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Norway 2019 Round 3: Carlsen's Alpha Zero Strategy amidst an uncompromising day!

by Tanmay Srinath - 07/06/2019

4 decisive games in classical chess meant that any debate about lack of fighting spirit was put off for now. Magnus Carlsen's mastery of Alpha Zero's innovative kingside attacks in the Grunfeld meant he only needed 34 moves to force Grischuk's resignation. Wesley So swindled Yu Yangyi using triangulation, Aronian busted Mamedyarov's English with fine counterattacking play, and Ding Liren's imaginative endgame play was too much for Caruana's fortress to bear. Anand drew both the classical and the armageddon games as Black against MVL, scoring his first win of the tournament. A mammoth report from Norway Chess by Tanmay Srinath

Top chess players no longer go for the stereotypical +0.4 advantage as White, but instead steer games into interesting positions where they hope to outplay their opponents, an opening revolution that was started by Magnus Carlsen and continued by the AI Alpha Zero. Carlsen's innovative middlegame play in a topical Grunfeld line got him the win against Alexander Grischuk. Fabiano Caruana messed up his position as early as move 5! but defended like a hero until finally giving up on move 77 against Ding Liren. Wesley So and Levon Aronian used simple and complex tactics respectively to get the better of Yu Yangyi and Mamedyarov respectively. Anand finally got off the mark in the armageddonagainst MVL. It's time to go deeper:


Magnus started the game with 1.d4, and without much ado Grischuk opted for the Grunfeld Defense. The game remained balanced until Carlsen's kingside attack pushed Grischuk into making a mistake by breaking in the center. The World Champion gave few chances after that, and won brilliantly. Here are some of the critical moments:

Carlsen thinking of a new hairstyle!? | Photo:Norway Chess


Carlsen enters the main line Grunfeld Defense.

Grischuk chooses a rare plan involving the immediate advance of his queenside majority.

Grischuk played the official novelty with 15...Rfd8. Carlsen played the logical 16.f4, and here Alexander chose the very commital 16...Nb6!? which places his position on the knife's edge. Can you find the improvement? I've suggested it in the annotations?

Carlsen's move 18.h4!? is reminiscent of Alpha Zero's stunning kingside attacks in similar positions. Here Alexander missed a very good opportunity to equalise chances, and played 18...e6?! following age old principles of countering in the centre when facing a wing attack, but forgetting more important ones. Can you do better?

Today's computers, while clearly better than us human, have one serious defect- they fail to see slow burning attacks. After 18.h4 my intuition suggested that White is breaking through soon on the kingside, but the computers failed to agree. See the situation 6 moves later! Grischuk's one mistake was enough for Carlsen to pounce and now White's attack is of menacing proportions. The final nail in the coffin was laid by Sasha himself, with 24...gxf5? What follows is a wonderful example of non sacrificial interference. Watch closely!

25.d6! is a wonderful move, that cuts off the entire queenside from supporting the king. Magnus' famous technique got the job done on move 34.

White has a forced mate in 5 here, so Grischuk resigned.

It is a long road back for Alexander Grischuk. | Photo: Norway Chess

The World Champion takes over sole lead with 5.0/6. | Photo:Norway Chess

Ding Liren-Caruana

The game of the round. Ding Liren's innovative opening play got him a large plus, but it took a lot of skill and will to exploit it. Here are the highlights:

A Ding Liren fan knows that 1.d4 is the right move! | Photo:Norway Chess


Ding goes for the reversed Grunfeld setup

This is not the first time that theory has led players the wrong way. Qc7? is a very bad move from Caruana. How do you take advantage of this?Ding didn't find the refutation over the board though.

Despite the miss, Ding's energetic pawn sacrifice starting with Bb2! is something to take note of. All of White's pieces enter the game and Black is gasping for air.

Ding will regain the pawn and get a technically winning position. But this is where the fun starts!

Having missed numerous opportunities to finish Black off, Ding reached the above position, where Fabi has an extra pawn but his pieces are badly placed.

Here the normal Kxe8 would have lost without a fight after Rxc6. Instead, Fabi amazingly sacrificed a piece with Qxc5! and after Nxg7 he went a4! Eventually we got the following diagram.

This position, despite all appearances, is actually closer to a draw than a White win! Fabi had to display enormous precision from here on, something which he did for quite a while until messing up the following two fortresses.

Here all Fabi had to do was oscillate his bishop on the f8-b4 diagonal and it seems impossible for White to make progress. Instead, e5? gave Ding some hope.

Ding's previous move 66.Nb5!? was seemingly the last throw of the dice. Here instead of the game move Be7?!, I recommend 66...d4! setting up a fortress. The analysis can be found in the annotations below. The important thing is that with the black e-pawn still on the board, White can't really advance his king up the board without making some concessions.

This is the fortress that Black should have aimed to reach. White has no way of making progress. Next the e-pawn will advance, and the king will come back to prevent the h-pawn from advancing. The bishop will be ideally placed on c5, as the king can never attack it without allowing the pawn to advance. Fabi didn't find this fortress, allowed the knight to f7 and lost the game.

Commendable endurance shown by Ding today. | Photo:Norway Chess

Fabi, we salute you for your fighting spirit! | Photo:Norway Chess

In other games, Wesley So took down Yu Yangyi using a difficult to see motif:

Seriously? 1.b3 in a classical game? I'm not Larsen! | Photo: Norway Chess

So-Yu Yangyi

Kb8! holds the draw here. Instead Ka6 was incorrect as it allowed Kb2! and Black king is a little too far off from the kingside. White just goes Kc3-d3-e4 and wins the game. More on this in the annotations below.

Wesley So's little trick worked wonders today. | Photo:Norway Chess

A tough loss for the debutant. | Photo:Norway Chess

Levon Aronian made use of a deep nuance to trick Shakriyar Mamedyarov:

Yes..That's right...1.c4! | Photo:Norway Chess


Shak erroneously played Bc4? here, losing all his advantage and giving Black the initiative. The point is that after Rd8! Bxe6+ Qxe6! Qxd8+ Rxd8 Rxd8+ Kf7 (see the diagram after next) White's temporarily underdeveloped, and thus Black takes over the game. Instead, Qc4! should have been played, so that after Qxc5 White has the strong Qb3!

Black has too many threats to deal with, so White is better.

After Mamedyarov's error, Aronian got a dangerous passed c-pawn by force from this position, as White can't prevent both dxc5 and Qf6!

Levon's smile is a reflection of the board position! | Photo:Norway Chess

MVL-Anand was a tie that had two draws. The classical and the Armageddon both featured the Archangel, but while the former went almost eventless, the latter contained a very interesting moment:

Vishy Anand scored his first win of the tournament| Photo:Norway Chess


Vishy only needed a draw to win the tie, so maybe that explains why he played Rb1?!. Instead, the strong exchange Bxe3! forces White to take back on e3 and then Be6 followed by rook coming down to b1 or b2 at the right moment will spell White's doom. A draw, however, was enough for Anand to win the match and hence, he didn't really try too hard.

After a disappointing start, Anand is back! | Photo:Norway Chess

So, after three rounds, we have a sole leader in Magnus Carlsen, with the chasing pack getting longer by the day. It will be fascinating to observe how the players fare after the first rest day tomorrow.

Standings after round 3

1M. Carlsen120205
2Ding Liren120114
3L. Aronian120114
4W. So120114
5S. Mamedyarov11110
6Yu Yangyi021203
7F. Caruana11101
8V. Anand021112
9A. Grischuk021021
10M. Vachier-Lagrave021021

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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