They say that all good things must come to an end, and for Magnus Carlsen, it proved to be his remarkable record-breaking streak without losing a classical game when he was defeated by the dynamic young Pole, Jan-Krzysztof Duda, in round five of the Altibox Norway Chess tournament in Stavanger.
They like to break things down in “numbers” in sports when it comes to records, so for the record: World champion Carlsen’s unbeaten run stretched back 125-games – his previous defeat in classical chess being against Shakhriyar Mamedyarov in the Biel Master on 31 July 2018 – and lasted two years, two months and 10 days, before he finally succumbed to world number 15 Duda.
“It had to happen at some point,” said a melancholy Carlsen. “But in any case, it’s very, very disappointing.” In contrast, it was an upbeat and euphoric Duda who now becomes a footnote in the annals of the record for his shock streak-ending victory over Carlsen. “I’m really happy, obviously, I didn’t expect to win this game at all,” he said.
And Duda’s win also capped a remarkable day for Poland, as it came just a few hours after unseeded and unfancied 19-year-old Iga Swiatek stunned the tennis world by sensationally clinching the French Open – not only the youngest ever winner at Roland Garros but also her country’s first grand slam singles title. And with the “Polish double”, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki took to Twitter to congratulate both Duda and Swiatek on famous victories.
But revenge is a dish best served warm in Carlsen’s case, because the next day came the second-half of the tournament, and with it the pairings in the double round-robin reversed, and the Norwegian emphatically trounced Duda to stay in the race for the title, in what’s now turning into an intriguing generational battle going down the home stretch.
With three rounds still to play, it’s become a generational two-horse race between rising star Alireza Firouzja and world champion Carlsen – and it’s the Iranian teenage exile whose the one holding a one-point advantage at the top of the standings over the hometown red-hot favourite on his own turf!
We could be witnessing history in the making if the 17-year-old goes on to win ahead of established elite-stars Carlsen (29) and Fabiano Caruana (28), the world’s number one and two, as it will not only enter the annals as one of the greatest super-tournament victories by a teenager, it will also signal that a newer-generational star is ready to take the next step up to become a new challenger to Carlsen’s crown.
There’s live coverage of the final rounds of Altibox Norway Chess from GMs Vladimir Kramnik & Judit Polgar. Play starts at 17:00 local time (11:00 EST | 08:00 PST).
1. A. Firouzja (FIDE) 14½/23; 2. M. Carlsen (Norway) 13½/22.5; 3. L. Aronian (Armenia) 12/22.5; 4. F. Caruana (USA) 11/22; 5. JK Duda (Poland) 7/21.5; 6. A. Tari (Norway) 1½/21.5.
Photo: The moment Magnus Carlsen realised his record-breaking streak could be in jeopardy | Lennart Ootes/Altibox Norway Chess
GM JK Duda – GM Magnus Carlsen
Altibox Norway Chess, (5)
Caro-Kann Defence, Tartakower/Nimzowitsch Variation
1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Nf6 5.Nxf6+ exf6 More popular in the 1970s and ’80s was the dynamic variation 5…gxf6 due to pioneering work by GMs David Bronstein and Bent Larsen. But the lesser-played Tartakower/Nimzowitsch line sees Black risking the pitfalls of a bad K+P endgame for fluid middlegame play. Though Black’s kingside majority is damaged, he has easy development. 6.c3 Bd6 7.Bd3 0-0 8.Qc2 The whole idea is to render any …g6?! move as dangerous, as White will just activate “Harry” with h4-h5 and bust open the h-file. 8…Re8+ 9.Ne2 h5 10.Be3 Nd7 11.0-0-0 Admittedly, from the early position, it was obvious to all that Carlsen faced problems here, as Duda has the more harmonious development. 11…b5 Carlsen has to roll the dice by lashing out on the queenside. The trouble is, is there’s a danger it could all backfire on him leaving a bad endgame. 12.d5! Duda bravely decides to “take” the world champion on. 12…c5 13.Bxb5 Rb8 The pawn sacrifice has at least opened lines for Carlsen’s pieces – but it only takes one or two very accurate moves for Duda to be in the driving seat. 14.c4! And this is one of them! 14…a6 15.Ba4 The pin is a little annoying, but nothing that Carlsen can’t resolve by quickly doubling his rooks on the b-file. That said, his queenside attack isn’t just going to “crash through”, and any endgame scenario now for the world champion is going to be one big danger zone. 15…Re7 16.Ng3 Ne5 17.Ne4 A good case could also be made for 17.Rhe1 Reb7 18.b3 h4 19.Ne4 Bf5 20.h3 with f3 and a solid position for White. 17…Reb7 18.b3 Rb4?! Carlsen is really upping the ante now with his aggressive intentions on the queenside – but Duda is a player who will show no fear, not even if he’s facing the world champion. The obvious move for Carlsen was 18…Bf5 but I guess the world champion had decided by now that he’d burnt his bridges for any endgame, so it was time to press the “gamble button”. 19.Bd2! Redeploying the bishop was a move Duda wanted to play anyway, but Carlsen’s risky plan just makes Bd2 all the easier to play. 19…Rxa4?! After you have played 18…Rb4, you are more or less pot-committed to the exchange sacrifice. 20.bxa4 Bf5 21.Rde1! The best move, as it vacates the d1 square for Duda’s king to escape to if it comes to that – and with it, we now begin to see how compromised Carlsen’s position has become, and his long unbeaten-streak in grave jeopardy. 21…h4 The natural continuation looks like 21…Qb6, but the easy solution is the rook lift 22.Re3! threatening Rb3, and Black’s position is on the verge of imploding. 22.h3 Just stopping Carlsen pushing on with …h3, and now Black’s h-pawn has become a sitting target for later in the game. 22…Ng6 23.Re3! With his rooks now swinging into action, Duda is well on top – and certainly, from Carlsen’s body language by this stage, you could detect he realised he’d pushed the envelope just a tad too far with his risky …Rb4 plan. 23…Nf4 24.g4 Bg6 Slightly better, but equally losing was 24…hxg3 25.fxg3 Nh5 26.Rg1! Bg6 27.Bc3 and Black is fighting for his very survival. 25.Kd1! A brave move from Duda. Though not so obvious, Carlsen had a glimmer of hope for his survival with a …Ne2+ or even …Nd3+ possibility. But with a little prophylaxis king shuffle, Duda stops this. 25…f5?! Seeing the writing on the wall, Carlsen decides he may as well go for broke now. He is Magnus Carlsen after all, and the name cache does come with an element of fear for many opponents who tend to crack under the psychological pressure – but the Duda abides by keeping cool to inflict a historic defeat on the world champion. 26.Nxd6 Qxd6 27.gxf5 Bh5+ 28.f3 Qf6 29.Bc3 The killing move was 29.Qe4! but it would have taken a lot of guts not to be frightened of the Black attack with 29…Qa1+ 30.Bc1 Rb1 as it is not so easy in the heat of battle and the psychological impact of facing the world champion to see that White wins with 31.Kd2! Nxh3 32.Qc2!, as the immediate thoughts galloping through your mind with Magnus Carlsen sitting across the board from you, is “What have I missed?” But rather than worrying about something he may or may not have missed, Duda opts for simply preventing …Qa1+. 29…Qg5 30.Qe4 The threat is Be5! winning even more material. 30…Qg2 31.Rhe1 Qxa2 Truth told the game is effectively over already for Carlsen by this stage, as he’s set to lose even more material. But Duda has a little time trouble issues, so the game drags on longer than it really should have. 32.Qc2 Qxc4 33.Re8+! [see diagram] A stunner, as Carlsen will now effectively be playing a rook-plus down here, but there is Duda’s time issue to factor plus a lot of checks to hand, so he may as well play on anyway. 33…Kh7 The tactical twist was that 33…Rxe8 crashes and burns to 34.Rxe8+ Kh7 35.Rh8+!! Kxh8 36.Bxg7+ Kxg7 37.Qxc4 and Black can resign. 34.Rxb8 Qxd5+ 35.Qd2 Bxf3+ 36.Kc1 Qxf5 37.Re3 Ne2+ 38.Kb2 With your digital clock metaphorically ticking down, you can be excused for not seeing through the haze and the killer blow of 38.Rxe2! Bxe2 39.Qd8! that’s going to snare the Black king. 38…Nxc3 39.Qxc3 Qf4 40.Qd3+ A bad case of tick-tock! Ending the game would have been 40.Qe5 Qxe5+ 41.Rxe5 but Duda just wants to make moves to not lose on time. The finish is a little untidy in its execution perhaps, but in the circumstances and with all the pressures, he can be forgiven for that. 40…f5 41.Rf8 Qb4+ 42.Kc1 Be4 43.Qb3 Qd4 44.Qc3 The rest of the game just sees Duda ever-so-carefully converting his big material advantage. 44…Qd6 45.Rf7 Qg6 46.Rd7 Qg1+ 47.Kb2 c4 48.Rxe4 Not the cleanest of kills perhaps, but with the big material advantage definitely the simplest way to win now! 48…fxe4 49.Rd4 Qf2+ 50.Qd2 c3+ 51.Kxc3 Qg3+ 52.Kb2 Qxh3 53.Rxe4 Qg3 54.Qd4 Qg2+ 55.Kc3 Qf3+ 56.Kb4 Qf8+ 57.Ka5 Qf5+ 58.Kxa6 g5 59.a5 h3 60.Re7+ Kg6 61.Qg7+ Kh5 62.Qh7+ Kg4 63.Re4+ 1-0