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Norway Chess 2024: 7 Talking Points
Magnus Carlsen and Ding Liren last met in Norway Chess in 2019. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Norway Chess.

Norway Chess 2024: 7 Talking Points

Colin_McGourty
| 50 | Chess Event Coverage

World Champion Ding Liren will play his first classical game against former champion Magnus Carlsen as the new-look 2024 Norway Chess starts on Monday in Stavanger. Defending champion GM Hikaru Nakamura and 2023 runner-up GM Fabiano Caruana also clash as they fight for the title and the close to $70,000 first prize.

For the first time, there’s also a Women’s Norway Chess, featuring identical prizes, with Women's World Champion Ju Wenjun taking on GM Vaishali Rameshbabu in round one, while 61-year-old legend Pia Cramling will be another player to watch.

The tournament starts Monday, May 27, at 11 a.m. ET / 17:00 CEST / 8:30 p.m. IST.

There are no weak links in this year's Norway Chess.

The 12th edition of Norway Chess is a mix of the old and the new. Once again we have some of the world's best players playing classical chess with armageddon games after any draws, but this time the event is split into two separate six-player tournaments. Let's look at some of the possible storylines.

  1. Does Magnus Remember How To Play Classical Chess? 
  2. Can Hikaru Defend His Title (While Also "Streaming" From The Confessional)?
  3. Can Ding Avoid Last Place?
  4. Is Equal Prize Money For Open And Women's Events The Future?
  5. Can Vaishali Keep Her Run Going?
  6. Can Pia Cramling Roll Back The Years?
  7. Will A World Record Be Broken?  

1. Does Magnus Remember How To Play Classical Chess?

It's six months since classical world number-one Carlsen last played a game of classical chess. That was in November, when he won individual gold with 6.5/8 at the European Team Chess Championship in Montenegro. Since then he's won seven of the eight events he's played, but they've been either at fast time controls or Chess960. 

In a pre-tournament interview with Amit Kamath for The Indian Express, Carlsen commented on Norway Chess:

"I’m looking forward to fighting against the best players in the world. I did play quite a bit of classical chess last year, even though I haven’t been for a while, but not a lot of it was against only the very top players, so that’s something quite exciting for me. I probably don’t want to do that nearly as often as I did in the past, but that’s also what makes the events that I do play special. I’m also curious to see what my level is because at the moment I don’t really know." 

I'm also curious to see what my level is because at the moment I don't really know.

—Magnus Carlsen

At one point in Carlsen's career, the storyline was about how the Norwegian world number-one struggled to play in his home super-tournament, but a four-tournament winning streak from 2019-2022 demolished that narrative. 

Edition Year Norway Chess Winner
1 2013 Sergey Karjakin
2 2014 Sergey Karjakin
3 2015 Veselin Topalov
4 2016 Magnus Carlsen
5 2017 Levon Aronian
6 2018 Fabiano Caruana
7 2019 Magnus Carlsen
8 2020 Magnus Carlsen
9 2021 Magnus Carlsen
10 2022 Magnus Carlsen
11 2023 Hikaru Nakamura

That doesn't mean there's nothing to prove, however. In 2023 Carlsen failed to win a single one of his classical games and finished sixth out of 10 players. There is a "but"—he made eight draws and then went on to win all but one of the armageddon games that followed! (White gets 10 minutes to Black's seven, but Black needs just to draw to win.)

That was great for spectators, but there's just an extra half-point at stake in armageddon (the players get one point each for a classical draw), while there are three points for a win in classical chess. To win the tournament, Carlsen will need to get back to winning ways at the long time control.

Carlsen has a big game to kick off his tournament—Black vs. his world championship successor Ding in their first classical game since the 2023 match:

Round 1 pairings. Check out the full pairings here.

2. Can Hikaru Defend His Title (While Also "Streaming" From The Confessional)?

The defending champion is Nakamura, who defeated Caruana on demand in the final game of the 2023 tournament to take the title in spectacular style. The five-time U.S. champion was, of course, making recaps of the games afterward, but you didn't need to wait until then to hear, "Welcome back, everybody!" since Nakamura was a regular in the confessional booth during the games. Here he is, for instance, during that all-important final-round game.

It feels like a tournament made for a consummate streamer, and Nakamura, who took second place at the recent FIDE Candidates Tournament, is right up there with Carlsen as a favorite to win. 

Caruana looked sure to win in 2023 until Nakamura struck in the final round.

3. Can Ding Avoid Last Place?

To ask such a question of the world chess champion would usually be considered both rude and unthinkable, but Ding is the one to set avoiding last place as a goal. He explained in a recent interview that he's altered his ambitions during 2024:

"In the first tournament I played in Wijk aan Zee, my aim was to be the first place, but later it didn’t go so well. I finished not in the top seven... Also in the next tournament, in Weissenhaus, I finished in last place. That was a big shock to me, so I changed my aim after that. For Norway, it’s a totally new challenge for me. There are many strong players competing in this tournament. Still, my aim is not to finish in last place."

My aim is not to finish in last place.

—Ding Liren

Stavanger contains some traumatic memories for Ding, since in his debut in 2018 he broke his hip cycling and had to withdraw after three rounds. He came back a year later but failed to finish in the top half. 

The caliber of opposition is another reason not finishing in last place is a challenge for anyone. Caruana was a draw in the final round away from winning his second Norway Chess title in 2023 and has arguably been the best classical player of the last year, and there are no weak links.

GM Alireza Firouzja is fresh from defeating Carlsen twice to win the Chess.com Classic, and finished runner-up to Carlsen in 2020 and 2021, when Norway Chess was also held with six players.

Praggnanandhaa had a good but not great Candidates—can he put the prep for that tournament to good use in Norway? Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

The youngest player in the field is 18-year-old Praggnanandhaa Rameshbabu, who makes his debut as the fourth Indian player to compete in Stavanger after GMs Viswanathan Anand, Pentala Harikrishna, and Gukesh Dommaraju. In the interview above, Carlsen said of the youngster: "I’ve had a lot of great duels against Pragg already, so I really enjoy that. I like playing the kids in general."

Praggnanandhaa will also have a strong support network, since his sister GM Vaishali Rameshbabu is also playing in Norway.       

4. Is Equal Prize Money For Open And Women's Events The Future?

Norway Chess has always promoted women for commentary, photography, interviewing, and other roles around the tournament, but until now not a single woman had played in the top event—GM Hou Yifan, the second-strongest female player of all time, competed in a four-player qualifier in 2016 but didn't make the cut. 

That's all changed in 2024, as the organizers are running two six-player tournaments with identical prize funds, so that the winner of the women's event will also take home 700,000 NOK, or around $66,000. Outside of the world championship cycle, that's unprecedented for women-only events, although the next most lucrative, the Cairns Cup with a $50,000 top prize, starts in St. Louis less than a week after Norway Chess ends.

The women's world champion tops the women's field.

When it comes to the women's world championship, the prizes are big but not in comparison to the overall prizes. Ju earned €300,000 ($334,000) for winning the women's world championship in 2023, while Ding earned €1.1 million for winning the overall title—it would have been exactly four times as much, €1.2 million, if the match hadn't gone to tiebreaks. 

More often the ratio is 2:1 for prizes—for instance, the recent FIDE Candidates Tournaments— while equal prize funds are exceedingly rare in chess. The Polish Championship has been matching the earnings since 2016, while last year's Tata Steel Chess India also offered equal prize money for both events, with IM Divya Deshmukh and Ju earning the same as GMs Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Alexander Grischuk in the tournaments held one after another. Praggnanandhaa is one player in favor:

"I am happy to see an exclusive women's tournament being introduced in Norway Chess. It is a very good initiative because there are not many tournaments for women. This will encourage other organizations to come up with women's tournaments too. My sister also will be playing there. I am looking forward to see how she will do."

This will encourage other organizations to come up with women's tournaments too.

—Praggnanandhaa Rameshbabu   

Will equal prize money catch on? Well, the 1973 U.S. Open was the trailblazer in tennis, with the other Grand Slams all eventually catching up. The arguments against are that women are also eligible to play in the open events and that there's no physical barrier to their competing—Judit Polgar singlehandedly proved that fact. Nevertheless, more money in the women's game could really ignite interest and competition. 

5. Can Vaishali Keep Her Run Going?

Ju, GM Lei Tingjie, and GM Koneru Humpy are perhaps the established stars favorite to win the inaugural Women's Norway Chess, while GM Anna Muzychuk will be hoping to bounce back after 14 winless rounds in the Candidates, but the most interesting players to watch may be the two who are lowest-rated.

Vaishali, whose grandmaster title was recently confirmed, is coming into the event on the back of an incredible five-game winning streak at the end of the Candidates. If she can keep that run going, or come close, she'll be fighting for the top prize.  

After four losses in a row in the Candidates, Vaishali hit back to win her last five games! Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

It's not going to be easy for Vaishali to extend her streak! 

Vaishali needs to beat the women's world champion with black to make it six wins in a row. Full pairings here.

6. Can Pia Cramling Roll Back The Years?

The other star attraction will be Cramling, who is still ranked in the top 30 players in the world at the age of 61, 40 years after she first became the women's chess number-one back in 1984 as a 21-year-old. Her daughter, WFM Anna Cramling, tells the story:

No one would be surprised to see the legendary Cramling competing on a level footing with the more recent stars of the game. 

7. Will A World Record Be Broken?

It's not all going to be serious chess, as Norwegian chess players and podcasters Askild Bryn and Odin Blikra Vea are gunning for a World Record for the longest chess marathon. The task suddenly became tougher when Nigeria's Tunde Onakoya raised the bar to 60 hours of more or less non-stop chess with an extravaganza in Times Square, New York, last month.  They'll be streaming their efforts live, so there's going to be some chess to tune into even when the stars are taking a rest in Stavanger. 

How to watch? You can watch Norway Chess 2024 on the Chess24 YouTube and Twitch channels. It will also be streamed on Nakamura's Kick channel. The games can also be followed from our events page: Open | Women.

The live broadcast will be hosted by GM David Howell and IMs Jovanka Houska, Anna Rudolf, and Danny Rensch.

Norway Chess 2024 features Open and Women's six-player tournaments for equal prize funds of 1,690,000 NOK (~$160,000). It runs May 27 to June 7 in Stavanger, with players facing their opponents twice at classical chess (120 minutes/40 moves, with a 10-second increment from move 41). The winner of a classical game gets three points, the loser, zero; after a draw, the players get one point and fight for another half-point in armageddon (10 minutes for White, seven for Black, who has draw odds). 


Previous coverage:

Colin_McGourty
Colin McGourty

Colin McGourty led news at Chess24 from its launch until it merged with Chess.com a decade later. An amateur player, he got into chess writing when he set up the website Chess in Translation after previously studying Slavic languages and literature in St. Andrews, Odesa, Oxford, and Krakow.

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