Carlsen Game Away From Losing #1 Spot
By beating Magnus Carlsen today at the Altibox Norway Chess tournament, Vladimir Kramnik is now only 6.4 points behind the world number-one in the live ratings. Carlsen could lose his number-one spot tomorrow. Meanwhile, Levon Aronian grabbed the sole lead after defeating Sergey Karjakin.
Carlsen even said no to TV2 today. | Photo: Maria Emelianova.
The talk of the town is not about Aronian. Not yet, at least. We know the Armenian GM can play; he just won Grenke, and he's doing great again. But at the moment the big news is Magnus Carlsen's slump.
It's pretty damn serious.
After today's mutual game, the world number-one's gap with number two Vladimir Kramnik was reduced to 6.4 Elo points. Carlsen is suddenly in real danger of losing his number-one spot, which he held since July 2011.
Will Carlsen finish the tournament without a win? The last time that happened was 10 years ago in Dortmund, a tournament that lasted seven rounds. He scored six draws and one loss.
Carlsen's performance after 27 games (+5 =19 -3) in 2017 is now 2776. That's his lowest performance since 2007 (2726). #NorwayChess— Tarjei J. Svensen ( @TarjeiJS) June 14, 2017
A short video depicting the big game today.
Kramnik decided to go for 1.e4 but didn't really expect his opponent to play his regular 1....e5 repertoire. "Since Magnus was not in a good tournament position I was expecting him to play something random, something sharp."
The Russian grandmaster said he hardly focused on the Giuoco Piano and was just remembering his notes. "I had this 12.Bd3, which is very interesting for White. That was it."
Well, it was good enough to be satisfied after the opening, as he said in the confession box:
Kramnik: "1st part of the game finished, I got a nice advantage from opening. Now I will do my best to spoil it" #NorwayChess— Tarjei J. Svensen ( @TarjeiJS) June 14, 2017
Kramnik reached a nice position out of the opening. | Photo: Maria Emelianova.
Especially Kramnik's 22.Qa1 was pretty, to which Carlsen's quick reply 22...Qc7 came unexpectedly. After the game, the world champion admitted to Kramnik that he simply missed 23.Bxh6 completely.
It was a sign of more to come. Carlsen took on f2 with the wrong piece, partly because he felt that the alternative was hopeless, and partly because he missed Kramnik's 29th move. White's attack was devastating, and Kramnik finished it off smoothly—scoring his first classical win over Carlsen in seven years.
About possibly becoming the new number-one, Kramnik said: "It would be nice of course to be a hero for one day, but it doesn't really mean much."
He thinks Carlsen is just having a bad period, but that he needs to work on his black repertoire.
Kramnik and Carlsen briefly discussing some variations. | Photo: Maria Emelianova.
Still, Kramnik thinks Carlsen's bad phase is only temporary: "He is heavily underrated! It will be not for long that I will be so close to him, or anyone else. I am sure he will just get to his senses and will rise back to the top, I have no doubt."
Kramnik being interviewed, with only Nakamura's second Kris Littlejohn not paying attention! | Photo: Maria Emelianova.
@bennedik) June 14, 2017
Today's round, which was played in Stavanger's Concert Hall (also the location of the last two rounds), started with a quick win by Anish Giri over Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. The Dutch GM picked up a line of the Dragon that Boris Gelfand played in the Moscow Grand Prix last month, and that was an excellent choice.
"I've had this analysis a long time ago already. But it was not topical; nobody went for this line. But now it became topical," said Giri.
Vachier-Lagrave didn't make a very fit impression today. | Photo: Maria Emelianova.
At the post-mortem, Giri was spitting out long variations which he had prepared in the morning. MVL wasn't fully ready for these lines. "The problem is I saw them, but not today."
"That was a strange game," Nakamura said about MVL-Giri. "I didn't understand anything." | Photo: Maria Emelianova.
There are currently six 2800 players in the live rating list, and one of them is playing at a level of almost 3000: Levon Aronian. Today the Armenian grandmaster defeated Sergey Karjakin to reach sole first place, with two rounds to go.
Very impressed by Aronian's skill in taking risks in search of complications & confusion. Especially when backed by good form. #NorwayChess— Jonathan Tisdall ( @GMjtis) June 14, 2017
The game was one of three Giuoco Pianos in this round. Anand said about this: "The Italian is one area where you can say the computer revolutionized it. It seems that we gave up way too early."
Aronian played the aggressive plan of ...h6, ...Kh8, ...Nh7 and ...f5, but initially there was nothing wrong with Karjakin's reaction. Only when he went for the rook maneuver Re1-e6-g6 things started to go downhill for White, even though the computer thinks it's still roughly equal after that. Allowing f4-f3 was definitely wrong.
Aronian revealed a little bit of the secret behind his success, so far: "I think I'm fighting. I am not playing better than usual but I'm fighting. Sessions of poker with my friends prior to the tournament helped to build my aggression!"
Levon Aronian is the tournament leader after seven rounds. | Photo: Maria Emelianova.
As Vishy Anand pointed out, the Giuoco Piano is not just another Anti-Berlin. It's an opening that can lead to pretty interesting games. Here's his game with Hikaru Nakamura, which includes some nice analysis from the players:
The start of round seven. | Photo: Maria Emelianova.
2017 Altibox Norway Chess | Round 7 Standings
The TV2 studio in the Stavanger Konserthus looks over the water. At some point, a giant cruise ship left Stavanger. | Photo: Maria Emelianova.
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