Round Reports

Altibox Norway Chess Blitz Round

The 9-round Blitz Tournament opening Altibox Norway Chess is about bragging rights, getting started and winning the advantage of playing 5 games with the white pieces in the following 9 games of classical chess.

The event is casual, relaxed and friendly and the players are mixing with spectators, media and each other between the rounds. It will also serve as the slightest of indications on how the newcomers on the super-tournament level – and new to Altibox Norway Chess – would fare.

The upper half
Some players, like former blitz world champion Magnus Carlsen, are deservedly of higher blitz-repute than others, who don‘t put too much of an emphasis on this aspect of the game. 

After a win with the black pieces against the outstanding blitz-player Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in the first round, Carlsen didn‘t look back and took a formidable 7,5 points in the first 8 rounds. Only Anish Giri managed to prove his mortality with a last round win, securing him some more bragging rights and a second place in the tournament  with 6½ of 9.

Vladimir Kramnik challenged Magnus Carlsen in the overall standing, but suffered defeat to Magnus and had a few draws too many to keep up the pace. 6 points earned him a 4th place, close behind Maxime Vachier-Legrave, who following his first round defeat re-discovered his blitz-skills with 6 points in the last 8 rounds.

Levon Aronian seemed determined to challenge  Anish Giri and his reputation as the friendliest player around, by drawing no less than 7 games, which is quite the feat in a 9 round blitz. 4,5 points earned him the 5th place and he can look forward to 5 games with white pieces in the upcoming weeks.

The lower half
Pentala Harikrishna had the best day of the debutants with a decent 4 points, earning him a 6th place.

Veselin Topalov didn‘t seem too concerned with his 3 points in 7th place. And why should he,  as he last year won the tournament with 5 rounds of black pieces?

Nils Grandelius, Chao Li and Pavel Eljanov all suffered in this, their first Altibox Norway Chess event, but as no points in the real tournament has been rewarded, nothing is lost.

Let the Games Begin - Round 1

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.

Time scrambles
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.

Round 2 - A miss and a draw

Chess is a game of gentlemen, but every so often something occurs, that makes commentators and experts curse the players. One of these things is the Berlin Wall, a variation of the Ruy Lopez-opening that is very much in fashion on the top level. The newly groomed Nils Grandelius and the ever so well dressed Levon Aronian were surprisingly the first culprits making the commentators curse – or moan at the least – in this year‘s edition of Altibox Norway Chess, when adventuring into the Berlin.

They started out repeating an old Anand – Caruana game and Aronian got the overhand. Aronian said “It looked quite promising, but got too complicated, so I didn‘t like it. This game was a miss.”

Grandelius seemed pleased to get points on the board before his face-off with the world champion in round 3.

Drawing no more
Following the long awaited win for Anish Giri in Round 1, there was not only a certain lightness in his step and joy in body language, but also speed in his game against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. Giri seemed very well-prepared and made in his first 14 moves in next to no time.

After long thinking-break MVL came out on top. He didn‘t pick any of the computers preferred moves, but a practical good one followed up by quiet pawn move, that put Giri in the ropes.

Giri stated in the post-game analysis, that it was a shocking move and that he missed the point of it completely. Even though he searched his brain for 45 minutes he didn‘t find any way out and was only a few moves from check mate before he resigned.

A beautiful played game from MVL.

In the mood for a draw
After the time control controversy in the first round of last years tournament, which ignited the Veselin Topalov-rocket taking him to the victory and send Magnus Carlsen on a very rocky ride, you could expect an exciting revanche match. Or a boring draw. 

Both players referred to the end position as very solid and agreed on a risk-free draw on repetition. This gave them an early evening – and who knows if they had tickets for the finale in hockey hosted next door between Stavanger Oilers and Lørenskog. 

As Carlsen stated in post-game analysis, he was in the mood for a draw.

Getting on the board
Following their first round defeats, Pavel Eljanov and Pentala Harikrishna faced off in round 2 in a scramble to avoid being left pointless behind by the rest. They soon got in hugely complicated position, which both players seemed to know well. 

Eljanov was a pawn up, but with a more exposed king than Harikrishna, who also had the tricks available.  

After an exchange of queens and their last rooks, they ended up with different coloured bishops, which a recipe for a certain draw.

And Interesting, well-played game for both sides, who managed to get their first half-points on the board.

Bishops vs. Knights
The final game of the round was Li Chao vs. Vladimir Kramnik. Both got a good start in round 1 and were determined to build on this beginning. A fascinating position soon emerged and Li Chao‘s pair of bishops faced off against Kramnik‘s 2 knights with Kramnik 2 pawns up.

This got even more adventurous when Li Chao exchanged a queen for 2 rooks. 

The threats from Kramnik‘s queen and knight were blocked by Li Chao and when first he managed to connect his rooks, there was little to do in time trouble but exchange the knight and bishop and find a 3 fold repetition for a draw.

Round 3 - A neighbourly meeting

For the number 1 in two neighbouring countries, Norway and Sweden, never to have played each other in chess before may sound peculiar until you remember that the Norwegian is World Champion Magnus Carlsen, while the Swede is Nils Grandelius, ranked no. 112 in the world. Meeting the World Champion is not an everyday thing for anyone outside of top 10 in the world, but Nils Grandelius took it in stride, surprising with his second move. 

Carlsen sacrificed a piece for an active position and both Harikrishna and Topalov commented, they would much rather play Carlsen’s position as he had all the attacking options.

Carlsen put them to good use and took sole lead of the tournament, when Grandelius resigned just before the time control.

No presents for the birthday boy

The birthday boy, Li Chao, was congratulated on arrival to the playing site Stavanger Forum, with this 27th birthday, but Levon Aronian wasn’t in the mood to give any presents.

Aronian got a pleasant position to play, but when he didn’t recieve, Li Chao had to take it for himself. He managed to fend off all of Aronian’s tricks and got a draw. The draw was served with a cake from Norwegian TV2, so at least he got some celebration on the night before meeting Magnus Carlsen.

Another streak ended

With an unbroken record of 6 wins in 6 white games against Anish Giri, Vladimir Kramnik was very much the favourite in this game. Further it would be interesting to see if Anish Giri could bounce back from the defeat in the previous round against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave.

They endeavoured into a Grunfeld-opening, which both players knew quite well. In  the post-game analysis, Kramnik stated he might had been in a theoretical discussion, while Giri was just making moves.
Kramnik pushed for an advantage, but Giri had an answer for all attempts and the game ended in a draw, putting a stop to Kramnik’s winning streak in his white-pieced games.

The kid is growing up.

Back to Berlin

His win in Round 2 against Anish Giri saw Maxime Vachier-Lagrave to top 4 in the world on the live ranking list and with the white pieces against Pavel Eljanov, ranked 13, further progress was expected.

The players decided to continue a theoretical discussion on the Berlin variation of the Ruy Lopez. They ended up in a curious version of the Berlin endgame with opposite coloured bishops and 5 pawns a piece, but MVL with a pawn superiority supported on the king-side by his king.The trick for Eljanov was to place his bishop correctly, which he managed without too many problems and once again a Berlin ended in a draw.

From winning to drawing

Veselin Topalov had a famous winning streak of 5 wins in a row in the first half of last year s Norway Chess. Since then his results haven’t been the best and this year, he has had a rather quiet start to the tournament with 2 draws. His opponent today, Pentala Harikrishna, had a modest return of 0.5 points in the first 2 rounds and aimed for a sideline of the Nimzo-Indian opening. 

Topalov defended well and his 17. N4c5 was a good move, which Harikrishna underestimated. White can’t get control of the important square d4 and the players opted for an early draw by repetition after 23 moves and just over 2 hours played. And Topalov is off to 3 draws in a row.

Round 4 - A new draw-master emerges?

After 20 minutes of play against Li Chao Magnus Carlsen-second and coach GM Peter Heine Nielsen had the famous one-liner on Norwegian television “This is as boring as it gets”. Playing boring isn’t what we associate with Li Chao, but he complained over a big headache after Round 3 and couldn’t prepare much for his usual attacking style.

Having hit such a low, Carlsen can at least take pride in a sole lead, while Li Chao can look back on a very solid start to the tournament with 4 draws in a row.

Competition for the draw-master title

Another candidate to take the empty seat as drawmaster of elite chess circuit, Veselin Topalov, faced Pavel Eljanov, who had had a very quiet start with 2 draws in the first 3 rounds.

The quiet start continued and the game soon settled down and the players shared the points, making Unstopalov extending his drawing streak to 4.

Giri still up to his old tricks

Anish Giri has been the surprise-package in the early days of Altibox Norway Chess. 2 decisive games in a row followed by a draw against his nemesis Vladimir Kramnik has taken experts and pundits by surprise. That made it difficult to know what to expect from Giri in his game today against Levon Aronian.

The players went for the Queen’s Gambit. Aronian stated: “There is a myth the Queen’s gambit is all about positional play, but when you play it, you find it is all about calculating”.

They did find some cute tactics in the post-game analysis, but at the board the both found the moves taking them to a draw.

Giri was jokingly proud of being back to his drawing ways, especially with the outlook of facing Carlsen in Round 5 against whom he famously is undefeated.

The game of the day

After a tough start with black against Vladimir Kramnik and Magnus Carlsen, Nils Grandelius find himself stuck with 0.5 points after a third of the tournament. This beginning didn’t scare him away from playing interesting and fresh chess against Pentala Harikrishna.
They played a sharp opening and Hari soon got a solid position with the bishop pair for a pawn and with difficulties for white to find any attacking options.

Magnus Carlsen commented, that Black was simply better. Grandelius proved him slightly wrong after exchanging a queen for a rook and a knight, which put Hari under pressure, while Grandelius remained extremely solid. Hari was fighting for a draw and with Grandelius blundering a pawn, the attacking options dried out and the exciting game ended in a draw.
A bit risky, but fun as Nils Grandelius put it.

Taking their time

Excited to regain their reputation as gentlemen of chess, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Vladimir Kramnik opted for everyone favorite opening – the anti-Berlin in the Ruy Lopez. Kramnik had the initiative, but couldn’t find the way and after some uncertainty started to play for a draw.

MVL gained some space and they ended in the study-like endgame with rook, knight and 2 pawns against rook, bishop and 2 pawn. There was nothing decisive, so after nearly 5 hours of play, the game ended in a draw.  

Round 5 - En Garde

On the free day, the players were taken through a series of sporting activities, one of these were fencing. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, defending with the black pieces against Levon Aronian, had to prove he could remember the lessons and keep his guard up.

Aronian tried to catch MVL off guard with an exchange-Slav, as he isn’t known as a slav-player. But MVL called the bluff, proving that he knew the opening after looking at the white side of it previously.  The players exchanged queens & knights and after the rooks came off, the game soon ended in a draw.

Harikrishna hit the mark
Reaching the halfway point of Altibox Norway Chess, Pentala Harikrishna took on Li Chao, aiming to get away from the lower half of the field. Li Chao early on locked down the center, getting a very solid position opening up for a prolonged positional battle. 

Clearly remembering his archery lessons from the rest day, Hari proved the better marksman and seized his opportunity when Li Chao slow-played the position a bit too much. Hari came out a piece up and shortly after the time control, Li Chao resigned. 

Bragging rights still belong to Giri
Have famously never beaten Anish Giri in classical chess, Magnus Carlsen had it all to do on his Norwegian homecourt with the white pieces.

Magnus Carlsen tried with the Ruy Lopez, the players avoiding the Berlin, but neither really got an advantage. Anish Giri stated in the post-game analysis, “I think, it was a miserable game from both of us”. Carlsen was irritated by his own bad decisions, and his minus score against Giri continues.

Topalov goes +1
While his Swedish compatriots suffered defeat in the 2 day match against Norway, it was down to Nils Grandelius to defend the Swedish chess-honours against Veselin Topalov.

To do such a thing on command against defending champion Veselin Topalov is however a tall order and it proved difficult for Grandelius to deliver.
Topalov got a better position and Grandelius conceded, that he didn’t really a plan going forward. Topalov 

The last in line
Pavel Eljanov took a solid 6 minutes to respond to 1. e4 coming up with e5 after which Vladimir Kramnik took us into a Giuoco Piano-opening. 

Those minutes could have come in handy at the end, especially as 4 games finished at the same time and the pair ended up last in the line for the post-game press conference. 

Kramnik had the initiative most of the game, without never really getting an advantage as Eljanov found the right defending moves. Kramnik ultimately came out a pawn up in a drawn rook endgame. The players could get in the end of the line for some time with Peter Svidler, analysing the game. In the table Kramnik is tied for second place.

Round 6

Having hosted a festival of chess over the weekend, including a school team tournament with 22 5-person teams Saturday and an individual children Grand Prix tournament with 80 participants in Vitenfabrikken Sunday as well as Stavanger Norway Chess GP in with 92 participants and the Norway-Sweden double-header in Stavanger Forum, the players of Altibox Norway Chess all on a sudden were alone in delivering the action on the chess boards.

Harikrishna goes for 2 in a row
Anish Giri maintained his positive record against Magnus Carlsen in Rd. 5, while Pentala Harikrishna took his first win in Altibox Norway Chess. The big question was whom – if any – of those two would join the hunt for Magnus Carlsen.
Controlling the black pieces, Hari opted for a French opening which isn’t seen in every super tournament. The pundits from Chess24 noted he possessed a bit dubious opening repertoire, designed to beat weaker players in open tournaments. This have the virtue, that the super tournaments regulars, such as Anish Giri, aren’t that used to face the openings and the positions, they develop into. Giri clearly underestimated Hari’s queenside pawns and Hari got a dominant position, gaining his second win in a row.     

First place still within reach
For both Vladimir Kramnik and Levon Aronian Magnus Carlsen was still not too far gone to catch, but especially for Aronian a win was needed to close the gap. A win with black against Vladimir Kramnik is hard to come by and Kramnik wasn’t in the mood to give anything away. 

They played very sharp position, but as the pieces came off in a quick fashion they repeated moves for a draw. For Aronian it makes 6 draws in 6, continuing his style from the blitz qualifier, while Kramnik keeps the pace just behind Carlsen.

Grandelius is the target for all
In what was clearly a meeting in the bottom of the table, Pavel Eljanov had the white pieces against Nils Grandelius. In a very early confessional, Eljanov stated he had bad notes, but that he hoped to outplay Grandelius.

They had a very even position until the 35th move, where Grandelius blundered and Eljanov took advantage without hesitation.

Eljanov moved up the ladder, while Grandelius is stuck in bottom.

Topalov keeps up with the leaders
One of the question of Round 6, was whether the defending champion Veselin Topalov would continue his route towards the top. Facing him was Li Chao, who had to get back in the saddle after his defeat to Pentala Harikrishna in Rd. 5. 

Topalov conceded that he encountered a preparation by Li Chao, but after spending some time, he caught up with the preparation. The queens came off and the game ended in a drawn rook endgame. 

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave vs. Magnus Carlsen

At the center stage Maxime Vachier-Lagrave took on Magnus Carlsen in a match-up between No 2 and No 1 in the tournament. MVL opted for a sub-line of the Berlin, blitzing away the first 18 moves in less than 3 minutes. He went into the confessional and stated his hope to find a hole in Carlsen’s memory, noting that black had to make 5 precise moves in succession to avoid problems. Carlsen did that, but missed out on the 7th move after MVL’s confession and headed into dangerous waters with a materially even position, where all of MVL’s pieces were better placed. The time very a merciless opponent for the World Champion today, but with less than a minute left for 9 moves, he came up with a bishop sacrifice for 2 pawns, eventually picking up the last of MVL’s pawns and made the first time control with 8 seconds to spare. With 3 pieces against 2, MVL picked up 2 of Carlsen’s pawns and they players repeated for a draw.

Round 7 - En route for a record

In the 6th Round Magnus Carlsen equalled his record run of 41 unbeaten games from 2012/13, when he drew against MVL. Having the white pieces in his 42. Game gave him good chances to extend that record. However facing Vladimir Kramnik, ranked 2 in both the world and in the tournament seemed like just the player to stop him. 

On the live-broadcast Peter Svidler admitted straight out of the gate, he didn’t know anything about the opening, giving Jan Gustafson an opportunity to shine. It was however Jon Ludvig Hammer, pundit on Norwegian TV2, and Carlsen-second for World Championship matches who stole the show, as Carlsen thanked him from the Confessional, crediting him with the preparation. 

And Carlsen made good of the preparation, helped along by a mistaken knight-move by Kramnik. “The position plays itself and it is really hard to screw up”, Carlsen said in the post-game analysis.
It was a surprisingly fast demolition of Kramnik and Carlsen goes +3.

A leader of the pack?
The man of the moment, Pentala Harikrishna took on Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, both on 3,5 points after the first 6 rounds. There was the pre-round understanding, that a decisive result here, would put the winner in tied lead with Magnus Carlsen.
As Carlsen won, the game soon evolved into who – if any – would take the leading role in the chasing pack.

They played a very sharp opening, already in move 6 and Hari looked better for a long time, but MVL managed to equalise and even get the upper hand just before move 40. Shortly after the time control, they repeated for a draw. 

Both players are now 1 point behind the leader.

Topalov remains in the pack
Following the his win in the first round, Altibox Norway Chess has proven quite terrible for Anish Giri with 3 draws and 2 losses in the following 5 rounds have left with the weak outcome of 2,5 points. The defending champion, Veselin Topalov, had quietly climbed to a shared second position and had the white pieces against Giri with a good possibility to stay in touch with the leader.

The players soon reached a point, where improving white’s position was much easier than improving black’s and while there was no tactical danger, black had to realise he was in a positional danger.

Topalov blundered a pawn on d2, which later opened the d-file for Giri, giving him some attacking play. Topalov defended well against the possible tricks and the game ended in a draw.

Aronian joins the pack
Following his downhill slide towards the end of the Candidates tournament, Levon Aronian has been very quiet with draws in 7 out 9 games in the blitz qualifier for Altibox Norway Chess and in the first 6 rounds of the actual tournament. The question was if his Round 7 encounter with Pavel Eljanov would change this outcome. 

Levon Aronian stated in the post-game analysis, that he blundered a couple of times and was in serious time trouble, but it turned out that Eljanov made the last blunder in the time trouble and Aronian had a mating attack, when Eljanov resigned.
This victory for Aronian catapults him into the chasing pack with the possibility to take the lead in Round by defeating Magnus Carlsen.

Grandelius still the mark
Having been involved in nearly half the decisive games of the tournament so far, Nils Grandelius found himself isolated in the bottom with 1 point of 6. Li Chao clearly sensed he could get something out of this encounter and soon an intricate position arose, which supposedly was a little better for white, but rather difficult to play. 

As the game developed, there really wasn’t any active moves for black and Grandelius stayed in the lead throughout.

However Li Chao’s rather horrible position didn’t get any worse the next 50 moves and he managed to defend his separate weaknesses, Grandelius couldn’t find a way through and they ended up in draw after 93 moves and 5,5 hours of chess. 

A sad draw for Grandelius, who has played exciting chess throughout the tournament.

Round 8 - The tables are turned

Any game featuring Magnus Carlsen is by default the main game and the encounter with Levon Aronian was no exception. Carlsen was the sole leader by a full point going into this round, but as the tournament is determined on tie-break in case of 2 or more players with the same points, Levon Aronian had much to gain by a victory.

Due to a Thursday afternoon traffic jam, Carlsen arrived just at 1600, which perhaps was the reason he took his time already on move 2. However on his 9th move he spend more than 25 moves, foreseeing a time scramble. Not time-vice the best start for Carlsen. His time-usage reflected his troubles on the board, where Aronian soon put him under pressure.

I was surprised in the opening and made a series of bad choices as well as poor time-management, Carlsen said. 

Aronian claimed jokingly it was preparation throughout, but regardless it was very well executed and he took the victory without any visible effort.

The result put the pair on a joint lead, heating up under the last round with the possibility of a deciding blitz tie-break.

Hanging on by their fingernails
Both undefeated members of the chasing pack, 1 point behind Carlsen, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Veselin Topalov was both depending on getting a decisive result in order to possible catch up with Carlsen. As they blitzed out the first 16 moves in the Berlin-variation of Ruy Lopez, they both seemed more pleased with staying in the struggle for second-place.

Topalov slowly gained a slight superiority in an even position, but MVL managed to equalise and the game ended in a draw.
Going into the final round, both MVL and Topalov are half a point behind the leaders. 

A comeback from Kramnik

Following the destruction in the hands of Magnus Carlsen in Round 7, Vladimir Kramnik found himself playing catch-up. His opponent, Pentala Harikrishna, has however had a very decent return since his first round defeat to Carlsen and could benefit if Levon Aronian managed to defeat the World Champion.

Forsaking his old friend, the e-pawn, Vladimir Kramnik emerged into a very quirky opening with Nf3 and e3, helped along by e6 and b5 by Pentala Harikrishna, putting the pundits into a light state of shock.

Hari was also set a bit back by the quirkiness and Kramnik emerged in a better position, eventually picking up material and Hari resigned when 3 full pawns down in the endgame.

Kramnik joins MVL and Topalov half a point behind the leaders, making it a 7 way battle in round 9.

Grandelius not making the most of it
Going into the game, Anish Giri had a record of 4,5/5 against Nils Grandelius, giving him very much the upperhand. Neither could hope for much advancing in the final standings, but both had plenty of personal glory and satisfaction to play for.

Giri pushed his luck and blundered a bit in the opening, which took him into the midgame a full pawn down and positionally lost. This meant a mating attack or a perpetual check was required to gain anything from this game.

Nils Grandelius accommodated him for the latter, getting his 3rd draw of the tournament in a game, where he ought to have benefitted more from his preparations. Giri is still alive for the overall win, should everything go his way in the last round.

A late surge
The game between Pavel Eljanov and Li Chao longed looked without any impact on the tournament standings, but with Magnus Carlsen’s defeat and a late conversion of a drawish, but quite interesting position by Li Chao, changed that.

The players started out in a sharp position. This lead to an unbalanced endgame with a rook and 2 pawn close to promotion for Li Chao against a queen a row of pawn. With correct play it was probably a draw, but Li Chao’s position proved too powerful for Eljanov’s queen to defend against and Li Chao won, giving him a last round chance to end up in possible tie-break.

Round 9

With Levon Aronian’s seemingly effortless win over Magnus Carlsen in Rd. 8, the battle for the win in Altibox Norway Chess had been blown wide open.
Both players could still win outright, they could meet in a tie-break – and should they not win their respective games, the trio of Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Veselin Topalov and Vladimir Kramnik could all catch up with wins.
Losses for the first 2 players, draws for the next 3 and wins for Li Chao and Pentala Harikrishna would give the unlikely – but possible – outcome of a 7 player tie for the win.

The rules states, that all ties for first place would be determined by blitz. 

Carlsen winning Altibox Norway Chess 2016

The situation of the tournament notwithstanding, Magnus Carlsen was a heavy favorite against Pavel Eljanov as he had a perfect score of 3 wins in 3 meetings. Having the white pieces only furthered this advantage. The players repeated the line from their previous encounter in Tata Steel (Wijk an Zee), only with opposite colours. Carlsen soon left the pundits puzzled, but rearranged his pieces and got a better position. Here he kept up squeezing Eljanov, who miscalculated a move and Carlsen struck fast and hard, earning a clear win. 
This took him to 6 points and his first tournament victory in Altibox Norway Chess

A draw won’t cut it

Well aware of Carlsen’s expected win, Levon Aronian was forced to take some risks with the black pieces in his game against Pentala Harikrishna. With his late surge in the tournament standings, Hari was in 7th place the last player, who could hope for an outside chance of ending up in a tie. Step one in this was to win against joint leader, Levon Aronian. However, winning on demand is a tall order in this company.

Aronian got off to a better position by move 15, but misplayed it a bit and Hari equalised. Aronian chickened out and after a rapid exchange on most pieces they ended up with a rook and 3 pawns each and drew.

This takes Aronian to 5.5 points and a second place.

MVL ending at 3rd

The undefeated Maxime Vachier-Lagrave was ranked 3 prior to the round and the favorite to benefit from any possible slip-up from Aronian and Carlsen. He faced Nils Grandelius, who in the latter rounds have played enterprising and exciting chess, but lacked the luck or ability to convert his advantageous positions into full points.

Grandelius played a curious opening and MVL soon got the upperhand without ever being able to benefit from this and the game ended in a draw.

Grandelius was a bit upset with missing a few opportunities in the tournament, but also felt changes from a regular grandmaster tournament to a super tournament. 

One for the history books

Going on for a decade the meeting between Veselin Topalov and Vladimir Kramnik has been the grudge-match of chess. In order for any of the players to realistic have a chance to get into the lead, a decisive result was required. And decisive results have been default between the pair since 2007, so it seemed the question was down to whom would come out on top.

With Carlsen winning his game, their tournament chances soon were extinct and with an endgame with opposite coloured bishops, they eventually ended in a draw by repetition.

Not actually agreeing on that much in the joined post-game analysis, it was still a pleasure to behold the adversaries together.

Keeping it late

The late addition to the tournament, Li Chao, has done rather well for himself with a 50% score prior to the last round. Just as Harikrishna, a win and an unlikely turn of events could catapult him into the 7 way tie, but with the expectation of more decisive results than usually, a win could do much to his final standing. He faced Anish Giri, who usually is stability incarnated, but in this tournament has had a rollercoaster ride and found himself in 8th place.

Neither of the player really got the upperhand, but played well past the second time control.

Giri tried to draw blood from a stone, but finally had to settle for a bloodless draw.