Norway, as the outspoken Nigel Short once sniffily described it, is a “small poxy chess nation with almost no history of success.” But genius can appear almost anywhere at anytime, and the meteoric rise to the top of World Champion and Honorary Chairman of First Move, Magnus Carlsen, has brought with it a chess fever that ought to have the English former world title challenger eating his words by now.
Carlsen has electrified Norway with a chess boom that has taken the tiny country by storm - and his success has also given opportunities to others who grew up alongside him, such as his good friend Jon Ludvig Hammer, the Norwegian #2. Hammer, 24, has grown up in the shadow of Carlsen, who is just five months younger. But instead of bitterness and an intense rivalry between the two, there’s nothing but friendship and fun.
Hammer has proved to be Carlsen’s trusted second - via Skype - for both of his world title matches against India’s Viswanathan Anand. And together, the two make a formidable team - and not only at chess, but also in other pursuits, as witnessed recently at the Reykjavik Open in the Icelandic capital.
The Norwegian #2 is playing in the tournament, and Carlsen has been invited as this year’s guest of honor. And this invite allowed the duo to team up to win arguably the most coveted title at the Reykjavik Open. No, not a chess-playing event, but instead the Pub Quiz! They formed a team paring of “MC/Hammer” and won the title. They answered some very tough trivia questions on chess, a list of which can be found in Ian Rogers’ report for US Chess Life online.
Meanwhile, over-the-board at the Reykjavik Open, Dutch grandmaster Erwin L’ami goes into the penultimate round, leading the chasing pack on 6.5/8. In the four-player group a half point behind the leader is the young US grandmaster Daniel Naroditsky. And Hammer is in the larger 13-player pack a point off the pace, on 5.5-points.
N Petrov - JL Hammer
Reykjavik Open, (7)
1.c4 e5 2.g3 Nf6 3.Bg2 Bc5 This is a very simple system to play against the English Opening - Black just develops his pieces on natural, good squares and looks to attack on the kingside. 4.Nc3 Nc6 5.a3 a6 Providing a safe haven on a7 for the all-important bishop. 6.e3 0–0 7.Nge2 Ba7 8.b4 d6 9.d3 Ne7 10.0–0 c6 11.Bb2 Be6 12.Rc1 Ng6 13.Ne4 Nxe4 14.dxe4 Rc8 15.Qd2 b5 16.cxb5 axb5! Black keeps all his pawns connected, so they can work better with no weaknesses as one unit. 17.Rfd1 Bb3 18.Re1 Qd7 19.Nc3 Rfd8 20.Qe2 Rb8 21.Nb1 d5 22.Nd2 Ba4 It is important to stop white contesting the d-file with his rook. 23.Qh5 f6 24.exd5 cxd5 25.Bh3 Qb7 26.Qe2 Re8 27.Qd3 e4 28.Qb1 Rbd8 29.Bd4 Bxd4 30.exd4 Qf7 31.Qb2 f5 32.f4 Nf8 33.Nf1 Ne6 Honing in on the very weak white d-pawn. 34.Ne3 g6 35.Re2 Rc8 36.Rd2 Rxc1+ 37.Qxc1 Qd7 38.Qb2 Rc8 39.Kf2 Qc6 40.Bf1 Kf8 41.Be2 Qc3 42.Qxc3 Rxc3 43.Nxd5 Rxa3 44.Ne3 Ke7 45.d5 Ng7 46.d6+ Kd7 47.g4? (See Diagram) 47...g5! Nicely timed - any pawn capture gifts Black powerful, connected passed pawns. 48.Rd5 gxf4 49.Nxf5 Ra2 50.Nxg7 f3 51.Nh5 Rxe2+ 52.Kf1 e3 53.Nf6+ Ke6 54.d7 Rf2+ 55.Ke1 Rg2 56.Rd6+ Kf7 57.d8N+ Kf8 58.Nxh7+ Kg8 59.Nf6+ Kh8 60.Nf7+ Kg7 61.Nh5+ Kf8! Black had to be careful, as 61...Kxf7? 62.Rf6+ Ke7 63.Rxf3 Rg1+ 64.Rf1 Rxg4 65.Nf4! Bb3 66.Rf3 and white escapes with a draw. 0–1