Carlsen Beats Aronian In Armageddon As Norway Chess Begins
A relieved Carlsen stops the clock after beating Aronian. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Norway Chess.

Carlsen Beats Aronian In Armageddon As Norway Chess Begins

| 26 | Chess Event Coverage

The Altibox Norway Chess tournament began on Monday. It's the first over-the-board super tournament with GM Magnus Carlsen since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

How to watch
You can follow the games here as part of our live platform. Besides the official broadcast, daily commentary is provided on GM Hikaru Nakamura's Twitch channel starting at 8 a.m. Pacific / 17:00 Central Europe.

The world champion drew his game with GM Levon Aronian and then won the armageddon game, which is played after each undecided game in this tournament. GM Fabiano Caruana and GM Alireza Firouzja won their standard chess games as Black against GMs Aryan Tari and Jan-Krzysztof Duda, respectively.

2020 Norway Chess | Round 1 Standings

# Fed Name Rtg 1 2 3 4 5 6 Pts
1-2 Caruana,Fabiano 2828 . . . . 3 3
1-2 Firouzja,Alireza 2728 . . . 3 . 3
3 Carlsen,Magnus 2863 . . 1.5 . . 1.5
4 Aronian,Levon 2767 . . 1 . . 1
5-6 Duda,Jan-Krzysztof 2757 . 0 . . . 0
5-6 Tari,Aryan 2633 0 . . . . 0

With his draw in the standard game, Carlsen extended his unbeaten streak to 122 games. His last loss was against GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov in Biel on July 31, 2018.

The game itself was rather dull. One point to note is that Aronian had spent 27 and a half minutes on the clock while the game followed a game Caruana-Carlsen had played online earlier this year.

A key moment was move 15 when Carlsen, who had been in self-isolation at home as part of the anti-corona measures, allowed a "self-isolation of the d-pawn," as commentator GM Vladimir Kramnik described it. The former world champion is doing the official commentary with GM Judit Polgar, both online from their homes.

The position after 15.dxc5. Then Carlsen "self-isolated" his pawn on d5 with 15...Nxc5.

Carlsen said he would have considered 15...bxc5 in different circumstances: "It's the first game in a long time. I just felt that 15...Nxc5 was 100 percent safe for me, and I just wanted to play a normal game."

Carlsen 2020 Norway Chess
Carlsen wanted to play "a normal game." Photo: Lennart Ootes/Norway Chess.

Like last year, when this novelty was introduced, the players play an armageddon game about 20 minutes after drawing their standard game. The colors remain the same, and the time control is 10 minutes for White vs. seven minutes for Black with an increment of one second per move starting on move 41. 

The points system is as follows:

  • Victory main game: 3 points
  • Loss main game: 0 points
  • Draw main game & victory armageddon: 1.5 points
  • Draw main game & loss armageddon: 1 point

(Last year the difference between winning in standard chess and armageddon was just half a point, but now it's 1.5 points.)

In the armageddon, Carlsen switched to 4...a6 but didn't get a satisfactory position out of the opening. "I felt it was very dangerous after the opening. Then I eventually managed to sort of stabilize, and then I was probably OK," he said.

Aronian: "I had this huge advantage, and I don't know what I did with this position. It's crazy."

Aronian 2020 Norway Chess
Aronian missed a big chance. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Norway Chess.

Besides a computer move in the opening missed by both the players and the commentators (see the annotations below), Aronian got another big chance on move 19 when he could snatch a pawn.

White is close to winning after 19.Nxc6 Rc8 but only if he continues with the super-accurate 20.Rhh1!.

"I didn't want my opponent to get active," Aronian said. Again the computer pointed out that with one accurate move, the pawn grab would be completely justified.

After that, it went downhill for Aronian, who said: "I burnt all my time, and I played terribly." With just seconds on the clock for the Armenian number-one, it was clear he wasn't going to make it. He blundered a rook and flagged while resigning.

Aronian Carlsen armageddon 2020 Norway Chess
Aronian resigns and flags at the same time. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Norway Chess.

The players hadn't reached move 40 yet, so the one-second increment wasn't yet activated on the digital clock.

Originally, the increment after move 40 was three seconds, by the way, but this was changed during the players' meeting on Sunday afternoon as they thought Black would have too big an advantage. 

2020 Norway Chess
A view of the playing hall. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Norway Chess.

The other two games also ended in a victory for Black but in the standard game, which means Caruana and Firouzja are tied for first place with the maximum score of 3/3.

Caruana impressed in the opening, a Taimanov Sicilian, with the prepared pawn sacrifice 13...Bxe3.

Caruana surprised with 13...Bxe3 here, basically giving up d6.

"I think it's been played before, but it's a novelty in the sense that people played it and it was a blunder," he said. "They probably didn't realize that 14.fxe3 is winning the pawn. In terms of serious games, this is a completely new idea."

Carlsen was impressed: "I thought his idea in the opening was extremely interesting, really a nice concept."

A few moves later the game saw another positionally instructive idea. Caruana explained why he didn't go for the standard exchange sacrifice on c3 in this game.

Caruana didn't like 20...Rxc3 here because the h-pawns are already on h4 (instead of h2) and h5 (instead of h6). For the explanation, see the game annotations.

Tari managed to keep the balance and only started to go wrong close to the time control.

Caruana 2020 Norway Chess
Caruana interviewed on the Norwegian TV channel TV2. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Norway Chess.

In the Duda-Firouzja game, the critical moment was move 17 when Duda made the dangerous decision to grab the pawn on b7 with his queen. Kramnik said he would never have done it on general principles, and Carlsen agreed: "Practically, it's a terrible choice, especially against Alireza."

Firouzja: "I thought I have always compensation, even if he exchanges some pieces, like the bishops or something. I think I'm always better because this attack is endless. I always have a strong initiative."

The pawn grab would have been playable if Duda had followed up with the exchange sacrifice 18.dxc5, as pointed out by Firouzja as "the best try." Carlsen went as far as saying that after 18.Bd2 White was "strategically lost."

Duda-Firouzja 2020 Norway Chess
Duda-Firouzja shortly before the end. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Norway Chess.

The main story of the day was the return to chess on wooden boards with wooden pieces. All players clearly enjoyed it.

Carlsen: "It feels great. Today's classical game was obviously not the most exciting one, but to be back playing is, so far, great. I'm very happy with that."

Caruana had recent practice in the Bundesliga, where games were played with plexiglass placed in the middle of the board and face masks were mandatory if players were not at the board.

"I have to say this feels so much better," said Caruana. "It wasn't so intrusive in the Bundesliga, but it still kind of feels strange. At the board, you weren't obligated to wear the mask, and you have this weird glass in between you. And whenever you get up, and I usually get up a lot to look at the games, you have to wear a mask, which is not so pleasant."

Firouzja: "For me, it's very different because when I play online, when I sit for five hours, I will be tired but over the board, there are more options. You can go drink tea or something during the games. It is very different, and I'm very happy to be here."

Aronian was also happy to return to normal circumstances ("I'm tired of Zoom!") but also noted that his feelings are colored by the current war between Armenia and Azerbaijan. "It's a great feeling. If not for other circumstances connected with my country, I would be very happy. But unfortunately, I don't really have time to prepare or do anything because I'm reading the news like 24/7. Other than that, I'm more than happy."

The COVID-19 situation forced the organizers to take several precautions. The number of spectators, crew, and journalists has been limited, and the international players all arrived early and quarantined in the Clarion Hotel in Stavanger before the start of the tournament. (Carlsen and Tari did so at home.)

players meeting 2020 Norway Chess
The players' meeting on Sunday with everyone keeping the 1.5-meter distance. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Norway Chess.

"We have had much communication with government health officials about preventative measures, both nationally and locally," said Benedicte Westre Skog, one of the organizers, in September. "We also have people involved, such as medical doctors and other staff that will be there to make sure that our corona preventive measurements are followed."

Anemone Kulczak Norway Chess 2020
Chief arbiter Anemone Kulczak cleans pieces. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Norway Chess.

See also:

Peter Doggers

Peter Doggers joined a chess club a month before turning 15 and still plays for it. He used to be an active tournament player and holds two IM norms.

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