It’s a funny old game, Chess. One round you are playing a beautiful positional crush to outplay one of your great predecessors, who erred badly by putting his knight on the rim, to set a new personal unbeaten record. The next round, you find yourself as world champion on the receiving end of being positionally crushed and outplayed by an old foe with the record ending, and all down to the same mistake of having a badly-placed knight on the rim.
And that’s exactly what happened to World Champion Magnus Carlsen in the penultimate round of the 4th Altibox Norway Chess Tournament, as he was outplayed by Levon Aronian, who not only ended the World Champion’s new personal unbeaten record (that now stands at 42 games), but he also blew the tournament wide-open going into a now dramatic final round.
It was, as the Chess24 top commentary duo of Peter Svidler and Jan Gustafsson remarked, a poor series of bad choices and bad time management that led to Carlsen’s demise - and an unexpected demise in a tournament he looked set to score a resounding victory in, following his epic win the previous round against Vladimir Kramnik.
The setback for Carlsen now means that he shares the lead with Aronian on 5/8 going into the final round of the tournament, and again the spectre hangs over the World Champion of the possibility of yet another failure on his home turf, having never won a major event in Norway.
Photo © | Altibox Norway Chess/Joachim Steinbru
Aronian 1-0 Carlsen
Vachier-Lagrave draw Topalov
Kramnik 1-0 Harikrishna
Giri draw Grandelius
Eljanov 0-1 Li Chao
1-2. Levon Aronian (Armenia), Magnus Carlsen (Norway) 5/8; 3-5. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (France), Veselin Topalov (Bulgaria), Vladimir Kramnik (Russia) 4.5; 6-7. Li Chao (China), Pentala Harikrishna (India) 4; 8. Anish Giri (Netherlands) 3.5; 9. Pavel Eljanov (Ukraine) 3; 10. Nils Grandelius (Sweden) 2.
GM Levon Aronian - GM Magnus Carlsen
4th Norway Chess Tournament, (8)
1.c4 Nf6 2.g3 c6 3.Bg2 d5 4.Nf3 g6 5.b3 Bg7 6.Bb2 0-0 7.0-0 dxc4 8.bxc4 c5 9.d3 Nc6 10.Ne5 Na5?! This is Chess 101: The knight on the rim is dim - and arguably this is the start of all Carlsen's troubles. Like Kramnik's bad knight against Carlsen the previous round, the knight achieves nothing here on the rim. Instead, for an easy life, Carlsen could have made the position more sterile with exchanges. For example, seen before has been: 10...Nxe5 11.Bxe5 Ne8 12.Bxg7 Kxg7 13.Nc3 Rb8 14.a4 Bd7 15.a5 Nd6 16.Qc1 Nf5 as in Radjabov-Gelfand, Beijing 2014. Sure, White still holds a little grudging advantage, but Black has no permanent structural weaknesses as Carlsen has in the game that caused his downfall. 11.Qc1 Qc7?! Even Aronian believed this move was dubious - and indeed, it was clear Carlsen had lost his way earlier on and wasted a lot of time on the clock even getting to this bad position. 12.Nd2 Ne8? "Really bad," said Carlsen in the post mortem, who instead thought better was 12...Nd7 13.Nxd7 (Stronger though, and perhaps missed by Carlsen was 13.Ng4! ) 13...Bxd7 14.Bxg7 Kxg7 15.Nb3 he though was not that bad for him. 13.f4 It's obvious by his central control and the knight outpost on e5, that Aronian has 'won' the opening. He also has an advantage with his lead in development and Carlsen's awkwardly-placed knight on a5 which, much like the World Champion's impressive win over Vladimir Kramnik the round previous, is next to useless on the edge of the board. 13...Nd6 14.Bc3 Rb8 15.Qa3 The lasting damage has now been done, and it is difficult for Carlsen to achieve anything from the wreckage he's about to find himself surrounded by - and all down to the knight on the rim. 15...b6 16.Bxa5 bxa5 17.Nb3 Nb7 Carlsen hopes to salvage something with the bishop pair. Hopeless was 17...Bxe5 18.fxe5 Nf5 19.Qxc5 and White is easily winning. 18.Bxb7! The simple solution! Instead, Aronian could have gone for complications with 18.Nc6!? Bh3! (18...Bxa1 19.Rxa1 Ra8 20.Ncxa5 looks good for White.) 19.Nxb8 Bxg2 20.Kxg2 Bxa1 21.Rxa1 Rxb8 22.Rb1 and White is better, but Black has salvaging prospects here. It seems Aronian's assessment of going for the simple 18.Bxb7! was the right call. 18...Qxb7 If only Carlsen could somehow use the b7-h1 diagonal - but all ways to do so end in disaster. If 18...Bxb7 19.Qxc5 Qb6 20.Rab1 The rook is unpinned, the queens will soon be exchanged, and White is a pawn to the better and perhaps another to come. 19.Nxc5 Qc7 20.d4! (See Diagram) It's really 'game over' here, as the knights dominate the board from their impressive outposts of c5 and e5. Together, either they will win the weak pawn on a5 or perhaps just push home the passed c-pawn. 20...Rd8 21.Rfd1 f6 22.Nf3 e5 When you have the bishop-pair and losing, this is the only hope in such positions: opening the game up regardless of the consequences, to seek complications that might worry your opponent. But Aronian remains calm throughout. 23.fxe5 fxe5 24.Nxe5 Bxe5? Uncharacteristically, Carlsen collapses completely, and his demeanour here was such that it looked as if he just wanted the game to end as quickly as possible now, rather than prolong the agony. Which is strange, because usually the World Champion is good at seeking out practical solutions in difficult situations, and here perhaps he missed his best shot with 24...Rxd4!? 25.Rxd4 Bxe5 26.Qe3 Bf5 27.Rad1! - though Aronain in the post mortem believed that after 27.Rad1, he had consolidated the position and would go on to win from here. 25.dxe5 Just look how that knight on c5 stops Carlsen from ever getting his bishop into the game. 25...Rxd1+ 26.Rxd1 Qxe5? The final error in time-trouble that loses a piece - however it is was also good for White after 26...Bg4 27.Rd6 Rb1+ 28.Kf2 (White has to be careful here, as a tempo is crucial, and not 28.Kg2? Re1! 29.e4 Qf7 and Black has good saving chances.) 28...Qf7+ 29.Rf6! Qxc4 30.Nd3 Qd4+ 31.e3 and White has all the bases covered and now about to strike the Black king. 27.Rd8+ Kf7 Carlsen would love to be able to play 27...Kg7 here - but there's a forced win now with 28.Ne6+!! Kh6 (If 28...Bxe6 29.Qf8#) 29.Qf8+ Kh5 30.Rd5! 28.Qf3+ Bf5 29.Rxb8 Qxb8 30.g4 Aronian is simply picking up a piece for nothing. 30...Qb4 31.Nd3 1-0