I always loved the Norway Chess atmosphere. So I was delighted to be once again invited to spend two weeks in Stavanger. As usual, the tournament itself was preceded by a blitz showdown, aimed at determining the number of whites and blacks.
This year, the challenge was double for me, as I knew that ending up ahead of Carlsen would mean I’d rob him of the World #1 spot in the Blitz rankings! Though not an end in itself, it remains a pleasant feeling, doesn’t it? 🙂
And at the end of the day, I played rather well and won the Blitz tournament, 1.5 point ahead of the duo Aronian / Carlsen!
Here are two nice positions from this Blitz tournament:
Here, I could play the normal 20.Rad1 with an edge because of the Bishop pair. But I opted for 20.Bxh6?!, which is not objectively best. I thought I was winning after 20…gxh6 21.Qg6+ Kh8 22.Qxh6+ Kg8 23.Bc2. But Black had 23…Re6! at his disposal, forcing me to take perpetual check. I don’t know why, but Grischuk inserted 20…Rxe1+? 21.Rxe1 gxh6 22.Qg6+ Kf8 23.Qxh6+ Kg8 and now 24.Bc2! is lethal. 1-0.
It had already been a long and complicated battle. Essential was 48.g5! to gain access to the long diagonal after both 48…Bxh2 49.Bf6 and 48…b2 49.Bf6!, with the show going on. But it’s a tall order with only a few seconds left, and Ding chose the « human » 48.Ba3? b2 49.Bxb2 Bxb2 50.h4. Unfortunately, after 50…Kc5 51.g5 Be5, black’s bishops and King easily cope with the pawns.
Thanks to this very good performance, I actually took the leadership in the Blitz rankings, whose Top 10 nows looks like this…
This year, I was also very curious about the new format cooked by the organizers. First of all, a rather quick classical rhythm, 2 hours for the whole game, with only 10 seconds a move increment after move 40. And then, the main novelty in case of a draw, an Armageddon tiebreaker; 10 minutes for white, 7 for black, white must win. This format was chosen by Norwegian TV, as they wanted to control better the duration of play. This is the reason why the games began later. It’s true that a start at 5pm is no big deal in itself, but the issue is that you don’t have much time left to relax in the evening. Certainly, you have time in the morning, but it is not the ideal moment for decompression. 🙂
About the Armageddon itself, which has been commented a lot, it is true that we all had trouble adapting ourselves; for instance, I completely mismanaged my first Armageddon game against Yu Yangyi… But on the whole, I believe the format is quite balanced, and I don’t think it is favourable to one colour or the other. However, the scoring system needs to be reassessed, because it gives too much weight to the Armageddon. Ding Liren ending up 6th with +2 in the classical games, this is not fair! I would advise a 4 – 2 – 1 – 0 instead of 2 – 1.5 – 0.5 – 0.
Before to deal with the games, let me briefly present my second important victory, after the one in the Blitz tournament… The organizers had planned a cooking challenge during the first rest day. Teamed up with Anand, I was relieved – the other pairs probably also were! – to be helped by a Chef, and quite happy to win the contest in the end! This was a nice experience, which enabled us to see from inside the making of a gastronomic meal… For the anecdote, we cooked a « salmon filet with buttered fennel and its vegetables ».
In the Classical tournament, I had 8 draws and 1 loss, and above all, I’m not satisfied with the overall level of my play. I must confess that having to wait for Round 7 Armageddon before to actually win a game on the board, irked me a bit. 🙂
I’ll have a word on all 9 games of mine, beginning with the white ones (5 draws). One indisputable fact is that I didn’t get much with white, except on round 1 with Yu Yangyi, where I was clearly better.
Against Anand, I chose a sub-variation to counter the Möller Defense, and the ex-World Champion reacted incorrectly with 12…Nxe4? in the following position (instead of 12…0-0):
Unfortunately, I chose the line 13.Nxb5?! 0-0 14.Qe2 Nf6 15.dxe5 Nxe5 16.Nxe5 because I hadn’t foreseen 16…Qe8! and black has no problem at all. Instead, I should have played 13.Qe2! immediately. I didn’t though, as I thought it might be dangerous for me after 13…0-0 14.Qxe4 Nxd4 15.Bd5 Bxd5 16.Qxd5 c6 17.Qe4 f5 18.Qe3 f4, but the truth is that black probably doesn’t have enough for the piece. So had white played 13.Qe2!, black should have replied 13…Nf6 14.dxe5 or 13…d5 14.dxe5, but white keeps an edge anyway, eg. 14…b4 15.cxb4 0-0 16.Nc2 Re8 17.Ba4. A missed opportunity…
Facing Carlsen’s Svechnikov, once again I couldn’t recall all my analyses even though this time, I had looked at the whole variation that very morning! At the critical moment, I remembered a pattern which reminded me of one of the lines I had gone through; and it was « almost » it, but not quite « exactly » it! It must be said that in a variation like this one, there are really lots of stuff to analyze! Then you come back to your room in the evening, you go through your files, and when you see the good moves that are just there, you say to yourself: « Damn it, how come I didn’t recall that detail? ».
Against Grischuk, it was still worse, as I happened to be grossly misled in the move order of the Rossolimo! With 5.h3 instead of 5.d3, I was just playing a harmless variation. Though unimpressive, I ended up slightly better after black suffered a blackout in the following position:
After 16…b4?!, Grischuk had just forgotten that 17.Bxb4 was possible! Off form, the Russian will do worse later on, putting a Bishop directly en prise in the opening against Caruana…
That being said, he defended very precisely after his mistake, and I proved unable to increase the advantage.
I also misplayed the opening against Ding Liren, this time because it was a line I hadn’t seen for a while, and I couldn’t remember all relevant details.
Let’s now look at my 4 black games:
About the one against Caruana, I suggest you watch the detailed analysis, which was recorded during a recent stream on my Twitch channel www.twitch.tv/mvlchess.
Against Aronian, I do have a few regrets, as I managed to get an advantageous position with black, after a very original English opening from both sides.
Here is the critical position:
I offered the exchange of Queens by 23…Qg5?, and it was not a good idea. With his pawn center and pieces able to come together towards my King, I felt unsure and got a bit scared. I thought that without Queens on the board, I might be able to attack his then vulnerable center pawns. And that’s what happened indeed, but only because Levon helped! Unfortunately, I missed the target again a few moves later, because of a miscalculation…
I played 32…Nd5?, but after 33.Ke1! Kc7 34.Rhf2 Rxh5, I had forgotten 35.Ng3! Rxf2 36.Rxf2 which equalizes on the spot. Had I found the stronger 32…Rg4!, my position would have been probably winning, as a central pawn is about to fall.
Mamedyarov tried absolutely nothing against me; he didn’t look in his best shape that day… Against So in the last round, I got a very nice position from the English Opening once again. But I was unable to increase the edge, mostly because of a flawless defense by the American.
I won four and lost four of the eight Armageddon new look I had to play; here are two interesting positions from theses games.
I could unleash the nice 26.Rxc4! dxc4 27.Bxc6 followed by 28.Qxc4 and the pawns make all the difference.
In a very complex endgame, black cracked first. Instead of keeping on harassing the Bishop with 34…Rd7 – when the outcome remains unclear – Ding faltered with 34…Ra2?, allowing the white Bishops to stand together against the a pawn with 35.Bc4!. After 35…Ra1+ 36.Kf2 a3 37.Kf3! a2 38.Ke4, the Chinese had no other choice than switching to a lost ending by 38…Rg1 39.Bxa2 Rxg2 40.Bd5 Rxh2 41.Kf5!. The e pawn, supported by the Bishop pair and the King, wins the day.
I still have to congratulate World Champion Magnus Carlsen for his seventh win in a row among the Elite circuit! There are numbers that speak for themselves…
Most of all will meet very soon in Zagreb (Croatia), for the second leg of the Grand Chess Tour, June 26-July 8. From there, I will fly directly to Riga (Latvia), where the FIDE Grand Prix will begin for me, from July 12 onwards.
Ok, it’s only blitz! But winning three games in a row against World Champion Magnus Carlsen, while he dominates the World Elite like never before… It for sure is a very impressive accomplishment from Maxime, which deserved a replay.
Here is the footage of the third win in Norway, with the kind permission from Norway Chess organizers, not at all resentful of their champion’s defeat! 🙂
Les parties de Maxime en armageddon:
Maxime’s blitz games:
Site officiel : https://norwaychess.no