Norway Chess R9: Carlsen Leads After 4th Straight Win; Firouzja Enters World's Top 10
Carlsen is the new leader at Norway Chess. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Norway Chess.

Norway Chess R9: Carlsen Leads After 4th Straight Win; Firouzja Enters World's Top 10

| 57 | Chess Event Coverage

He was close to a defeat this time but GM Magnus Carlsen turned his game with GM Sergey Karjakin around, won his fourth in a row, and became the new leader at Norway Chess with one round to go. GM Alireza Firouzja defeated GM Aryan Tari to enter the live top 10 for the first time, while GM Ian Nepomniachtchi beat GM Richard Rapport in the armageddon.

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Round 9 Standings

# Fed Name Rating Classical Armageddon Total
2 Magnus Carlsen 2855 12 6 18
1 Richard Rapport 2760 12 4.5 16.5
3 Alireza Firouzja 2754 12 3 15
4 Ian Nepomniachtchi 2792 3 8 11
5 Sergey Karjakin 2758 3 5.5 8.5
6 Aryan Tari 2642 3 3 6

A candid and honest world champion provided a wonderful interview after what was his fourth straight win in Stavanger. Helped by the excellent questions from GM Judit Polgar and GM David Howell, he gave great insight into what it's like for the world's best player to completely misjudge a type of middlegame, being forced to grovel but finding the moves to hang on while surviving time-trouble, and eventually turn the game around.

"All of the last four games have been really, really tough but this was obviously different in the sense that I was just completely busted positionally speaking," Carlsen admitted in a string of sincere revelations. "The other days it's been tough trying to convert an advantage but this time I was just outplayed, to be honest. I think it's a testament to his poor form that I won this game." 

Wasn't it also a bit of his own resilience? Carlsen, with a smile: "A little bit. Still, it was… I don't know... Good result!"

Carlsen checking the big screen
Carlsen checking the other games on the big screen. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Norway Chess.

The problems kind of started with the choice of opening: Carlsen found himself in a position that he would have enjoyed playing as Black.

"I don't know why I decided to play this line at all because usually, I'm looking at the black side and I am thinking: I have the bishop pair, and if they take on d6 you have nothing. Why even play this line."

The position before 13.Nxd6.

Taking that bishop on d6 fixes Black's pawn structure so Carlsen wasn't feeling great about that move, but he said he felt even worse about the alternatives.

Meanwhile, Karjakin played good moves, such as 15...b6. "A very nice move positionally speaking," said Carlsen. "I was hoping he wouldn't play it, to be honest."

The Norwegian star explained that he based his evaluation on some similar positions in the Giuoco Pianissimo, but he soon realized that Black is just comfortable. On top of that, he miscalculated when taking on f5, and spent too much time on it.

However, having a clear advantage, Karjakin made some surprising moves such as 27…Qh4 (27…Qf6) and 29…Raf8 (29…Rfa7) and then Carlsen decided to enter some concrete complications as he went 30.Ra6.

Polgar called the move brave but Carlsen saw it differently: "I had a bad position. There's not much to be brave about!" He also wanted to provoke 30...e4 (played) as he had seen that 33.Rf2 wasn't losing (still calling it "shit-scary"). 

According to Carlsen, Karjakin's mistake was that he played his 34th and 35th move too quickly. Getting 35.d4 and 36.Ra3 in was a relief as White was sort of consolidating.

Karjakin missed another chance on move 40 and then the danger was definitely over as the queens could be traded. "I couldn't get the queens off any quicker," said Carlsen, who thought Karjakin "resisted poorly" in the endgame, especially on move 42.

Carlsen quoted sixth world champion Mikhail Botvinnik who said that "a protected bishop is as strong as a rook" in such endgames, and therefore it was a "massive conceptual mistake" (Carlsen) not to go for 42…Nf4 43.Bxf4 Rxf4.

Game of the Day Dejan Bojkov

Carlsen Karjakin 2021 Norway Chess
Carlsen: "I'm really happy to win; the games are just getting more and more difficult each day but as long as I'm winning it's good!" Photo: Lennart Ootes/Norway Chess.

Carlsen is now one and a half points ahead of Rapport, who is not leading the tournament anymore for the first time since the start. The Hungarian GM drew quickly with Nepomniachtchi but then went down in the armageddon to score only a single point in this round.

There was a golden opportunity in the opening to win, though, as both players and the commentators missed a Puzzle Rush kind of tactic. At the end of the day, it wouldn't have been enough to hold off Carlsen.

"I ended up playing the Scandinavian: ...d5, exd5, ...Qxd5," quipped Nepomniachtchi. "Not the worst Scandinavian. Objectively, I don't think it was anything worse until I decided to give up a pawn but even after that, I think it's still quite playable."

Asked whether this was his easiest day, Nepo replied: "I don't know, maybe. Especially after a couple of other days, this was like... not a well-deserved rest!"

Looking back at the first nine rounds, he said: "Things have never gone easy for me at this tournament. OK, there is one more round to go. The chances I had, I mostly missed, especially in the first leg, and in the second leg, it was somewhat unnecessary. But you know, there are some very high stakes, some Elo rating, and besides that, it's anyway a very nice training."

Rapport Nepomniachtchi Norway Chess 2021
Rapport vs. Nepomniachtchi. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Norway Chess.

Firouzja won his third game in a row, which catapulted him into the live top 10 for the first time. It's a fantastic achievement at the age of 18 and three months. For reference, Carlsen broke the top 10 in April 2008, when he was 17 years and four months old.

Alireza Firouzja world's top 10 live ratings
Alireza Firouzja is now the world's top 10 player in the live ratings. Image:

"It's great to continue the wins," Firouzja said. "The games were always very sharp... very difficult games. Today was not an easy one, I could say!"

In a Najdorf with 6.a4, he had to deal with a bit of preparation by Tari, who sacrificed a pawn on move 10. Firouzja said he "forgot his preparation" and thought 10…Nxe4 could be a good move but at the board, he didn't like White's long-term compensation. 

Firouzja felt White was better out of the opening but 17.Kh1 and 18.f4 was too slow a plan by White. Later on, Tari should have traded knights when he had the chance:

Tari Firouzja 2021 Norway Chess
Tari vs. Firouzja. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Norway Chess.

The final-round pairings for Friday are Nepomniachtchi-Carlsen, Firouzja-Rapport, and Karjakin-Tari.

Carlsen on what will be his last classical game with Nepo before the title match: "I have no idea whether he is in the mood to play or to make a draw and go home and so on. I think, preparation-wise, I have to assume that he wants to play and then we'll see."

Nepomniachtchi kept his cards close to his chest: "An interesting game against a strong opponent, as usual."

Nepomniachtchi interview
Nepomniachtchi on playing Carlsen: "An interesting game against a strong opponent, as usual." Photo: Lennart Ootes/Norway Chess.

Norway Chess takes place September 7-18, 2021 in Stavanger, Norway. The format is a double round-robin among six players. The time control is 120 minutes for the whole game with a 10-second increment starting from move 41. In case of a draw, the players play an armageddon game with the same colors. White has 10 minutes and Black has seven minutes with a one-second increment starting from move 41. A victory in the main game gives three points; a loss in the main game, zero points; a draw in the main game followed by a victory in the armageddon, 1.5 points; and a loss in the armageddon, one point.

Earlier reports:

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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