World Champion Magnus Carlsen reigns supreme on his home turf, as the Norwegian secured his fourth successive and fifth overall Norway Chess title in Stavanger, but not before the high-drama of a penultimate round that was punctuated by yet another great escape from the top seed and an amazing blunder from his nearest rival, ex-world champion Vishy Anand.
Leading by just a half point, somehow Carlsen managed to come back from the dead against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave to beat the Frenchman to hold onto his narrow lead at the top – but now he was going into the final round being closely chased not by his former title foe by instead Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, after the Indian lost in the most bizarre of circumstances.
In today’s diagram, Anand has just played 22.Qb5, oblivious to the fact that the move should come with a government health warning as it falls into the rather unusual mating pattern of 22…Qxf3+!! 23.Kxf3 Nh4 mate! As usual in such scenarios, Anand only became aware of the magnitude of his blunder immediately after he’d made the move, and, with Mamedyarov not at the board, his body-language contortions of discomfort made for quite a show on the live video feed.
But stranger things was still to come. When Mamedyarov did return to the board, he was totally bamboozled as to why Anand was resigning – the Azeri being equally oblivious to the fact that 22.Qb5 was a double “??” move until Anand pointed out why! Indeed, more revealing was the fact that, after the game, the Azeri himself said that he also expected 22.Qb5, as he thought that was the best move in the position!
So there we have it: The all-to-human frailties of chess in a nutshell, with two Top-10 grandmasters, one being a five-time ex-world champion, and the other, a three-time candidate, simultaneously being afflicted by a rare form of double blindness with both not spotting the game-ending blunder.
And that bizarre win for Mamedyarov almost propelled him to a stunning first-place finish in what proved to a nerve-wracking final round. The Azeri was finishing the stronger, scoring two back-to-back classical wins to claim 6-points to shoot up the leaderboard – and in the final round, he came perilously close to beating his fellow countryman, Teimour Radjabov, that would have won the title ahead of Carlsen.
But Radjabov somehow managed to stave off defeat to take the match into the armageddon decider, and with Carlsen – after escaping another scare to draw with Veselin Topalov – already having drawn with black against the Bulgarian to “win” his tiebreaker, the all-Azeri tiebreaker was academic, as the world champion was already guaranteed his fifth Norway Chess title regardless of the result.
A contented Carlsen commented in victory that: “+3 is good and winning on classical score rather than because I won Armageddon is quite satisfying. I think my play was pretty good for most of the tournament, and then I just completely ran out of steam at the end. I think in the end maybe the result is a little bit better than the performance, but for the first six rounds it was very good.”
One of those +3 classical wins that proved crucial for Carlsen going on to snatch the title came from a rather unexpected opening theory blunder gift in Round 4 from his long-time rival, Anish Giri, that led to the Dutchman panicking and inexplicably hitting the self-destruct button.
1. M. Carlsen (Norway) 16½/30; 2. S. Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan) 15½/29.5; 3. V. Anand (India) 14½/30; 4. M. Vachier-Lagrave (France) 14/30; 5. W. So (USA) 12½/30.5; 6. A. Giri (Netherlands) 12/29.5; 7. V. Topalov (Bulgaria) 9½/31; 8. A Tari (Norway) 9½/30; 9. T. Radjabov (Azerbaijan) 8/30; 10. Wang Hao (China) 7½/30.5.
GM Magnus Carlsen – GM Anish Giri
10th Norway Chess, (4.1)
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Nc3 c5 5.cxd5 cxd4 More normal in the Semi-Tarrasch is 5…Nxd5 but the text, I believe, was originally played in the fabled Zurich Candidates Tournament 1953 by Paul Keres. The whole line though looks more like an improved version of the Schara-Henning-Gambit (without the gambit), and apparently has a reputation of being “drawish”. 6.Qxd4 exd5 7.Bg5 Be7 8.e3 0-0 9.Be2 Also popular more recently has been 9.Rd1 down to US Grandmaster Sam Shankland publishing last year his Lifetime Repertoire 3 course. 9…Nc6 10.Qd3 h6 11.Bh4 Be6?! Giri admitted he’d blundered by getting his opening theory mixed up here – he had intended to play 11…Qb6 and …Rd8 first, but now he’s walked into a line that’s known to be a little “dodgy” – and one very similar to a position that Carlsen himself suffered on the Black side to against Pragg recently in the Oslo Esports Cup. 12.0-0 Qb6 13.Bxf6 Bxf6 14.Nxd5 Despite the mishap, the opening looks OK for Giri, as it’s difficult to see how Carlsen can claim any advantage. 14…Bxd5 15.Qxd5 Qxb2 16.Bc4 Qxa1?! Giri looks as if he’s panicked by getting his opening theory wrong, and gone for a complex and radical solution rather than the sensible option of 16…Qa3! 17.Rad1 Na5! 18.Bd3 g6 and Black is not far off now from holding the position together. 17.Rxa1 Bxa1 18.g4! White has to get the attack rolling, as holding tight will only allow Black to build resistance by activating his rooks on the central files. 18…Rae8?! According to our Silicon Overlords, best is 18…Rad8 but Black still has “difficulties” unravelling after 19.Qf5 Bf6 20.h4 Ne7 21.Qc2! (Denying Black the chance to play …Ng6. If 21.Qf4? Ng6 22.Qg3 Rc8 23.Bb3 Rc5! 24.g5 hxg5 25.hxg5 Be7 and with the over-extended g5-pawn proving to be a liability, Black will now easily brings his remaining rook into the fray with arguably the better long-term chances.) 21…Rc8! 22.g5 Bxg5! 23.hxg5 b5 24.Bxf7+ Rxf7 25.Qe4 Rc5 26.gxh6 gxh6 and it is very hard to see how White can possibly win here, especially with the engine throwing up the scenario 27.Nd4 Nf5! 28.Qe8+ Rf8 29.Qg6+ Kh8 30.Ne6 Rg8 31.Qxg8+ Kxg8 32.Nxc5 and a likely draw on the cards. 19.h4 Better might well be the immediate 19.g5!? 19…Re7 20.g5! The rooks are more than a match numerically for the queen, but Carlsen ruthlessly is just not allowing Giri to consolidate his position, and this is what makes all the difference. 20…hxg5 21.Nxg5 You know it is dangerous when the engine instead wants to flick in first 21.Qf5! which does have the advantage of stopping …Bf6, and play likely continuing with 21…Ne5 22.Nxg5 g6 23.Qe4 Rfe8 24.Bb3 Kg7 25.h5! and White’s attack looks set to crash through. 21…Bf6 22.Qf5 Bxg5 23.hxg5 Re5 24.Qf4 Rc5 I can understand why Giri played this move, just looking to try and get some activity, but according to the engine, the defence was to keep things compact with 24…Re7 25.g6 Ne5 26.gxf7+ Nxf7 27.Qf5 Rd8 with the plan of …Rd6 and the rook swinging over to c6 or f6. 25.g6 Ne5 26.gxf7+ Nxf7 27.Be6 Even better was 27.Bb3 with the immediate threat being to start pushing the e-pawn quickly up the board. 27…Rh5? There’s a disconnect with the rook on h5 – as uncomfortable as it looks, Giri’s only hope to try to hang on was to keep it compact with 27…Rc6 28.Qf5 Rc7 29.e4 Re7 30.Bb3 Rd8 but after 31.e5! Rb8 32.f4! Black is more or less sitting in Death’s Waiting Room. 28.Qc7 g5? Facing the relentless pressure of having to defend an awkward position against a rampant Carlsen, the Dutchman inexplicably reaches for the self-destruct button again. 29.Qxb7 Rh6 30.Bb3 Maintaining the problematic “forever pin” on the f7 knight. 30…g4 31.Qxa7 All roads lead to Rome now, but according to the engine, the quickest route to get there was 31.e4! and no realistic way to stop the e-pawn pushing to e6. 31…Kg7 32.e4 Rh5 33.Qc7 Kf6 34.a4 1-0