Before Norway - First Move Chess -First Move Chess

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It’s set to be the big tournament highlight of the chess year, as title contestants Magnus Carlsen and Fabiano Caruana go head-to-head once again ahead of their upcoming World Championship Match in London later this year, as the sixth edition of the Altibox Norway Chess tournament kicks off on Sunday in Stavanger with a pre-event blitz tournament that will determine the draw order for the ten elite players.

The Altibox Norway Chess tournament runs from 27th May through 7th June, with the venues split between the Clarion Hotel Energy, and then moving to the Stavanger Concert Hall for the final three rounds. All eyes will be on the main attraction of defending Altibox champion Carlsen and Caruana, who will be playing in their final classical tournament ahead of their upcoming world title match.

The full line-up (in rating order) is Magnus Carlsen (Norway), Fabiano Caruana (USA), Shahriyar Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan), Ding Liren (China), Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (France), Sergey Karjakin (Russia), Wesley So (USA), Hikaru Nakamura (USA), Levon Aronian (Armenia) and Vishy Anand (India). There will be daily live commentary coverage throughout at the official site.

Before Norway, several of the contestants – Caruana, Ding Liren, Vachier-Lagrave and Anand – were in action this week in two title-deciding professional league matches in both China and Germany. The top performer was Ding Liren – still unbeaten since August 9th last year – with yet another standout performance, winning all three games for his team in the Chinese League. In the process, he now replaces Russia’s Vladimir Kramnik as the new world No.4 on the live rating list, climbing to 2797.5, and on the cusp of becoming the first Chinese player to break the 2800 barrier.

Meanwhile in Germany, with top guns, Caruana, Vachier-Lagrave and Anand leading the charge on the top three boards, top seeds and favourites Baden-Baden narrowly defeated Solingen, 4.5-3.5, in a playoff-decider to secure their 12th Bundesliga title in 13 years, after both teams ended the regular season in equal first place.

The two teams were tied at the top after 15 rounds on 27 match points, but thanks to having the greater board points, Baden-Baden secured the home advantage for the all-deciding playoff. But the match proved to be closer than many expected, and this was mainly due to Carlsen’s World Championship challenger, Caruana, uncharacteristically being positionally squeezed off the board by Anish Giri.

Sadly, Giri will not be playing in Norway – but thankfully he’s once again found a rich vein of form, and his impressive power-play win over Caruana moves the young Dutchman up to world #8 in the live ratings, overtaking Wesley So.

Photo: An impressive win for Giri over the world-title challenger wasn’t enough for his team | © Guido Giotta (Schachbundesliga)

GM Anish Giri – GM Fabiano Caruana
Bundesliga Playoff
Petroff’s Defence
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 Before the rise of the Berlin Defence, following Vladimir Kramnik’s surprise adoption of it to bamboozle Garry Kasparov in their 2000 title match in London, the Petroff was the notoriously solid defence at elite level. But now, thanks to Fabiano Caruana successfully deploying it as his main defence en route to winning the Candidates tournament, it could be back in vogue again. 3.Nxe5 d6 4.Nf3 Nxe4 5.d4 d5 6.Bd3 Bd6 The Marshall variation, as championed by American legend Frank J. Marshall, with his most famous win with it being a typical swashbuckling win over David Janowsky, in the Marshall-Janowsky match of 1912 in France. 7.0-0 0-0 8.c4 c6 9.Nc3 Nxc3 10.bxc3 dxc4 11.Bxc4 Bf5 12.Bg5 Qa5 13.Nh4 Be6 14.Bxe6 Qxg5 15.Nf3 Qd8 16.Bb3 Giri has a little lead in development and more control of the centre with d4-pawn – but the position is quite harmless, and many would have bet that this game was going to end in a tame draw. 16…Nd7 17.Re1 g6?! I don’t see the point of this move right now – and it around here, we see Caruana’s position start to drift. I think Caruana should have played 17…Qc7 or even 17….c5 to try to either connect his rooks (with …Rae8) or undermine the d4-pawn. 18.g3 Kg7 19.Qd3 Nf6 20.Rad1 Giri has made the most of his little opening edge, with his rooks now connected and in the middle of the board. But still, despite it being a little awkward for Black, Caruana should have easily contained this position. 20…Rc8 21.h4 Rc7 22.Kg2 Re7 23.Rxe7 Qxe7 24.Re1 Qd7 25.Ne5 Bxe5 26.Rxe5 Re8 27.Qe2 h5 Giri just has this little niggling edge here, and it is not easy for Caruana to defend against, as he seems to lack constructive moves. 28.f3 Kf8 29.Rxe8+ Nxe8? If anything, this recapture is the root of all of Caruana’s problems, as Giri moves from ‘clearly better to good winning chances’. More accurate and far better was 29…Qxe8 as the trade of queens only helps Black – the fact here is that Giri only goes on to win as his queen and bishop become such a menacing force. So if trading queens only helps Black, then by White attempting to keep the queens on the board forces a little concession, as Black’s queen will dominate the open e-file, and his knight is better placed on the f6 square. So White will have to try 30.Qd2 Kg7 31.c4!? (If 31.Kf2 Qe7 I think the only way White can attempt to make progress is by transposing into the c4 lines as mentioned above – and again, Black will have …Qd6 blockading the d-pawn and looking to infiltrate with his queen to pester the White king down the d6-h2 diagonal.) 31…b6 32.d5 Qd7 33.Qd4 cxd5 34.cxd5 Qe7! 35.Kf2 Qd6 and White’s position is a little looser around his king, and I am certain Caruana would have successfully defended this position all night long. 30.Qe5! The position now becomes very difficult for Black to play, as Giri’s actively placed queen now makes all the difference between having a better position and winning. 30…Nd6 31.Kf2 Kg8 32.g4! With Caruana condemned to passivity, Giri is finding it all too easy to steadily improve his position. 32…hxg4 33.fxg4 Giri has certainly made a lot of progress here. His queen dominates play from its powerful outpost on e5, his bishop dominates the knight, and he has ideas of pushing on with h5 that both offers him more attacking possibilities on the Black king and/or endgame advantage. 33…Qd8 34.Kf3 The awkward Nd6 allows Giri to improve his position little by little – and soon all it all counts, as the pressure mounts on Caruana’s shaky position. 34…Kh7 35.h5 f6 Taking the pawn with 35…gxh5 36.gxh5 only opens up more lines towards Caruana’s king, as he’d need to worry about threats of Qf4, Bc2+ and h6. 36.Qe6! Giri just keeps piling on the pressure, with Caruana suffering in a simply horrible position to try to defend. 36…Kg7 37.Kf4 a5 It’s a brave back-to-the-wall defence from Caruana – but eventually he’ll run out of moves he can safely play without compromising his position. 38.a3 gxh5 39.gxh5 Kh6 40.Bc2! [see diagram] Nice! The trap is set, and if 40…Kxh5?? 41.Qh3 is mate! And faced with such difficulties, something now has to give for Caruana. 40…Qf8 41.Kf3! Caruana is effectively in zugzwang – and the king moving back just forces Caruana into having to make moves he doesn’t really want to play.  But moves have to be played. 41…Ne8 42.Kg2 Nd6 There’s no solace in 42…Qg7+ as 43.Bg6! will win the knight. 43.Kf2 b6 44.Kf3 Ne8 45.Qxc6 And with it, Caruana’s position now collapses, as Giri simply helps himself to all the weak pawns 45…Nd6 46.Qxb6 Qe7 47.Qb8 Nf7 48.Qg8 The mating threats effectively stops any slim hopes Caruana may have had of activating his queen for possibilities of a repetition. 48…Ng5+ 49.Kf4 Nh3+ 50.Kf5 Qd7+ 51.Kxf6 1-0 Caruana resigns, faced with 51…Qc6+ 52.Qe6 Qf3+ 53.Ke7+ Kxh5 54.Qf7+ forcing a trade of queens and a hopelessly lost endgame.

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