Wesley So thought 7 seconds before blundering mate-in-1 against Levon Aronian in a tricky position where he might still have won on time, but arguably that wasn’t the biggest blunder of Round 6 of Altibox Norway Chess. Alexander Grischuk suffered a complete blackout to drop a piece early on against Fabiano Caruana in a round when it seemed the rest day couldn’t come soon enough. Magnus Carlsen still leads after winning an enthralling match against Ding Liren, while Yu Yangyi kept up the pursuit by beating Vishy Anand.
You can replay all the games from the 2019 edition of Altibox Norway Chess using the selector below:
And here’s the day’s commentary from Peter Svidler and Jan Gustafsson:
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For a third time in this year’s Altibox Norway Chess all five games were drawn in classical chess, and this time most of those games were instantly forgettable. Anand-Yu Yangyi, Aronian-So and Mamedyarov-MVL all finished on move 31, which if nothing else tells you what the rule on draw offers is this year in Stavanger.
Grischuk-Caruana was a rare case of Alexander Grischuk winning the opening battle and starting ahead on the clock, but despite at one point thinking over 40 minutes on a move (29.g4!?) the Russian was unable to find a way to win a 4 pawns vs. 3 pawns on one wing position against Fabiano Caruana.
The highlight of the classical games – and also the Armageddon game with the most chess content – came in Carlsen-Ding Liren, the clash between the world no. 1 and world no. 3. So far all the classical games between the two have been drawn, and in the European Club Cup on October 17th last year Ding came close to beating the World Champion. In Stavanger he would once again have chances.
The opening had left known theory by move 5, and 7…b5 already had watching super-GMs getting out their popcorn:
After 8.Qb3 Qxd4 Magnus fell into an 18-minute think trying to work out, or remember, how best to get compensation for the sacrificed pawn. 9.Be3 looks to have been a strong move, but later on in the game Ding came within a move or two of consolidating a healthy extra pawn, before the game finally ended on move 60 (perhaps needing to fill out new scoresheets was the only reason the players didn’t continue to stalemate a move later?). By far the best way to follow the ebb and flow of that encounter is in this 40-minute video by the one and only Peter Svidler:
That video also covers the Carlsen-Ding Liren Armageddon, which was a thriller. By move 30 Magnus seemed to have built up an overwhelming position:
30.c5! would have been a sweet move to make, with 30…Bxd6? 31.cxd6 leaving Black unable to deal with the gaping hole on f5. Instead Magnus went for 30.f4!? when it seemed he’d missed something in the complications after 30…gxf3 (perhaps even just that the e3-knight is en prise!) and he retreated with 31.Rd3. The position became double-edged, and in fact Ding missed a win on move 40, though he was still on course for the draw he needed to win the Armageddon until the very final moments.
50…Be3! would still have been a draw, but the Chinese no. 1 played what Svidler pointed out was a more natural move, 50…Bd2?, both giving the king space and targeting the b4-pawn:
The problem was it was losing on the spot to 51.Rg6+! Kf4 52.Rg4+! and when the king moves to the third rank Rxg3+ will win the a3-rook (if the bishop was on e3 it would block that skewer).
So yet again Magnus had won a mini-match in Norway Chess – his sixth in six, including winning all five of his Armageddons. For Ding Liren, it was a 4th Armageddon loss in a row, as the Chinese no. 1 keeps falling just short.
Elsewhere there were two normal Armageddon games. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave still hasn’t won a game in the tournament, but a draw against Shakhriyar Mamedyarov gave him a second match victory. This one looked comfortable from start to finish, with Black if anyone the side who could play for more.
Anand-Yu Yangyi wasn’t so smooth, since Vishy not only won a pawn but gained the bishop pair. The counterattack, however, was like a whirlwind:
32…f4! 33.Bxf4? (33.Bxf6, 34.Qd7 and White can fight on) 33…Qh3! and it turns out White already has no good way to deal with the threat of Ng4 and mate. 34.f3? exf3 35.Qh2 Qxh2+ 36.Kxh2 parried the immediate execution, but after 36…Ng4+ there was no way to avoid losing material to forks. Vishy resigned on move 48, meaning international supertournament newcomer Yu Yangyi has now won five mini-matches, including four in Armageddon. His only loss was in a classical game against Wesley So.
Let’s be honest, though, none of those games are why Round 6 of Altibox Norway Chess will be remembered! Levon Aronian has been involved in the wildest Armageddon action in Stavanger, and he didn’t disappoint on Monday when he took on Wesley So. In the early middlegame Levon was on the point of crashing through with a mating attack:
It looks like there should be a killer blow, but 25.Qh5, which our commentary team initially thought was winning on the spot, is not yet decisive due to 25…Qe3. The same problem occurred in the game after Levon spent over two minutes on 25.Qg4. In fact the best move was 25.g6! immediately, when after 25…Nf6 White has the plan of Qf3-h3 and threatening to sacrifice on f6 and give mate with the queen. Although that can be parried it seems there’s no stopping White gradually bringing the other rook into the action to tip the scales in his favour.
In the game, Wesley So remained just above water, even if the critical position of the game was deeply unpleasant for Black:
Black has no way to free himself and White is threatening to take the a6-pawn and queen the a-pawn. The overall situation, however, was far from grim, since Levon had only 13 seconds to So’s 30 to make the 15 moves required to start getting a 3 second per move increment i.e. any move that didn’t lose on the spot would have given Black good winning chances. Alas, after 7 seconds, where you could watch Wesley wrestle with his subconscious, he went for 46…Nf5?? Levon executed the final move with a flourish:
“Another stellar performance”, quipped Levon afterwards, as he noted his chess is improving but his time management still needs some work!
Don’t miss Levon’s interview with Judit Polgar and Anna Rudolf on the official live show:
Little did we know that would be only the day’s second most shocking blunder. Wesley had been under intense pressure in a miserable position, while the blunder in Grischuk-Caruana came in the opening stages while Alexander Grischuk still had eight minutes left on his clock:
It’s perhaps worth noting that Grischuk’s previous move had been 16.Qc1, giving X-ray support to the bishop on e3. Here, however, he somehow completely forgot about the knight on d2 and played 17.Bh6??? Fabiano Caruana apologetically replied 17…Bxh6 and accepted his opponent’s resignation:
If super-GMs can make such blunders perhaps there’s hope for us all?
But there was also the search for an explanation. Is playing an Armageddon game 15 minutes after a classical game so tough on the players? Perhaps, especially if, like Grischuk, you’d spent four hours trying to convert a slender advantage.
There may be a simpler explanation, however, with Magnus noting:
When the radioactive dust from those meltdowns had settled we were left with the following crosstable:
As you can see, Magnus has won all his matches and is still 1.5 points clear at the top, while Yu Yangyi has won 5 and lost one classical game to remain in second place. If the tournament was only classical we’d have Carlsen, Aronian, So and Ding Liren all tied on +1, but 2 Armageddon losses for Aronian, 3 for So and 4 for Ding Liren have done their damage.
In Round 7 Wesley So will have a chance to repeat what he did last year and beat Magnus in classical chess in Norway, in which case the winner of Yu Yangyi-Aronian would be right back in the fight for first place. Before that, though, the players can try to recover on the rest day, while there’s no rest for our commentators!
Peter Svidler will be playing Banter Blitz in English at 17:00 CEST (the usual starting time in Norway), while Jan Gustafsson will do the same in German at 19:00 CEST. Of course you don’t need to understand the language to challenge Jan, though you should be a Premium member.