Wesley So Wins Norway Chess Opening Blitz
Wesley So was the only player to score 6/9 in the blitz. | Photo: Peter Doggers/Chess.com.

Wesley So Wins Norway Chess Opening Blitz

PeterDoggers
PeterDoggers
May 27, 2018, 1:05 PM |
38 | Chess Event Coverage

Wesley So won the Altibox Norway Chess opening blitz tournament on Sunday in Stavanger.

 "Totally unexpected, I suppose," the American GM said. "Everyone expected Magnus to dominate again, like last year."

After ending his work with his former trainer Vladimir Tukmakov, So was determined to start the new year fresh. His Candidates' tournament and U.S. championship could have been better, but after working together with Georg Meier this month and playing lots of online blitz (on Chess.com!), on the first day in Norway he seemed revived.

So finished clear first in the traditional blitz tournament that opened the sixth edition of Norway Chess.

Before the blitz, a brief press conference took place right in front of the playing hall, on the main floor of the Clarion Hotel Energy in Stavanger. In the first speech, Stavanger mayor Christine Sagen Helgø welcomed the players, organizers and media, and officially opened the tournament.

Later, she clapped her hands when Hikaru Nakamura revealed that Stavanger was his favorite Norwegian city.

"I've spent a fair amount of time in Oslo," said Nakamura. "I've played a couple of blitz tournaments there seven, eight years ago but certainly to see an elite tournament here in Stavanger is quite nice. In general, coming from America and having spent a lot of time on the east coast and the west coast, it's nice to see that a city like Stavanger, it feels like there's more going on in terms of business, energy, all these things, it certainly reminds me quite a bit of the U.S."

Norway Chess 2018 press conference

The players at the press conference. Carlsen was called on stage last. Mamedyarov wasn't there because of a toothache; more on that below. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Norway Chess.

Ding Liren reminded the people present that it was on Norwegian soil that the Chinese Olympic team won gold in 2014.

"This is my first time in this very strong tournament. It might be the strongest tournament I ever played. I always have not so high expectations for the result, but I will do my best and try to repeat our success in Tromsø!"

Sergey Karjakin won the first two editions of the tournament in 2013 and 2014, but was the tail-ender last year. His comment was rather to the point:

"For me it's very simple. I am either first or last here. I would prefer to be the first!"

Magnus Carlsen, who tied for seventh place with 4/9 last year, said:

"I feel good. I'm looking forward to play and trying to do better than last time is the goal!"

Then, at 3 p.m. local time, the blitz started. It followed a schedule of one round every 20 minutes, with a 10-minute break after round five. This schedule was followed perfectly, while in between rounds the chairs, which all had the signature of one player and were adjusted to his height, had to be moved by the arbiters along with the name tags.

So said he thought he was going to finish on 50 percent after a win vs Ding, a loss to Carlsen and draws with Anand, Aronian and Nakamura. But then he suddenly won three games in a row, the first one against Karjakin.

His win against Caruana was also interesting. Allowing the back queen into his camp was the start of White's problems.

In the final round, So held a 2-vs-3 rook ending vs Vachier-Lagrave to a draw, and as it turned out nobody else had managed to reach six points. The winner commented:

"Last year I didn't do very well so I tried to prepare a bit more this year. I played a lot on Chess.com in the last month. You can check my account, I even played a few games this morning."

Carlsen was obviously the favorite today, but the machine was't running so well. His play wasn't as energetic as last year, and several times his opponents managed to liquidate to an equal endgame basically from the early middlegame.

His best win was probably the one against Caruana. From the tiniest of edges in the endgame he managed to outplay an opponent he will face many more times this year.

Magnus Carlsen Norway 2018 blitz

Carlsen wasn't the killing machine like last year. | Photo: Peter Doggers/Chess.com.

The very next round Carlsen lost to Aronian. It was a completely unnecessary loss, after he had been winning earlier and the resulting rook endgame (and the pawn endgame) was a dead draw. The blunder was so big that both players were laughing about it right after the game.

That's what happens with blitz: you can gather the best players in the world, but with limited time on the clock (the games were played at 3 minutes and 2 seconds increment) big mistakes will happen.

And look at the following position; Mamedyarov has rarely been in such a hopeless position after 26 moves as this one, against Aronian.

Mamedyarov had a good reason for not being in top shape: for the last two days he has been suffering from a serious toothache, which kept him from proper sleep and proper food. It was quite an achievement to finish fifth on tiebreak, and get the five white games.

After another dentist visit on Sunday evening, and hopefully a good night's sleep, we'll know if the Azerbaijani can play the tournament. If not, there will not be a substitute and every player will have one extra rest day.

[Update May 28: after seeing a specialist, Mamedyarov is feeling better and he is optimistic that he can play the whole tournament.]

Shakhriyar Mamedyarov Norway Blitz toothache

Mamedyarov is suffering from a toothache and his participation in the main tournament is not 100 percent certain. | Photo: Peter Doggers/Chess.com.

Sometimes, with such blitz events, you get to see something quite instructive, such as the following pawn ending where the outside pawn eventually wins for White, on one tempo. Why Karjakin went for it, is anyone's guess.

Ding had just moved to world number-four in the live ratings a few days ago, so his last place in the blitz was a bit surprising. However, he also lost with a wide margin against Carlsen in St. Louis last year; perhaps blitz is just not his thing.

Ding Liren Norway 2018

Ding Liren finished in a disappointing 10th place. | Photo: Peter Doggers/Chess.com.

Anand's final move against Aronian was pretty:

Viswanathan Anand Norway 2018

A very decent third place for Vishy Anand. | Photo: Peter Doggers/Chess.com.

Nakamura was the only player to finish the tournament without a loss. His two wins and seven draws were good for second place.

Altibox Norway Chess 2018, Blitz | Final Standings

# Fed Name Rtg Perf 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 Pts SB
1 So,Wesley 2824 2950 ½ ½ 0 1 ½ 1 1 ½ 1 6.0/9
2 Nakamura,Hikaru 2869 2904 ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 1 ½ 5.5/9 23
3 Anand,Viswanathan 2784 2913 ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 0 ½ 1 1 5.5/9 22.75
4 Carlsen,Magnus 2965 2854 1 ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 ½ 0 ½ 5.0/9
5 Mamedyarov,Shakhriyar 2730 2841 0 ½ ½ ½ 1 1 0 0 1 4.5/9 20
6 Vachier-Lagrave,Maxime 2839 2829 ½ ½ 0 ½ 0 1 ½ 1 ½ 4.5/9 19
7 Caruana,Fabiano 2814 2831 0 ½ 1 0 0 0 1 1 1 4.5/9 17.75
8 Karjakin,Sergey 2838 2751 0 0 ½ ½ 1 ½ 0 1 0 3.5/9
9 Aronian,Levon 2843 2709 ½ 0 0 1 1 0 0 0 ½ 3.0/9 14
10 Ding,Liren 2793 2714 0 ½ 0 ½ 0 ½ 0 1 ½ 3.0/9 12.5

As the winner of the blitz, So was the only player who got to choose his pairing number. For the numbers one to five, the arbiters showed him his playing schedule, and in the end he went for number three. He explained his reasoning to Chess.com:

"Number one was an attractive option, but I didn't want to get two Whites on the first two days. I don't want to have too many black games against strong opponents, and I also don't want to play the top three players on three days in a row. I think what I chose was more balanced."

Wesley So & Arno Eliëns Norway Chess

Wesley So checking his possible schedules with the Dutch arbiter Arno Eliëns. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Norway Chess.

The rest of the players moved "around" So's number, meaning that Nakamura and Anand took spots one and two, Carlsen four, and so on.

As a result, there's a rather amazing coincidence: yet again Carlsen and Caruana meet each other in the first round of a super tournament. It's now the fifth round-robin tournament in a row where this happened, after Grenke 2018, Wijk aan Zee 2017, London 2017 and the Sinquefield Cup 2017. (In between the last two, they met in round eight of the 2017 Chess.com Isle of Man tournament.)

The first round tomorrow will see Nakamura-Ding, Anand-Aronian, So-Karjakin, Carlsen-Caruana and Mamedyarov-Vachier-Lagrave.

You can follow the games in Live Chess each day starting at 4:30 p.m. local time  which is 7:30 a.m. Pacific, 10:30 a.m. Eastern. 

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The Chessbrahs will be providing daily video commentary with GMs Aman Hambleton, Eric Hansen and Yasser Seirawan on Twitch.tv/Chessbrah and Chess.com/TV.


Correction: an earlier version of this article inaccurately stated that So's working arrangement with Vladimir Tukmakov had failed and that it didn't end in a friendly way.


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