There’s a lot to be said about the telling of a joke: the timing has to be just right otherwise the joke doesn’t work. The “I’m not Rappaport” vaudeville routine was a joke you have to think about. Still, no matter how many times I’ve seen Herb Gardner’s multi-award winning Broadway play and subsequent Walter Matthau buddy movie of the same name, I still don’t get it. Why doesn’t this joke work for me, I often asked myself?
The bottom line is that it’s a play – which was originally staged by the Seattle Repertory Theatre in 1984 – about a man who never tells the truth. Well, never is never really correct. Maybe the better option is telling you he rarely tells the truth but is having the time of his life making up stuff as he goes along. And while Rappaport doesn’t work for me, what does is Rapport, namely Hungary’s Richard Rapport!
Like Jan-Krzysztof Duda’s recent win of the FIDE World Cup, Rapport is simply having the time of his life not by making stuff up, but rather with a big breakthrough performance at the Norway Chess tournament in the Stavanger region. With two steadfast classical wins over Aryan Tari and Alireza Firouzja, Rapport has largely overshadowed the title combatants Magnus Carlsen and Ian Nepomniachtchi sideshow by storming into a big lead at the top.
Not only is Rapport the only player to have won classical games, his brace of wins garners him a hefty six-point ‘bonus’ with the weighted scoring system in the tournament, for a 2½-point lead over Carlsen. And with it, the Hungarian not only leads at the top, but he’s also broke into the World’s Top-10 for the first time, moving up four spots on the unofficial live ratings to world No 9.
And while Rapport beat Firouzja in round four to extend his lead at the top, Carlsen at least took some conciliation by beating the Hungarian in their Armageddon-decider in the previous round, and then followed that up by demolishing Nepomniachtchi similarly in the Armageddon-decider, to take a little bragging rights over his Russian challenger ahead of their upcoming World Championship Match in Dubai in November.
1. R Rapport (Hungary), 8½/13; 2. M Carlsen (Norway), 6/14; 3-4. S Karjakin (Russia), I Nepomniachtchi (Russia), 4/10.5; 5-6. A Firouzja (France), A Tari (Norway), 3/13.5.
The Norway Chess tournament, a classical double-round event, runs 7-18 September with live commentary each round with former elite stars Judit Polgar and Vladimir Kramnik! There’s also live coverage at chess24.com.
GM Richard Rapport – GM Alireza Firouzja
Norway Chess, (4)
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5 The Grünfeld Defence – first played almost a century ago by the Austrian hyper-modernist GM Ernst Grünfeld, to beat the soon-to-be World champion Alexander Alekhine in 1922 – has been a long-time Firouzja favourite. 4.Nf3 Bg7 5.cxd5 Nxd5 6.Bd2 This newish move in the Anti-Exchange Variation canon looks a little strange – but the whole nub of the Grünfeld revolves around Black chip, chipping away at White’s pawn centre supported by his bishop on g7. This attempts to prevent that, as after a …Nxc3, White will play Bxc3 and contest the diagonal. 6…0-0 7.Rc1 Nxc3 8.Bxc3 Nd7 9.e3 b6 Left to his own devices, Firouzja will play …Bb7 and …c5 to renew the chipping process – but Rapport soon puts a big clamp on that. 10.Be2 Bb7 11.b4! Timed to perfection, as preventing …c5 gives Rapport the edge on the queenside – and especially the pressure that now comes down the c-file. 11…Nf6 12.0-0 Ne4 13.Ba1 Qd6 Maybe it was better to just break out now with a quick 13…c5!? 14.bxc5 bxc5 15.Qb3 Bd5 16.Qd3 c4!? 17.Qa3 Rc8 and let the chips fall where they may with regards to the queenside – at least here Black does have active pieces and more freedom, something Firouzja doesn’t get in the game. 14.Ne5 Rfc8 Again it might have been simpler just cutting to the chase with 14…Qxb4 15.Rxc7 Bd5 16.Nc6 Bxc6 17.Rxc6 Rac8 18.Qc1 Nd6 and try to hold this ending. As it is, Firouzja has given Rapport too much time to build on his queenside advantage. 15.Qa4 a6 16.Nc6! It’s all now uncomfortable for Firouzja, as Rapport dominates the c-file. 16…b5 17.Qc2 Bxc6 Practically forced now, and with it, Rapport has the added advantage of the bishop-pair. 18.Qxc6 Qxc6 19.Rxc6 a5 20.Bd3 Nf6 21.Bxb5 axb4 22.Bc4 Ne4 It’s all awkward for Firouzja to try to unravel from this, and he would have been conflicted with 22…e6 23.Bb3 Nd5 and try to hold this. At least the knight holds Black’s position together, and will force White to give up the bishop-pair to try to make progress. 23.Rc1 Nd2 24.Ba6 Rcb8 25.R1c2 Rb6 To give him credit here, Firouzja is digging in to try to hold his queenside together – and he almost succeeds in doing so! 26.Rxb6 cxb6 27.Bb7 Ra7 28.Bc6 Nb1 Firouzja is pinning all his hopes on his wondering knight to save the day. 29.Bd5 Nc3 30.Bb3 Certainly not 30.Bxc3? Rc7! 31.Kf1 bxc3 32.Ke2 e5! and suddenly Black has the upper-hand. 30…Rc7 31.f4! With the queenside in a ‘holding pattern’ for now, Rapport piles the pressure on by putting the big clamp on Firouzja playing an …e5 break. 31…e6 32.g4 Bf6 33.g5 Be7 34.Kg2 Kg7 35.Kf3 h6 36.h4 Rc8 There’s no easy answers here, but perhaps a little more resilient was the immediate 36…b5!? 37.Bb2 h5 38.e4 Ra7 but either way Black faces a difficult time of it. 37.Bb2 b5 38.Rc1 Bd8 Firouzja looks to get his dark-squared bishop into the game – but it is too little too late now. 39.a3 Ba5 40.axb4 Bxb4 41.e4! With Firouzja tied down with the pin on the c-file, Rapport uses the time to gain more space by advancing his pawn phalanx. 41…Ba5 42.d5! Now comes an added headache for Firouzja with a further pin on the long a1-h8 diagonal. 42…exd5 43.exd5 hxg5 44.hxg5 b4 45.d6 The bishop-pair now come into their own. 45…Rd8 46.Rd1! Bb6 47.d7 Kf8 48.Rd6! Ba7 Understandably, Firouzja tries to prevent Rapport getting his dark-square bishop into the game via c1-e3 – and no better was 48…Ba5 49.Bc1 Ke7 50.Rf6! Rxd7 (If 50…Kxd7? 51.f5! with a huge winning advantage.) 51.Rxf7+ Ke8 52.Rxd7 Kxd7 53.Bf7 Nb5 54.Bxg6 and White’s passed pawns easily win the day. 49.Bc4 Bc5 50.Rc6 Bd4 51.Rc8 Ke7? Firouzja finally cracks in what was an extremely difficult position to hold. His best try to hang on was with 51…Bb6! with the idea of oscillating the king on e7-f8 to defend f7. But after the strategic retreat 52.Bf1! Ke7 53.Bh3 Kf8 54.f5 White will surely find a way to make a winning breakthrough here. 52.Bxf7! [see diagram] Poor Firouzja learns the hard way of just why his bishop was needed on b6 to defend his rook! 52…Kxd7 53.Rc4 Ke7 54.Bxg6 Black’s position just collapses now. 54…Rd6 What else is there, other than 54…Nb5 55.Rxb4 Bxb2 56.Rxb2 Nc3 57.f5 that’s also easily winning for White. 55.Rxb4 1-0 And with it Firouzja throws the towel in, as he’s going to be forced into 55…Rxg6 56.Rxd4 Nb5 57.Rd5 Nc7 58.Bf6+ Ke6 59.Ke4!! Nxd5 60.f5+ Kd6 61.fxg6 Ne7 62.g7 Ng8 63.Kf5 and there’s no stopping Kg6.