Magnus Carlsen picked up his first classical win of Norway Chess 2021 by beating Alireza Firouzja in Round 6 with a trademark endgame grind. Richard Rapport extended his lead to three points with four rounds to go by outplaying Aryan Tari after a shaky opening, while the only match to go to Armageddon was Karjakin-Nepomniachtchi. Sergey Karjakin has now beaten both the World Champion and his challenger on consecutive days after Ian Nepomniachtchi cracked in a drawn position. 

You can replay all the games from Norway Chess 2021 using the selector below. 

And here’s the day’s live commentary from Judit Polgar, David Howell and Dirk Jan ten Geuzendam.

Once again two matches were decided in classical chess, with the players picking up the full three points.

Carlsen 1-0 Firouzja

It’s been another tough chess tournament on home soil for Magnus Carlsen, who began with four draws, including one game in which he was lost against Aryan Tari. The fact he then won all four Armageddons somewhat disguised that lacklustre display, but a loss to Sergey Karjakin in Round 5 made things begin to look like a full-blown crisis. His win against 18-year-old threat to his throne Alireza Firouzja was therefore just what the doctor ordered. 

The game was a classical Ruy Lopez where Magnus managed to spring a novelty on move 13.

It already proved successful when it got Alireza thinking for 23 minutes before capturing on d2. The next ten moves saw the pieces hoovered off the board until we were left with a same-coloured bishop endgame. Magnus began to push his kingside pawns, but experts and the computer agreed that “objectively” the game should be a draw.

The one big weakness for Black, as Sergey noted, was the a6-pawn, but how could you get to it? Nevertheless, no-one in the world is better than Magnus at slowly ratcheting up the pressure in such situations, and we’ve seen on a number of previous occasions, including in Firouzja-Carlsen from last year’s Norway Chess, that Alireza can be surprisingly shaky in simplified endgames.

It was already becoming tense when Firouzja dropped almost an hour behind on the clock and was suddenly confronted by positions where there was only one path to a draw. 

Alireza did play 33…g6!, but it took him 16 minutes. If that was the last critical decision it might have been ok, but Magnus again and again found ways to pose questions, and Alireza had no light at the end of the tunnel — in Norway Chess no time is added at move 40, with only a meagre 10 seconds a move added from that move onwards.

The key moment of the whole game came when Magnus suddenly decided not to go after the pawn on a6 with his king, but played 41.Ke5! 

Suddenly it seems to be zugzwang, since if the black bishop moves White will be able to play Bb7 and pick up the a6-pawn. Instead Alireza, down to four minutes to Magnus’ 58, played 41…Kg6?, and after 42.Kxf4 it turned out White was simply winning.

There was still a draw for Alireza, but he had to give up the a6-pawn with 41…Bh3!, when 42.Bb7 Bf1! 

43.Bxa6 f3! would in fact see Black queen first with a comfortable draw. Magnus could have continued his dance, however, since 43.Bc8!, instead of capturing on a6, would have kept forcing Alireza to find only moves under intense pressure. 

In the game after 42.Kxf4 Kf6 Magnus really could set up zugzwang with 43.Bd5!

That was an only move for Magnus, since it’s key to block the black king from the e6-square. Now after 43…Ke7 Magnus could advance with 44.Ke5, and if the king tries to stay relevant with 44…Kd7 then 45.Be6+ trades off the bishops into a won pawn endgame. 

Alireza instead played 43…Bd7 with a look of utter dejection, since he knew that after 44.Bb7 there was no saving the game. Magnus had finally got to that one weak point in the black camp.

The remainder of the game was easy, and Magnus has now scored four wins, zero losses and two draws against Alireza Firouzja in classical chess. 

Beat them when they’re young, as they say!

That win took Magnus right back into the chasing pack, but Richard Rapport seized his chance to beat the lowest-rated player in the tournament before what’s sure to be a tough run-in. 

Rapport 1-0 Tari

25-year-old Richard Rapport is an enigmatic player who seems to have crept half-unnoticed into the Top 10 on sheer talent alone, but he’s having a breakout tournament. He’s now not merely in the Top 10, but entrenched there, another win away from moving above Wesley So, Anish Giri and Alexander Grischuk into the no. 6 spot on the live rating list. 

What’s remarkable is how comfortable he’s been in Norway, though he confessed the opening against Aryan Tari left something to be desired.

I kind of got into trouble in the opening. He surprised me and then he tricked me with this cxd4 gambit. Probably I should have been principled and gone for it, but I tried to dodge the bullet and play some solid position, which didn’t really work out.

He was talking about 4…cxd4 and the position, for instance, after 6…exd5.

There’s nothing to stop White grabbing the pawn on d5 with his queen, and in fact it’s the most popular move, though of course after choosing this opening Aryan would have been ready. Instead Richard opted for 7.Nf3 and initially got only a slightly worse position (“Today with White I almost didn’t equalise — that’s kind of embarrassing”), but when both players were out of book he began to take over. 

Aryan pushed g5, as he had successfully against Magnus Carlsen earlier in the tournament, but this time his ambition only created a weakness, which Richard set about exploiting on move 20. 

20.h4! broke up the black kingside, and Tari’s response 20…Qb6?! proved misjudged, since after 21.hxg5 Qxd4 22.exd4 hxg5 there was no quiet endgame but 23.Rh5!, continuing to probe Black’s weaknesses. Soon the white rooks were invading and Black was in deep trouble. 

In fact White already collected material here by meeting 32…Kg8 with 33.Rxf7! Bxf7 34.Bd7!, picking up the pawn on f5.

Richard had an extra pawn and total positional domination, and it was curious that we had another ending with light-squared bishops and pawns, as in Carlsen-Firouzja. It even ended in a similar way after Richard picked up Black’s a-pawn.

How was Richard feeling?

Of course you cannot not be happy with winning! There is still a lot to go, or not so much, but four very tough games, so I will see what happens after tomorrow and take it day by day, but of course I’m very happy.

Karjakin 1/2-1/2 Nepomniachtchi (Sergey wins in Armageddon)

Fortunes have changed very fast for Sergey Karjakin. On Saturday, instead of a rest day, he lost to Ian Nepomniachtchi, but since then he’s now beaten both World Champion Magnus Carlsen and his challenger. He commented on how things have changed since his loss:

Of course after yesterday’s game [against Magnus] I’m just feeling much better. It’s about the psychological point of view, because when you lose stupidly, like it seems you see the line for the first time but in fact you looked at it for many hours, that’s very unpleasant.

The classical game against Ian Nepomniachtchi in Round 6 was not one to live long in the memory. Sergey commented:

I chose the line where if Black knows what he’s doing, then it’s very drawish, and I was hoping that he doesn’t know the line, because it’s a very rare line, but he knew. That was a bit unpleasant, but what to do?

Ian, who’s mentioned he’s mainly in the tournament for practice in classical chess, wasn’t impressed.

Yes I had no problems with Black. I believe this is a more or less known line, so it’s a little bit surprising that Sergey picks this line, but fortunately I remembered all the correct moves.

It meant we got the day’s one Armageddon, with Karjakin springing a very early surprise with 1.e4 e5 2.Bc4, the Bishop’s Opening. Nepo was ready, as you would expect in the run-up to a World Championship match, but although he did well out of the opening, Sergey took over when he pushed his d-pawn to d5, and could have landed a knockout blow on move 21.

22.Bxf6! and, after either capture on f6, White plays 23.Rxe4, when the only chance of Black surviving would be that White gets confused by the over-abundance of ways to win.

Still, after 22.d6 Sergey had a good position, and, though he lost some control, he missed a couple more wins before the game came to a surprise conclusion. 

47…a3! and 47…Qd3+! should still draw, while after 47…Qb3? 48.c7! there was no stopping the c-pawn and Sergey went on to win. 

The assumption of Sergey and the commentators was that 47…Qb3 had been a flawed attempt to draw by repetition, but in fact things were a bit stranger! Nepo commented:

I guess it was an interesting game, maybe it was even until some moment more or less high quality, but you know, when you lose a drawn position because you think Qb3 is a check, but it’s actually not a check, that’s a little bit annoying, but that’s probably why people love this format —  everyone looks like a moron!

Sergey summed up:

I’m happy that I won today — it was very important for me to keep going. My mood is good, my chess is dubious, but I’m ready to fight! 

Although Ian has commented on a number of occasions about how the half a point difference between winning or losing Armageddon doesn’t matter, from a standings point of view that’s simply not true. He now leads Magnus by half a point, who in turn leads Sergey by half a point. Out in front, however, is of course Richard Rapport!

In Round 3 Rapport faces Karjakin, while Carlsen will be out to score a 5th win of his career against Tari. If Firouzja wants to pull off an immediate comeback, he’ll have to do it against Nepomniachtchi. 

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