It’s set to be the big highlight of the chess year, and later today, the chess world eagerly awaits as the fifth edition of the Altibox Norway Chess Tournament kicks off in Stavanger, Norway with the pre-event blitz tournament to determine the draw order - and such is the strength of the tournament, it's being billed as the 'strongest tournament of the year', and was tweeted as such by World Champion Magnus Carlsen.
And Carlsen is the defending champion and heads the field in his homeland, ahead of a phenomenally strong field that also includes Fabiano Caruana (USA), Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (France), Viswanathan Anand (India), Sergey Karjakin (Russia), Wesley So (USA), Vladimir Kramnik (Russia), Hikaru Nakamura (USA), Levon Aronian (Armenia) and Anish Giri (Netherlands).
Those ten players were the ten players that topped the world rankings in February 2017, when the organizers announced what they felt was the perfect field. But that was then, this is now, and since then two of those players - Karjakin and Giri - have dropped out of the top 10 when the latest FIDE Elo rating list was published just a few days ago.
The big riser in the new FIDE June rating list is Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, as the in-form Azeri surges to No.5 after a series of big performances, jumping 28-points to be one of a select club to reach the landmark published rating of 2800 - and with it, this means that for the first time in history, the average of the top 10 players in the world is exactly 2800.3. And also slipping back into the top-10 with his recent Moscow Grand Prix win, is China’s Ding Liren.
Two of the Altibox Norway Chess competitors, Wesley So and Anish Giri, were the latest to do battle in the Chess.com Speed Chess Championship that takes place May 3rd to December 21st. Each bout is held over a series of speed games played over three time-controls (5 minutes plus 2 seconds per move, 3 minutes plus 2 seconds and bullet 1minute plus 1 second) - and in a very tight match-up, So managed to just edge out Giri by the narrowest of margins, 15.5-14.5, as the match went the distance of a Chess960 tiebreaker.
FIDE June Top-10
1. Magnus Carlsen (Norway), 2832 (=); 2. Wesley So (USA), 2812 (-3); 3. Vladimir Kramnik (Russia), 2808 (-3); 4. Fabiano Caruana (USA), 2805 (+5); 5. Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan), 2800 (+28); 6. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (France), 2795 (=); 7. Levon Aronian (Armenia), 2793 (+4); 8. Viswanathan Anand (India), 2786 (=); 9. Hikaru Nakamura (USA), 2795 (-1); 10. Ding Liren (China), 2783 (+10).
GM Wesley So - GM Anish Giri
Chess.com Speed Challenge (1m+1spm)
1.Nf3 Nf6 2.d4 g6 3.Bg5 The "Torre Attack", named after the Mexican enigma Carlos Torre - who in the mid-1920s, burst onto the chess scene much like a shooting star, only for his career to end tragically due to a nervous breakdown - is extremely popular at club level. 3...Bg7 4.Nbd2 h6 5.Bh4 d5 6.e3 Bf5 7.Bd3 Bxd3 8.cxd3 Although White has doubled d-pawns, here this is not a weakness but a strength, as the d3 pawn stops Black's knight from access to e4 - and it will later support White's e4 push. 8...0-0 9.0-0 c6 10.Rc1 Qb6 11.Qb3 Nbd7 12.Ne5 Rfe8 Now, if 12...Nxe5 13.dxe5 Nd7 14.d4 White's 'pawn snake' f2, e3, d4 & e5 lock Black's pieces out of the game. 13.Bg3 Rad8 14.a3 Nh5 15.Nxd7 Rxd7 16.Qc3 g5? This is far too optimistic - Giri had a nice and easy position here and should have played the obvious 16...Nxg3! 17.hxg3 e5! 18.dxe5 d4! 19.exd4 Qxd4 and Black stands slightly better here, as either d3 or e5 will fall. 17.b4 f6 Giri stubbornly continues with his faulty plan. Again, his only realistic option was 17...Nxg3 18.hxg3 e5 19.dxe5 d4! similar to the above note. 18.Nb3 Now that ...d4 isn't available (after ...e5 as in the above notes) anymore, Black's position begins to look 'awkward'. 18...e5 19.Qc2 f5?! And this only makes things worse, as now Black is left with the ...Nh5 offside. 20.Bxe5 Bxe5 21.dxe5 Rxe5 22.b5! Amazingly, in what looks an innocuous position, and with a very quick time control, Wesley So's little move leaves Giri in dire straits and fighting for his very survival. 22...Qxb5 More or less forced, as 22...cxb5 23.d4! Ree7 (If 23...Re4 24.Nc5 Rc7 25.Qb3 Ree7 26.Qxd5+ Rf7 27.Nd3! Black is losing material.) 24.Qxf5 Rd8 25.Nd2! with the plan of Nf3-e5, and Black is doomed, as his position has more holes than a sieve. 23.Rb1 Even more clinical was 23.d4! Re8 24.Nc5 Rf7 25.Rb1 Qa5 26.Nxb7 Qc7 27.Rfc1 and Black could well contemplate resigning at this point. 23...Qa4 24.Qc3 Rde7? Black capitulates in a difficult position. He could have tried to have held out a little longer with 24...d4!? 25.Nxd4 c5 26.Ne2 Red5 27.d4 b6 but in the end, White is a clear pawn ahead and Black's kingside is still somewhat loose and vulnerable to an attack. Still, this is bullet and anything can happen if you can stay in the game! 25.Nc5 Qh4 26.Rxb7 Rxb7 27.Qxe5! Black is going to lose material due to the vulnerable holes around his kingside security. 27...Rf7 28.Qe8+ Kg7 29.Ne6+ Kf6 30.Qxc6 1-0