Norway Chess 2015 – Rounds 1&2

The Stavanger tournament sees the start of the so-called Grand Chess Tour, with the same 9 players playing each other three times this year (plus a local wild-card each time). The tournament got off to an incredulous start, quite unexpected for me.

The first unexpected thing were the openings chosen by Nakamura and Grischuk – they actually repeated the openings they chose the previous day in the blitz! Both their opponents were well-prepared, but the results were different.

I was surprised Nakamura said he was surprised Hammer was prepared – come on, you played the same b3 idea the previous day, the guy is a professional, what did you expect?!

I expect both Nakamura and Caruana to do well in this and the upcoming tournaments – they did a tremendous job at the Grand Prix, qualifying for the Candidates, so now they will play with gusto and renewed elan.

The Frenchman with the complicated name beat the Armenian with a straightforward name. As it turned out Aronian didn’t refresh his memory of the extremely complicated Ragozin line that happened in the game. And relying on your brain only is not an option for these guys anymore (at least in the openings) – Aronian messed up and was quckly lost, even though he played on for a long time.

Caruana introduced a very interesting novelty in the Ruy Lopez with d3, sacrificing a pawn for activity. Anand was careful and the game was quietly drawn.

6…bc6!? instead of the usual 6…dc6

Naturally, the shock of the day was Carlsen’s loss to Topalov. The last time this happened was in 2008, in a similarly named tournament, the Grand Slam Final in Bilbao. Since then Topalov has been one of Carlsen’s main customers. It all seemed that the tradition will be upheld as Carlsen managed to create something out of the nothing he got in the opening. For many hours he was pressing and even a player like Topalov could’t hold the balance – that should tell you something of Carlsen’s strength. And then unprofessionalism struck! You won’t hear this term used with anything that has to do with Carlsen, but I think not getting acquainted with the time control of the tournament you play in is in fact sheer unprofessionalism – failure of your manager to do that for you, on anyone else from your entourage, that’s unforgivable. In a winning position Carlsen lost on time, expecting additional time after move 60. Carlsen was late for the round, which is a very cool thing to do, Fischer was doing that all the time, Kasparov too, (and luckily there are no FIDE hidden cameras nor officials to end the games for zero tolerance) but as it happened the arbiter announced the new time control before the round. Sometimes it pays to be punctual. Instead of a well-deserved point Carlsen got a well-deserved zero.

That game must have still been on his mind today when he played Caruana. The position they reached on move 17 has been played in some computer games and Caruana criticized Carlsen’s 17…Rg8, which has also been played. The whole game reminded me of another Berlin Caruana won against Carlsen, last year in Shamkir, where it also appeared that he outplayed Carlsen with apparent ease.

Carlsen with 0/2 is a rare sight and great news for the tournament – with 7 rounds left he has no time to waste.

The other games were drawn. Worth noticing is Anand’s idea in the Reti against Giri, an idea Giri used against Kramnik in 2011. I also used the same idea in 2012 – in all the games black didn’t have any problems in the opening.

Tomorrow Carlsen plays Giri with white, the only player from the elite he still hasn’t managed to beat in a classical game – he even has a negative score against him! Giri will of course go for the bunkerest of the bunkers, will that save him from the raging Carlsen?

Alex Colovic
A professional player, coach and blogger. Grandmaster since 2013.
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