirus struck. This year’s event was
postponed from June to October, and has become a 6-player tournament. No chess
fan will want to miss it, however, since it features the world’s Top 2, the irrepressible
Levon Aronian and three of the most exciting juniors.

The pairings were decided in Sunday’s technical meeting, and
you can check them all out below (R1 = Round 1’s classical games, while A1 is Round 1’s Armageddon games, if required):

The format this time round is a variation on 2019, which
already introduced an Armageddon game if the classical game is drawn. The classical
games remain fast – two hours for all moves, with an increment only after move
40, and of only 10 seconds a move rather than the typical 30 seconds a move.
The Armageddon again gives White 10 minutes to Black’s 7, but with Black only
needing to draw. The main difference, however, is the scoring system.

In 2019 there were 2 points for a win in classical chess, 1.5
points for a win in Armageddon and 0.5 point for a loss in Armageddon. In 2020
there are now 3 points for a win in classical chess, 1.5 points for a win in
Armageddon and 1 point for a loss in Armageddon. The new scoring system
corrects some of the perceived injustice of the previous system – last year Ding Liren matched Magnus Carlsen’s +2 classical score, but finished in a
distant 6th place after losing 6 of his 7 Armageddon games.

The same performance in 2020 would have left him joint 2nd
with Fabiano Caruana, who commented back then:

I think the scoring system could be adjusted. It doesn’t
feel right that you can win a perfect game, and it’s very difficult to beat
these guys in a classical game, and you get 2 points, or you could make a bad
draw and your opponent hangs a bishop or something [and you get 1.5].

Levon Aronian, who would have dropped from 2nd to 6th, agreed:

It’s not really fair towards a guy like Ding who scored +2
and is not going to be in the Top 3. That’s just crazy. In my opinion, in my
humble opinion!

So this year there’s more reason to fight for a win in
classical chess, while we’re still guaranteed a winner of each encounter. 

going to be fun to watch, and how better to do so than with our official
broadcast, complete with video of the players and the amazing commentary duo of Judit Polgar and Vladimir Kramnik. Coronavirus concerns mean that Vladimir will
commentate from his home in Geneva, while Judit commentates from Budapest…

…but it’s certain to be a treat for chess fans. We also have
Fiona Steil-Antoni on scene in Stavanger to report from the venue.

Let’s take a look at the players via the Round 1 pairings.

Levon Aronian vs. Magnus Carlsen

This is a classic match-up between the only two players to
have competed in every edition of Norway Chess. Carlsen has had the upper-hand –
the only time he finished below Aronian was in 2017, when Levon won the
tournament and Magnus ended up in 9th place (!) – but the Armenian is one player
capable of upsetting the World Champion. We almost saw that in 2019, when Levon
was winning their classical game.

After the natural 54.g5! White is winning all the pawn
races, but Levon played 54.h5?! and only drew, before losing in Armageddon.
Magnus also escaped a lost position against Fabiano Caruana and comes into this
edition of Norway Chess not having lost in 121 classical games, or 2 years, 2
months and 5 days since losing to Shakhriyar Mamedyarov in Biel on July 31st

What makes things trickier is that despite an incredible run
in online chess, Magnus has barely played any classical chess in 2020. His last
game was on March 8th, but that Norwegian League game against a 2100-rated
opponent barely counts. Before that he played the last round of the Tata Steel
Masters in Wijk aan Zee on January 26th, over 8 months ago. Levon is also
likely to be rusty, but he did play four games recently in the Chess Bundesliga
in Karlsruhe, Germany. His four draws, while playing the St. Louis Rapid and
Blitz at night, didn’t set the world on fire, but could be considered useful

The last encounter between Magnus and Levon was online, just
over a week ago, in the semi-final of the chess24 Banter Series. Levon started with
two wins before Magnus scored 5.5/6 in the next six games to clinch the match.
We can expect less singing in Stavanger!

It’s going to be an interesting battle. The feeling is that Levon’s potential is greater than his
achievements so far – some more World Championship success would have put him
higher than no.
33 on Jan and Peter’s ranking of the 50 Greatest Chess Players of All Time

Aryan Tari vs. Fabiano Caruana

This match-up has a clear favourite, with world no. 2
Fabiano Caruana outrating 21-year-old Aryan Tari by almost 200 rating points.
Fabi began 2020 in stellar form, winning the Tata Steel Masters with a
brilliant +7, impressed during the online summer, got some experience playing
over-the-board in the Bundesliga and also impressed in Norway Chess in 2019 –
almost beating Magnus in classical chess in the final round before becoming the
only player to beat him in Armageddon. In fact Fabi has finished ahead of
Magnus in 3 of the 5 Norway Chess tournaments he’s played, including winning
the event in 2018.

Working in favour of Aryan Tari in his debut in his home
supertournament is that Fabi may be distracted by the Candidates Tournament.
The world no. 2 scored a disappointing 50% in Yekaterinburg in March and will
be focused on trying to catch the leaders when (if) battle recommences on
November 1st. Aryan has also had the most “normal” season of chess of all the
players, competing in over-the-board events in June, August and September.

Duda vs. Alireza Firouzja

This looked all set to be the year of Alireza Firouzja. After
a brilliant World Rapid and Blitz the Iranian went into the Tata Steel Masters as
a 16-year-old and raced to a +3 score after 7 rounds. Losses to Carlsen,
Caruana and Anand followed, but he shrugged that off and went on to win the
Prague Masters ahead of five 2700+ grandmasters. Beating Magnus Carlsen in the
Banter Blitz Cup final showed both his fearlessness and his mastery of online

It’s been surprising, therefore, that now 17-year-old Alireza
hasn’t continued his rise online this summer, instead showing feet of clay in
most of the online events he’s competed in. He failed to make an impact on the
Magnus Carlsen Chess Tour and most recently finished last in both Chess 9LX
and the St. Louis Rapid and Blitz. That means the hype has died down, for now,
but that could work in Alireza’s favour. It will be fascinating to see what
kind of level he shows in over-the-board chess and whether he can hurt the big
guns again.

At 22 years old, Jan-Krzysztof Duda, a late replacement for
Anish Giri, has reached the age at which he needs to post results instead of
relying on being a “young talent”. The Polish star can point to his current
ranking as world no. 15 as more than decent, but his goal is to reach the very
top and challenge for the World Championship title. He’s had some online
highlights, starring in the Online Chess Olympiad and beating Magnus in the
Lindores Abbey Rapid Challenge prelims, while the break has also allowed him to
focus on his university studies, which should end this year.

The Round 1 match-up with Firouzja has some added spice,
since their only classical encounter so far saw Firouzja
win with the black pieces in the Prague Masters
earlier this year. Duda
said afterwards that he’d put extra pressure on himself since he’d calculated
that he was nearing a year unbeaten with White. Jan-Krzysztof bounced back to
beat Vidit in the final round and join a 5-way tie for 1st place, though it was
Alireza who benefited as he went on to win a tiebreak against Vidit.

In short, we’re in for a fascinating Day 1 of Altibox Norway
Chess! Don’t miss all the action live here on chess24 from 17:00 CEST.

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