Norway Chess Opens With 5 Armageddon Games
The time scramble in the Aronian vs Grischuk Armageddon game. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Altibox Norway Chess.

Norway Chess Opens With 5 Armageddon Games

| 88 | Chess Event Coverage

It was as if the players really wanted to try out the new system. The first round of the 2019 Altibox Norway Chess tournament saw no fewer than five Armageddon games as all classical encounters ended in draws.

For the fans who prefer rapid or blitz over classical chess—and who take the lower level of chess being played for granted—the revolutionary experiment in Norway had a great start. A round of five relatively quiet draws that would otherwise have been (unjustly?) scorned upon, this time also saw five bloody street fights from which just one player each could emerge alive.

It also helped that the very first Armageddon, between Ding Liren and Wesley So, was a beauty. 

“Today my plan was to play solid in the classical and prepare something aggressive for the Armageddon, and it worked out very well,” said Ding, who thus immediately laid out a strategy that might get more followers.

The Chinese player used a strong novelty in the Semi-Tarrasch and followed up with the typical d4-d5, e6xd5, e4-e5 central pawn sacrifice. The game reminded of classics like Tal-Gligoric, Belgrade 1968, Polugaevsky-Tal, USSR 1969 and Sevian-Nihal (second match game), 2019!

Ding So Armageddon Norway Chess 2019
A great game by Ding vs. So. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Altibox Norway Chess.

Few were complaining after this great game, but soon the other, less positive side of the Armageddon concept was revealed as well, in Levon Aronian vs Alexander Grischuk. We're again skipping their not-too-exciting classical game to dive straight into their Armageddon, which finished in a crazy time scramble with pieces dropping here and there. 

Aronian Grischuk Armageddon Norway Chess 2019
At the very end, both kings had been tipped over. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Altibox Norway Chess.

At some point Aronian had just five seconds left on the clock versus Grischuk's seven—note that in an Armageddon, a three-second increment only starts at move 61. After Aronian made his 48th move, Grischuk "spent a long time thinking. He spent three seconds here," said Aronian, who ended up winning on time in a lost position.

"Lucky bastard!" was what MVL called his friend Aronian.

As the winner of the blitz, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave was the only player who could hand pick his opponents and colors, but it didn't do him much good in the first round. For starters, to Magnus Carlsen's surprise he played rather quietly against Yu Yangyi's Petroff and then the Frenchman ended up losing the Armageddon, as the only white player not winning it in the first round.

MVL didn't regret his choice though, since he felt he had "lots of pressure" in that Petroff and also in the Armageddon he was better as White. When Yu equalized, the Frenchman needed to take risks because a draw means the same as a loss. It backfired, as Yu countered strongly.

Vachier-Lagrave Yu Yangyi Armageddon Norway Chess 2019
Vachier-Lagrave vs. Yu Yangyi. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Altibox Norway Chess.

Shakhriyar Mamedyarov vs. Fabiano Caruana started around the same time as MVL-Yu, to the regret of online viewers. It would have been preferable if these Armageddon games had been staggered so that nobody needs to miss any action.

The tension was clearly visible in the game, in which both players made mistakes they'd never make in a classical game:

Mamedyarov Caruana Armageddon Norway Chess 2019
The Mamedyarov vs. Caruana and Aronian vs. Grischuk Armageddons had just started when Carlsen and Anand drew their standard game. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Altibox Norway Chess.

The last Armageddon game was Magnus Carlsen vs. Viswanathan Anand. Their classical game was the most interesting of the five, with Carlsen pressing but Anand holding. It seems White could have been a healthy pawn up at some point.

Conspiracy theorists might suggest that the tournament organizers have reformatted the event to give their main man Carlsen even bigger chances to win. That would be stretching it too much, but the world champion does feel like a fish in the water in faster time controls, and it looks like having to play for a win in an Armageddon suits him too.

Commentator Judit Polgar felt that Anand played too passively in the opening, and after that Carlsen was in control. He did miss a mate in two at the very end, though.

Carlsen Anand Armageddon Norway Chess 2019
Grischuk had stayed in the playing hall to watch Carlsen and Anand playing their Armageddon and made a suggestion after they finished. Maybe he had seen the mate in two? | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Altibox Norway Chess.

Carlsen TV2
Carlsen speaking to TV2 after the game. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Altibox Norway Chess.

2019 Altibox Norway Chess | Round 1 Standings

# Fed Name Rtg 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 Pts
1-5 Carlsen 2875 ½1 1.5/2
1-5 Ding Liren 2805 ½1 1.5/2
1-5 Mamedyarov 2774 ½1 1.5/2
1-5 Aronian 2752 ½1 1.5/2
1-5 Yu Yangyi 2738 ½1 1.5/2
6-10 Caruana 2819 ½0 0.5/2
6-10 Vachier-Lagrave 2779 ½0 0.5/2
6-10 Grischuk 2775 ½0 0.5/2
6-10 Anand 2767 ½0 0.5/2
6-10 So 2754 ½0 0.5/2

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. New this year is that players who draw their game will play an Armageddon game right after (with the same colors).

Armageddon at Norway Chess
White gets 10 minutes on the clock; Black gets seven minutes but has draw odds.

  • 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

Also new is a shorter the time control in the classical games: two hours for the whole game, with an increment of 10 seconds after move 40.

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 with daily commentary by the Chessbrahs.

Round 1 by the Chessbrahs. 

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