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After shocking Magnus Carlsen to steal all the early limelight in the 10th Norway Chess Tournament, Vishy Anand has finally been caught up with and supplanted in the sole lead by the man who took his crown – and now the two title titans are set for a dramatic finale, with a half-point separating the 15th and 16th World Champions going into the final two rounds in Stavanger.

After a typically sluggish slow start from Carlsen, the current world champion is now beginning to heat-up with a troika of 3-point classical wins over Teimour Radjabov, Anish Giri and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov respectively to move into a narrow lead by the end of Round 6 – and not even a set-back armageddon loss in Round 7 to his fellow countryman, Aryan Tari, could knock Carlsen off the top-spot heading into Wednesday’s final rest-day.

It’s always an ominous sign when Carlsen slips into the lead going down the homestretch, and with those three wins, the top seed is not only back on-course for a fourth straight Norway Chess title, he’s also increased his unofficial live rating to 2870 (just 19 points off his previous personal best), and the dream also could be back on once again for the Norwegian to break the mythical Elo 2900-barrier.

Unquestionably the Stavanger story has been ‘vintage Vishy’, but equally it was also vintage Magnus in Round 7, as the current world champion demonstrated his trademark ‘blood-from-stone’ ways with a virtuoso performance to beat Mamedyarov to take the sole lead, as the Azeri simply collapsed under the relentless pressure.

“I didn’t do anything too special,” said Carlsen after the game. “I think e5 was a nice practical decision and made it a bit difficult for him. After that I think we both made some minor mistakes, but I always had, I think, serious winning chances and I was never panicking at all about all the pawns being on the same flank and everything, because I thought with little time it’s going to be very, very hard to defend, and he couldn’t quite keep his nerves, so it went fairly easily.”

There’s full live coverage of the final two rounds of Chess Norway on Chess24, with commentary from GM Jan Gustafsson and IM Jovanka Houska. Play starts on Thursday & Friday at 11AM ET | 5PM CEST.

Standings:
1. M. Carlsen (Norway) 13½/23; 2. V. Anand (India) 13/23.5; 3-4. S. Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan), M. Vachier-Lagrave (France) 11½/23; 5. W. So (USA) 10/23.5; 6. A. Tari (Norway) 8½/23.5; 7. A. Giri (Netherlands) 8/23; 8. V. Topalov (Bulgaria) 7/24; 9. Wang Hao (China) 5½/23.5; 10. T. Radjabov (Azerbaijan) 5/23.

GM Magnus Carlsen – GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov
Norway Chess, (6.1)
Catalan/Neo-Grünfeld
1.Nf3 d5 2.g3 g6 3.Bg2 Bg7 4.d4 Nf6 5.0-0 0-0 6.c4 c6 The strategy of the Neo-Grünfeld is that both sides have tactical possibilities along the long diagonal. Some players will choose complete symmetry with cxd5 cxd5 and games that tend to end in draws after significant exchanges – or, like Carlsen in this game, you can play a bit more dynamically by turning it into a Catalan and sacrificing a pawn. 7.Nc3 dxc4 8.e4 White has total control of the centre, and the reality is that it will be extremely difficult and contortionist in nature for Black to attempt to hang onto the c4-pawn. 8…Bg4 9.h3 Bxf3 10.Bxf3 e5 Mamedyarov simply wants to liquidate Carlsen’s central control rather than try to hold onto the extra pawn with 10…b5 11.e5 Nd5 12.a4! and White has excellent prospects of undermining Black’s awkward queenside pawn structure and development. 11.dxe5 Nfd7 12.e6! fxe6 13.Be3 Carlsen has excellent piece-play with the bishop-pair as compensation for the pawn – and long-term, Mamedyarov has two weak targets on c4 and e6 to worry about. But a pawn is a pawn. 13…Qe7 14.Bg2 Potentially thinking about expanding with f4 and e5 (looking to get the knight hop Nc3-e4-d6 in), and also setting up Qe2 to attack c4 whilst not having to worry about the loose Bf3. 14…Na6 15.Qe2 Nb4 It’s impractical to even think about defending the c4-pawn. After 15…b5?! 16.a4! Nc7 17.axb5 cxb5 18.e5 Rac8 19.Rxa7 Bxe5 20.Rd1 and White is on top. 16.Qxc4 Nc2 17.Nd5! All of this, Carlsen admitted, was in his prep for his title match last year against Ian Nepominiachtchi – and it has his title second Daniil Dubov’s fingerprints all over it! 17…cxd5 18.Qxc2 d4! Mamedyarov is up for the tango! 19.Bd2 Rac8 20.Qb3 Nc5 21.Qa3 Mamedyarov has the pawn and a minuscule edge – but the reality is that, with the bishop-pair and a few pawn weaknesses to target, Carlsen is the one who has much the easier play in this complex position. 21…Qd7 A sneaky move, as the queen just isn’t escaping out of the pin down the a3-f8 diagonal. 22.Rac1 Snatching the pawn only works in Black’s favour, with 22.Qxa7?! d3 23.Be3 Na4! and White is in trouble. 22…b6 23.e5! Carlsen begins to mix it again, not allowing Mamedyarov the chance to consolidate his position. 23…Bxe5 24.Rfe1 Bg7 25.b4 Na4 Carlsen does what Carlsen does best of all, as he stretches his opponent’s position to the extent that Mamedyarov has to proceed with an element of awkwardness and extreme caution. 26.Rxc8 Rxc8 27.Qb3 Black’s position is now stretched to the limit that he can’t defend both the e6-pawn and the the knight-on-the-rim – so something has to give now. 27…Nc3 28.Rxe6 Carlsen now has slightly the better of equality – but he continues to squeeze his opponent until he blunders under the pressures. 28…Kh8 29.Kh2 Re8 30.Rxe8+ Qxe8 Mamedyarov had to have felt relieved now as the position simplifies even more – but Carlsen, being Carlsen, he continues to push the envelope to make the most of his bishop-pair, and sure enough Mamedyarov starts to crack. 31.Qc4 h6 32.a3 a5 33.bxa5 bxa5 34.Bf1! Carlsen quickly spots that the bishop is better off being redeployed to d3 where it not only blockades the passed d-pawn but also opens up an attack on the Black king. 34…Qf8 35.Kg2 Ne4 36.Be1! A strategic retreat and pawn sacrifice, as very soon the bishops will be springing to life to put Mamedyarov’s position under some strain. 36…Qxa3 37.Bd3 Nd6 38.Qa6 There’s no-one in chess who can stretch an opponent more than Magnus Carlsen can – and even here, still a pawn down and in an ending, he relentlessly piles on the pressure to such an extent that Mamedyarov collapses. 38…Nf5 39.h4! Carlsen is in no rush to capture the a5-pawn, as he first gains more space and further weakening Mamedyarov’s position, which is now looking somewhat loose. 39…h5 40.Bxa5 Carlsen has restored the material equilibrium – but now his queen and bishop-pair combine to put Mamedyarov’s king in danger. 40…Kh7 41.Qb5 Qf8 42.Qd5 Carlsen stretches and stretches – but as Mamedyarov continues to hang on by his fingertips, it doesn’t take much for a fatal error to creep in now that prove decisive. 42…Qd6 43.Qf3? The only slip-up from Carlsen in the game – the way to go looked like the pure endgame with 43.Qxd6 Nxd6 44.Kf3 and a difficult position for Black to hold. But Carlsen knows that keeping the queens on the board in this position will only prove more problematic for Mamedyarov to have to deal with…but luckily for Carlsen, his opponent fails to spot the dramatic tactical save. 43…Qe5? It was a somewhat relieved Carlsen who admitted after the game that he only noticed after playing 43.Qf3 that it allowed the tactic 43…Qa3!, the point being that after the a5-bishop moves, now comes the saving resource of 44…Ne3+! 45.fxe3 Qxd3 and nothing to play for other than a draw. 44.Bd8! The idea is Bd8-g5 and possibly Bf4 – the bishop-pair is simply difficult for Black to have to deal with. 44…Qe6 45.Qb7 Nd6?! More resilient was 45…Nh6 46.Qb5 Be5 and Black has excellent chances of holding. But with the text move, Mamedyarov inadvertently added a self-inflicted new pin into the mix. 46.Qc6 Qb3?! Mamedyarov cracks under the relentless pressure – the only way to try to hang on was the awkward defence 46…Be5 47.Bc7! and it is just not easy for Black to defend with so many pins and f4 hanging in the air. 47.Bxg6+! Kxg6 48.Qxd6+ Kh7 49.Qd7! [see diagram] There’s just no good way to stop the immediate threat of Bf6 winning, other than what Mamedyarov is now forced to play. 49…Kg6 50.Qc6+ Kf7 And as if Mamedyarov’s problems weren’t big enough as it was, then retreating back with the king was just as bad, as 50…Kh7 51.Qe4+ Kg8 52.Qe8+ Kh7 53.Qxh5+ Kg8 54.Qe8+ Kh7 55.Qe4+ Kg8 56.Bg5! d3 57.g4 Qc3 58.Be3 and as 58…d2 59.Qd5+ wins the d-pawn, and Black is paralysed and can only watch on as White begins pushing his g- and h-pawns up the board to victory. 51.Qc5 Qb7+ 52.f3 Ke8 There’s no defence. If 52…d3 53.Qc4+ Ke8 54.Qe6+! Kf8 (Also lost is 54…Kxd8 55.Qg8+ Bf8 56.Qxf8+ Kd7 57.Qf7+ Kc6 58.Qxb7+ Kxb7 59.Kf2 etc.) 55.Bb6! Qe7 56.Qf5+ Qf7 57.Qxd3 winning. 53.Bc7 Qb2+ 54.Kh3 d3 55.Qxh5+ Kd7 56.Qf7+ Kc6 1-0 And Mamedyarov resigns before Carlsen could play 57.Qc4+ Kb7 58.Bf4 Qc3 59.Qd5+ Ka6 60.Be3 with the d-pawn now stopped in its tracks, the Black king in danger of being mated, and White’s passed pawns pushing rapidly up the board.

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