With more plot twists than a whole season’s worth of “Game of Thrones,” the eighth round of Norway Chess delivered more surprises, shocks, and horrors than anyone could have counted on setting up an exciting last round of the tournament.
Through a miracle of some kind, World Champion Magnus Carlsen on Thursday managed to avoid losing the classical against GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, and then pulled a win from a chaotic armageddon game. When former World Champion Viswanathan Anand simultaneously lost after a horrendous blunder to GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, the top of the leaderboard changed dramatically.
The ninth and final round will begin on Friday, June 10, at 8 a.m. PT / 17:00 Central Europe.
Just as we were settling for the fact that Carlsen and Anand would be deciding this year’s edition of Norway Chess, we had so many head-spinningly complex and confusing games that the commentators would be forgiven if they started doing shots every time the evaluation bar switches by three or more points.
The leader of the tournament, the World Champion Magnus Carlsen vs. the leader of the French Resistance, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. These players have had countless memorable encounters over the years that have fallen in both directions, securing memorable wins for either side.
Carlsen went for 1.d4, looking to see if the Frenchman had the hutzpah to play his favorite Grunfeld Indian or if he would bail to a Queen’s Gambit or even allow White the opportunity to play another Catalan. Those alternatives apparently did not look that ideal for Vachier-Lagrave who dug his heels in and threw the Grunfeld on the board.
Not really expecting himself to play a main line, Carlsen went for 7.Bb5+ line in the Exchange Varition. It is not considered particularly critical for Black, but it takes the game away from some of the longer, more forced lines that the Grunfeld is filled with.
Although spending a lot of time in the opening, White seemed to be on the path to securing a small but steady advantage, when he went for 15.Be4 and 16.h3?!, which basically sent the game toward an endgame where Black had an extra pawn.
While it seemed manageable, all the pawns were on the kingside with no apparent weaknesses, Black definitely had some pressure. Add to that, Carlsen had spent a lot of time and that combination of little time on the clock with the requirement of careful defense is a tricky one to handle, even if you are the World Champion.
That combination of issues proved too tricky for Carlsen to handle, and after having defended carefully for nearly twenty moves, the mistakes started creeping in, and suddenly Vachier-Lagrave had a winning position!
Despite considerable more time on the clock, the Frenchman slipped up too, letting go of the advantage, not once but twice, and in the end, gave the world champion a draw in a rook vs. rook + bishop ending. A very narrow escape for Carlsen.
Had Carlsen lost the game, Mamedyarov would have been taking over the lead in the tournament.
Now settling down for the armageddon game is another matter after such a nervy affair. The players did that by repeating the opening from the classical game.
The game became very different from the previous one as Carlsen scrambled hard to get winning chances but over-pushed with a lost position as a result. However, he kept fighting on, Vachier-Lagrave made some mistakes of his own and the endgame was a crazy one with lots of passed pawns for Black and White trying to contain them. He managed to do that, but only after several mistakes by Black.
In what was an indicator of the day that was to come, the early leader and current number two in the standings, Anand unexpectedly went down in a horrendous fashion.
After a fairly quiet and typical Petroff, the chances were more or less equal, both players settling down for some maneuvering to feel out each other’s intentions, Anand started playing ambitiously but a little loosely. His 17.Bd3?! followed by 18.g4?! gained space but extended his position somewhat.
Then followed what can easily be described as one of the biggest blunders of Anand’s career, 22.Qb5??. As soon as he let go of the queen, he resigned. Afterward, Mamedyarov said that he also thought that Anand’s 22.Qb5 was the best move, and only realized that he had a win when Vishy resigned!
Undoubtedly, Mamedyarov, who is a fantastic tactician in his own right would have spotted the winning move fairly quickly.
American GM Wesley So‘s ambitions to win the tournament suffered a blow when he lost in round seven to the resurgent Vachier-Lagrave. Undoubtedly, he had hoped to compensate for that loss by doing bad things to former FIDE World Champion GM Veselin Topalov.
However, as the Berlin Defense in the Ruy Lopez, an opening So plays himself, emerged on the board, the definition of bad things changed to nothing too serious. Very quickly, the players chopped wood and sent the match-up to the armageddon game.
In Topalov’s armageddon games in this tournament, we have often seen him willing to play the same or very similar lines he chose for his classical games. That, however, was not to be in this game… it went in a totally different direction with So playing 1.c4 and heading into a somewhat obscure line of the Symmetrical English.
Black then made the very committal decision of exchanging his fianchettoed bishop on c3, a concept endorsed by the Danish giant GM Bent Larsen. White castled kingside, Black to the queenside—the battle was on. However, it was Black who made the biggest strides after nearly entirely sealing off the queenside with …b6 and …Na5.
In a somewhat desperate attempt to create complications, So sacrificed the exchange, the play got sharper but clearly only to the advantage of Black who had a dominating position. A couple of loose moves let White back in the game, but he never had more than equality, and when So pushed for more, his position collapsed, allowing Topalov to scoop up the full point and the armageddon win.
The return of RiRi! Dutch Anish Giri and Norwegian GM Aryan Tari set summit again as they have a couple of times in recent months.
After his loss in round seven against Mamedyarov, Giri was eager to vindicate himself while Tari, by contrast, was on a high after having beaten Carlsen for the first time in an official game.
For this purpose, Giri opted for the London System, something that seems almost contradictory to his usual, highly prepared, and theoretical approach. He did play a decent novelty, but whether it was born from opening preparation or inspiration at the board is unclear. In any case, he gained an advantage from the opening.
White seemed to steadily increase his advantage and around the time control, it seemed so large that Giri was looking for a way to convert the advantage, but not finding anything obvious, he resorted to playing on his opponent’s time trouble. This is usually bad advice and Giri missed several good opportunities in connection with this approach.
Slowly but surely, Tari crept back into the game, and after several mistakes from Giri, Black even gained an advantage. Down to playing on increments, Tari was not immune to making mistakes, and on move 57, he made the decisive error, allowing White an unstoppable passed pawn.
Two players who likely will just want the tournament to be over with, so that they can continue with their lives and, in GM Teimour Radjabov‘s case, travel to play in the Candidates Tournament which starts next week in Madrid, Spain.
In reply to Radjabov’s 1.e4, Wang Hao deviated from his usual Sveshnikov Sicilian, and instead opted for the Petroff, which was likely an annoying surprise for Radjabov who is likely to face the Petroff if he plays 1.e4 in Madrid, leaving him with the dilemma of: do I play my Candidates preparation or can I come up with something else at the board? Luckily, Wang went for 4…Nc6, the line which his countryman GM Yu Yangyi had success in the FIDE Grand Prix in the spring.
Radjabov spent a lot of time on the first few moves and looked certain to end up in time trouble. But as the queens came off the board, he settled into a quicker pace of play. This, however, also manifested itself in that his initiative slowly but surely vanished, and around move 20, the players started to exchange pieces at a steady pace to head for a drawn position.
For the armageddon game, Radjabov, now with a requirement to win the game, did not feel like repeating the Petroff and therefore responded with 3.Nc3, instead going into a Four Knights. Wang then chose the sharp 4…Nd4 gambit line.
Radjabov, however, was wise to avoid crazy tactics with Wang, who performed magic in his armageddon game against Topalov, refusing to eat any gambit pawns, preferring the safety of a balanced position and then waiting to strike.
On move 15, Wang made a committal error which gave him an uncomfortable position and shortly after cost him a pawn. Once with an advantage in his hands, Radjabov never let go and won the game convincingly, never allowing Black even the hint of counterplay.
Round 8 Standings
All Games Round 8
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).