Altibox Norway Chess 2019

| Chess
| Stavanger, Norway

My Danish head coach Peter Heine Nielsen moved to Lithuania many years ago, and I haven’t visited Denmark since he turned 40 back then. I accepted an offer from the professional and friendly event people in f-reklame to come to Copenhagen two weeks ago for a 24-board simul, an interview with a brain researcher and two games of rapid chess against young Jonas Bjerre. It took place in the Circus building and showed that chess can work as the main theme of an evening of entertainment together with a good meal.

The same weekend I played the inaugural edition of the Lindores Abbey Chess Stars outside Edinburgh. It was my first visit to Scotland and it is a country and a landscape agreeable to a Norwegian; The same irresistible early summer green, many striking similarities with parts of Norway combined with the unique moors and coastline. Against opponents Ding Liren, V.Anand and S.Karjakin I guess I couldn’t expect a similar score to Abidjan but +1 was a not particularly good, and it could have been worse. Fortunately it turned out to be a close run throughout, and +1 was enough. Ding had a winning position against Anand on day 2 (game 5) and could have had a half point lead before our last round encounter. Instead he lost and had to win with white against me. At some point he outplayed me, and the pawn down endgame was highly uncomfortable. I thought I had reasonable changes to hold, and it turned out to be difficult to find a winning plan. His h4? allowed h5, and with his king cut off from the kingside pawns, I suddenly had enough counterplay to hold despite being low on time. I managed to hang on and draw to take sole 1st.  The Lindores organizers showed great passion for chess and I hope it becomes a regular event.

Altibox Norway Chess has made some promising changes to the format this year to make the tournament even more attractive to media and spectators (and hopefully more fun for the players as well J). In addition to the initial 2 hours each in the classical games we just get 10 sec/move increment from move 61. If the classical game end in a draw, we play a so-called Armageddon game with half the original stakes. White has 10 minutes, black 7, and 3 sec increment from move 61. White has to win, black wins in case of a drawn game. We keep the same colors as in the classical game. Personally I favor black in this format, but so far white has scored slightly better. A classical win yields 2 points (2-0), a classical draw half a point each, and the winner of the Armageddon gets another full point (total 1.5-0.5).

The initial Blitz Chess tournament on Monday was great fun. I played some speculative and interesting openings and was still in contention for 1st when playing the leader Vachier-Lagrave in the last round. I got a winning advantage, but again I failed to find the critical line (Nd7) and lost. Shared 2nd with Aronian (and third on tie-break) was a fine start here in Stavanger, and I have five games with white in the classical event.

Against Anand in round 1 I got a slight advantage with the bishop pair and a potentially marginally better pawn structure, although it should not be much for white. He allowed me to make significant progress and ended up sacrificing the e-pawn to exchange a pair of bishops and activate his knight. My play didn’t feel right, but I’m not sure where I could have improved to get real winning. He held the rook ending a pawn down fairly easily to a draw. There were several interesting games in round 1 but somehow all ended draw to reach Armageddon games.

Having watching Aronian – Grischuk struggle with their time management in the unusual new format to reach a crazy time scramble, I was a bit nervous about how to approach the must-win-with-white game. I think Anand made a mistake already with 12…. dxe5 after which white seemed to be much better. Subsequently I didn’ t find all the optimum moves and the position was not winning until his mistake 29…. Nf6 gave me access to and full control of d6. Later, with a pawn on d6 supporting c7 he couldn’t control both the 7th and 8th rank and his king became too vulnerable to avoid a mating attack.

Against Aronian in round 2 my inaccuracy 10… Be7 allowed his brilliant Qb1! after which my position was highly unpleasant. Trying to activate my pieces with a pawn sacrifice (g5) failed, and I was simply a pawn down with a worse position and bleak prospects. Somehow I managed to hang in there until mutual time trouble, and he failed to find winning resources in the rook endgame. After this narrow escape it was just a pleasure to play another Armageddon game, while Aronian must have had exactly the opposite feeling having missed such a chance in the classical part. He didn’t manage to get any advantage with white and in desperation went astray, after which I won comfortably.

In todays game against Grischuk I got a very pleasant position from the opening and I had fun playing an attacking game throwing everything at his king. His counterplay on the queenside was not sufficiently efficient, and when he got low on time as well, I quickly got a winning attack. Having won my last four games in Baden-Baden in the previous classical tournament, I was very satisfied to score a full point after a bit lackluster play in the classical part of round 1 and 2.

On the first restday I’m the leader with 5 points ahead of Aronian, Ding and So at 4.

Saturday I’m white against Mamedyarov at 5pm local time and hope to have more fun!