Maybe like me you got the Nordic noir bug from reading Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy, or perhaps were enthralled by TV binge-viewing sessions on BBC Four of Wallander via The Killing to The Bridge and now Trapped, all with their complex plot-lines – replete with serial killers, macabre deaths and moody detectives – as chilly and gloomy as their winter weather.
Curiously, the popularity of this new genre also paralleled Magnus Carlsen’s rise, that also heralded with it an unexpected chess boom in tiny Norway. There have been several top tournaments held in Carlsen’s homeland on the back of his success, including the 2014 Tromsø Olympiad, and four editions now of the Altibox Norway Chess Tournament in Stavanger.
However the latest edition in Stavanger featured something we have not witnessed in chess since the late 1980s/early 199os: Two or more Nordic players from different countries playing together in a super tournament. Back then, it was the likes of Bent Larsen of Denmark, Sweden’s Ulf Andersson and Jóhann Hjartarson of Iceland who proudly flew the Nordic flags. Now joining Carlsen in Stavanger is super tournament virgin Nils Grandelius of Sweden, who somewhat surprisingly won the wildcard qualifier - ahead of favourite Jon Ludvig Hammer, the Norwegian No.2 - last month to clinch the final spot in Stavanger; thus in the process becoming the first Swede to play in a super tournament since Andersson.
So not unsurprisingly, there was a lot of Nordic media interest as Carlsen and Grandelius faced each other in round three. But like most things Nordic these days, their clash involved a brutal killing, as the World Champion disposed of his Swedish opponent with such ruthless efficiency that you almost expected Saga Norén to be speeding to the scene of the crime in her iconic, olive-coloured Porsche 911.
Carlsen win over Grandelius proved to be the only one of the round, so the World Champion now moves into the early sole lead in the tournament following his blistering start of 2.5/3, a half point ahead of nearest rivals Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Vladimir Kramnik.
Photo © | Tarjei J. Svenson/Matt & Patt
Carlsen 1-0 Grandelius
Vachier-Lagrave draw Eljanov
Kramnik draw Giri
Aronian draw Li Chao
Harikrishna draw Topalov
1. Magnus Carlsen (Norway) 2.5/3; 2-3. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (France), Vladimir Kramnik (Russia) 2; 4-7. Li Caho (China), Veselin Topalov (Bulgaria), Anish Giri (Netherlands), Levon Aronian (Armenia) 1.5; 8-9. Pavel Eljanov (Ukraine), Pentala Harikrishna (India) 1; 10. Nils Grandelius (Sweden) 0.5.
GM Magnus Carlsen - GM Nils Grandelius
4th Altibox Norway Chess Tournament, (3)
Sicilian Defence, Nimzowtisch Variation
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nf6 "I was actually warned that he might play [2…Nf6]," commented Carlsen after the game, "but I didn't take that warning seriously!" And in keeping in with our Nordic theme, it is a very fitting choice for these two, as this is the somewhat off-beat Nimzowitsch Variation of the Sicilian, named after Russian-born Aron Nimzowitsch, who fled from his homeland with his family during the revolution, and settled for the rest of his life in Copenhagen, Denmark. 3.e5 Nd5 The Nimzowitsch Sicilian is a surprising line in the endless ocean of Sicilian lines. While not often seen at the grandmaster level, Hikaru Nakamura and Arkady Naiditsch have on occasions deployed it for surprise value. 4.Nc3 Nxc3 It used to be that the mainline featured a pawn sacrifice for Black for active play after 4...e6 5.Nxd5 exd5 6.d4 Nc6 7.dxc5 Bxc5 8.Qxd5 Qb6 - it leads to positions that may look scrappy but are ultimately just good for White, so long as he knows what he's doing and follows up with. 9.Bc4! Bxf2+ 10.Ke2! And the assessment is that White stands well here, despite his king in the middle of the board. 5.dxc3 Nc6 6.Bf4 Qb6!? Previously the mainline here has been 6...e6 7.Qd2 Qc7 8.0-0-0 - but you can see why Grandelius eschews this, as White here has a very good game. Certainly not the position to be defending when you are playing Carlsen! 7.Qc1 f6 8.Bc4 We've reached a very original position here after just 8 moves with Carlsen playing a move that has never been seen before - but there can't be much wrong with developing a bishop on an open diagonal now, can there? 8...g5 Grandelius has designs on winning the e-pawn; but this is a dangerous game to be playing against the World Champion, who is ahead in development with no weaknesses around his king. 9.Bg3 g4 10.exf6!! (See Diagram) Well ahead in development, and his opponent's king looking vulnerable, Carlsen now channels his ‘inner Tal' to come up with a barnstorming piece sacrifice that the Magician from Riga would have proud of - and we are only at move 10! 10...gxf3 11.Qf4! It's all now becoming very awkward very quickly for Black - and in all reality, he is probably quite lost here already, as Carlsen's piece sacrifice looks to have been the ruthlessly correct call from the World Champion. 11...fxg2 The point of Carlsen's Qf4 is that there's no chance of 11...Qxb2 because there's the little matter of a mate after 12.f7+ Kd8 13.Qc7# 12.Rg1 Na5 Grandelius is in dire straits here. He is really unable to find a way to successfully complete his development, with the best he can hope for now being to stave off being felled in a miniature of having to resign in under 25 moves. Alternatively, if 12...d6? 13.fxe7 Bxe7 14.Qf7+ Kd8 15.0-0-0 Rf8 16.Qg7 and Black will not be able to survive this pressure on his king for very long. 13.f7+ Kd8 14.Bd5 Bh6 15.Qe5 Rf8 Grandelius looks to offer material back to stay in the game - but its a forlorn hope, as Carlsen's pieces are just far too active for the Swede to fend off the inevitable now. 16.Bh4 Rxf7 17.Bxf7 Nc6 18.Qg3 Qxb2 19.Rd1 Qxc2 20.Bd5 Note how Carlsen's sweet retreat of 18.Qg3 keeps his opponent’s king in the box with no escape route via c7. And also, Black can't play ...d6 now, as it will be met with Qxd6+! and resignation. 20...Qf5 21.Rxg2 Bf4 22.Qf3 Carlsen's position here is so overwhelming, that he has many ways to win, such as 22.Qxf4 Qxf4 23.Rg8+ Kc7 24.Bg3 Qxg3 25.hxg3 and Black is left paralysed. However, he opts instead to prolong his opponent's agony by keeping the queens on the board. 22...Kc7 23.Rg5! Grandelius’ position is so bad here, it’s not so much a murder as a mercy killing now. 23…Qf8 24.Bg3 e5 25.Rh5 a5 26.Rxh7 Ra6 It's a bad day at the office when the only developing move you can make here is ...Ra6. 27.Rf7 Qe8 28.Kf1 Bxg3 29.hxg3 Qh8 30.Kg2 Nd8 31.Rf8 Qg7 32.Rh1! Rh6 33.Rxh6 Qxh6 34.Qf6 Like a cat fed up playing with a mouse, Carlsen decides it's time now to put his opponent out of his misery. 34...Qxf6 35.Rxf6 d6 36.Kf3 b5 37.g4 Kd7 38.Rh6 1-0 The g-pawn will soon decide the game.