There was a slight delay for some to the start of the 9th Norway Chess tournament taking place in the Stavanger region, namely Magnus Carlsen’s upcoming title challenger, Russia’s Ian Nepomniachtchi, who due to a small visa glitch only managed to arrive in town just as the opening round was already underway. But he was paired in the opening round with his fellow countryman Sergey Karjakin, so it was agreed that both Russians would reschedule their opening round game instead to the rest day after the fourth round.
Norway Chess uses a unique scoring system that guarantees a winner each round and slightly warps the standings on the leaderboard. There’s no draw offers allowed before move 30, and the classical games sees a win scoring 3 points and a loss 0. If the players draw they then go straight to an Armageddon-decider, where the winner earns 1.5 points and the loser 1 point.
The classical ‘weighting’ benefitted Hungary’s Richard Rapport, being the only player (so far) to score 3-points with his opening round victory over young Norwegian Aryan Tari – a win that helped see the Hungarian jump four places to enter for the first time the world’s Top-10 on the unofficial live rating list.
And the Armageddon has proved to be nothing but a world championship double whammy so far for rising teenage star Alireza Firouzja, as he’s lost both his opening round deciders to Carlsen and Nepomniachtchi – the latter game proving to be one of the big highlights so far in the tournament!
Over a century ago, Siegbert Tarrasch said, “It is almost madness to play the King’s Gambit.” Exactly sixty years ago, Bobby Fischer famously proclaimed it busted with his famous article published in the American Chess Quarterly in the summer of 1961. Nowadays, myriads of the less prominent scorn it as belonging to a bygone period of devil-may-care sacrificing, but this romantic and swashbuckling opening refuses to die out completely.
A case in sample was Nepomniachtchi when he did land in the Norway Chess tournament! After drawing with Alireza Firouzja in their classical game, the Russian bamboozled the rising teen star – and had the online fans cheering – by playing the venerable King’s Gambit in their Armageddon showdown to great sacrificial effect!
1. R. Rapport (Hungary), 4½/6.5; 2. M. Carlsen (Norway), 3/7; 3. A. Firouzja (France), 2/7; 4. I. Nepomniachtchi (Russia), 1½/3.5; 5. S. Karjakin (Russia), 1/3.5; 6. A. Tari (Norway), 1/6.5.
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 Ian Nepomniachtchi – GM Alireza Firouzja
9th Norway Chess| Armageddon, (2.2)
King’s Gambit Accepted, Schallop Defence
1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Nf3 Nf6 The underrated Schallop defence is actually a very reliable way to battle the King’s Gambit, the idea being to entice e5 as …Nh5 defends the f4-pawn. 4.e5 Nh5 5.d4 In King’s Gambit maven John Shaw’s labour of love latest book on the subject, the Scottish GM recommends 5.Be2! (the exclam is his, not mine) 5…d6 6.0-0 and the simple solution being 6…dxe5 7.Nxe5 Bc5+ 8.Kh1 Nf6 9.c3 Nbd7! with equality. 5…d6 6.Qe2 This is all standard stuff in the Schallop – but now things go a bit ‘haywire’, which might well be put down to the spirt and enthusiasm of youth, as such play is not recommended in an Armageddon encounter when, as Black, you only need to draw to win the game! But you live and learn. Well, you live anyway. 6…dxe5 7.Nxe5 Qh4+ 8.g3!?! Nepo takes his younger opponent on a Lou Reed walk on the wild-side! – and this seems to have caught Firouzja off-guard, as he probably expected an easier time of it with 8.Qf2 Be7 9.Nc3 Nd7 and Black has no worries. 8…Nxg3 9.hxg3 Qxh1 10.Bxf4 Be6?? Wrong on so many levels – showing just how quickly you can go astray in the King’s Gambit! The discovered check down the e-file is annoying, but the light-squared bishop is needed to defend b7. The right way to go was 10…Bb4+ looking to entice 11.c3 Be7 where at least Black has denied White’s knight of the c3 square, and Black stands more secure as his king gets to safety quickly by castling kingside etc. 11.Nc3 Firouzja is in big trouble early doors – Nepo is just going to castle queenside to threaten Bg2 embarrassing the queen, plus there’s also that annoying Qb5+ still in the mix. All of which spells disaster for Firouzja. 11…g5 Realising too late the errors of his way, Firouzja has to take desperate measure now to try to survive. 12.d5! The bottom line is that Nepo has Firouzja’s king in his cross hairs. 12…gxf4 13.dxe6 Bd6 14.0-0-0 Qh6 Firouzja can’t castle queenside to get his king to safety, and it is suicide to castle kingside with 14…0-0 15.Qg4+ Kh8 16.Nxf7+ quickly winning. 15.Qb5+! Nepo doesn’t miss a beat with his attack. 15…Nc6 16.Nxf7 Qxe6 17.Bc4! [see diagram] Just look at how active White’s pieces are how insecure Black’s king is – this could well have been a game from the golden age of the King’s Gambit during the time of Paul Morphy. 17…Qe3+ 18.Kb1 Qc5 19.Nxd6+ cxd6 20.Qxb7 Qxc4 21.Qxa8+ Nd8 Firouzja is dead in the water – he’s just hanging around waiting for Nepo to land the killing blow, which mercifully quickly comes. 22.Re1+ Kf7 23.Qxa7+ Kg6 24.gxf4 Qc5 25.Rg1+! 1-0 And Firouzja resigns. There’s many ways to win here, but for the purists’ out there, how about the forced mate with 25…Kf5 (If 25…Kh6 26.Qg7+ Kh5 27.Rh1#) 26.Qd7+ Kxf4 27.Rf1+ Kg3 28.Qg7+ Kh2 29.Ne4 Qe3 30.Nf2 Qg3 31.Qh6+ Kg2 32.Qh1#.