6th Altibox Norway Chess 2018
May 27-June 8, 2018
1. Fabiano Caruana USA 2822, 5.0/8
2-4. Magnus Carlsen NOR 2843, Hikaru Nakamura USA 2769, Viswanathan Anand 2760, 4.5/8
5-6. Wesley So USA 2778, Levon Aronian ARM 2764, 4.0/8
7. Shakhriyar Mamedyarov AZE 2808, 3.5/8
8-9. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave FRA 2789, Sergey Karjakin RUS 2782, 3.0/8
Average ELO 2790 Category 22
Time Control: 100 minutes for the first 40 moves, then 50 minutes for the next 20 moves followed by the rest of the game in 15 minutes. Sixty seconds is added to your time after every move starting move 61.
Fabiano Caruana won an exciting last round game against co-leader Wesley So to claim the 2018 Altibox Norway Chess Championship. Here is what he has accomplished in the last 6 months:
December 2017. Tied for first in the 8th London Chess Classic with Ian Nepomniachtchi ahead of Magnus Carlsen. He then won the blitz playoff against Ian to be declared champion.
January 2018. This was a bad tournament for Fabi. One win over last-placer Hou Yifan then four losses against eight draws. 11th out of 14 players. Magnus Carlsen won this one after a tie-breaker vs Anish Giri.
March 2018. A tremendous win in the Berlin Candidates to anoint himself as Magnus Carlsen’s challenger in the November 2018 World Chess Championship to be held in London. From Berlin he traveled to Karlsruhe (also in Germany) to play in the category-20 Grenke Chess Classic. He won this as well ahead of Magnus Carlsen.
April 2018. A slight letdown, but not by much. Caruana finished in second place at the 2018 USA Championship held in the Saint Louis Chess Club. His 8/11 (6 wins 4 draws 1 loss) score would normally have been enough to win but this was the year of the rampaging Samuel Shankland who went on a memorable win streak and finished with 8.5/11.
Which leads us here, to the 6th Altibox Norway Chess tournament in Stavanger. Strangely enough Caruana almost withdrew from the event — his playing schedule had been unusually busy and the tiredness and fatigue was already creeping in. After some soul-searching the Italian-American GM decided to proceed to Norway anyway as he felt obligated to the Altibox organizers.
His start was not very promising — a first round loss to the reigning world champion Magnus Carlsen followed by blundering a pawn against Mamedyarov in the 2nd round which turned a superior position to an inferior one. Good thing he was able to hold that one. The third game was a rather correct draw.
His 4th round opponent Ding Liren fractured his hip in the free day between the 3rd and 4th rounds and had to withdraw. This additional rest day seemed to energize Caruana, for he scored an impressive victory over the always hard-to-beat “Minister of Defense” Sergey Karjakin. After two short draws against Aronian and Nakamura Fabi finished his tournament with two wins in a row. Here is the most impressive one.
Anand, Viswanathan (2760) — Caruana, Fabiano (2822) [C01]
6th Altibox Norway Chess Stavanger (8.3), 06.06.2018
Caruana started working with GM Rustam Kasimdzhanov in 2016. Kasimdzhanov’s credentials are mind-blowing: a former FIDE World Champion, an expert in all three phases of the game, a very creative player with lots of opening ideas, and a much sought-after coach and second. He was Anand’s second during the Indian’s world championship years and is credited with working out the Meran Semi-Slav which accounted for 2 of Anand’s 3 wins against Vladimir Kramnik in their 2008 match for the title.
Recently Caruana has developed the Petroff Defense into a fighting weapon for Black. You can guess who was behind that.
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nxe5 d6 4.Nf3 Nxe4 5.d3 Nf6 6.d4 d5 7.Bd3 Bd6 8.0–0 0–0 9.Bg5 h6 10.Bh4
This is already the French Exchange Variation. 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.exd5 exd5 4.Nf3 Nf6 5.Bd3 Bd6 6.0–0 0–0 7.Bg5 h6 8.Bh4. Perhaps Kasim’s influence too? You will notice that many of his DVDs in the opening cover the Nimzo-Indian and French.
So far so normal. Caruana now advances his g- and later f-pawn to work up an assault against the enemy King. Risky? Well, not so much if you have studied it at home.
OK, obviously Caruana does not want a boring draw.
The thematic sacrifice here of 12.Nxg5 hxg5 13.Bxg5 does not work. Black has 13…Kg7 14.Qf3 Rh8 15.h3 Be7 16.Re1 Be6 and the second player is better.
12…Ne4 13.Bxd6 cxd6
Of course normal is 13…Qxd6. Caruana said in the post-game interview: “It was sort of a bluff — I analyzed it, I remember that it wasn’t supposed to be very good for Black, but it’s some kind of a mess.”
Anand went into passive play too early. GM Fabiano confessed that he was afraid of 14.Qb3 here. After 14…Ne7 15.Nfd2 Be6 (15…Nf6 16.f4! White takes over the initiative) 16.Re1 (Taking the pawn with 16.Qxb7 Ng6 17.Qb3 Nf4 18.Qc2 Rb8 19.Nxe4 dxe4 20.Bxe4 f5 does not look very appetizing) 16…g4 17.c4 White has a counter going on against the queenside and center.
14…f5 15.Na3 Be6 16.Nc2 Nxd2 17.Qxd2 f4
One of the GM commentators to this game, Peter Svidler, remarked that it is not true that Caruana made the Petroff into a killer weapon — in the two previous Black game where the Italian-American GM had won with it (against Grischuk at the London Candidates and Vitiugov in Grenke) the White player had gone for needlessly sharp lines. This time though if Black wins it then you can really start talking about his “Killer Petroff,” for it came from a quiet line and now Black is playing with the advantage.
18.Rae1 Qf6 19.f3 Rf7
To be followed by …h6–h5 and …g5–g4.
20.Re2 Raf8 21.Ne1 Ne7 22.Bc2 a5 23.Bb3 23.Nd3 Nf5 (23…h5 24.Rfe1 Bd7 concerned Caruana because he can’t yet play …g4 with f4 hanging, since the queen is overloaded defending the knight on e7.) 24.Rfe1 Ne3 25.Nf2 Bd7
23…Rg7 24.Qd3 Bd7 [To prevent White’s Qb5 attacking his queenside pawns.]
25.a4 Kh8 26.Qd2 h5 27.Nd3 Nf5! [Winning the exchange.]
[Attacking both the bishop on d5 and White’s f1–rook.]
29.Rxe3 fxe3 30.Qxe3 Bxa4 31.Ra1 Re7 32.Qd2 Bb5 33.Rxa5 Bxd3 34.Qxd3 Re1+ 35.Kf2 Rfe8 <D>
POSITION AFTER 35…RFE8
Caruana: “After the game Vishy said that 36.g3 was a draw but actually I was really hoping he would play this, because 36…Qf5!! was my main point.”
[37.g3 Qc1 is fatal for White]
Vishy could try to close the e-file with 38.Be4 but Caruana had intended 38…d5! 39.Bxd5 Qh4+ Black is clearly winning.
539.Qd2 Qh4+ 40.Kf1 Qh1+?!
Another inaccuracy. 40…Kg7! followed by …g5–g4 is the straightest way to a win. Let us see what happens: 41.Bxb7 g4! 42.Bc6 (42.fxg4 Rf8+ 43.Bf3 hxg4) 42…g3! 43.Bxe8 Qh1+ 44.Ke2 Qxg2+ 45.Ke1 Qxd2+ 46.Kxd2 g2 and queens.
41.Kf2 Qh4+ 42.Kf1 Ra8 43.Ke2
[43.Qe1 Ra1! 44.Qxa1 Qh1+ wins the queen]
43…Ra1 44.Kd3 b5 45.c4 bxc4+ 46.Kxc4
The White king is surprisingly slippery.
Both players thought that 47.Qxf4 gxf4 48.Be6 Rb1 49.Kd5 was won for Black, but it isn’t. After 49…Rxb2 (49…Kg7 50.Kxd6 Kf6 51.Bh3 Rxb2 with a long ending ahead.) 50.Kxd6 Rxg2 51.d5 h4 52.Ke7 it is a draw.
47…Qc1+ 48.Kb5 Qc8!
Caruana finally gets back on track. He takes away White’s possible queen check on e8.
49.Kb6 Qb8+ 50.Kc6 Rc1+ 0–1
[50…Rc1+ 51.Bc4 (51.Kd7 Rc7+ 52.Ke6 Qe8+) 51…Qc8+ 52.Kd5 Qg8+]
Well, in response to GM Svidler, I guess the conclusion we can draw from this game is that truly Caruana has a new weapon, the “Killer Petroff!”
Bobby Ang is a founding member of the National Chess Federation of the Philippines and its first Executive Director. A Certified Public Accountant, he taught accounting in the University of Santo Tomas for 25 years and is currently Chief Audit Executive of the Equicom Group of Companies.