“I thought it would be nice to torture him!” said Magnus Carlsen of the endgame kill he chose to defeat his World Championship Challenger Ian Nepomniachtchi in Armageddon. The first game of their Round 4 Norway Chess clash was a draw in the Berlin Endgame, “the type of opening where neither side enjoys the game,” as Nepo put it. Meanwhile Sergey Karjakin beat Aryan Tari in Armageddon while Richard Rapport extended his lead by picking up another win in classical chess, this time against Alireza Firouzja.
You can replay all the games from the 2021 edition of Norway Chess using the selector below.
And here’s the day’s live commentary from Judit Polgar and Jovanka Houska.
Richard Rapport remains the only player to have scored 3 points for a win in classical chess in Stavanger this year, and now he’s done it twice!
We have to start, however, with the most anticipated clash of the day.
Carlsen 1/2-1/2 Nepomniachtchi (Magnus wins in Armageddon)
“It will be different when we play in the match, but now it’s just a normal tournament game,” said Ian Nepomniachtchi about the first of two clashes with Magnus Carlsen in Norway Chess this year, but in the run-up to the World Championship, by far the biggest event in chess, encounters between the two players are never entirely “normal”. As usual, Magnus left his opponent waiting…
When he did arrive Magnus played 1.e4 and soon we had the Berlin on the board.
It was an important fork in the road. Would we get one of the instant 14-move draws we’ve seen so many of in the last couple of years, or perhaps the Anti-Berlin with 4.d3 with the potential for rich, complicated middlegame positions. In the end Magnus opted for 4.0-0 and heading straight for the Berlin Endgame where Garry Kasparov’s World Championship hopes were thwarted against Vladimir Kramnik in London in 2000. Magnus commented:
I just wanted to play a normal game and I was not expecting the Berlin, so I had to kind of improvise.
The improvisation for both players was perhaps more about avoiding anything they might play in the World Championship match, with Magnus going for an old line where his light-squared bishop was brought out to e6 and then returned to c8.
Sergey Karjakin later remarked:
We studied these type of positions together with Kramnik before the Chess Olympiad in Khanty-Mansiysk in 2010! It was a long time ago, but this Be6, Bc8, we kind of spent some time on this line with him, and we thought it’s holdable for Black, and today we could see that probably we were right!
Magnus talked about how he’d suffered on the black side of these Berlin Endgames so wanted to try them with White, but, as so often in the Berlin, it’s incredibly hard to say if or when any real chances were missed. One moment Magnus pointed to after the game came after 22…b6.
Maybe I need to play 23.g4 immediately. I felt that this was not a concrete position, I thought that I can just build up, but it turns he has some ideas there which are very hard to meet.
Magnus went for 23.Rd2!? and after 23…Rd8 Nepo managed to neutralise any white edge with little trouble. 23.g4! does look better, but as Magnus himself explained:
I checked briefly and the computer says g4 — it’s still a draw, but he has to play very precisely.
So at first you might say it was advantage Nepo when it came to bragging rights. He’d held with the black pieces and kept his 4:1 lead in classical wins against the World Champion.
But as Ian explained:
I found out that in this format you are basically punished for a draw! You get not half a point, but a third part of the point, and then you’ve got to win Armageddon to make it look like a normal draw. This time I was punished for my draw.
Ian is right, since a classical win is worth 3 points, but to get half that, or 1.5, you need to win the Armageddon. The loser gets 1 point. That’s not news to Magnus, who has now played and won four Armageddons:
As long as I’m not winning any classical games so far I absolutely need to win the Armageddon games to have any chance in the tournament, and it’s nice to gain some confidence against him as well with the win!
You can watch the full Armageddon game below:
The Armageddon took a new path already from 1.Nf3, with Magnus pointing out that the position that arose was very similar to one he’d had against Jan-Krzysztof Duda in the Aimchess US Rapid quarterfinals. Nepo played more accurately than Duda, until 15…Qb6!? raised eyebrows.
Magnus told Judit:
Qb6 was strange. I thought he would play 15…c5… I think I’ve been tricked like this before in some game, and then just everything disappears.
It was, I believe, quite drawish, so I could draw immediately with a move like c5 instead of Qb6, just trade away all the pieces and all the pawns.
Already after 16.b4 Nd7!? 17.c5 Magnus was grabbing space, while everything fell apart for Nepo after 17…Qc7 18.Ra7 Qb8 19.Qa2 Bxf3 20.Bxf3 e5 21.b5.
Both players noted that 21…exd4 was normal here, and after e.g. 22.Bxd4 Bxd4 (22…Ne5!? is another option) 23.exd4 Nf6 Black is under pressure but still has good chances of holding. It was here, however, that Ian noted, “I found a brilliant combination after which I just wanted to resign immediately!”
He went for 21…e4? 22.Be2 Nxc5. Nepo realised by now that his sacrifice didn’t work, but commented:
Maybe it was not necessary to burn all the bridges and take on c5, but I was just too angry…
It’s unlikely not capturing on c5 would have changed the outcome of the game, since Black is strategically busted, but after the capture on c5 Magnus was able to reply 23.Bb4! and it was essentially game over.
The game continued 23…Na6 24.Bxf8 Bxf8 25.Rxb7 Qxb7 26.Qxa6 Qb8 27.Qxc6 Qd6.
Here Magnus exchanged queens, much to the disapproval of the chess engines, but as he explained, he was approaching the conversion of the position with two principles in mind:
I had a couple of thoughts. First of all, I wanted to win 100% sure… and also, I thought it would be nice to torture him!
Magnus said he’d already seen in advance that this was one game in which there was going to be no fortress, with the plan becoming clear after 31…f5.
32.g4! Kf6 (32…h5!? is an interesting computer suggestion) 33.h4! and, with h5 soon following, Black’s position collapsed.
41.b6! was a nice final touch, to distract the bishop while White picks up the kingside pawns, but even falling into the “trap” with 41.Kxh5 Bd2! 42.Kxg4 was winning, since as Judit Polgar pointed out, the ending with White “only” having passed pawns on the b and f-files is also a win.
So it was a game where Nepo could have some serious regrets, while Magnus had barely put a foot wrong… until he almost shook hands at the end!
He summed up how he’s feeling:
I’m feeling very good, obviously! I’m not too thrilled about the classical game, as at some point I felt that I was putting some pressure, but still, most of the days it’s been a disappointing game and then I’ve won Armageddon by some luck, but at least I played a decent Armageddon game today, and everything that I can gain before the World Championship is quite nice.
Nepo will have a chance to get revenge when he has the white pieces in the final round of the tournament, with a curiosity being that Magnus has won the last two editions of Norway Chess with a round to spare — and then seen his mood spoilt by losing on the final day!
That may be Ian’s last classical game before the World Championship match, while Magnus will be heading straight to North Macedonia after Stavanger. As he put it:
I’m playing the European Club Cup, but frankly that’s more of a social tournament for me, because it’s with Offerspill, my club, and we’re not particularly trying to win or anything. It’s just a nice trip!
The leader of the tournament by a full 2.5 points now, however, is Richard Rapport.
Rapport 1-0 Firouzja
Richard Rapport had said a day earlier that his stay in the Top 10 would probably be ended by Alireza Firouzja, but instead the new world no. 9 rose to 2769.6 on the live rating list after picking up his 2nd win in classical chess — no other player has managed even a single classical win yet in the tournament, so Richard is flying high.
The win came despite Richard getting surprised in the opening:
He surprised me with the Grünfeld. Ok, maybe my preparation was flawed, but I haven’t seen him play it before, so I was surprised, so I went for something really harmless and really old.
It’s becoming a theme of Norway Chess that players successfully employ old lines against 18-year-old Alireza Firouzja, with Richard going for 6.Bd2 and 7.Rc1 and then feeling he was able to take over after 10…Bb7!?
Richard took the chance to play 11.b4!, commenting of the ensuing position, “if he has nothing concrete, I’m just better”.
The Hungarian felt 10…a5 would have been better to stop b4 and the whole plan that followed of White posting a knight on c6, though it’s notable that even after that, and Richard getting to push f4 later, Black’s position might still have been defensible. The last twist was on move 51.
51…Bb6! would have kept the game going, while after 51…Ke7? 52.Bxf7! Kxd7 53.Rc4! Ke7 54.Bxg6 Rd6 55.Rxb4 Alireza threw in the towel.
When had Richard been sure he was going to win the game?
Shortly after he offered a handshake!
He described how things are going:
It’s a pretty nice feeling, and it’s beyond what I have expected and what I hoped.
Tari 1/2 Karjakin (Karjakin wins in Armageddon)
The classical game between these two players was also a Berlin, with 5.Re1, as Aryan Tari stuck to his plan of playing very solidly and hoping to provoke his opponents into taking unwarranted risks against him. It came close to working, after Sergey admitted his 22…h5?! was a mistake.
I played h5, a move which is positionally good but tactically he had some initiative and I should not have done this.
Sergey explained he wanted to play Qd8, Bf6 and g6, when he’d have a good bishop against a bad bishop, but after 23.Bg3! he was faced with the problem that 23…Qd8 runs into 24.Rxe6! fxe6 25.Qg6.
Instead he played 23…Bf6, when 24.Qf5! would have posed real problems for Black.
In fact the computer suggests only 24…Qa6!, hitting the a2-pawn and the e2-rook, holds the balance.
In the game after 24.Be5 we got a near instant draw after 24…Bxe5 25.Rxe5 (forced as 25.Nxe5 loses to 25…Nf4) 25…Qxb2 26.Ng5 Qc1+ and Sergey gave perpetual check from f4 and c1.
Once again Aryan had missed a good chance in classical chess and once again he was punished in Armageddon, with Sergey completely winning by move 18 but feeling he should have won “much more quickly”. In fact at times Aryan might have been able to force a draw, but since it was Armageddon only a win would do, and his winning attempts predictably led to his doom.
Saturday 11th September is a rest day, but Ian Nepomniachtchi and Sergey Karjakin have the unfinished business of their Round 1 game to complete. They were unable to play at the same time as the other players after Ian had visa issues and needed to get a later flight. If either player can win in classical chess they’ll overtake Magnus and move into 2nd place.
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