Norway Chess 8: Carlsen hunts down Rapport

Magnus Carlsen moved to within half a point of Richard Rapport after beating the leader on demand in Round 8. For a second day in a row there was no need for Armageddon as Aryan Tari scored his first win in 18 Norway Chess classical games, against none other than Ian Nepomniachtchi. It was another bad day for both Russian players as Sergey Karjakin also fell to Alireza Firouzja, with the 18-year-old now a single win away from the Top 10.

You can replay all the games from Norway Chess 2021 using the selector below.

And here’s the day’s live commentary from Judit Polgar and David Howell. 

For a second day in a row all three classical games were decisive in Stavanger.

Carlsen 1-0 Rapport

This was a game where Richard Rapport knew that if he could draw in classical chess he’d take at least a 3-point lead into the final two rounds, and when he played the Berlin Defence it looked as though he was going to go for the most solid approach possible. All it needed was for Magnus to play the 4.d3 Anti-Berlin, however, and Richard ventured the rare 4…Ne7!?

This is probably worth trying out in lower-level games in the hope that White captures on e5. As Judit and David immediately pointed out, 5.Nxe5 c6! 6.Ba4 Qa5+ and taking the knight next, would be something of a cold shower for your opponent.

Magnus now thought for 13 minutes, admitting he hadn’t been as ready as he might have been! 

I wouldn’t say it was an unpleasant surprise, but I actually thought about it before the game, that he’s insane enough to maybe play this move so I should check it, but then I forgot about it, so I didn’t actually check it, and frankly I just decided we should just play a normal game, because you can just get a position after this. 

What followed was a slow developing game, with Magnus saying he was somewhat surprised that Richard didn’t have any concrete plan in mind. For most of the round we were distracted by the drama on other boards, while here the time gradually ran out for both players while the manoeuvring continued.

Magnus noted he was glad to be able to exchange light-squared bishops and perhaps shouldn’t have been allowed to push his pawn to h5. Richard had one or two tactical chances to ease his task…

…but essentially Magnus, Richard and other observers agreed — the evaluation was that it was a defendable but unpleasant position for Black to play.

Magnus did an impressive job of turning the screw until he played 58.Nc4 with under a minute on the clock.

Richard, who had just over a minute himself, finally cracked with 58…Nf6? instead of the one good move, 58…Qe6!, forcing an exchange of queens. He commented:

We get this endgame which is really unpleasant, but on the other hand I think it should be objectively held, and then of course with this stupid time control we both ended up playing on minutes and then I blundered… 

I thought he will go Nf5 instead of Nc4, and then I play Nf6, and then he went Nc4 and I wanted to go Qe6 originally, but for some reason I just played instantly Nf6, as usual, like in the Armageddon game the previous time, I make a move instantly which just loses on the spot, and after that it’s kind of completely over.

It’s notable, however, that the computer points out 58…Nf6 would also be a losing move if Magnus had played 58.Nf5, which just illustrates how hard it is to play if your opponent manages to leave you only one path to safety when you’re under heavy time pressure. 

In the game the problem was simply 59.Qc8+! Qd8 60.Qxd8+ Bxd8 61.Bg5!, the move Magnus thought his opponent might have overlooked. 

The threat is as simple as Bxf6 and then capturing the a5-pawn, when White’s a-pawn becomes a monster. 61…Kg7 doesn’t help due to 62.h6+! and then capturing on f6, though even 62.Bxf6 Kxf6 is winning after 63.h6!. 

There was no way out, and Magnus had soon landed a huge blow for the standings. 

Elsewhere we had two remarkably easy wins for the players with the black pieces. 

Nepomniachtchi 0-1 Tari

It was clear before this game began that Ian Nepomniachtchi would be out for blood. He’d suffered a bad loss to Alireza Firouzja the day before, and in Aryan Tari was facing a player who had gone 17 Norway Chess classical games without a win, while also losing the last three in a row. 

Aryan said afterwards that Ian told him White had a good position out of the opening, which was true, but only up to a point. That point was 15.f4?

To justify such a weakening pawn advance Nepo really needed to make the e5-advance work later on after 15…exf4 16.gxf4, but with moves such as 16…Bf6 and 18…Rae8 Aryan methodically prevented it. Ian was in deep trouble, until the game reached a last turning point after 24…Rxe4.

Here it seems 25.Bxg7! actually draws, but the fact that the players and initially commentators all missed it shows just how tricky it was. The point is that after 25.Bxg7! Rxg7 26.Rxg7+ Qxg7…

…White doesn’t play 27.Rg1? when 27…Qxg1+ 28.Kxg1 Re1+! 29.Kf2 d2! actually wins for Black, but 27.Qxf5! and in the same lines White is now able to draw by perpetual check. Instead 25.Rg6? doomed Nepomniachtchi.

It’s close, since if Black did nothing White would be totally winning if he brought the other rook to g1 next, but instead Aryan executed 25…Rxf4! 26.Rag1 Rg4! and it was essentially all over.

Aryan hadn’t won the World Cup, but Magnus took some time out to congratulate him… the fact that it was Nepo who had lost the game added a little spice! 

Here’s the moment in video.

It really did mean a huge amount to Aryan, however.

It feels really amazing, I cannot describe how happy I am right now! Yesterday night I was so depressed after losing three in a row, and I also lost a dead drawn position to Magnus. At my level you shouldn’t lose those positions. So I feel I could have had much more points, I had some bad luck, but to manage to beat Ian today with Black was the best gift I could get, and I think I played well and it means a lot. I never beat a player at his calibre before. 

Karjakin 0-1 Firouzja

It was a day for happy young men, with Alireza Firouzja commenting:

It feels great! Now I am probably back in the tournament — ok, everything depends on the Magnus games.

This was another game which seemed to go wrong for Black very early on, with Sergey living to regret his own aggression.

The problem was perhaps that after 8…h6 9.Rg1 Qc7 Sergey didn’t go for the logical follow-up of 10.g5, but slowly manoeuvred his knight from f3 to e3. Then his 16th move was a clear blunder.

16.Ncd5! seems playable and only slightly better for Black, while after 16.Ned5? Nxc3 17.Nxf6+ Bf6 18.Qxf6 Kd7 Black already had a fantastic position.

19.g5? was by now almost irrelevant to the position, since it was White who had to try and survive an onslaught… and failed, with Black completely dominant on the light squares in the final position.

So Alireza Firouzja is right back in the hunt, though Richard Rapport still has a slender lead over Magnus Carlsen going into the last two rounds.

Alireza has another incentive in the penultimate round, since a win will take him into the Top 10 on the live rating list for the first time. There’s no doubt whatsoever he’ll be gunning for that, but as we’ve seen, not just against Nepo but in the missed win against Magnus, Aryan Tari is no pushover! 

Don’t miss live commentary from Judit Polgar and David Howell right here on chess24 from 11:00 ET/17:00 CEST!

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