The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming - First Move Chess -First Move Chess


The Norman Jewison cold war screwball comedy, from 1966, that parodied the enormous fears of the era with the double warning of invasion movie title, could well apply to the Norway Chess tournament being held in the Stavanger region, with a twin Russian threat now emerging from Ian Nepomniachtchi and Sergey Karjakin.

The first to make his move was Nepomniachtchi, Magnus Carlsen’s upcoming title-challenger, in his rest day re-arranged opening round encounter with countryman Karjakin. In today’s diagram, a Berlin Endgame has inexplicably gone awry early doors for Karjakin, who after playing 16…c5?, got hit by the spectacular thunderbolt of 17.Nf6!! Bxa2 (The point is that 17…gxf6 18.Nxe6+ fxe6 19.Bxh6 Nxh6 20.exf6 Bxf6 21.Rxe6 Ng8 22.c3 wins) 18.b3 Kc8 19.Nxf7 Rg6 20.Nh8 Rxf6 21.exf6 Bxf6 22.Be5 Bxe5 23.Rxe5 Nd4 24.Rxc5 b6 25.Rc4 and Nepo easily went on to convert the win and collect the 3-point classical bonus.

And when Karjakin next faced Carlsen, it looked like the world champion was set to join frontrunner Richard Rapport in the chase for the title going down the homestretch, only for the misfiring Norwegian to let his promising position slip as he gifted his Russian former title challenger the chance to seize a bonus classical 3-point win in today’s game. And as if that wasn’t enough, Karjakin then got his revenge over Nepomniachtchi by picking up an Armageddon win in round six.

Although Carlsen made up a little lost ground with a comfortable squeeze over Alireza Firouzja to collect his first classical 3-point win bonus, nonplussed through it all stands runaway leader Rapport, who turned in yet another steadfast performance to collect his third 3-point bonus with a second win over Aryan Tari, as he extends his lead further at the top.

Now on +3 in classical, Rapport – like recent World Cup surprise winner Jan-Krzysztof Duda – could be on the verge of a major breakthrough victory. Not only that, but the Hungarian steadily continues to gain more rating points, now up +13.4 on the unofficial live ratings, as he consolidates his new-found place in the world Top-10.

1. R. Rapport (Hungary), 12½/19.5; 2. I. Nepomniachtchi (Russia), 9½/20.5; 3. M. Carlsen (Norway), 9/20; 4. S. Karjakin (Russia), 8½/20; 5. A. Firouzja (France), 6/19.5; 6. A. Tari (Norway), 3/19.5.

You can follow all the Norway Chess tournament action going down the homestretch of the final four rounds, with live commentary from former elite star Judit Polgar and IM Jovanka Houska. There’s also live coverage at

GM Sergey Karjakin – GM Magnus Carlsen
Norway Chess, (6)
Sicilian Sveshnikov/Chelyabinsk
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 e5 6.Ndb5 d6 The über-aggressive defence first named the Lasker/Pelikan variation, after the former world champion Emanuel Lasker (who first brought it to prominence against Carl Schlechter during their 1910 title match), and then the Czech IM Jiri Pelikan. But after a period of hiatus, it became popular again in the 1970s and 1980s, though this time eponymously named after the Russian GM Evgeny Sveshnikov (who sadly died recently of Covid), though nowadays it is sometimes called the ‘Chelyabinsk variation’ after the group of Russians from that region who also played a big part in developing its theory, the most prominent pioneer being Gennadi Timoshchenko. 7.Nd5 Nxd5 8.exd5 Ne7 9.c4 Ng6 10.Qa4 Bd7 11.Qb4 Qb8 Although Carlsen surprised Karjakin in Shamkir Chess 2019 with 11…Bf5 the text is the accepted main move here – and the line that so dramatically broke the deadlock for Carlsen against Fabiano Caruana in the first tiebreak playoff game of their World Championship Match in London in 2018. 12.h4 h5 The principled “double Harry” continuation here for both players. For Black though, he’s quite prepared to sacrifice his h-pawn to quickly activate his pieces with …Be7, …f5 and …0-0. 13.Be3 a6 14.Nc3 Be7 Another spectacular Carlsen win in this line was with 14…f5 15.0-0-0 Be7 16.g3 0-0 17.Be2 e4!? Van Foreest, J-Carlsen,M Tata Steel Masters 2019. 15.g3 0-0 16.Be2 b5! Alarm bells had to have been going off in Karjakin’s head right now, as Carlsen not only is prepared to sacrifice his h-pawn, he’s also now sacrificing his b-pawn! 17.cxb5 axb5 18.Bxh5 In his post-game interview, Karjakin admitted that he wasn’t exactly overjoyed to have to play this move, but with the game rapidly opening up, he had to go with the flow as he felt 18.0-0 Bd8 was more than comfortable for Black, and that 18.Bxb5!? Bg4 leaves his kingside very vulnerable. 18…Bd8N A novelty from Carlsen, improving over the previously seen 18…Rc8 – but with the new move, not only does his bishop have more scope, he’s also paved the way for a strategically strong knight retreat. 19.0-0 Ne7! The knight is heading to wonderful f5 square. 20.Bg5 This is no time to be timid. Karjakin saw that 20.Be2 Nf5 21.Bxb5 Nxe3 22.fxe3 Bh3 23.Rf2 f5 promised much for Black for the pawn. 20…Ba5 21.Qb3 Nf5 I would imagine around here Carlsen must have felt very comfortable with what was happening on the board. But things can – and do – change in a heartbeat. 22.Ne2 Covering the vital d4 square. 22…Bb6 Realistically, with all of Black’s minor pieces superbly placed, Carlsen is just outplaying Karjakin here – and it will have really annoyed the world champion that he let this one get away. 23.Rac1 Ra4! A powerful rook lift that only adds to Karjakin’s many worries – and he felt now that he really had to take a radical step, otherwise Carlsen was liable to steamroller him on the kingside. 24.Rc6!? Unable to spot a constructive move, the Russian hits upon a sacrifice that offers the best practical solution to his difficulties. And it is a move that seems to take Carlsen by complete surprise. 24…Bxc6?! This just brings Karjakin’s pieces into the game. As ever, the engine finds the right solution with 24…Bc5! looking to follow up with …Qa7 to focus on the attack on the kingside. 25.dxc6 Rc4 26.a4 Nd4 This came as a surprise to Karjakin, who fully expected something like 26…Rxa4 27.Bg6!? Nd4 28.Nxd4 Bxd4 29.Be7 Rc4 30.Bd3 Rxc6 which the Russian assessed as equal, and the silicon beast more or less concurs. 27.Nxd4 Bxd4 28.axb5 d5?! Now admittedly, it looks good, and it’s the sort of move Carlsen would play to push the envelope a little – but it is wrong, and he suffers for it. He had accept the reality of the position and play 28…Rxc6 29.Be7 Rcc8 which Karjakin felt would soon fizzle out to a draw. 29.Rc1! Now Carlsen has real problems as Karjakin’s passed pawns so far up the board are very powerful. 29…Rxc1+ 30.Bxc1 Qb6 31.Be3!! Now Karjakin felt for the first time that he could well be winning this one, as the more pieces that come off, Carlsen has no counterplay and White’s passed pawns come into their own now. 31…Bxe3 32.fxe3 Rd8 33.Kg2 g6 34.Be2 A little bit of hesitancy from Karjakin. Better was 34.Bg4 to induce weaknesses with 34…f5 35.Bf3 e4 36.Be2 Kh7 37.Qc3 and White should be able to exploit the holes in Black’s position. 34…Kg7 35.Qc3 d4 36.exd4 exd4 37.Qd3! Karjakin picks the right moment to blockade the position with a very accurate move, as Carlsen’s pieces are unable to break free in the game. 37…Qa5 The first question you got ask is what happens after 37…Re8? The answer is simply 38.Qc4! Re3 39.Bf3! and now the c-pawn is ready to run. 38.Qc2 A little bit of time trouble sees Karjakin missing the clinical kill with 38.h5! gxh5 39.Bxh5 Qb4 (No better is 39…Qc7 40.Qc4! and b6 is looming on the horizon next.) 40.Qf5 Rf8 41.Qg5+ Kh8 42.c7 Qxb2+ 43.Kh3 and White wins. 38…Qb4 39.b3 Re8 A good punt to try to save the game looks to be 39…d3!? 40.Bxd3 Rd5 but it doesn’t take the engine long to work out that 41.Kh3! Qd4 42.Qc4 and White wins as the passed pawns simply roll home. 40.Bc4 Re7?! How many times in chess have we seen players miss crucial moves on the final move of the time control? Here, for Carlsen, he missed 40…Re3! and suddenly not all is lost. After 41.Qf2 to anticipate …Qd6 and a hit on g3, Black hits back with 41…f5 and suddenly there’s realistic saving chances. 41.Qf2 Stronger was 41.Qd3! Qc5 42.Qf3 Qb6 43.Qd5! and White is clearly winning. 41…Qc3 42.Qf3 Qb4? It’s a tough position to defend, but retreating is exactly what Karjakin wants to see here. As ever, the engine finds hope with the amazing concept of 42…f5!! 43.Qd5 Qd2+ 44.Kh3 Qd1! 45.Qg8+ Kh6 46.Qf8+ Rg7 47.Bd5 Qg4+ 48.Kh2 d3 49.c7 f4! and White has to bail-out now by allowing the perpetual of 50.Qh8+ Rh7 51.c8Q Qxg3+ 52.Kh1 Qe1+ 53.Kg2 Qe2+ 54.Kh3 Qe3+ 55.Kg2 Qe2+ etc. 43.Kh3?! Being cautious almost costs Karjakin the win. Instead, very strong was 43.Qd5! Qd2+ 44.Kh3 Qf2 45.c7 Re8 46.b6 and the pawns trundle home. 43…Qd6? Uncharacteristically for Carlsen, he misses several practical saving chances in this ending – and another “moment” is missed with 43…Qe1! and it is tough for White to try to convert this. 44.Qf4 Qxf4? Carlsen has definitely lost the plot here, as the only chance of a ‘Hail Mary’ save involved keeping the queens on the board for a potential perpetual. After the better 44…Qc5 Karjakin freely admitted he didn’t quite know how he was going to win this position. He thought he could repeat first with 45.Qf3 but after 45…f5! and with a consolidating 46..Re4 in the air, it’s still not clear exactly how White does win. 45.gxf4 d3 46.Bxd3 Re3+ 47.Kg2 Rxd3 48.b6! Carlsen had missed this subtle pawn advance. He fully expected 48.c7 Rxb3 49.c8Q Rxb5 and the rook sets up a drawing fortress along the fifth rank. 48…Rxb3 49.b7 Rb6 50.h5! The last very accurate move needed from Karjakin, and its enough to seal the deal as the fortress evaporates. 50…gxh5 51.Kh3 Rxc6 52.b8Q Rc5 The pawn was needed on g6 to hold the fortress with the rook. 53.Qb2+ f6 54.Kh4 1-0


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