World Champion Magnus Carlsen on Monday picked up another one of those victories he has become famous for, squeezing blood from stones vs. GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov. Carlsen now leads the 2022 Norway Chess in Stavanger alone after six rounds and got his live rating up to 2870, 19 points from his highest ever.
GMs Viswanathan Anand and Wesley So won armageddon games in their respective match-ups and are now in second and third place. Round seven will begin on Tuesday, June 7, at 8 a.m. PT / 17:00 Central Europe.
With the top games being decided in armageddon games, the results in games in round six only meant minor changes at the top of the tournament standings. The biggest movements happened among the lower-ranked where two wins in the classical games shifted things a bit around. More about those games below.
One of the indisputable strengths of Carlsen is the ability to pull himself together and carry on toward his goals after momentary or temporary setbacks. In round five of the tournament he got completely outplayed by Anand in the classical game but somehow managed to hang on to hold the draw. Then in the armageddon game, he held advantages of various sizes, yet he went on to lose in a painful fashion to the Indian “re-tigered” former teen prodigy and five-time world champion.
In round six, Carlsen had to play Mamedyarov against whom he had a memorable game back in the Tata Steel Chess Tournament in Wijk aan Zee earlier this year. This was the game that Mamedyarov at the closing ceremony said that it gave him hope for humanity’s fight against the engines due to Carlsen’s amazing precision and ingenuity.
In that game, as well as his two classical wins in this event, Carlsen had played the Catalan and therefore, for obvious reasons, Mamedyarov saw no point in walking into that kind of killing zone willingly. Instead, he chose a set-up that transposed into the super-solid symmetrical line of the Fianchetto Grunfeld.
Carlsen reacted by sacrificing a pawn and when Mamedyarov expertly navigated the complications and returned the pawn, Carlsen sacrificed another pawn. Yet Mamedyarov continued playing the defense incredibly accurately.
Despite the material gradually being reduced, the Norwegian kept pushing, shoving, and creating micro-problems for the Azeri grandmaster. Shortly after the time control when the commentators seemed ready to call the game as drawn and prepare for yet another armageddon game, Mamedyarov, who was down to playing on the increments, missed a draw and then ended up in a nasty pin.
While it was not lost, you don’t want to play such a position against Carlsen with 30 seconds on the clock. Mamedyarov collapsed with a blunder on move 46, allowing Carlsen a simple combination to win a pawn and that sufficed to force resignation a mere 10 moves later.
A disappointing loss for Mamedyarov, but also an example of why Carlsen is so ridiculously difficult to deal with at the board: you play almost perfect chess for more than 40 moves and then you commit one mistake and the game is lost.
Perhaps inspired by Anand’s comments in connection with his game against So earlier in the tournament about not having analyzed a certain line in the past five to six years, GM Anish Giri opted for the English Opening against the Indian veteran, but rather than repeating his play from the game against So, Anand went for 3…d5. This seemed to be a solid and reasonable choice as White never really had much of an advantage.
After having made some attempts at breaking through on the queenside, Giri invited to a repetition of moves which was dutifully accepted by Black.
In the armageddon game, Giri tried Danish GM Bent Larsen’s 1.b3. Anand responded with a relatively rare line involving 3…a6 which stops White’s ideas of playing Bb5(+). Giri played inaccurately, allowing Black to play …d5-d4. Already after 10 moves, it was clear that White’s opening had been a failure.
Things got gradually worse as Black was allowed to set up a bind on the dark squares on the queenside. Forced to avoid exchanges, Giri had to make several poor choices, and ultimately, Black was completely winning. But only needing a draw due to the draw odds in the armageddon, Anand steadfastly refused to make an attempt at winning the game, and instead demonstrated that White had zero chances of winning.
Another round, another worrisome effort from the participant in the upcoming Candidates tournament in Madrid. GM Teimour Radjabov earned his spot by qualifying in the previous cycle through winning the 2019 World Cup and then not showing up for the 2020 Candidates tournament in Yekaterinburg, Russia due to his concerns about Covid-19. The other players showed up but then had to travel home amid the global chaos of canceled flights and many other complications and then return to Yekaterinburg nearly a year later to complete the event.
Since then, Radjabov has only participated in online events and while that kind of thing can be sufficient for some, it clearly has not been for Radjabov who has been struggling throughout the entire event, with some momentary reminders of what an amazing chess player he can be when things work out for him.
Former FIDE World Champion GM Veselin Topalov has also struggled a bit, but as a mostly self-imposed semi-retiree, that has been entirely understandable.
Their classical game had for unfamiliar eyes the appearance of an interesting battle where the players thought long and hard about the complications on the board that arose from a 4.Qc2 Nimzo-Indian, but for those of us in the know, it resembled a charade. Even I, who does not play this line with either color, knew that all of it had been played before. In fact, it had been played twice in Yu-Ding, FIDE World Cup (Khanty-Mansiysk 2019) and Yilmaz-Berkes, FIDE Grand Swiss (Isle of Man) 2019. All of it.
In the armageddon game, things somehow got even worse. Radjabov played a line he was unfamiliar with, the Anti-Moscow Gambit, where his knowledge seemed outdated by at least a decade. He did not respond accurately to Topalov’s 10…Nh5, which is considered risky for Black. But after 12 moves, White was essentially a pawn down without compensation.
In the final position, where Topalov gave a perpetual check, as it would guarantee the armageddon bonus, Radjabov was down four pawns entirely without compensation.
One of the pleasant surprises of this year’s Norway Chess has been the performance of last-minute replacement GM Aryan Tari, who has scored an impressive 50 percent in the classical games. His round-six opponent So has proven himself in excellent form this spring and demonstrated that he is near the peak of his powers at the moment.
In an Italian Game, Tari carefully defended against So’s attempts at breaking through and afforded the American no serious chances of an advantage, in fact, at one point, Black even seemed to be marginally better.
It was not the most interesting game, but undoubtedly a very satisfactory for the young Norwegian player who celebrated his 23rd birthday a couple of days ago.
So has proven a bit of a beast in the armageddon games, and therefore it was not a surprise that Tari would attempt to rattle the American. The fact that he succeeded in that was surprising, the sad thing is that he let it slip out of his hands again.
After several mistakes, from inaccuracies to outright game-losing blunders by both players, Tari made the last crucial mistake and thus lost the game. A crazy game but once more, Tari demonstrated his potential.
The first game of the round to finish was the classical game in this match-up. GM Wang Hao allowed GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave his first Najdorf Sicilian of the tournament. White opted for GM Bobby Fischer’s 6.h3 which has been extremely popular for the last several years, but when encountered with a very rare idea, 8…b5, White went for an unambitious option that allowed Black to get a good game.
Shortly after, apparently satisfied with a draw, Vachier-Lagrave opened the door for a repetition of moves, and Wang jumped on that option faster than you could blink your eyes.
20 minutes later, the players got themselves going with the armageddon game. Here, Wang altered his approach, instead choosing the London System rather than allowing the Frenchman to play his Grunfeld Indian.
It quickly became clear that the Chinese player was not particularly familiar with the nuances of the London. Even after a missed opportunity by Vachier-Lagrave, White started to flounder, and even when given additional opportunities as a result of Black’s aggressive game plan, he did not step up to the challenge. After a couple of mistakes by White, Vachier-Lagrave was allowed to deliver the killing 32…Re2!, forcing instant resignation.
The 2022 Norway Chess runs May 31-June 10, 2022. The event consists of a 10-player single round-robin in a classical time control of 120 minutes for the game with a 10-second increment after move 40. The scoring system is three points for a win instead of the usual one. If the game is drawn, competitors play an armageddon game with the winner scoring 1.5 points and the loser 1 point. The prize fund is 2.5 million Norwegian kroner (NOK).