With all the 5 winners of the blitz-tournament playing white against the 5 losers, one could assume they also were the favorites. 3 of the games also turned out decisive with white the winner.
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave – Li Chao
In his debut in Altibox Norway Chess, Li Chao had the black pieces against the well-rested Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, who hadn’t played tournament chess for 2 months. Playing the Petrov-variation Li Chao aimed for a safe start. Already on move 23 Maxime Vachier-Lagrave had the option to take a draw by repetition, but chose to play on to little effect. 10 moves later they had 5 pawns each and bishops of opposite colours, which is rather drawish and made the 3 fold repetition required for a draw.
The time control of the tournament is 100 minutes for the first 40 moves, 50 minutes for next 20 and a final 15 minutes and 30 seconds increments from move 60.
This is an almost certain pre-condition for time scrambles throughout the tournament.
After 2,5 hours played between Magnus Carlsen – Pentala Harikrishna, they had just made 14 moves with the prospects of a time scramble looming over their heads. With a few moves in rapid succession Carlsen build on an early lead and was better. But as both players were spending too much time on too few moves, the end was rather intense with the players blitzing away on instinct with Magnus Carlsen emerging on top.
That proved to be the first 1. Round win for Carlsen in 2 years, which is quite an amazing statistic given his success in the last years.
Anish Giri finally wins
Following his remarkable string of draws in the Candidate Tournament, Anish Giri was 20 classical games without either win or loss before Altibox Norway Chess. A fact, that has been made much fun of, also by Anish Giri himself. Pavel Eljanov proved to be the unfortunate individual to suffer the wrath of Giri, when he finally ended his streak.
Giri exchanged a rook for 2 light pieces and gained a dominating position. As the minutes and seconds disappeared from Eljanovs clock, he blundered a piece and the drawing streak was over
An even match-up
The game between Levon Aronian and Veselin Topalov was perhaps the most routine encounters with 2 players, who have played game after game with each other throughout the years, lately and the Candidate Tournaments.
As Levon Aronian noted in the after-analysis of the game “surely black can never loose this”, which could easily be a headline for a game, where neither side acquired the upper hand. After the queens came off, they decimated each others pawns and ended up in a rook vs rook endgame with 2 pawns each and with the aid of the arbiter agreed on a draw.
The first meeting
This was the first ever meeting between the former World Champion, Vladimir Kramnik and winner of the Altibox Norway Chess Wild Card qualifier, Nils Grandelius.
To meet a completely new opponent is of course always exciting, even on this level.
The game started calmly, but soon Kramnik got a little positional advantage, that he kept building on. Grandelius suffered from a pair of rather passive knights, while Kramnik had a knight-sacrifice prepared to extend his lead. After an exchange of knight and rook, the better positioned pieces of Kramnik too tough to handle and decisive material loss was imminent, when Grandelius resigned.