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Norway Blitz: Hurricane MVL destroys the competition, moves to world no.1 with 2948 Elo!

by Tanmay Srinath - 04/06/2019

2948! His New Rating! French No.1 Maxime Vachier Lagrave produced another breathtaking blitzkering to take sole first in Norway with an unearthly score of 7.5/9, thus retaking the top spot in the World Rankings in blitz. The Frenchman lost only once, but won 7(!) games with Magnus Carlsen being the biggest casualty. The resurgent Levon Aronian played a remarkable tournament, and so did Carlsen, but their untimely losses meant that they took 2nd and 3rd respectively. Mamedyarov was a distant 4th, while Ding and Yu Yangyi produced mid table performances. Grischuk, Caruana and Anand finished tied at the bottom with a sombre 3.0/9. An illustrated report by Tanmay Srinath.

MVL dismantles...while Carlsen and Aronian put on a creativity exhibition

The 7th Altibox Norway Chess Tournament began with the traditional blitz tournament to determine the pairing numbers. While the classical tournament promises to be a closely fought one, the blitz was dominated by one man and one man alone! Maxime Vachier Lagrave claimed his World No 1 ranking in blitz with an absolutely stunning performance of 7.5/9, finishing a huge 1.5 points ahead of the Blitz King Magnus himself, and the vastly improved Levon Aronian. The usual blitz suspects struggled to fulfill expectations, as Anand and Grischuk started their Norwegian sojourn on a sour note, scoring just 3.0/9 to join Fabiano Caruana at the bottom of the pile. Yu Yangyi impressed on his debut in top level chess, while Ding, So and Shak showed flashes of brilliance on an eventful day.

The players before start of play | Photo: Norway Chess

Aronian's Originality

No one has ever doubted Levon Aronian’s playing strength. At his peak, he can beat anyone, be it from the past or the present. However, his results haven’t been so great off late, with his classical rating slowly dripping away from the world top 10, partly due to a transition in his opening repertoire and mostly due to inconsistency. However, if there is anyone who can comeback from all this, it is Levon. He showed us what he can do with a stellar 2017, and considering the way he has played this blitz tournament, one only hopes that this is Levon’s tournament to lose!

Levon's fresh and creative play is sure to make Norway all the more colourful! | Photo: Norway Chess

He began the tournament with 4.0/5, with a clinical demolition of Magnus Carlsen's Pirc Defense in Round 1:



Magnus had to play Bxh3! here, and after gxh3 Qh4! Black's kingside counterplay is sufficient for a draw. Levon gave him no further chances, and won a fighting game.

He tore apart Wesley So's Italian in Round 2 with a fine exchange sacrifice, and collected the full point with a neat tactic:



Levon essayed the neat ...d5! that wins back the exchange, as Bxd5 is met with ...Nb4 and Bb3 as played in the game failed to d4! Levon retains an extra pawn, which he soon converted.

He got plain lucky against Sasha Grischuk in Round 4:


Sasha played the seemingly winning Ra2?? (instead, the simple Nc4! wins rather easily) a blunder that is not so easy to refute. Levon however did find the precise Rxa2! b7 Ne2+ Kb3 Nc1+!(Sasha must have missed this) Kc3 Ra3+ Kc2 Rb3-+ and the pawn is easily stopped.

Knowing Sasha's sense of humour, it would be relatively easier for him to overcome this setback! | Photo: Norway Chess

Aronian finally succumbed to MVL in Round 6, but before coming to that, here's his creative beauty against Yu Yangyi:


Yu Yangyi-Aronian

Levon previously sacrificed his queen for Rook, Knight and pawn. He has finally gotten full compensation for it, in the form of this massive pawn mass on the queenside and the weak a4 pawn. In the ensuing struggle he managed to outplay Yu and win a fine positional sacrificial game!

With 6.0 out of 9 he finished 2nd, ahead of Carlsen (who was on the same number of points) due to a better tiebreak. Hearty Congratulations to Levon, and let us all hope that he keeps producing such master pieces.

Carlsen's Trailblazers

Let's save the best for last, shall we? Before going on to MVL, we must definitely praise Magnus Carlsen for staying true to his word of playing fighting chess! Stupefying opening choices against the world's best (For example 1.e4 g6!? 2.d4 Nf6?!, which was tried not once, but twice!!) when followed up energetically yield staggering results! Magnus definitely wasn't at this best (home front!?) but the entertainer in him certainly had a field day!


He first steadied the ship after the 1st round loss with a draw against Ding, then beat Yu Yangyi in a complex Kings Indian as black. His game against Alexander Grischuk was particularly noteworthy :


Already a pawn down, Carlsen sacrificed another with a5! to completely tie up Black's forces. He then doubled on the 7th and collected his second full point in a row with relative ease.

Before this he played the idiosyncratic opening (e4 g6 d4 Nf6!?) mentioned above against Vishy Anand, and took advantage of the latter's late mistake:



Vishy's last move Qe3-c1?? was the defining mistake, allowing Carlsen to mop up the game after the invasive Qd4!. Instead, a3! was the only way to remain level.

Considering Anand's immense experience, a bad tournament will easily be done away with by the former World Champion. | Photo: Norway Chess

Its definitely not easy to defeat an out of form Anand or Grischuk, but the effortlessness that Carlsen shows in these games tells us time and again why he is the best player on the planet currently. He subdued Shak Mamedyarov in a Benoni as Black in Round 6:


Mamedyarov - Carlsen

Shak mistakenly went for a combinative solution with Rc6? here, missing that after Rb2 Rxd6 Rxd2 Qxc5 Nxc5 Rxd8 Rxe2 he goes a piece down for two pawns. Magnus went on to win smoothly from here.

Shak has endured a difficult 2019. Will this be the final catalyst for his comeback? | Photo: Norway Chess

In the penultimate round Magnus incessantly put pressure on Caruana till the latter cracked:



Fabi had to find the correct defensive formation of guarding the second rank using the rook double on the f-file with Rdf3! Instead, Rfd1? was too meek, and allowed Carlsen to easily win by taking the rook on d3 with his knight

A last round loss against MVL spoilt Carlsen's otherwise brilliant tournament, but it was in total another superb performance from the World Champion.

MVL's Steamroller

When someone can beat Carlsen 3 times in three consecutive blitz games (2 in Cote d'Ivoire and now in Norway), you earn the World Champion's respect! | Photo: Norway Chess

Before the tournament, I had thought of MVL as a contender, but not for first place, completely forgetting that he had won the Cote D'Ivoire Blitz over Carlsen himself! Thus, this result should not be a surprise, but the magnitude of the win might!


He started well, confidently outplaying So in a Bird-English hybrid, and squeezing out a win in the resulting endgame. By capitalising on Shak's blunder, he moved on to 2/2. He only really got going after Grischuk missed a finesse in their encounter:



Sasha exchanged rooks with Rxe1? which was the last straw. Had he been brave enough to take the bishop with gxh6! White would have only gotten a perpetual check. After MVL took over the e-file the bishop is indeed poisoned, as nothing can oppose a rook lift to the 4th rank.

Fabi then played amazingly well to get the better of Maxime in the 4th round, but the champion Frenchman bounced back with a draw in the 5th round, followed by taking down the leader Aronian in a tense struggle:


The lovely e5! from MVL decides the game, as after the rooks come off the a5 pawn drops almost by force. He then clinically converted.the Q+K vs Q+B endgame.

Levon's Expression says it all! | Photo: Norway Chess

MVL tricked the Chinese GM in an interesting, albeit level endgame:


Ding Liren-MVL

Ding's Ba3? loses a piece and eventually the game. Here he probably saw g5!!, but missed that after b2 he has Bf6 and the e5 bishop is without support. Instead if Black grabs the h-pawn after g5, then the same bishop move Bf6! takes control of the b2 square and Black can't invade.

Can the Great Wall of China regain his invincibility? | Photo: Norway Chess

After smooth sailing against the debutant Yu Yangyi, MVL managed to win a tight game against Magnus Carlsen in the last round, thus securing sole first:



Maybe both players were down to a few seconds here, but missing Nd7!! proved costly for Magnus. Not only does the move contain surprise value (moving into a double attack defended only once),it is fearfully strong, granting White an enduring initiative based on an eventual f5-f6. What Carlsen probably didnt see is that after Bxd7 exd7!! the rook on e8 is pinned and Black loses outright. Carlsen, instead went for direct f5 and simply forgot that his knight on c5 was hanging. A fighting win for MVL!

The true sportsman! Carlsen resigns with a smile and MVL wins the Norway Blitz! | Photo: Norway Chess

With this, MVL secured another tournament win, and a big lead in the world blitz ratings (2948 to Carlsen's 2920!). I'm sure that MVL will now challenge for top spot in the classical section not only based on his chess skill, but also on the momentum gained from this steamroller he built up!!

Best of the Rest

Shak Mamedyarov and Ding Liren were the only other players to end at or above 50%, while the rest impressed in bursts:



Nd2! successfully consolidates the extra piece, as Black has nothing better than Qxe2 Rxe2 cxd4!? Nxe4! dxe4 Nf5! with a completely winning position for White. Fabi chose the tepid Rad1?! and lost after further innacuracies.


The beautiful Nc4+! decides the game, as Black's defenses are shattered after Nxc4 dxc4 b4 c3!


Vishy's bad form and terrible luck could have all changed had he played the simple ...Be2! here, winning a whole exchange, and retaining his colossal advantage. Instead, he went on to lose on time.

Ding Liren-So

Wesley failed to play the only move Kf7! controlling the white king and getting one step closer to the g8 square. White can't grab on a5, as Black then plays Nc3 and draws rather easily. Instead he chose to go after the h-pawn, and lost rather tamely after Kg5 h6!, which promotes either the h-pawn or the a-pawn by force.


One of Fabi's few positives was beating the eventual champion in a near perfect game. MVL erred with Qc7?, allowing Nb5! with a crushing initiative, and soon lost in what was the only blip in a superlative performance by MVL.

Yu Yangyi-Mamedyarov

After some strange play from Yu, Shak cashed in with the brilliant e5!! completely disorganising White's forces. After Nxc6 bxc6 Nxe5 the shot Nxg2!! won back the pawn, and soon enough Yu faltered and lost.

Yu Yangyi has made an impressive debut in Norway Chess. Can he continue the same in the classical event? | Photo: Norway Chess

Grischuk-Yu Yangyi

The only game where Sasha looked like himself. Yu resigned before Grischuk could play Rbd2!, which wins a piece after Bc7!? Bxf7+ Kxf7 Rxd7+


Sasha had to go Be2! here, which safeguards all the pawns and retains slim chances of converting a material advantage. Instead, Bc4 loses two kingside pawns, and Wesley So used his queen brilliantly to rein in White's pieces and win a fascinating endgame.


Fabi is completely winning here, but he hallucinated with Qxa7?? losing instantly after Qxa7 Rxf7 Qg1!. Instead, had he found the marvelous Qg5!! So would have had to throw in the towel. The point is that the queen is threatening checkmate on g2, while at the same time guarding the h6 square so no checkmating ideas like Nh6 followed by Qh7/Qg7 work.


Sasha had a golden opportunity to turn the table with fxe4! which creates threats along the long diagonal and on the f-file, securing Black a decisive advantage.

This concludes the coverage of the Blitz Tournament. Lets hope the players stay this enterprising in the main event starting tomorrow!

Important rules to be known for the classical event:

1. 10 players are to take part in the Tournament.


2. The Tournament is a round-robin event.

3. The Tournament consists of 9 rounds.

4. Time control: Each player will have 120 minutes on the clock with an increment of 10 seconds after move 40. Participant is obliged to record the moves on the score-sheet, starting from the first move. A player can stop recording the moves in the second period when he has less than 5 minutes. Time control for the Armageddon game: white has 10 minutes and black has 7 minutes with an increment of 3 seconds per move, starting from move 61.

5. Players are not allowed to agree on a draw until after move 30.

6. Points: Players will get following points per round:

Victory main game: 2 points

Loss main game: 0 points

Draw main game & victory Armageddon: 1.5 points

Draw main game & loss Armageddon: ½ point

If there’s a draw in the classical game then the players will move on to Armageddon after all classical games are over. White pieces will continue with white in Armageddon. With this, there will be a winner in each game due to the fact that the player with the black pieces in the Armageddon game will win if the game ends in a draw.

About the Author:

Tanmay Srinath is an 18-year-old chess player from Bangalore, Karnataka, currently pursuing both chess and engineering at BMSCE Bangalore. Tanmay is also a Taekwondo Black Belt, who has represented the country in an International Tournament in Thailand. He is a big fan of Mikhail Tal and Vishy Anand, and sincerely believes in doing his bit to Power Chess in India.


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