MVL Wins Blitz As Revamped Norway Chess Begins
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave after winning the Norway Chess Blitz 2019. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

MVL Wins Blitz As Revamped Norway Chess Begins

| 48 | Chess Event Coverage

The 2019 Altibox Norway Chess tournament took off on Monday with the traditional blitz tournament to determine the pairing numbers. The tournament was won by Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, while Alexander Grischuk stole the show at the press conference.

The seventh edition of the annual elite tournament in Stavanger, Norway was opened on Monday with a cheerful press conference. The main focus there was on the new tournament format: Players who draw their game will play an Armageddon game right after (with the same colors for the players as the standard game), forcing a decisive result. In this game, White will get 10 minutes on the clock vs. Black's seven minutes with draw odds.

The following point system will be used:

  • Win, main game: 2 points
  • Loss, main game: 0 points
  • Draw, main game and loss, Armageddon: 0.5 point
  • Draw, main game and win, Armageddon: 1.5 points

Besides introducing the Armageddon, the 2019 edition of Norway Chess will also see a shorter time control for the regular games. There will be no increment, and players get two hours on the clock for the whole game.

See our initial report announcing this format for more details.

At the technical meeting it was decided that these Armageddon games will not be played after all the classical games are over, but instead 15-20 minutes after the players finish, even if other classical games are still in progress.

This was suggested by Grischuk, who argued: "I am a player but I am also a chess lover; I like to watch chess tournaments and it’s easy for me to imagine what I would prefer as a spectator."

2019 Norway Chess group photo
A group photo of the 10 participants. Standing, left to right: Wesley So, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Alexander Grischuk, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, Ding Liren, Yu Yangyi. Sitting, left to right: Levon Aronian, Magnus Carlsen, Vishy Anand, Fabiano Caruana. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/ Altibox Norway Chess.

The Russian grandmaster, who came to Norway just days after reaching the final of the Moscow FIDE Grand Prix, stole the show at the press conference. First, he commented on the quicker time control in the standard games:

"Of course it’s not a good time control in classical games here for me but you have to live with whatever," said Grischuk. "Nadal prefers to play on [clay], you know, Roland Garros, but if he comes to Wimbledon he plays on grass, he doesn’t complain. So I should not either!"

Then, Grischuk firmly held on to the microphone, noting that he mostly wanted to talk about Armageddons. We're giving his great remarks in full:

Every single Armageddon for me was very memorable. I have played I think around nine of them. The very first one was very embarrassing. It was White against Alexander Morozevich and I blundered a piece, I was in a completely hopeless position but we were in huge time trouble and it actually happened with me the only time in my life that somehow made my pieces started to spin. Three pieces were spinning and he just completely lost control and I won on time. I still feel bad about it. It’s still the dirtiest thing I’ve ever done in chess, although unintentionally.

The second one was actually the same tournament against Peter Leko. We got into huge time trouble and he had six seconds and I had four, and I dropped a piece. Still feeling bad about this Armageddon with Morozevich I actually put back the piece in my time, and lost by two seconds.

The third one was the most ridiculous one. It was played against Vladislav Tkachiev and I got a rook against a naked king, and we had like 10 seconds each. Normally you should be easily in time to checkmate but he dropped his king and started to roll it; it was just rolling on the d-file. Then you cannot checkmate! So OK, I dropped my rook and started to roll and since I had like three, four seconds more to start with, he lost on time. It was the most stupid Armageddon I have ever played.

Alexander Grischuk 2019 Norway Chess press conference
Alexander Grischuk spun two water bottles to make his point. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Altibox Norway Chess.

Grischuk mentioned his other Armageddon games more briefly: "So yeah, I can talk for hours about this. And yeah, I really hope to play as many Armageddons as possible!" Grischuk said. 

Shortly after, the players took a seat at the tables and started the traditional blitz tournament the night before the first round. They knew what was at stake: five white games and four black games in the classical games for the top half of the players in the final standings of the blitz.

The tournament started with a small shock, as Magnus Carlsen began with a loss right away. He was outplayed by Levon Aronian, who was the sole leader after five rounds, with 4/5.

Levon Aronian Norway Chess Blitz 2019
Levon Aronian started well, but couldn't keep it up. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Altibox Norway Chess.
Vachier-Lagrave took over the lead from Aronian with the following direct encounter. A very clean win:

After his early mishap, and a draw in round two, Carlsen scored 5.5/6 in rounds 3-8 and he used rather offbeat openings while doing so. For instance, he beat Anand with 1.e4 g6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 d5!? and against Grischuk his start was 1.e4 e6 2.f4!?.

Carlsen Norway Chess Blitz 2019
Carlsen played lots of fun openings today. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Altibox Norway Chess.

Against Caruana, he successfully played one of his pet systems in online blitz: 1. e4 g6 2. d4 Nf6 3. e5 Nh5. Over the board he had only tried it twice before, in a game he famously lost to Michael Adams at the 2010 Olympiad in Khanty-Mansiysk, and a win against Boris Savchenko in the World Blitz the same year. 

Carlsen quickly got a comfortable position and then won impressively with an exchange sac on c3 that was hard to resist:

Caruana-Carlsen Norway Chess Blitz 2019
An impressive win by Carlsen vs. Caruana. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Altibox Norway Chess.

Meanwhile, Vachier-Lagrave kept on scoring full points as well. Like Carlsen, he won in rounds 6-8 and this way he remained half a point ahead of his main rival. Winning games like this as Black is crucial:

The final round saw the dream clash between Carlsen and MVL, and in a way this was the first "Armageddon" of Norway Chess 2019, because Vachier-Lagrave, as Black, only needed a draw to claim victory.

The Frenchman initially reacted well to another offbeat line from Carlsen (1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.b4), but later said he didn't like his 12...d5, which allowed all the counterplay. Carlsen was on top at some point, but uncharacteristically didn't pull through this time.

"It was a bit annoying," said Carlsen. "I got a good compensation and felt I was clearly better, and then I messed it up completely. I didn't see 27...Re8; Maxime told me I could play 28.Nd7, but I didn't see it," Carlsen told TV2 afterward (as translated by Tarjei Svensen).

After winning the tournament, MVL said he would do "exactly the same as Magnus did last year" and choose the specific pairing number that gives him the most pleasant pairings, making sure that he gets White and Black against certain opponents. Only the tournament winner has that right; all others get the (remaining) pairing numbers based on the final standings.

2019 Norway Chess Blitz | Final Standings

# Fed Name Rtg Perf 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 Pts SB
1 Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime 2921 3062 1 1 1 1 1 1 0 ½ 1 7.5/9
2 Aronian, Levon 2827 2913 0 1 ½ ½ 1 1 ½ ½ 1 6.0/9 23.75
3 Carlsen, Magnus 2923 2903 0 0 1 ½ ½ 1 1 1 1 6.0/9 21.5
4 Mamedyarov, Shakhriyar 2757 2839 0 ½ 0 0 1 1 1 ½ 1 5.0/9
5 Ding Liren 2773 2799 0 ½ ½ 1 1 0 ½ ½ ½ 4.5/9
6 So, Wesley 2759 2723 0 0 ½ 0 0 ½ 1 ½ 1 3.5/9 12.25
7 Yu Yangyi 2705 2728 0 0 0 0 1 ½ 1 1 0 3.5/9 12.25
8 Caruana, Fabiano 2804 2676 1 ½ 0 0 ½ 0 0 1 0 3.0/9 15.75
9 Anand, Viswanathan 2747 2682 ½ ½ 0 ½ ½ ½ 0 0 ½ 3.0/9 14.75
10 Grischuk, Alexander 2750 2682 0 0 0 0 ½ 0 1 1 ½ 3.0/9 10.25

MVL chose pairing number four, and this led to the following pairings for the first round on Tuesday:

  • Aronian-Grischuk
  • Carlsen-Anand
  • Mamedyarov-Caruana
  • Vachier-Lagrave vs. Yu Yangyi
  • Ding Liren vs. So

The Norway Chess blitz tournament is not that significant, but it still is the first tournament of 2019 that Carlsen played in and didn't win. A nice bonus for MVL is that he leapfrogged the Norwegian star in the live blitz ratings.

The Altibox Norway Chess tournament takes place June 3-12 in the Clarion Hotel Energy and June 12-14 in the Stavanger Concert hall in Stavanger, Norway.

The time control in the classical games is two hours for the whole game, with an increment of 10 seconds after move 40 and in the Armageddon games 10 minutes for White, and 7 minutes for Black (with an increment of 3 seconds per move, starting from move 61) who has draw odds.

The games start 5 p.m. local time (CEST) which is 11 a.m. Eastern and 8 a.m. Pacific. You can follow the games here as part of our live portal.

Previous report:

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