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Aronian Wins Altibox Norway Chess Tournament

Aronian Wins Altibox Norway Chess Tournament

Levon Aronian won the Altibox Norway Chess tournament in Stavanger on Friday. He was never in danger against Wesley So, who drew all his nine games. Runner-up Hikaru Nakamura lost to Fabiano Caruana but still tied for second place with Vladimir Kramnik, who beat Anish Giri quickly today.

After Grenke, Levon Aronian also wins Altibox Norway Chess. | Photo: Maria Emelianova.

"I just like hanging out with the guys. It's fun to see the chess players and make friendship with your colleagues. I think that's what's missing sometimes in our chess world."

This wonderful quote from tournament winner Levon Aronian came upon Chess.com's question about Avalon, the role-play game that's all the rage these days among the top grandmasters. It's been played every night in the hotel, with Caruana, MVL and Kasimdzhanov as the most religious participants, but also Carlsen, Kramnik and several times Aronian himself playing.

Aronian's comment is almost nostalgic as if it's referring to the old days when grandmasters wouldn't go back to their hotel rooms to watch sports, Netflix or to prepare, but hang out in hotel bars and discuss life.

The Armenian grandmaster is a social person; hanging out with friends helps him to play well. Perhaps it's an Armenian thing because it was also excellent chemistry in the Armenian team that brought them three Olympic wins in 2006, 2008 and 2012.

Aronian said that "things besides chess" were important in preparing for his recent, successful tournaments. "Hanging out with friends, doing some sports. Those things."

Today's game was very balanced. Wesley So played a rather quiet variation in the 5.Bf4 Queen's Gambit Declined, and achieved the tiniest of edges. He did avoid an early draw.

Eventually, the players played it out until bare kings.

This meant that only Hikaru Nakamura could still tie for first with Aronian, but for that he had to beat Fabiano Caruana as Black. Instead, he lost.

The game started as a Poisoned Pawn Najdorf, which Caruana hadn't expected. Instead of the classic old main line with 8.Qd2, which has been analyzed to a draw completely in the last decades, he went for 8.Qd3 instead.

And it's not much different there. Caruana: "I think the current state of theory is that Black has about seven ways to draw after this move."

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Caruana called his novelty a "blunt move." | Photo: Maria Emelianova.

Nakamura chose all the normal moves, and then Caruana played the new move 15.Rg1. "A very blunt move. I just wanna play g5."

In the following position Caruana expected his opponent to protect his g-pawn on move 17, but he had looked at 17...Nc6 as well.

"My notes say nobody will ever go for this." The reason is that Black's position is hanging by a thread, and holding it depends on seeing a difficult rook move much later.

"I was trying to figure out what was going on," said Caruana. "He couldn't have calculated it. I mean, he's a fantastic calculator but for anyone, it would be unbelievable. If he saw everything he deserves a draw and maybe even more than a draw."

Instead, Nakamura got into trouble due to a mistake on move 22, and from that moment he was on the defending side.

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Shortly after the time control, the position was resignable, but Nakamura continued playing while being was a rook down, and even spent 16 minutes on one move there.

Both the commentator Nigel Short and Caruana exaggerated when they called it "30 minutes," but nonetheless it was remarkable how long Nakamura spent on his 54th move. "He wasn't thinking about the position at this point, that was clear," said Caruana. "He was thinking about the game and how this has happened."

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Nakamura realizing that he's going to have to resign the game; Caruana checking the ingredients of a bottle of water. | Photo: Maria Emelianova.

Caruana went as far as calling it "not very good sportsmanship."

"You either play quickly and resign in a few moves, or you just resign now," he said.

Nakamura left the playing hall right after the game, but would later tweet:

The other decisive game was Vladimir Kramnik vs Anish Giri—a miniature that only lasted 20 moves! 

"It was a disastrous day today," said Giri, who was actually doing fine in the opening. Kramnik's setup was provocative, and maybe simply dubious.

Giri had prepared 5...c4 and 6...b5. "Very ambitious of course. Nothing really worked for White," he said. But right after, the Dutchman made a serious error with 10...Bd6. A few moves later in the game he realized he was lost, but he wasn't sure where things went wrong.

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Kramnik signing a fan's chessboard. | Photo: Maria Emelianova. 

After the game, he checked the evaluations with an engine (on the laptop of this reporter) and realized that losing the right to castle was actually pretty serious, but weakening the dark squares with 15...g6 was suicidal.

Afterward, Kramnik tried to explain his loss against Vachier-Lagrave the other day, saying that he had a "terrible blackout" during his calculations. "Unfortunately from time to time, I have this, maybe because of tension."

Giri quipped: "I have to confirm that young people are also not safe from blackouts as we can see from today's game!"

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Giri checking his game, still wondering where it went wrong exactly. | Photo: Maria Emelianova.

And how did the world champion end his tournament? Well, as much as he would have liked to end on 50 percent, it wasn't meant to be. Both players thought that White was always slightly better, although Carlsen said to Anand right after the game that Black has a surprising lot of counterplay.

This way, both Anand and Carlsen lost one more game than they won. Anand: "Obviously one doesn't dream of minus-one, but well, it was really a bad start so under the circumstances, in this tournament this is a reasonable recovery, plus-one in the last five games. It's fine, but I shouldn't start with minus-two."

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Today some of the drivers of the players' cars, all volunteers, were rewarded by making the first moves. Photo: Joachim Steinbru.

Carlsen finally joined the international broadcast again and took the time to talk about his bad form. 

"I thought the first two rounds were OK. I played not spectacularly but sort of OK and I felt OK, but then already during the game with Nakamura I was not feeling so fresh in my head during the game. Then that trend sort of continued. I think the worst was round five and six then I really didn't make anything of my two Whites. I played poorly and I didn't feel motivated or anything, so I think it was just a lack of confidence from the start coupled with a very decent play from my opponents that was just a not combination at all.

"It's a strange feeling. Somehow I managed to build myself up for every game, but it would all disappear very quickly. It's been a bit better the last two rounds; I mean today I played terribly but at least I felt OK," said Carlsen. 

Carlsen's lack of confidence was all the more striking when he remarked: "Basically I know I can play, but I am not so convinced about my ability to win games."

nullCarlsen: "Basically I know I can play, but I am not so convinced about my ability to win games." | Photo: Maria Emelianova.

About being in danger of losing the world number one spot, Carlsen said: "Why would I care losing the first place in the rankings? It doesn't come into your mind when you're playing that badly. I was thinking: if that happens it sucks, but most of all I have to play better."

Live ratings after Norway Chess

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Image: 2700chess.com

About moving forward from here: "There won't be some quick fix or anything. I have to work on it. I think I can still play, I am sure I can still play. I have to get my confidence back. It has to be said that it's a strong tournament; nobody can win it on demand. Even if I play poorly I am usually in the upper half. Obviously, that didn't happen this time."

Carlsen's next tournament is the Paris Grand Chess Tour, which starts in a few days from now and will be rapid and blitz. "It's really connected to classical chess only," said Carlsen. "I am very convinced I can do very well in Paris and I am very much looking forward to that."

2017 Altibox Norway Chess | Final Standings

# Fed Name Rtg Perf 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 Pts SB
1 Aronian,Levon 2793 2918 ½ 1 ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 1 6.0/9
2 Nakamura,Hikaru 2785 2837 ½ ½ 0 ½ 1 1 ½ ½ ½ 5.0/9 22.00
3 Kramnik,Vladimir 2808 2834 0 ½ ½ ½ 1 0 1 1 ½ 5.0/9 21.25
4 Caruana,Fabiano 2808 2796 ½ 1 ½ ½ ½ ½ 0 ½ ½ 4.5/9 20.75
5 So,Wesley 2812 2796 ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ 4.5/9 20.25
6 Giri,Anish 2771 2800 ½ 0 0 ½ ½ 1 1 ½ ½ 4.5/9 19.25
7 Vachier-Lagrave,Maxime 2796 2759 ½ 0 1 ½ ½ 0 ½ ½ ½ 4.0/9 18.25
8 Anand,Viswanathan 2786 2760 ½ ½ 0 1 ½ 0 ½ ½ ½ 4.0/9 18.00
9 Carlsen,Magnus 2832 2755 0 ½ 0 ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 4.0/9 16.75
10 Karjakin,Sergey 2781 2721 0 ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ 0 3.5/9


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Aronian helping his German friend out of the tournament car at arrival. Building on karma? | Photo: Maria Emelianova.

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