John Henderson
By John Henderson

Many believe the draw to be killing the game because it can be abused by the so-called short “grandmaster draw”. Now in a new twist for an elite event, the organisers of the Altibox Norway Chess  tournament in Stavanger have adopted a controversial new system that’s dividing professionals, punters and fans equally, with an ‘Armageddon’ scoring system that sees wins being rewarded by double points and drawn games being immediately replayed with a ‘sudden death’ tiebreak decider.

The confusing format has led some fans and punters threatening to switch off, others to complain that it is ‘devaluing’ a super-tournament that once was the highlight of the elite calendar, with some even hoping that the ill-conceived ‘draw-break’ format be abandon next year. On the other hand, several punters and fans are positively revelling with all the ‘thrills ’n’ spills’ involved and have taken to the new system.

You can’t please everyone it seems, but ironically, in many ways, it is almost a back to the future format from more than a century ago. Before the Dundee International of 1867 – won by Gustav Neumann, ahead of Wilhelm Steinitz, the future first world champion – became the first tournament to accept the draw as a legitimate score, games would be replayed ad nauseam until someone finally won.

I’m sure there were probably some naysayers back then also, but with its introduction as an official score, the “draw” became an overnight instant hit with the organisers and players alike: the organisers could run their tournaments to a stricter schedule, and not over-run by days, or even in some cases, weeks; it also suited the players, as they didn’t like the prospect of a prolonged series of never-ending battles that could well be decided by misfortunes from over-exhaustion rather than skill.

In Stavanger, thanks to digital clocks, and the Armageddon decider, if you draw the main game, then the second game is not so demanding as pre-Dundee 1867 – but it can still be a somewhat debilitatingly cruel process when you have the White pieces (with the additional extra few minutes) and can’t force a win, knowing that you have to take huge risks, as the draw will count as a win for Black.

Magnus Carlsen seems to have adapted best of all to the new format, and the Norwegian has now surged into the outright lead following an impressive round-three win over Alexander Grischuk. It is no surprise then that the World Champion has been a vocal supporter of the new format: “There has been plenty of fight in the classical games, and having Armageddon just gives it an extra dimension. It’s just extra excitement every day. I am sure there are people who like it, people who don’t like it, but I think it’s been very exciting so far and I look forward to the future,” he said.

1. M. Carlsen (Norway) 5/8; 2-4. Ding Liren (China), L. Aronian (Armenia), W. So (USA) 4/8; 5. S. Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan) 3½/7; 6. Yu Yangyi (China) 3/8; 7. F. Caruana (USA) 2½/7; 8. V. Anand (India) 2/8; 9-10. A. Grischuk (Russia), M. Vachier-Lagrave (France) 1/8.

Photo: Magnus Carlsen explains to commentators Judit Polgar and Anna Rudolf why he likes the new Armageddon format | © Lennart Ootes/Altibox Norway Chess

GM Magnus Carlsen – GM Alexander Grischuk
Altibox Norway Chess, (3)
Grünfeld Defence, Modern Exchange variation
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.e4 Nxc3 6.bxc3 Bg7 7.Be3 The Modern Exchange Variation – avoiding Bc4, while developing with Be3 and Nf3 – really only came to the fore during the 1980s. Back then, this was a problem line for Black to combat, and many speculated that the Grünfeld could go out of business – but new ways to counterattack against White’s solid centre was soon found. 7…c5 8.Rc1 Qa5 9.Qd2 0-0 10.Nf3 Bg4 11.d5 b5!? A very adventurous try against the world champion. Grischuk faired better against another world champion in the same city five years ago, where against Vladimir Kramnik, he played 11…Nd7 12.c4 Qa3 13.Be2 Bxf3 14.Bxf3 Bd4 15.Bxd4 cxd4 16.0-0 Ne5 17.Qxd4 Nxf3+ 18.gxf3 Qxf3 19.Rc3 Qe2 20.f4 Qxa2 21.f5!? and he not only managed to survive the coming attack but also went on to win – though it was far from convincing, as Kramnik missed several better ways to attack. Facing Carlsen, no doubt Grischuk wanted to avoid falling into the same attacking plan.…but he fails. 12.Be2 Nd7 13.0-0 Bxf3 Played after a lengthy thought. No player wants to voluntarily give up the bishop pair, but Grischuk has a plan that involves expanding on the queenside, and the Muscovite wanted to avoid the immediate 13…c4 that will be answered by 14.Nd4! where the hole on c6 is a big problem for Black. 14.Bxf3 c4 15.Be2 Rfd8?!N A novelty from Grischuk, but his plan is just far too slow and ambitious, as the position becomes double-edged and complex very quickly. Another critical try seen previously was 15…Qa3!? 16.f4 Nc5 17.e5 Rfd8 18.Bf3 f6 19.e6 f5 20.Bd4 Bxd4+ 21.Qxd4 Nxe6 22.Qe5!? with enormous complications, in Kantorik,M-Hlas,J, Zvolen 2000. 16.f4 Nb6 The fatal flaw in Grischuk’s plan is that his pieces end up being tangled on the queenside, which Carlsen simply ignores, as he moves in for the kill against the now defenceless Black king. 17.Bf3 Qa3 18.h4! It might not be the first choice of the engines, but from a human perspective, this is an easy move to understand as it continues the process of breaking down the defences around the Black king, while at the same time retaining, for now, the tension in the centre. Carlsen rejected the straightforward 18.e5 Rab8 19.Bxb6 Rxb6 as he said it was getting too complex, and he couldn’t see how to win now with a direct assault on the king. 18…e6 19.h5 With little or no kingside protection, Carlsen continues to rip open all lines of attack now. 19…Na4 The trouble for Black is that after 19…b4 White can simply ignore the c-pawn and plough on with the attack of 20.hxg6 hxg6 21.Qf2! exd5 22.f5! and there are too many lines of attack now opening against the Black king. 20.hxg6 I fully expected 20.f5!? right away – but Carlsen delays the obvious for now. 20…hxg6 21.f5! [see diagram] This had to come sooner or later – sooner is better. 21…exf5 By now, Grischuk realised his king was in grave danger, and there’s nothing he can do about it, as his pieces are too pre-occupied on the queenside to regroup to defend. And too slow is 21…Nxc3 as the attack now opens for the White bishops with 22.fxg6 fxg6 23.Bg4! Nxe4 24.Bxe6+ Kh7 25.Qe1! and Black is lost. And no better is 21…Bxc3 22.Qf2 exf5 23.exf5 Rf8 24.Rxc3! and, with Bd4! looming, the Black king will come to grief down the long, dark diagonal. 22.exf5 Qd6? The only slim hope Grischuk had was going for further complications with 22…Nxc3 23.fxg6 fxg6 and praying to the chess gods that Carlsen doesn’t find the very strong tactical sequence of 24.d6! Rxd6 25.Rxc3! Bxc3 (Black has to take care he just isn’t going into an ending a piece down, with 25…Qxc3? 26.Qxc3 Bxc3 27.Bxa8 Bd4 28.Kf2! winning.) 26.Bd5+! Kh7 (The Black king gets mated after 26…Kh8? 27.Bd4+ Bxd4+ 28.Qxd4+ Rf6 29.Qxf6+ Kh7 30.Qh4+ Kg7 31.Rf7+ Kg8 32.Qh7#) 27.Rf7+ Bg7 28.Rxg7+ Kxg7 29.Qd4+ Rf6 (Once again, any king move such as 29…Kh7 or; leads to a quick mate. 29…Kf8 ) 30.Bxa8 Qe7 31.Bd5 where the heady cocktail of bishops and queen will either win more material or snare the Black king. 23.Bf4 Qb6+ 24.Kh1 gxf5 25.d6! Disconnecting the Black queen and rook from the kingside defence – and opening the f-file for the final attack. 25…Rab8 26.Bd5 Nc5 27.Bg3 The clinical retreat was all the way with 27.Bh2!, as now 27…Ne4 is strongly met with the neat sacrificial finish of 28.Bxf7+!! quickly mating. 27…Ne6 More resistance was offered with 27…Ne4 28.Bxe4 fxe4 29.Rce1 Qc6 30.Qg5 Rxd6 31.Bxd6 Qxd6 32.Rxe4 Qh6+ 33.Qxh6 Bxh6 and, although Black has traded the queens and avoided the mating threats, White should have no problems winning. 28.Rxf5 Rxd6 29.Bxd6 Qxd6 30.Qe3 Qb6 31.Qf3 Rf8 32.Rf1 Something has to give now, as there’s too many open lines towards Grischuk’s king. 32…Nd8 33.Rh5 Qc7 34.Qe4 1-0


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