Dull or exciting? That was the question in round two of Norway Chess on Wednesday.
When GM Veselin Topalov exceeded the time limit against GM Viswanathan Anand, the Indian became the sole victor in the classical games of the second round. GM Wesley So took down the World Champion Magnus Carlsen in the armageddon games.
This leaves Anand in first place with 6 points ahead of So with 4.5.
Round three will begin on Thursday, June 2, at 8 a.m. PT / 17:00 Central Europe.
Round two was armageddon day, not because the players had to sit through watching the 1998 movie by Michael Bay featuring Bruce Willis & Ben Afleck—although encouraging players not to draw their classical games by forcing them to watch that movie each time before playing an armageddon game could be an idea for future editions of Norway Chess. No, it was because we had no less than four armageddon games in today’s round, all of these were, in fact, so exciting we choose one of them as our game of the day.
Back in 2010, the two combatants in this game played an intense match in Sofia, Bulgaria for the World Championship match. For those unfamiliar with the stories surrounding it, I can highly recommend Michael Abeln’s excellent book “The Anand Files” (Quality Chess 2019). They have, of course, played several times since then, but nowadays both players are rarely seen in top tournaments, especially in the same tournament. So, for chess fans who like more than the games themselves, this was an excellent encounter.
In a trendy line in the Queen’s Gambit Accepted where White plays 3.e4 and Black answers 3…b5, Topalov sacrificed a pawn for positional pressure. Although the engines claim that Black was fine, it was clear that it was easier to play as White. As a consequence, Anand returned not just one, but two pawns to get his queenside pieces developed and his position freed up a bit.
That changed the direction of the game considerably, giving Black lots of activity for the sacrificed pawn and when Topalov did not find the critical continuation on move 21, it was clear that Black was okay. This prompted Topalov to take even longer to make up his mind about his moves and soon ended up in time trouble. Anand expressed after the game that around move 26-27 that “as long as I didn’t get carried away, he [Topalov] had to ‘pay for his time management’ at least and steer toward a draw with some difficulty.”
Anand stuck with his plan, consistently putting pressure on White while avoiding possible implications. In a still complex, but objectively equal position, Topalov exceeded the time limit.
With his impressive start, Anand re-enters the world’s top 10 on the live list:
In a peculiar but topical line in the Queen’s Gambit Tarrasch/Semi-Tarrasch, the players, GMs Teimour Radjabov and Aryan Tari, quickly got the queens off the board. The imbalances were that White had sacrificed a pawn to wreck Black’s pawns in the center and leave the black king looking for a good place to hide.
This type of position can be tricky to play for Black, but Tari seemed very well-prepared and never seemed to be in any serious danger.
By contrast, the armageddon game was a messy affair. Radjabov played the Catalan, against which Tari captured the c4-pawn and kept it. You usually do not do that unpunished, but when Radjabov missed his best chances to break through in the center, Tari took over and gained a large advantage.
However, Tari had taken too much time calculating everything and missed his chances to attack White’s king and instead weakened his own. As the clock continued to tick away, so did his chances and Radjabov swooped in with his queen to deliver the final punch against Black’s king.
A crazy game that could have gone either way.
GM Anish Giri drew the envy of Najdorf man GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, who in a trip to the confessional booth expressed a wish for him and Giri to switch places so that Giri could try to take advantage of his opponent’s isolated pawn while he then could have fun in Giri’s Najdorf Sicilian.
Giri did indeed have a sharp Najdorf on the board against GM Wang Hao, with the kings castled in opposite directions. The first 18 moves had been played several times before and then Giri went in a different direction.
Interestingly, through a transposition, the players could have reached a game by Vachier-Lagrave on move 22! However, Giri improved on the Frenchman’s play although it did require a massive think on move 26 to avoid disaster and lead the game into drawing territory.
The armageddon was another Najdorf, but this time, White castled kingside, and Black’s king went to e7. After imprecise moves by Wang in the early middlegame, Black completely took charge of the game.
However, Wang managed to complicate it as Giri was trying to keep the position under control, and while White had some chances, Giri was doing fine never, more than a little away from equality. In mutual time trouble, Wang blundered, allowing Giri a decisive advantage, which he later returned to get a drawn endgame without any risk of Wang winning the game.
Frequently, when So plays the white pieces against Carlsen in classical games, he takes the approach that Carlsen will have to show how badly he wants to win and thus plays something supersolid that is almost impossible to crack. This was the script for today’s game, where the play went via a Slav Defense into a Semi-Slav into an impossibly boring position.
This prompted Carlsen midgame to drop into the confessional booth to deliver the following message:
Carlsen in the confessional: “This is one of the most stupid opening ideas I have ever tried. He plays in the most natural way, we end up in a position that is drawn but he is a bit better. I feel pretty confident he will go for that. ” #NorwayChess #2sjakk pic.twitter.com/XZoWLwtDNP
— Tarjei J. Svensen (@TarjeiJS) June 1, 2022
Apparently, it touched a nerve with GM Peter Heine Nielsen, Carlsen’s longtime coach, who responded on Twitter with “Evolved from ‘Clown’ to ‘most stupid’. Feels like progress.” Clearly, you cannot always please the World Champion…
That was about as controversial as that game got. The World Champion appeared to aim for a new land speed record, using the least amount of time for the entire game. When a draw was agreed upon on move 38, he had not even used thirteen minutes for the entire affair. Admittedly, some of it was preparation, some of it was forced, and the final phase was simple.
In the armageddon, we had a much more eventful game on our hands where both sides had a share of the chances, but with the clocking ticking down, the mistakes started sneaking in, mainly on Carlsen’s side, and then So struck in a combinational fashion.
This prompted Topalov to enter the confessional booth to express his admiration for So’s talent:
Above, we heard about Vachier-Lagrave’s wishes about playing Giri’s position rather than his own against GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov.
He did indeed play the line in the Semi-Tarrasch that was also used in Radjabov-Tari but opted for a different seventh move. However, he did not get anything out of the opening and soon the players were heading for a draw.
For the armageddon game, the French grandmaster wheeled a peculiar line against Mamedyarov’s Petroff, a line he had also used a couple of weeks ago in Bucharest where both players took part. Here, the variation worked like a charm and gave White an advantage, but a less-than-accurate follow-up allowed Black back in the game and even gave him an advantage in the middlegame.
However, as we saw in the other armageddon games, things can get crazy when the time control is skewed and the odds are big. One slip-up by Mamedyarov tilted the game in Vachier-Lagrave’s favor and this time, he did not let go and systematically improved his position and eventually converted his advantage into a winning endgame.
Round 2 Standings
All Games Round 2
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).