16 Jun

Norway Time

The 3rd Norway Chess Tournament kicked off today, the first of three Grand Slam chess tours - the other two being held in St Louis, USA and London, UK - and held in Stavanger, Norway’s third largest city and oil capital.  The all-star field has eight of the world’s top 10 competing for the $300,000 cash prizes on offer - and, crucially, also for tour points! 


The participants (in rating order when the field was announced) include: Magnus Carlsen (Norway), the reigning world champion and No. 1 in the world; Fabiano Caruana (Italy/USA), the FIDE grand prix over-all champion and ranked No.2; Viswanathan Anand (India), the ex-world champion and ranked No.3; Hikaru Nakamura (USA), the US champion, grand prix runner-up and ranked No.4; Veseline Topalov (Bulgaria), a former world champion and ranked No.5; Alexander Grischuk (Russia), ranked No. 7; Levon Aronian (Armenia), ranked No.8; Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (France), ranked 28th; and finally Jon Ludvig Hammer (Norway), ranked 75th, who won his ‘wild card’ spot in a qualifying tournament.

But before the action there was the preliminary blitz tournament in the Flor & Fjære island to determine each player’s pairing number in the tournament. And while all eyes were on Magnus Carlsen in his homeland, this tournament was somewhat unexpectedly won by Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, who came straight off the plane after losing to rising Chinese star Wei Yi in a rapid tournament final in Leon, Spain, to beat all of the world’s top players.

Despite being a household name in Norway, Carlsen has never won a major tournament in his homeland. And if not winning the blitz came as a shock for his legion of home fans, then they were in for an even bigger shock in the opening round. After carefully nurturing a minor plus against Topalov through to a winning advantage, his was the last game to finish, and a huge crowd had gathered around the board, waiting to cheer the home win — but there was shock in the playing hall as Carlsen didn’t realise that the time controls in Norway was a new one, and not the standard one he’s more used to, and lost on time in a won position while waiting for a time increment after move 60 that, well, didn’t happen.

‘Strange that we’re not better informed about a completely new time control,’ said a somewhat puzzled Carlsen. But, as Hikaru Nakamura quickly pointed out on Twitter: ’It is worth noting that the arbiter did mention the time control before round 1 started, but Carlsen arrived late.’

Round 1:

Giri 1-0 Grischuk
Anand draw Caruana
Carlsen 0-1 Topalov
Nakamura 1-0 Hammer
Vachier-Lagrave 1-0 Aronian

Hikaru Nakamura - Jon Ludvig Hammer
3rd Norway Chess 2015, (1)
English Opening
1.c4 e5 2.g3 Nf6 3.Bg2 d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.Nf3 Nc6 6.0-0 Nb6 This line in the English Opening is basically an Open Sicilian in reverse - only with White having an extra move. And here, with this extra move, Nakamura - rather than following normal Sicilian channels - opts to play a bit more in the hypermodern fashion with a double fianchetto and looking to hit immediately in the centre. 7.b3 Be7 8.Bb2 f6 9.d4 More adventurous and committal than the standard d3 and Nbd2 - wouldn't have expected anything less from Nakamura. 9...e4 10.Ne1 f5 11.f3 A common theme in such positions - White wants to break the Black pawn center down as quickly as possible, and at the same time give his pieces better outposts. 11...exf3 12.Nxf3 Nd5 13.Qd3 0-0 Tempting was 13...Ndb4?! but after the simple 14.Qd2 White is just going to gain a little time, as he'll play a3 - a move he wants to play anyway - to kick the knight back to d5.  14.e3 Be6 15.a3 Qd7 16.Nbd2 Rad8 17.Rac1 Nb6 18.b4 a6 19.Nb3! Heading for the big hole on c5 - a fantastic outpost for the knight, that Black can't allow. 19...Na4 20.Ba1 Bd5 21.Nbd2 It looks as if Nakamura want's to avoid any exchanges for now, hoping to complicate matters for his opponent - and this ploy looks as if it worked, as Hammer started to astray and ended up with a bad position. 21...Qe6 22.Rfe1 Nb6 23.e4 White has to open the game up if he wants to win - so this was an easy option. 23...fxe4 24.Nxe4 Qg6 25.Qe2 Rfe8 26.Ne5! The game is beginning to open up to Nakamura's advantage, where his bishop-pair spring suddenly to life in a short space of time. 26...Nxe5 27.dxe5 c6 28.Bd4 Nd7 29.Bf3 Rf8 On reflection, this is a sort of admission that perhaps 25 ..Rfe8 was the wrong rook going to e8, perhaps Hammer should have played 25...Rdf8? But then again, it is never a bad thing in chess not to have your two rooks on central semi-open files. 30.Bh5 Qh6 31.Be3 Qe6 32.Bf4 a5?! It would have been interesting to see what Nakamura was going to play against 32...Qf5 as after 33.Bg4 Qg6 there's a risk now that White may have no better than 34 Bh5 repeating the position, as 34 e6 runs into the possibility of 34...Rxf4!?.  33.Ng5! (See Diagram) A typically aggressive response from Nakamura - there's no one better in the game when his pieces are working in unison to attack. 33...Qf5 34.Bg4 Qg6 35.Bh5 Qf5 36.e6! Cutting right into the heart of the Black defences; and, crucially, creating serious threats on f7. 36...Nf6 37.Bf7+ Kh8 38.Rf1 Ne4 39.Nxe4 Qxe4 40.Qxe4 Bxe4 41.Be3! There's many ways to win here - but Nakamura opts for what looks the easiest, as after the dark-squared bishops get exchanged then there's no holding back the e-pawn. 41...axb4 42.Bc5 Rd2 Hoping for a miracle 'Hail Mary' mate with Rg2+ - but you never have such luck when playing against elite stars such as Nakamura. 43.Rfe1 Bxc5+ 44.Rxc5 Rg2+ 45.Kf1 b3 If 45...Rc2 46.Rxc2 Bxc2 47.Ke2 wins. 46.Rxe4 b2 47.Re1 Rxh2 48.Rce5 Rh1+ 49.Kg2 b1Q 50.Rxb1 Rxb1 51.e7 Ra8 52.e8R+ Rxe8 53.Rxe8# 1-0

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