Isle of Man 2017 – Finally 1st again!
Although I won both Paris and Leuven Rapid and Blitz this summer, I’ve missed and longed for a victory in classical chess this year.
In last three rounds of the strong Isle of Man tournament I played two draws with white and won with black to win outright with 7.5/9. Nakamura and Anand shared 2nd at 7, with Kramnik, Caruana and many others at 6.5.
I can hardly remember the last time I scored 7.5 or more in a classical 9-rounds event. It feels great!
After a disappointing 7th round encounter with Vidit, in which I was worse and only some precise moves and maybe lack of ambition on his part spared me a long suffering, I was suddenly quite nervous before the 8th round as black against Caruana. This was a considerable change from the earlier rounds were I felt totally at ease and just enjoyed chess. Maybe being the leader and playing a top opponent in the penultimate round reminded me too much of a typical situation in the more tense regular top level events. Caruana sprang the intimidating novelty 15.g4 in a popular Ruy Lopez variation, and my position looked quite scary. He was probably nervous as well, and his indecision led to much time spent and likely the unwillingness to clarify the position without a significant advantage. After his Bc2 I was no longer worse, and it was probably both easier and more enjoyable to play black. I found harmonious and natural moves, and he did not put up much resistance in the end. A very important victory more than making up for round 7.
The last round as white against Nakamura represented an interesting psychological theme. A draw would be sufficient to win outright, while Nakamura would probably not be tempted to take huge risks as 2nd or shared 2nd would be an acceptable result. I tried to prepare mentally and chess-wise as usual, but the brain doesn’t really work that way. In principle I would have liked to use the white pieces to play a good game and try to win. Still, the thought “draw is fine” is constantly present, and when he went for an opening where I could force a situation where he has to draw or play on in a significantly worse position, I just went there. He spent some time, maybe just to recalculate the variations, and a draw by repetition was reached.
I’d like to thank the organizer for inviting me to Isle of Man and for organizing this great event!
During Isle of Man, the World Cup finished. I’d like to congratulate Levon Aronian on winning his 2nd World Cup and him and runner-up Ding Liren for qualifying for the Candidates 2018! Aronian has had a great year winning Grenke Classic and Norway Chess in style as well as the Sinquefield Rapid and Blitz before the World Cup.
Tomorrow I’m flying to Singapore for the October 6th Simonsen Vogt Wiig event!
October 4th 2017
Isle of Man 2017
I knew a bit about the Channel Islands growing up, but not so much about Isle of Man between England, Ireland and Scotland. As any respectable island it has mountainous hills in its midst, and before round 3 my girlfriend Synne and I made the hike to Snaefell 600 meters above sea level. The train ride up-country in an 1891-model wagon took longer than expected, and courtesy of the organizer Alan picking us up, I got back in time for the round.
The relaxed atmosphere combined with fairly aggressive and ambitious opening play has worked well for me in the first 6 rounds. I’m currently sole leader at 5.5/6 with up-and-coming Santosh Vidit in second place at 5 points, followed by Caruana, Nakamura, Anand and many others at 4.5.
The organizer interpreted “drawing of lots” literary in round one! An exception to the Swiss tournament “top half versus lower half” was made with arbitrary pairings. I drew white against Islandic Bardur Birkisson (rated 2164) while second ranked Caruana drew third ranked Kramnik!
Against much lower rated opponents it is sometimes too easy to simply wait for a mistake. It doesn’t always appear. Birkisson though, did miss a tactic. 21…. Nd5? allowed Rxa8 followed by Nxc6, and I won fairly quickly. In round 2 against GM Perelshteyn I spent quite some time regretting having allowed his e6-sacrifice in the opening. But when he tried to simplify with the inexplicable Nxf6 grabbing a pawn and exchanging queens, I had more than enough compensation There was no way white could force a draw. I quickly won back the pawn and later found some precise maneuvers. Faced with mate or piece loss, he resigned.
Jeffery Xiong is reigning Junior World Champion and obviously very talented. As white in R3, I got a huge advantage in the early middle game, but it was difficult to see how to convert. I went for an interesting attacking line sacrificing two pawns. He may have had a way to keep the balance, but short on time he immediately went astray and resigned well before the time control. Avoiding too many long games is very useful in a 9-round Open event without restdays.
In round 4 I was black against former FIDE World Champion Rustam Kasimdzhanov. I tried to provoke him in the opening and got a fairly interesting position. It was imbalanced and okay for black. I felt I somewhat lost the thread in the middle game although it might not have been any way to make progress. He kept the tension as long as he felt comfortable, and after major exchanges I didn’t get any real winning chances despite the extra pawn in the rook ending. Draw.
In round 5 against Granda Zuniga from Peru I must have slightly misplayed the early middle game. The required plan with Bd2 and Re2 was not very energetic, and I realized I didn’t have much of an advantage. Fortunately he allowed a long and interesting combination on the kingside where I could recap the knight that took my stranded bishop on h7, a pawn up. A few moves later he simply resigned a pawn down in the queen and bishop ending.
Today I faced the only other player at 4.5/5 points, 2016-edition winner Eljanov. He is an ambitious player always ready for a fight, and I’ve got a perfect score against him in the past despite some fairly dubious positions underway. I managed to surprise him in the opening and soon equalized. Subsequently he was not up to his usual standard. I had expected 15.Bd6 (and not dxc5), and had planned to respond with Bc6. He must have misevaluated the position after 17…. Rc8. He allowed me to activate my knights and win his c-pawn and resigned in face of further material losses. A decent game from my side, but the main challenges are yet to come.
It has been a great event so far. As expected I’m white against Vidit in round 7 at 1:30 pm local time Friday.
Isle of Man,
September 28th 2017
World Cup 2017
For me the World Cup ended abruptly 10 days ago in R3 against X. Bu, China. My fairly confident 2-0 victory against Dreev in R2 didn’t make any difference. Losing with white, and blundering with 0-0 - where I would normally play Qc7 in a matter of seconds - in a decent position in the second game was pretty miserable. As white I went against my instincts several times. Taking the pawn on e5, and avoiding the forced draw (Qf3) with Nf1 might make sense in a regular tournament but not in a knock-out event. Low on time, and having missed his defense Rf5 (after Qc2+) in a long critical line, I simply collapsed. Pushing my luck has served me well and commanded respect from my competitors in the past, but in the World Cup a more pragmatic approach was called for. Credit to Bu for taking advantage of the chances offered.
Needless to say I hadn’t made any other plans for September. Sometimes you just want to take time off after a disappointing event. An early exit is different. It just made me eager to play another event to try to bounce back, and I’m heading for Isle of Man Thursday! The Open event will be one of the strongest tournaments this year, and it is a welcome chance to play against the elite soon after World Cup.
Surprisingly more than half the elite was knocked out in R2 and R3, while the remaining top players have done very well also from R4 onwards. The semifinals feature Lagrave - Aronian and So – Ding. Many young players - Fedoseev, Rapport and Dubov to mention a few - created upsets, but in the end they all succumbed to the remaining elite players. In the ongoing semifinals the stakes are suddenly very high as the winners are secured a place in the 2018 Candidates.
I’d like to thank the Georgian organizers for staging the World Cup and for providing excellent conditions for me and my team!
My next event with Simonsen Vogt Wiig will be in Singapore on October 6th!
September 20th 2017
World Cup 2017 Round 1
The 2017 FIDE World Cup takes place in Tblisi. As a first time visitor to Tblisi and Georgia (although we visited the Russian/Georgian border while in Sochi), I’m pleasantly surprised in several ways so. Nine hours traveling time from door to door is much the same as any European destination, and the hotel Hualing where we are both staying and playing, is good. Courtesy of the organizer my team (coach Peter, chef Magnus F and my dad Henrik) and I were invited to the football match Georgia-Irland last Saturday after the spectacular opening ceremony in the Funicular complex in the hills above Tblisi. Especially the first half of Georgia-Irland was great fun.
I haven’t played the semi-annual World Cup since 2007, and it is great to be back. I love the format and among the 128 players, you find all top15 ranked players in the world, and most top50 players. It must be the strongest event in history judged by the combined strength and breadth of the participants.
As the top ranked player I faced no 128 B.Oluwafemi in Round 1. In certain areas he was much better than his rating, and he handled the positional maneuvering very well until the first time control in both games. Evevtually he made mistakes, and I got a smooth 2-0 start and a rest day today. All top 10 ranked players advanced without playoff, and today my compatriot Aryan Tari fought well to survive a difficult 2nd rapid game playoff, and later decisively beat higher rated D.Howell in the 2nd Blitz playoff game. Two Norwegians ready for round 2 tomorrow! I’ll play black against A.Dreev, Russia.
A few words about the final stage of Sinquefield Cup finishing three weeks ago: Trailing Anand, Aronian, and Vachier-Lagrave by half a point before the last round, I did my part beating Aronian with white in a complicated fight. I managed to repell his initial assault after which I gained a pawn and what I thought was an easily winning position. However, he managed to drum up some serious counterplay against my king, but luckily I managed to prevail after an unnecessarily exciting time scramble.
Anand seemed happy with a draw, while Lagrave gradually outplayed Nepomniachtchi to take sole first. When I couldn’t win myself, I was happy to see Lagrave clinch it, and I think most participants felt the same way. Congratulations! Anand and I shared second and Aronian and Karjakin fourth. As usual the Sinquefield Cup was well organized. Thank you!
In the Grand Chess Tour 2017 I’m still in the lead with one event left, three points ahead of Lagrave. Aronian won the Sinquefield Rapid and Blitz two weeks ago and still has an outside chance in the Tour, trailing me by 9 points and Lagrave by 6.
September 5th 2017
Sinquefield Cup 2017 R5 Status
Today is a rest day in Sinquefield Cup. And I think in general it is quite deserved. Ten decided games in 5 rounds (40%) is quite impressive for such an elite event with mainly top-10 players. With few exceptions it is not due to poor play either. I think the players have shown great fighting spirit.
With four rounds to go Vachier-Lagrave is leading with 3,5/5, half a point ahead of Anand and me.
I managed to get a pawn-up rook ending against Anand in round 3 with black, but it was not enough to win against decent defence. Round 4 and 5 has been quite a rollercoaster. As white against white against Vachier-Lagrave I suffered a painful loss from a winning position having gained the advantage around the time control. One oversight, and my lack of re-checking two moves later left me a pawn down in a lost ending. Still it was complicated, and he was forced to find the nice c4-idea in the knight against bishop ending, after which I couldn’t stop the f-pawn.
Having generally played somewhat better than earlier this year (in classic), 2 out of 4 felt borderline unreasonable. Round 5 re-established some kind of balance. As black against Wesley So I allowed Be3 and Ba4 (pinning my knight on d7). It looked quite unpleasant, but it is probably not as bad as it looked. He allowed Rxb2, and it turned out to be a mistake. The pawn wasn’t poisoned. He had some compensation, but recapturing on d6 was not the best continuation. His usual stubborn defence was absent yesterday, and I barely had a chance to start playing for a win before he gave me another pawn and resigned.
My next event will be the World Cup in September in Tblisi, Georgia. The pairings are out. We are getting used to a multitude of high-level events each year (Grand Chess Tour, Norway Chess etc.) but the World Cup will be really remarkable historically with the 15 highest rated players in the world participating!
Back to Sinquefield Cup: With the remaining seven players at 50% or minus one, more or less anything can still happen. In round 6 I’m white against Nakamura.
August 7th 2017
Sinquefield Cup 2017
I’ve been playing elite tournaments for more than a decade, and it is interesting to see how the composition of events has changed while continuing to offer attractive opportunities throughout the calendar year.
I was fortunate enough to join the elite in time to play in Linares (2007-9) and Melody Amber (Rapid & Blindfold) (2007-11). While these and other intermediary events (like Nanjing) has stopped or taken a break, there are a number of new great events already starting to boast five (and some ten) year anniversaries.
Turning to tournaments I’ve participated in 2017: Among the real classics, Tata Steel Chess in Wijk aan Zee continues its proud 80-year tradition. Grenke Chess Classics, Norway Chess and Sinquefield Cup all started in 2013, and the Paris and Leuven Rapid & Blitz began last year.
I won the inaugural edition of Sinquefield Cup in 2013, and the next editions was won by Caruana, Aronian and So respectively. All four of us are back in 2017 to fight for a second tournament victory. We are joined by Vachier-Lagrave, Nakamura, Anand, Karjakin, Svidler and Nepomniachtchi.
This year I haven’t been spoiled with great tournament starts, and I’m very satisfied with the win today and shared first, with Caruana and Vachier-Lagrave, after two rounds.
In the first round as black against Caruana yesterday I was able to equalize in the middle game and was hoping to put some pressure on him in the queen and rook ending. Not being able to put any real pressure on his potential weak c2-pawn, I forced matters with b3 and d3 followed by Qxf2! Avoiding a perpetual a pawn down still hoping for more, I had missed his Rf8 and was maybe slightly lucky to have a straightforward draw by capturing the pawn on d3. A fully acceptable start on a day that saw three quite spectacular wins by Aronian, Karjakin and Vachier-Lagrave.
In an otherwise miserable performance in Norway Chess in June, I won the penultimate round against Karjakin, and today I managed to beat him again. Choosing an innocuous opening, sort of a Kings Indian Attack, I was simply aiming for a playable position. Despite no opening advantage I felt I got an advantage in the middle game. Spending too much time on 19. Kh2 I started to get low on time and went for some simplifications starting with cxb5. It wasn’t obvious that white is any better until I got in f5. From an unclear position his structure collapsed remarkably fast, and it is always very pleasant to reach a won position with equal material. He had no counterplay and resigned after the first time control.
We are playing three more rounds this weekend. Friday I’m playing black against former World Champion V.Anand.
August 3rd 2017
Grand Chess Tour 2017 – Post Leuven reflections
After two days of rapid in Leuven I was in a good mood, coming off two wins in a row. The third day however, turned out to be a difficult one. First I had the black pieces against the notoriously solid Anish Giri, and I played the King's Indian in search of a complicated struggle. I did not really get what I aimed for though, but after he missed the right moment to sac a pawn for a dangerous attack, which we both had seen and underestimated, mass exchanges and a draw quickly followed. In the next game against Vishy Anand, I decided to play the English opening, and perhaps still reeling from losing a winning position against MVL earlier that day, Vishy played rather carelessly and soon got a very difficult position. To his credit, he then realized what was happening, and forced me to play very concretely and sac a piece, rather than slowly increasing my advantage. I initially found the right way, but it took me massive amounts of time, and I soon landed in time trouble. After a few adventures I still kept some advantage, until I got my king trapped on the first rank, which made it very difficult, if at all possible, to make progress. Around that time he offered me a draw, which, with well under a minute on the clock I should absolutely have accepted. Through inertia I kept playing, sacked a pawn, then another for an attack that did not exist, and soon landed in a lost endgame. It still was not that easy though, and with his clock eventually ticking down as well, I managed to save the draw. In the last game of the day, against Ian Nepomniachtchi, I decided to play the same line of the Caro-Kann with Nf6 and exf6 that I had beaten him with at the World Rapids last year. (The opening this time was the Scotch, but think about it, it's basically the same position!) This time there were far fewer adventures, and although he had a slight advantage, it was always very drawish. The leader Wesley So performed well on the last day, and with 14/18 he had a nice lead over MVL (12/18) and myself (11/18).
Starting the blitz the next day I had a lot of energy, and thus it surprised me a bit that my play in the first couple of games (an undeserved win against Anand and a draw in which I was worse against Kramnik) was so mediocre. Things picked up a bit when I beat MVL with black in a nerve-wracking game in which I was always better, but not winning before the very end. After that I proceeded to win three more games in a row in half-decent to good fashion, before losing deservedly to Giri. Thus, with two rounds to go on the day I was at 5.5/7 for the day, and still two points behind So. He had started the day well, then lost an overwhelming position against MVL, but still kept good pace at +2. Surprisingly though, the lead was all gone by the end of the day. I first beat Jobava in a topsy-turvy game while So got mated by an inspired Giri. Then I beat So in our individual game. Having got the initiative from the opening, I never let go and won a decent game.
Naturally, the tournament situation looked a lot better than the day before. I had used a lot of energy in the first day of blitz, and with the new role of leading I found it hard to sleep and relax before the last day. Thus, I was not in a great mood. It did not really improve by an uninspired draw against Anand, while So beat Jobava and regained the lead. Next, however, greatly helped by pep-talks by my father in between rounds, I started to play more freely. I pulled off four good wins in a row, including, by my standards, a very inspired creative effort against MVL. Suddenly, looking at the standings for the first time since round one, I saw that I had a practically insurmountable lead. At that time my energy level dropped sharply, but three draws and one win from the last four games was more than enough to win the tournament comfortably.
In retrospect I am obviously very happy about my score (14.5/18 in blitz) and my play, but I was so exhausted at the end that it took some time to start enjoying it. By now, with a bit of rest, I am already looking forward to my next tournament, the Sinquefield Cup starting in Saint Louis early August, and excited about the possibility of matching wits against the best in the world in classical chess again. Unfortunately I won't be taking part in the rapid and blitz tournament starting immediately after, where the great Garry Kasparov will participate. I decided to play in Paris and Leuven (as a Grand Chess Tour participant I could choose two out of three) before learning that Garry would play. If I had the chance, of course I would be privileged to play him! On the other hand, he might not have wanted to play then:-)
July 11th 2017
Grand Chess Tour 2017 - Paris and Leuven
The Paris tournament finished last Sunday, and I have had some time to digest the overall result as well as how I tackled the challenging Blitz stage. I still have mixed feelings about the event, but fortunately the achievements shine stronger and miserable moments gradually fade away.
Having won the first four Blitz games Saturday, 9 wins and 4 draws overall gave me a solid lead. Collapsing midway both Saturday and Sunday losing several games in a row was highly frustrating. Not handling the delay instead of increment acceptably, was only a minor contributing factor. I simply couldn’t handle losses adequately.
Even a minus two score at the back end (6 points out of the last 14 Blitz games) was however sufficient for shared first with home favorite Maxime Vachier-Lagrave as Nakamura suffered a similar collapse on Sunday. I’m quite proud of managing to pull myself together for the play-off. In the first game I got a positional advantage as white. While MVL kept finding cunning tactical threats to balance the position with his passed a-pawn and potential menacing h3-pawn, I probably played a good game as well and my f and g-pawns decided in the end. In the second play-off game he over-pressed in a balanced Marshall variation, and I could force a draw in a better position to win the play-off and Paris Rapid and Blitz! Overall MVL came second and Nakamura third.
Monday we travelled on to Leuven outside Brussels by train and Tuesday played a simul against young Belgian players in the town hall as last year.
After two days of Rapid chess in Leuven I’m shared 2nd with MVL at 8 points. Wesley So had a disappointing Paris event but has started excellently here with 10 points. I over-pressed in an equal queen and rook endgame yesterday against So and lost miserably. Apart from that game my performance has been fairly smooth. I’m particularly satisfied with the win against Kramnik today. I played the Bird (f4) opening and Kramink quickly grabbed space with b5. Until 15.Nb3 I was uncertain about the situation, but then I felt it was relatively equal and easier to play for white. I took on d4 with the knight hoping to get exactly the structure and position we reached some ten moves later. Kramnik might have pinned his hopes on getting his knight to e5, but after Bf3 white was simply winning.
June 29th 2017
Grand Chess Tour 2017 - Paris Rapid Chess mission accomplished!
With two wins and a draw on day two as well, and another quite good day today, I scored an unbeaten 14 points in nine rounds to win the Rapid portion of the event, ahead of Grischuk at 13, Nakamura at 12 and Vachier-Lagrave and Mamedyarov at 11.
In round 7 this afternoon I got an endgame a pawn up against Karjakin after a very complicated middlegame where we both missed a promising continuation for him. Not surprisingly Karjakin defended the ending excellently and despite good chances I had to settle for a draw. Caruana has had a miserable event (3 draws, 6 losses), but against me he played reasonably well. With the black pieces in a calm 6 d3 Ruy Lopez I managed to get a slight edge in the endgame. He defended well at the critical moments, and my extra pawn and rook ending didn’t cut the mustard. The last round as white against Bacrot was highly interesting. He sacrificed a piece for two pawns and had practical compensation through my slightly exposed king and his strong pawns on d4, e5 and d6. I think I found many good moves as for instance Ne1, and when he broke with d5, the continuation favored white. I was able to neutralize his pawn storm, activate my rooks, protect the knight on h5 and win.
The time control is quite tricky. Instead of the usual increment per move, there is a 10 seconds “delay”. You cannot gain time during the game. If you don’t use the full 10 seconds on any individual move, the rest disappears when you hit the clock. Consequently, if and when your clock is down to the last second, you will be stuck with 11 seconds on the clock whenever it is your turn until the game ends or you lose on time. This should be particularly challenging for time trouble addicts like Grischuk. All the more impressive that he won his last four Rapid games!
We are staying in a different part of Paris this year. The Radisson Blu hotel is situated 10 minutes from the Canal+ studios in Boulogne-Billancourt. It is a good hotel with a good restaurant even featuring its own vineyard in the back of the hotel, and there are many good restaurants nearby as well.
Saturday and Sunday we play nine rounds of Blitz chess each day (with a time control of 5 minutes and a 3 seconds delay per move), and I need to keep up both days to have a successful tournament.
June 23rd 2017
Grand Chess Tour 2017 - Paris Stage
Altibox Norway Chess 2017 was one of my worst performances since joining the chess elite. I continue to appreciate the great efforts made by Kjell Madland and the other organisers to stage such a great event, and it remains somehow inexplicable how I could go from 7th place in 2015, win outright in 2016 and again do poorly in 2017. The field was very strong this year, and having -2 after 7 rounds, the 8th round win against Karjakin was not sufficient to significantly lighten the feeling of being in a slump when it comes to classic chess. Confidence is a key ingredient, and it is partly missing these days.
In Rapid and Blitz the situation is different, and fortunately both the first two stages of the 2017 Grand Chess Tour are Rapid and Blitz events. Six of the main nine GCT participants play each Rapid and Blitz. Here in Paris all six of us (So, Caruana, Lagrave, Nakamura, Karjakin and me) played in Stavanger as well. We are joined by four wild cards; Mamedyarov, Grischuk, Topalov and Bacrot. I knew well in advance that the break between Altibox Norway Chess and Paris Rapid and Blitz would be short. Nonetheless it feels great to move directly to a new tournament.
The Tour kicked off in Paris with a corporate day at Vivendi headquarters yesterday and Day 1 of the Rapid stage today.
The tournament is covered live on TV, and we are playing in the Canal+ studios by the Seine. In the first round I played black against Grischuk. I went for a somewhat passive but very solid position hoping to get chances later in the game. It went more or less as planned and my counterplay looked fairly promising at one point. But, I don’t think there was much of an advantage as his fast h-pawn and queen checks kept the balance. Maybe I could have continued to pose challenges with Nxc8 instead of Qxc8.
In the next round I played in-form Mamedyarov. (He recently reached 2800 in classical rating for the first time.) As black, I was slightly worse when I sacrificed the a-pawn to improve the activity of my pieces. Somewhat surprisingly he quickly blundered with a4 allowing the tactical shot Bf3! He could well have played on, but after a long thought he simply resigned. Despite being a tenacious fighter and one of the most aggressive elite players, he clearly doesn’t like to defend miserable positions at all.
In the 3rd round I played home favorite Vachier-Lagrave with white. Initially his exchange sacrifice (for a pawn and the bishop pair) looked fairly promising for white, but later I understood the position was just unclear and chose to take back the pawn instead of the exchange. At the critical junction white is probably better despite the vulnerable king. My knight is better than his bishop and my b-pawn is not so easy to stop. I played Qe2, a healthy positional move with the additional tactical threat of f4! Vachier-Lagrave is such a great tactician that I did not expect him to miss it. Surprisingly he did play Kh8, and f4 won a piece and shortly after the game.
I’m sharing the lead with Wesley So with 5/6 points after 3 rounds. (Rapid wins pay 2 points, Blitz 1). Rounds 4 to 6 coming up Thursday!
June 21st 2017
Norway Chess 2017 Blitz Kick-off
This year Norway Chess is important for many reasons. Already celebrating the 5th edition, Norway Chess has become a main feature on the elite chess calendar. The more than impressive line-up with the Top 10 players on the February 2017 rating list (in June all still within top 12), undoubtedly makes it the strongest tournament this year. After the World Championship match I’ve ended 2nd or 3rd in all events. While not bad, it is not the standard by which I judge myself.
Coach Peter Heine, my father and I arrived in Stavanger by car from Oslo Saturday after a successful evening stop in Sirdal to watch Real Madrid win the 3rd CL trophy since 2014.
Most of the event takes place in the Clarion Energy hotel outside Stavanger city this time. It is a nice hotel in a nice location albeit outside walking distance to the city centre.
The other participants are all regular elite players that I’ve met many times in the past; So, Kramnik, Caruana, Vachier-Lagrave, Aronian, Anand, Nakamura, Karjakin and Giri.
Norway Chess initial press conferences are unusually good, and today was no exception. The Blitz tournament was as always great fun, and I reached the same good result as last year, 7.5/9 points and clear first. I knew I was in reasonable shape after the training camp last week, but I must admit both the result and the overall quality of my play was a pleasant surprise. After two initial draws, it went very smoothly throughout the rest of my games, and it was great to feel the adrenaline flow again.
I picked start number three this year, and face Wesley So in round 1 tomorrow at 4 pm (3pm GMT). Wesley So has had a tremendous last 10 months, and he is now number two on the FIDE rating list. His Blitz form was not impressive, but he will as usual be a difficult opponent to beat in classical chess. The games are broadcast live on TV2.
June 5th 2017
Grenke Chess Classic 2017 – Baden-Baden
Cudos to Levon Aronian winning the Grenke Chess Classics in style with a +4 score. Caruana and I shared second place with a modest +1. This is of course a disappointment for me, in a tournament marked by making far too many blunders in promising positions.
Fortunately it is not all dark. I did play well most of most games, although I realize that highlighting this puts the bar below where my expectations are and should be. Elite chess requires zealous dedication and focus to avoid serious mistakes throughout each game. This is generally one of my strengths, but maybe not so this time.
In the first game against Matthias Bluebaum I had equalized from the opening with black. His defense was solid and seemed impenetrable for some time, but when I continued to pose questions he went astray just before the time control. In a momentary lapse of concentration I considered the game won, and blundered back with e5 after which he could exchange material and reach a drawn ending.
The game against Aronian was typical for our encounters. He found a sharp line in the Ruy Lopez Anti-Marshall and was maybe slightly better. He probably overestimated his position and I got sufficient counterplay to reach a winning position. I thought I found two winning continuations (Ne5 and Qxe4) and went for what I considered the simplest line with Qxe4. Having missed Ne2+ he managed to reach a drawn ending, and subsequently won his next four games!
Against Hou Yifan I was slightly better as black in the middle game but again blundered badly (b5), having missed en passant followed by Rd5! In a difficult position I managed not too lose immediately and low on time, discovering that Ra1 and Rxa6 didn’t work, she went for simplifications and a drawn ending.
Another mistake (Nb5) killed any advantage I had against Caruana and finally I won in round 5 against Meier.
The games against Naiditsch and Vachier-Lagrave were interesting and complicated games both ending in a draw. Against Vachier-Lagrave I had a really promising position offering black little counterplay when I gave up most of the advantage with b4 as I had missed his defense Qb6 after d6.
As communicated to the organizer Sven Noppes I hope to be back and it would be great to have more rounds in the future. It was a well organized and interesting event. I liked playing in both the very different settings in Karlsruhe and Baden-Baden. Centerstage in the same playing hall as a huge Open tournament is fascinating, but I also really like the classical elite atmosphere in the Baden-Baden part.
I already look forward to Norway Chess in June. It will be strongest 10-player tournament this year.
April 23rd 2017
Grenke Chess Classic 2017 – Karlsruhe
Baden-Baden Schachzentrum has been a power house in German chess for decades, organizing events and fielding the strongest team in the chess Bundesliga, a team for which I have played earlier in my career.
The eight-player 2017 Grenke Chess Classic takes place 15.-22.April with three rounds here in Karlsruhe and four rounds in Baden-Baden. The Karlsruhe part coincides with maybe the largest Open chess event in the world this year, a compact nine rounds in five days event that started yesterday. Some of my friends takes part.
In 2015, after we both reached 4,5 points in 7 rounds, I won an intense late night play-off against Arkadij Naiditsch. As in 2015 we are this year joined by Caruana and Aronian. The other players are Vachier-Lagrave, the best female player Hou Yifan and two strong German Grandmasters Bluebaum and Meier.
This time I travelled by ferry to Kiel and by car to Karlsruhe, arriving last night. Despite the more time-consuming journey, it felt convenient and it is more of an experience than the faster A to B flight plus train. The hotel and surroundings has been a pleasant surprise so far. It all looks very nice and I enjoyed a visit to the zoo next door today.
The drawing of lots took place at the opening of the Open tournament yesterday, and amazingly I have white against my three top-10 opponents Caruana, Lagrave and Aronian, and black against the four others. The draw is quite a unique and interesting twist to the event for me. In round one Saturday, I’ll play young Matthias Bluebaum, Germany (with the black pieces).
April 14th 2017
Apart from the official FIDE national team championships (biannual Olympiad, World and continental team championships), there are not many team competitions at high level. Today the Norway Gnomes won our match in the new chess.com PRO league team competition. It is amazing that nobody has come up with this concept earlier. Each must present a team with maximum average rating 2500, but to attract the elite the 2700+ players count as 2700. Mission accomplished in that several top players are participating. We play 4 games of rapid chess (15 minutes + 2 sec increments) online every Wednesday. After a difficult start, we managed to scrape by from the initial group stage, and today won our first match in the playoffs. My own play has varied in the initial games while today I’m reasonably satisfied making only a very limited number of blunders and scoring 4/4.
The League has been a good source of practical chess training in February (besides playing games against myself on the Play Magnus app :))
In the Tata Steel tournament in January I came second in the end with 8/13. The result was no catastrophe but my play left a lot to be desired, especially in the second half. It was not what I had envisioned. My plan for 2017 remains the same; I want to significantly improve my play compared to 2016.
Wesley So was still within reach for three of us before the last round. However, Aronian and Wei Yi both lost and shared third with Adhiban, while So benefited from a huge blunder from Ian Nepomniachtchi and won easily with black to take clear first with 9 points. Wesley has had a terrific halfyear. Congratuations!
As usual the organizer put together a great event continuing the cooperation with host cities (Rotterdam and Harlem this year). I hope to be back next year!
After Tata Steel I played two simultaneous displays in Oslo, and two weeks from now I’ll fly to Nice for main sponsor Simonsen Vogt Wiig. After that focus will be on the next elite events. I’m trying to do some cross country skiing in Norway as usual in February and March and hope to be really energetic in next main event Grenke Chess Classic in the middle of April.
March 1st 2017
Report from hotel Zeeduin
Hotel Zeeduin is indeed at the sand dunes next to the beach in Wijk aan Zee. It has been my home most of January for the 10 years in the A-group (of Tata Steel Chess) since 2007. As usual the weather is interesting and varied. We’ve had strong winds intermingled with quite periods, and bursts of snow, rain and sunshine already. Today was particularly beautiful.
In this 79th edition of the tournament, the organizer has brought together a strong field including five top 10 players.
Already in round 1 I played Wesley So, fresh from his London Classics and Grand Chess Tour 2016 overall victory. He is ranked as number two in the event and the only 2800 player in addition to me. As expected he did not take any risk despite playing white, and by finding a few decent moves I equalized early on. We drew after just two hours play. Sole winner in round 1 was Eljanov (against Rapport).
In round 2 I played white against Radoslav Wojtaszek (2750). When he started working with Anand years back he soon became a 2700+ player and occasionally plays in elite events. This was our fourth encounter in classical chess, and all games have been decisive with white winning 4-0!
I started with 1.e4 allowing the Sicilian. Wojtaszek knows mainline theory and I went for 6.a3 inspired by Karjakin’s choice against Giri in round one. 7.Nf5 was inspired (but maybe slightly dubious). Anyhow I got a playable position with a strong unchallenged bishop on d5. I’m not sure how I could have made progress against stubborn defense as he had a solid king and possible counterplay on the queenside. Importantly it was easier to play white. As defense is not his main strength, he seemed quite pessimistic, probably beyond what was objectively warranted by the position. After spending too much time in the middle game he was quite short on time before the first time control and started to drift with Ra6 etc. I couldn’t find any decisive blow but gradually improved my position and he resigned facing the loss of a second pawn without any significant compensation.
Despite winning the last three times I’ve played here in Wijk (in 2013, 2015, 2016) I usually have a slow start. Consequently I'm very satisfied with winning my first white game this time.
Dimitry Andreikin, another very strong Russian born 1990, whom I played in my first international youth championships back in 2002, was my opponent in round 3. I was surprised by his Bf4 but is satisfied with the way I responded. Having equalized I was hoping for more. However, I could not find a way to make progress in a seemingly nice position and repeated moves after three hours play.
Shared 2nd behind early leaver Eljanov is fine for now.
Wijk aan Zee,
January 16th 2017
Looking back at 2016
I have won several classical events (Wijk, Norway Chess and Bilbao), led Norway to 5th in the Chess team Olympiad, and won the New York World Championship match (on Rapid tie-breaks) against Karjakin in 2016. Performance-wise I’ve been successful in Rapid and Blitz events as well, with Norway Chess Blitz victory, second place in Paris and first in Leuven, before Doha. Still, I have mixed feelings about my play. Yes, I’ve played many good games and obtained good results, but I’ve made too many blunders, and even more importantly, the quality of my play has varied too much.
I’m now back in 1st on all FIDE rating lists (Classical, Rapid and Blitz) although the Classical lead is uncomfortably small. On the bright side I feel motivated to improve, and the challenge is to translate chess understanding and knowledge into quality of play in the events ahead.
I’d again like to thank my main sponsors, Simonsen Vogt Wiig, Arctic Securities, Nordic Semiconductor, newspaper VG, and water provider Isklar for your continued support, and I look forward to our cooperation in 2017.
I got excellent support from my team of seconds during the New York match, and a special thanks to Peter Heine for his help, patience and friendship throughout 2016.
I’m grateful to have had my family with me in Doha, and most of them have joined me also while I recover and prepare for Tata Steel over the next week.
January 3rd 2017
Doha Blitz World Championship 2016
I started well with 3/3. The quality of my play was pointing in the right direction, indicating that I handled the early rounds better than in Rapid.
After a draw in round 4 I met leader Karjakin (4/4) with white and achieved a pleasant position from an innocuous opening. I somehow blundered a queen and rook fork and had to give my queen for a rook. In a normally dead lost position I managed to hang on, but eventually lost the king and queen versus king and rook ending having missed to claim a threefold repetition as some point.
The rest of the tournament I played many good games and overall I have to be very satisfied with my play.
After day 1 Karjakin and I shared the lead at 10/12, with the rest trailing by 1,5 points and more. Day 2: After a bit hesitant start, and another loss to Ivanchuk, I won round 17 and 18 and was sole leader with 14 points head of Karjakin at 13.5. Amazingly 2.5/3 in the finish was not enough. Karjakin managed to win all three and had slightly higher rating opposition overall. Losing another title on tie-break after the excellent score 16.5/21 was quite devastating.
In summary, I was clearly the biggest favorite in the Blitz, and I played reasonably well generally being able to slowly outplay my opponents. That is not always enough as one of the others may have a brilliant event. This time, Karjakin had margins on his side and turned several lost positions into victory. He also played very well throughout the event and got a partial revenge from the New York-match. Dubov took third edging out Nakamura and Grischuk on tie-break, all at 14.5 points.
Overall tying for first in both events is of course objectively a good performance, but I’m not satisfied, and I have to find better ways to improve and prepare for the 2017 World Rapid and Blitz and other fast time control events.
Thank you organizer Mohamed Al-Medaihki and all the others involved in staging this great event!
January 1st 2017
World Rapid and Blitz 2016 Doha
With the recurring Mainz Rapid and Amber Rapid & Blindfold events last decade, and recently the annual Rapid & Blitz World Championship, faster time controls have gained a more important place in the world of chess in this century. That is very much to my liking. Faster time controls are exhilarating, emotional and intense for players and spectators, and it favors the stronger players more than in classical chess. I hope that the trend will continue, and I already look forward to the next fast play events.
Most of the World elite have been in Doha the last week. The format was the same as in recent years with 15 games of Rapid and 21 games of Blitz in the Open segment.
I arrived in Doha 4 days prior to the Rapid and felt that I had adjusted reasonably well to the time zone, but for some reason my head did not work properly for the first two games each day. I scored a miserable 2.5/6 in these games and the excellent 8.5/9 in the latter three!
The first round (lucky) draw against Ganguly and the loss against Pansulaia in round two was of course not the start I had hoped for or expected. With three consecutive wins I was still in contention after day one but trailing early leader Korobov (5/5) by 1.5 points. Despite an excellent score against Ivanchuk early in my career, I have had problems with him in recent years and this event was no exception. He played better than I did and beat me convincingly. With two wins, including a nice win as black against Grischuk, and one draw, I ended day two at 7/10. Based on my winning scores in the 2014 and 2015 World Championship Rapid events, 11/15, or at least 11,5/15 would likely be enough for 1st.
In round 11 against Korobov I got an excellent position from the opening, but hallucinated and went for a non-existing mate with Qd7 and Ng5 having missed Bxg2. Suddenly black was just winning. This should just not happen in Rapid.
I’m quite proud of winning the last four rounds, especially the black games against Riazantsev and Nepomniachtchi.
With 5 players on 10/14 I had to win the last round due to worse tie-break (average rating of opponents), and I did in a slightly messy game against Mamedyarov. It was not enough. Both Ivanchuk and Grischuk won as well and Ivanchuk took gold, Grischuk silver and I came third on tie-break. I think it is my first significant loss on tiebreak for nearly ten years, but still a disappointment, especially since my play varied far too much.
Impressive performance of Ivanchuk. Together with Anand, he was part of the chess elite when I was born!
Overall it was a great event, and with the Blitz coming up, I was eager to strike back. More shortly.
December 31st 2016
I’ve visited New York many times over the last 7 years. It is obviously a remarkable city and among other things, I’ve enjoyed long walks on Manhattan many times.
Playing a World Championship match seemingly twist perceptions and reduce outside sense impressions to the point that I felt I was experiencing a different city this time. The utter joy and relief of match victory will always make the thought of New York bring back fond memories. Nevertheless, I already look forward to be back in the city in a more normal setting as a visitor.
My opponent Sergey Karjakin proved extremely resilient, and I would also like to praise his sportsmanship and that of his trainer Potkin and manager Zangalis.
There where tense and critical moments in the first half of both the Chennai and Sochi matches against Anand. What made New York so much harder was experiencing highly critical and difficult moments late in the match. Losing game 8 after having overpressed and made some seriously dubious decisions, left me trailing in a World Championship match for the first time. It reminded me of the loss against Ivanchuk in round 12 of the London Candidates. It was difficult not to panic. Game 9 was also critical. Having gotten a promising position from the opening, Karjakin improved his position to the point that I might be lost before the first time control. Fortunately I calculated the remaining complications slightly better and escaped with a draw. Under the gun I really needed to win game 10. I obtained a lasting positional advantage in the opening and was horrified to discover his Nxf2 resource after having taken on e6 with my bishop. Karjakin played d5 instead and shortly after I gambled on the assumption that he would not see the more challenging Nxf2 resource after Qh5. When he didn’t, I got an overwhelming positional advantage. Again Karjakin defended well for a long time accepting total passivity. Defending his pawn weaknesses on b7 and e6 is possible, but when he tried to prevent my not so promising g4-break as well, his defense fell apart, and the extra pawn was enough to win and equal the match.
Having struggled immensely in the middle of the match, I felt better towards the end. Deciding to accept tie-break despite white in game 12 was maybe the decision I’m most satisfied with in this match. Suddenly I would have four (rapid) games instead of one classical to decide the match and three full days to prepare while my opponent would be occupied preparing for game 12.
I felt slightly uneasy on the last rest day, but after a good nights sleep I was in great shape and eager to play rapid chess on the 30th. Even the missed win in the second rapid game didn’t brake my stride or diminish the joy of playing rapid chess, and game three was probably quite good. I exploited my terrain on the kingside and his weaknesses on the queenside, and after the e4 pawn sacrifice it was very difficult for black to hold. Rc7 lost on the spot, and for the first time in the match I was ahead. As white in the last game I got a positional advantage against his Najdorf and just had to avoid his counterplay. It was not a perfect game, but I managed to calculate the final lines correctly and finished Qh6! with mate in one!
My team in New York was the same as in Sochi; Thank you Peter, Espen, Magnus F., Brede, Bjørn and my family as well as sponsor representatives, friends and all the others that came over to support me. The openings went generally very well in New York thanks to all the great work by Laurent Fressinet, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Nils Grandelius, Samuel Shankland and others, and thanks to Kragerø resort for hosting camps both in September and during the match.
My heartfelt thanks to Doug and Holly Hirsch for accommodating me and my family at their beautiful place in Southampton before the match; to Charles Stonehill and Maria and Peter Hancock for opening their homes during the match, and to Yuri Milner for organizing a fantastic celebration party.
I´m grateful to my long time main sponsors Simonsen Vogt Wiig, Arctic Securities, Nordic Semiconductor and VG, as well as water partner Isklar who’s also a sponsor of the event.
I think the organizer Agon / World Chess did a good job, and I know they put in lots of efforts and significant resources to make the match a successful event. Many thanks to Ilya, Stas, Alvina and all the others involved for doing their utmost to make me and my team comfortable.
Last but not least, I’d like to express my gratitude to all the others, not spesifically mentioned above, who has helped me or my team one way or the other. Thank you!
An important result of the match is that the significant international media coverage contributes to make chess popular worldwide.
My next event is the World Rapid and Blitz World Championship in Doha, and I look forward to be back in Doha a year after the Open event last year!
December 2nd 2016
Continued suspense in Carlsen – Karjakin World Championship match
As in the Sochi-match, Magnus Carlsen himself will not be blogging during the ongoing World Championship match against challenger Sergey Karjakin, Russia. On behalf of Magnus and his team the undersigned will share some impressions instead.
Magnus is in New York with his usual World Championship Match team consisting of his head coach Peter Heine, manager Espen, chef Magnus, doctor Brede, myself, his sisters and mother part-time and friends visiting this week. Having spent a few days by the sea outside New York, Magnus arrived in the city on November 8th. We stay at the Ritz Carlton a 15-20 minutes walk from the playing venue at 12 Fulton Street.
The Match started November 11th, and after every two rounds there is a rest day. Magnus drew the white pieces in game 1 during the Grand Gala Opening Ceremony in spectacular Hotel Crowne Plaza on the 10th.
He probably surprised Karjakin with his opening choice playing the Trompowsky; an unusual opening at elite level. Karjakin gave Magnus a slight advantage, but managed to defend precisely and with relative ease.
In the second game Karjakin got a normal white initiative, but black was just fine. Having equalized in the early middle game Magnus was hoping to get some counter chances. Karjakin probably sensed that he did not have an advantage and steered the game to an uneventful draw.
Things really changed after the first rest day, and despite the end result of two draws, both round 3 and 4 were long hard fought battles filled with tension and interesting chess.
Magnus against surprised Karjakin in the opening (Ruy Lopez with Re2 instead of the normal Re1) and was happy with his slightly more pleasant position. Having underestimated the countermove g5 Magnus felt any advantage he might have had was gone, nonetheless he continued to maneuver to improve his position and gradually outplayed Karjakin. After the first time control white was clearly better. A combination of a few missed opportunities and tenacious defense by Karjakin resulted in a draw. A relieved Karjakin and a slightly disappointed Magnus came to the press conference. This mood slightly misrepresented the essential takeaways from the round. Magnus had reason to be very happy with the way he had managed to fulfill the pre-match strategy of putting pressure on Karjakin using his strengths, and Karjakin had reason to be concerned about the way he was outplayed from an equal position.
Maybe these sentiments played a role in the development of game 4. Karjakin found an interesting plan in the anti-Marshall and after Qf3 black had only one viable continuation. Karjakin seemed very optimistic and liked the idea of Bxh6 Nxe4 Rxe4 sacrificing an exchange. Magnus instead went for Qc6 after Bxh6. The computer does not consider Bxh6 a mistake, but after Qc6 the position is maybe slightly more pleasant for black. At this point Karjakin seemed to panic and rather than choosing a continued middle game battle with three possible results, he went directly for a miserable ending with Bxc4. Over the next 20 moves Magnus pursued his positional advantage and right after the first time control both players thought black should be winning due to the kingside majority and bishop pair.
In an otherwise very good game, Magnus at this point made a significant mistake assuming he could infiltrate the white kingside after closing the kingside with f4. It turned out Karjakin had a fortress and after another long and hard fought game Magnus had to settle for a draw.
Norwegian chess enthusiasts following the match are blessed with several good alternatives in NRK and VG TV coverage. I also like the organizers coverage and commentary with Judith Polgar at worldchess.com.
Magnus wants to bring chess to the world, and during the match Play Magnus has launched a new chess app; The Magnus Trainer! Now available on Iphone, and more content and an Android version will follow soon.
Magnus played basketball in the sunny and nice November weather yesterday and looks forward to the next rounds.
For Team Carlsen,
Henrik Carlsen, New York, November 17th
November 17th 2016
We enjoyed fairly good and stable weather in the aftermath of hurricane Matthew on the training camp that took place the last few weeks. In planning and executing the final stages of preparations for the match starting next Friday, I’ve benefitted from the 2013- and 2014-match experiences, and now I really look forward to the match against Karjakin.
October 27th I played the chess.com GM Blitz battle Championship final against Nakamura. The event (1 hour of 5-min games with 2 sec increments, 1 hour of 3-min + 2s and half an hour of 1min + 1s) is a welcome addition to the elite chess circuit, and the internet is a good platform for chess events judging from the number of online spectators.
We had both qualified for the final winning our quarterfinals and semi’s quite convincingly. Still, I’m not really content with any of my matches. The excellent score (21-4) against T. Petrosian is slightly deceiving; he didn’t put up much of a fight.
The semifinal against Grischuk could have become a real challenge as I was totally off my game for the first three games. When I managed to gradually get back and secure a lead before the 1-min portion, it was over as I won nearly every 1-min game.
The final against Nakamura went more or less exactly as I expected. I continued to play poorly in the Fischer random segment (one game starting each time control section). When I outplayed him in the 2nd game I understood that he wasn’t in his best shape either, and I got a 2-point lead in the 5-min section. Winning three in a row in the 3-min section sealed the match.
Nakamura is a very experienced online player. Especially in 1-min without increment he is a difficult opponent. With increments I expected an even fight, and after he won the Fischer Random the rest ended 4-4 yielding me 14,5-10,5 victory overall. My favorite game was the 2nd game in the 3-min portion where Nakamura had the bishop pair and a clearly better position, and I managed to fight back and even win in the end. Most importantly the match was valuable training before the World Championship match.
The Games start at 2 pm US East coast time. 4 days to go! Follow live at the venue at the Fulton Market building in the Seaport District or at: https://worldchess.com/nyc2016
New York area,
November 7th 2016
Before the Match
Hi everyone, I’m in the Caribbean area preparing for the upcoming World Championship match in New York starting November 11th.
In addition to preparations, I’ve played the Chess Olympiad in Baku in early September and an online match against Nakamura last week since the last blog.
The Chess Olympiad for national teams ended with a remarkable 5th place for our young Norwegian squad. The more remarkable, as the team overall lost rating. I was not particularly energetic, and second board Hammer had a lackluster event. Young Frode and Aryan on the lower boards did well. But most importantly, for once we had a reasonable good finish.
With the US and Ukraine at an impressive 20/22 points and Russia at 18, we were not really in contention for a medal after the loss against US in round 9. Having won the previous rounds, as well as the penultimate round (10) 3.5-0.5 against the young and very promising Iranian team, and the drawn match against 4th place India, the second half of the Olympiad was indeed something the whole team can be very proud of. No, we did not play Russia, so I did not play my World Championship opponent Karjakin in Baku.
With 5 wins and 5 draws I cannot really complain, and a couple of the games went quite smoothly. As black against D. Solak, Turkey, I took some risk against a decent opponent and found a good way to develop my position. Everything fell into place. The way it worked out if might have looked deceptively easy.
The team spirit was quite good. Most chess players are individualists, and I’m certainly not an exception. Still, there is something both motivating and comforting being part of a team, sharing ups and downs. Maybe that is also why I’ve enjoyed the cooperation with my trusted long time first main sponsors Simonsen Vogt Wiig and Arctic Securities so much. This autumn we have worked together for 7 years and still counting. Thank you!
I’ll revert with some more on the Nakamura online match later this week.
October 31st 2016
Winning Bilbao 2011, 2012 and now 2016!
The tournament finished yesterday, and together with my parents and two younger sisters I’m still in Bilbao enjoying the luxury of staying an extra day before and catching a flight home Monday. That usually feels pleasant after a long and tiresome top level event, and even more so after the tournament victory.
The second half of the tournament was not as exciting as the first, but in my own games there were quite some interesting moments.
Nakamura ended up drawing the last nine rounds. In our second encounter in round 6 he had the initiative as white, and I needed to defend relatively precisely in the middle game to keep the balance. He did not take any risks, and draw was a reasonably outcome. As white against Wei Yi I had a very pleasant position early in the middle game. Despite my h4 mistake white was always slightly better, but it turned out I didn’t have enough to create any decisive advantage. Against Karjakin I equalized out of the opening. It came as a surprise when he captured my b7-pawn with his queen as it looked potentially very dangerous for him. After Nb5, Nxb5 I captured with the wrong pawn and had to force a draw quickly by “checking” his queen. It was a pity I missed the very promising continuation possible if I had captured with the c-pawn instead.
I chose a quiet opening in the penultimate round against Anish Giri who had suffered losses in round 6 and 8. I found some interesting middle game plans offering to sacrifice my a-pawn and later h-pawn to gain reasonable compensation. He refused both offers and tried to avoid complications. Already his Nxe5 was actually a big mistake, but I did not see the relatively easy combination he allowed with c5! Also my choice cxd5 was pleasant for white. He managed to defend well until close to the time control, but short on time allowed the nice Nxf5 trick and soon went down. My first victory against Giri represented a welcome bonus to having secured Bilbao 2016 victory with one round to go!
After the last round my opponent Wesley So said that he wanted to play a normal game. It did not look that way as he chose a well know drawing line as white against my Ragozin defense. I should add that I was not at all unhappy about the one hour 38-moves draw, being low on energy and having a slight cold since the day before.
I’m grateful for the well-organized tournament in pleasant Bilbao, and I would like to thank the organizer for inviting me and my family back.
I'm satisfied having found interesting plans and possibilities in most of my games, and the plus 3 score (17/30 football score) feels much better than in Stavanger in April where my play was less inspired.
Of course I made several mistakes and also some blunders throughout the tournament, maybe too many. It was partly due to the complexity arising from taking quite a lot of risk in many games. Even better physical and mental preparation before events may contribute to avoid some of the mistakes in the future. It is good to know that there are areas where I can improve both in all the technical aspects of the game and also with regard to preparation and fitness.
Nakamura came second with his +1 score (11/30 football points) while Wei Yi and maybe also Wesley can be reasonably happy with their 50% score. Karjakin scored a winless -1 (9/30) and Giri suffered in the second half to end with a winless -3.
Prior to the World Championship match against Karjakin in November I’ll play the chess Olympiad in Baku for Norway early September and the chess.com Blitz event (semifinal against Grischuk August 18). But first I’m going to enjoy late summer in Oslo!
July 24th 2016
I’m in Bilbao for the first time in summer. It is very nice and pleasant for a Norwegian not always spoiled with sun and summer heat.
Since the organizer invited me to Bilbao Masters Final 2016 this winter, I’ve looked forward to revisit Bilbao where I was a frequent participant 5 times from 2007 to 2012 (and winning in 2011 and 2012.)
Bilbao, together with Leon, now carry the long and proud Spanish world elite chess tournament tradition manifested by Linares for so many years (where I was fortunate enough to participate three times early in my elite chess career).
We are playing a 6-player all-play-all twice with the rest day today (half way through the 10-rounds event). The interesting field – my competitors are World Championship match challenger Karjakin, Paris-winner Nakamura, young elite players Giri and So and the dangerous 17 year old Wei Yi – but somehow I’ve been involved in all decided games so far. For me the short time control (90 minutes per player) with no increment prior to 40 moves seems to help.
The first round loss against Nakamura was really bad. Having got an excellent position in the opening I got impatient and sacrificed a pawn to obtain what I believed was a significant advantage. Having missed his response e6 I was instead left with a strategically lost position and Nakamura finished efficiently to score his first classical victory against me.
Fortunately my play has improved consistently and considerably since then. I managed to pose some questions to Wei Yi before the time control with the black pieces and got excellent winning chances. However, his brave counterplay and my inability to find a win in the immensely complicated rook and knight pawn-race could have ended in a draw. I left one last trap and he went for it and could no longer stop my c-pawn. The queen against rook and knight ending was easily won for me.
Against Karjakin I avoided main lines in the Sicilian, and well into the middle game his dynamic defense had at least equalized with black. Rc4 was a mistake and later he simply couldn’t stop my kingside attack. Not a perfect game but not bad at all.
As white against Wesley So I played the quiet Qe2 on move 6. Investing about half an hour on the clock familiarizing me with the a3-b4 plan I felt comfortable with the position throughout the rest of the game. So is normally very difficult to beat, but he seemed uncertain on how to respond to my set-up. The knight on f5 prevented short castle as it would be met with Bh6! He couldn’t didn’t find a good consistent plan, and ultimately left his king in the centre and then tried Nxe4 in desperation. By checking on b6 with my knight and on d2 with the queen before g4 and Rfd1 he resigned. A very nice game, although he did not put up enough resistance to put it high on my best-games list.
I think I played reasonably well against Anish Giri. Not surprisingly, despite a small but clear opening advantage as white, he went for a draw with Ne5. I had no intention of indulging him and after Nxe5, Bxh5 and Ng6 there isn’t an easy route to draw. He made several inaccuracies and despite the material balance black was clearly better due to the weaknesses in the white pawn structure and the black queenside pawn majority. I´ll admit I was quite optimistic as he didn’t seem to know how to defend the position. Once again his good tactical eye (and some luck) saved him as he just seems to hold after c4 although I’m pretty sure he had seen neither Qxa6 nor Qe2 when he allowed c4. I did not enjoy the press conference afterwards, but with soccer score 10/15 points gives me a solid lead (with Nakamura at 7, Giri at 5 and the rest at 4 points) halfway.
On the rest day today the temperature reached 40oC in the shadow. After the morning session with team chess with live pieces and press conference in the Eliseos Theater, my family and I went for a boat trip along the coast. It turned out to be the ideal place on such a beautiful and hot summer day.
Tuesday I’m playing black against Nakamura at 4 pm.
July 18th 2016
Leuven Rapid & Blitz 2016
While we all seemed happy to play in Leuven, I think none of us had completely recovered from the Paris Rapid & Blitz event. The “new face” Anand (replacing Fressinet), came directly from Leon, having scored his 9th (or so) Rapid cup victory there. The atmosphere between games and at night playing Avalon, were unusually collegial. That may have reduced some of the tension. Still, in my view, two 4-day rapid and blitz events in succession is more strenuous than a regular classical event.
The event developed quite differently than in Paris. Nakamura started with three losses in the Rapid section and never showed anything resembling his great Paris form. For me, one excellent day of rapid chess and a four game winning streak today was sufficient to win outright with three rounds to go. I’m of course very satisfied with the results in Leuven. Winning both the rapid and the blitz stage (and overall) was very much what I could hoped for.
Chess is about continuous progress. I’m not really happy with my own play. On the first day I struggled a lot. In the first three rounds I fought as well as I could and managed to scrape out two points out of three. In round 4 I got a winning position as white against Caruana but managed to completely botch it by chosing the only setup providing him with counterplay, and later lost badly. In round 5 I simply blundered a piece in the opening against Nakamura. The second day of Rapid was a complete turn-around and by winning all four games (against Topalov, Giri, Anand and Kramnik), and I went from 8th place to 1st! It might have been my single day best rapid performance ever. I especially treasure the game against Anand. The slight asymmetry resulting from the Giucco Piano allowed me to tie up all his pieces, forcing a zugswang despite all the pieces left on the board.
It was frustrating to return to somewhat mediocre play the day after. Still, 5/9 on the first day of Blitz was enough to maintain my overall lead. Today I got winning positions in all the first six games albeit with some help from my opponents. In general the way I managed to create chances in most games throughout the event is confirming that I’m making progress. Missing a tactical shot against Aronian and allowing a drawing combination against Kramnik doesn’t change that, and the 5/6 start secured victory with three round to go. The complacent three round finish wasn’t anything I’m proud of, but maybe it was a natural consequence of the reduced adrenalin level after having clinched first.
Despite scoring 1,5 points less than in Paris, I was 2,5 points ahead of Wesley So in 2nd place. Aronian finished third with Anand in fourth. Overall I’m leading the Grand Chess tour after two events but will of course be overtaken by others eventually as I won’t play neither in St.Louis nor in London due to the World Championship match in November.
The playing venue and overall playing conditions in Leuven were commendable, and I think all of the players join me in thanking and congratulating the organizers for a splendid event!
I’m leaving for Bilbao in three weeks from now. Fortunately I don’t have much on my schedule in the coming weeks and look forward to relax at home and with friends.
June 20th 2016
Paris – Wijk aan Zee – Leuven
The Paris and Leuven Rapid and Blitz events constitute half the Grand Chess Tour 2016. Having grown up watching Amber Rapid and Blindfold as a young chess player and qualifying in time to compete in the last five events until 2011, I was thrilled to see the addition of two major elite events with fast time control this year.
The Paris stage did not disappoint. Great playing venue in central Paris, a good mix of players, and four exciting days of Rapid and Blitz. After a time loss against W. So in round 1, I scored 5 wins and 3 draws in the Rapid part (that counted double compared to Blitz) and with 6.5 points was in second place behind Nakamura at 7. The first day of Blitz went well for me, but also for Nakamura. We shared the lead with the others trailing far behind.
Unfortunately I suffered a real meltdown on the last day and Nakamura had secured a deserved victory even before the last two rounds. Beating him in a fine game in the last round (for the second day in a row), in what was maybe my best Blitz game overall together with my white win against Aronian, was a small consolation, and sufficient to end on a high note. Overall I have to be fairly satisfied with my play 3 out of 4 days, and with my overall +9 score in 27 rounds. Home-favorite Vachier-Lagrave came clear 3rd after a good last day performance.
I think we all look forward to the second event in Leuven starting with a simul event Thursday. Having spent most of January in Wijk aan Zee on the Dutch coast since my early teens, we took the opportunity to visit Wijk between the Paris and Leuven tournaments. It was pleasant and relaxing to be there in summer without the tournament (and winter storms) looming. The swim in the sea definitely was more comfortable than in January. After some sun both yesterday and today, a heavy rain shower contributed to the mixed picture we are used to from all the great Tata Steel (and previous Corus) events.
Last time I blogged with three rounds left of Norway Chess in Stavanger, and the finish turned out to be both exciting and successful for me. Maybe playing on home turf takes more energy. Anyhow, for some reason I was not in good shape in round 7 and 8. In round 7 I got the chance to play a novelty by Hammer against Kramnik. He didn’t find the best defense, and already after some 15 moves the rest was plain sailing for me. Not so in round 8. Aronian played an interesting variation as white and showed the creative style he is capable of. I did not respond well. I lost a pawn in the middle game, and short on time I blundered away the rest, having missed a mate threat down the line.
Against Eljanov in the last round, I needed to win, and fortunately I felt in good shape and very optimistic. I managed to gradually outplay him to secure my first Norway Chess victory! Once again I like to thank the organizer for this great elite event in Stavanger.
June 15th 2016
Norway Chess 2016 with three rounds to go
As mentioned last week I was quite optimistic after the Blitz and round one. Subsequently my play has varied, while the results have been good. I’m in the lead with 4/6 before the final three rounds Wednesday to Friday. After six rounds in Stavanger Forum, we are playing in the Stavanger Concert hall from tomorrow.
In the Candidates tournament in Moscow in March a majority of the players (except Giri, Nakamura and Caruana) had participated in the Candidates before, and Karjakin, who came second in 2014, this time won after a last and decisive round victory against co-leader Caruana to qualify for the World Championship match in New York in November. Karjakin unfortunately, but maybe not surprisingly, subsequently withdrew from Norway Chess while Aronian, Giri and Topalov play both events. Topalov has had a bit of a comeback so far and is shared second with +1, Aronian has 50%, while Giri has an unusual -1 after his loss to Harikrisna yesterday.
My first two black games against Topalov and Chao Li were not particularly interesting. Both seemed happy with a draw. I did not manage to create enough from Li’s slight inaccuracies in a symmetrical position to pose any real threats. Against Topalov I didn’t try very hard.
The R3 game against Nils Grandelius was interesting. He played a somewhat dubious Sicilian sideline, and to avoid queen exchanges and a drawish endgame I simply had to sacrifice a piece for an advanced pawn. Objectively I might have just enough compensation, but black is uncomfortably tied down. After a long deliberation Nils decided to give a rook for the pawn. He snatched two more pawns on b2 and c2 attaching my king on e1. Still, the position was just lost for black. My pieces coordinated much better, and I won back the two pawns to reach a winning endgame.
Round five as white against an out of form Giri was disappointing. I played badly and was even slightly worse. Then Giri made several uninspired and inaccurate moves, but just before the time control I missed the opportunity to put some real pressure on him in the rook and knight ending. What a pity. Yesterday Maxime Vachier-Lagrave played a somewhat tricky sideline in the Berlin defense against me, and I spent too much time calculating variations and seeing ghosts. Low on time I tried a trick (Re8) that he didn’t fall for, and the position started to look really grim. Fortunately I had and found Bxg4, a piece sacrifice Maxime had missed, that collected his last three remaining pawns in the remaining nine moves I had to play in under one minute before the first time control. He played on for some time, but I managed to hold quite easily.
We played football in the sun on the rest day today, and I look forward to play Kramnik with the white pieces Wednesday!
April 26th 2016
Norway Chess 2016
In recent years I have typically played two top level events each quarter with minor variations. In general it has provided enough time for restitution between events but often left me slightly rusty early in the next tournament. As discussed in earlier blog posts I chose a different approach this winter to get back in form after varying results from June to November. It worked well. The subsequent two and a half months break, mostly at home, felt good. I enjoyed the excellent February/March skiing conditions locally and spent time with friends and of course followed the exciting Candidates tournament with interest. As last year before Shamkir (same dates as Norway Chess this year) I went south for a training camp early April. This time to Spain. Fortunately it seems to have contributed to a good start here in Stavanger.
The Blitz tournament yesterday was great fun although it was quite important for me as it more often than not predicts your classical chess form as well. I was even maybe a bit too excited, but it all worked out very well. Many good games and endgames and seven wins (and a draw) was enough for clear first ahead of Giri, Vachier-Lagrave and Kramnik. I chose start number five for the main event as I think the other winners of the Norway Chess Blitz have done in previous editions, providing me with the white pieces in both the first and the last round.
In my first World Youth event in Crete in 2002 Pentala Harikrisna was one of the favorites in the U/18 group, and he has made steady progress since. Lately he has challenged V. Anand for the position as top ranked Indian player and is currently ranked 13 in the world. I think this is his first participation in a top elite round robin (all play all) event, and I haven’t played him in a classical game before. I chose a somewhat unusual opening variation and after 13 moves we had both spent more than an hour on the clock. I think white was clearly better after the opening. Harikrisna found a way to avoid giving up material, but I was happy to oblige him, as the ensuing middle game was very pleasant for white. His isolated d-pawn and lack of counterplay gave me excellent winning chances. I gradually improved my position, but his decisive mistakes came in mutual time trouble. I felt in control although I was also scarily short on time close to the time control. The time control in Stavanger is accelerated compared to most top level events, and not surprisingly the three top ranked players (me, Kramnik and Giri) all won around move 40. Harikrisna resigned after the time control facing mate or loss of his queen.
People tell me I haven’t won a first round in nearly two years. On high time!
Tomorrow I’ll face V. Topalov with black. Veselin seemed out of shape in the Candidates and also yesterday (despite having a winning position in the blitz against me at some point). But, clearly one should not underestimate the winner of Norway Chess 2015, and he did play a decent game against Aronian today even putting pressure on Aronian despite the black pieces.
All rounds start at 4pm. The first six takes place in Stavanger Forum a short drive from the player hotel Scandic City Stavanger and once again the tournament is covered live on Norwegian television (TV2)!
April 19th 2016
Back to business as usual!
In Tata Steel Chess 2016 I had the same good old feeling about chess as I had in the 1st quarter of 2015 and the two to three previous years. I felt in control during my games, and (with the exception of the game against Loek van Wely) the computer didn’t spring nasty surprises on me after the game. It clearly has helped to play several tournaments in a row. Right now I’m pretty tired but playing again soon would be tempting too. A good sign!
Leading a tournament is always slightly more stressful than trailing (if I’m not trailing too far behind of course). After 10 rounds I had 7 points and was sole leader while Caruana at 6.5 and theoretically the guys at 5.5 could still catch me. For me round 11 against the best female player in the world Hou Yifan became pretty decisive. As black she had held quite comfortably against Caruana with the Russian defense. I allowed her to play the same opening variation as I had some ideas on how to improve whites play. Her position was passive in the early middle game. She could hardly move, but the plan she found of moving the queen from d7 to f8 seemed good. At the critical junctions I probably played slightly inaccurate and she defended well. I had to exchange most pieces without significant progress. The queen endgame is better for white but I could not find a way to make further progress and allowed the exchange of queens with 44.Qc3. She thought for quite some time and did exchange queens followed by h5. Playing 45…. a5 instead would have drawn and during the game I was quite surprised by her mistake. When it happened it seemed quite obvious to me that a5 would hold. Well, it turns out that a5 indeed would have held, but not at all as easily as I had thought. White can still push and in many variations the correct defense (and triangulation) black needs to find to stop white from entering either on the queenside or in the middle is very difficult to find. In the game after h5 I could just move my king to b6, play b4, b5 etc. In the end she loses the d-pawn and the game.
With a one-point lead I was satisfied with a short draw as black against Wesley So in round 12 and to enter a slightly better rook and bishop ending against Ding Liren in the last round. Caruana had won round 12 and could still catch me even if I drew, but after he made a mistake in the opening his opponent Tomashevsky played maybe his best game in the event and won quite convincingly. Ding managed to hold the rook against rook and bishop endgame and the draw left me with 9 points in total (+5) and clear first one point ahead of Caruana and Ding. It is my fifth tournament victory in the A-group in Wijk aan Zee and I’m especially satisfied with having won the last three editions I’ve participated in (2013/15/16).
I’d like to thank Tata Steel management, the organizers and all the volunteers for keeping this great tradition alive and kicking. As last year people from Wijk had gathered on the main square after the last round and they greeted me with speeches and songs before we went to the closing ceremony over at Tata Steel.
I’m still in Wijk aan Zee and today I went for a swim in the inviting but pretty cold sea followed by a simultaneous display in the Dutch parliament in Den Haag! Tomorrow I’m flying to Los Angeles for an event and a week overseas.
Wijk aan Zee,
February 2nd 2016
January at the Dutch coast
You will find my own take on the chess year 2015 on my youtube channel. Overall I’m quite satisfied having recovered well from some unusually poor performances in June in Stavanger and on Iceland in October. Winning five strong classical tournaments with elite participation in a calendar year is a personal best for me and probably quite unusual by any standards.
I looked forward to Tata Steel Chess (and nearly three weeks on the Dutch coast) more than in many years and it feels good to be in the lead with four rounds to go. It is hard to match the sensation of playing here for the first time (in the C-group) back in 2004 as an IM at 13 being able to watch the world elite playing in the same event. Now, at 25 I’m part of this great tradition for the 12th time!
As last year I had a slow start here in Wijk, but after four initial draws I’ve played several exciting games and been victorious in four of them. Early leader Fabiano Caruana is a point behind in second. On the rest day yesterday we walked along the beach over to the pier by the channel leading to Amsterdam in beautiful weather. A sunny and warm day with little wind! Two of the rounds are organized in major Dutch cities, and tomorrow I’ll play Anish Giri with the black pieces in the Utrecht Railway Museum.
Wijk aan Zee,
January 26th 2016
Qatar – ending 2015 on a high note!
Qatar Masters Open 2015 has been a great experience. The strong field, the playing hall, the Torch Doha hotel, the atmosphere, summer outside and the organizer’s attention to detail made this an extraordinary event. And for me personally winning really helps.
Success brings confidence of course. By nature I’ve always been optimistic prior to tournaments and before individual games. As a youth I played a majority of higher rated players but never felt intimidated. Nonetheless my not so stellar performance in the six months period prior to London Classics did put a dent in my usual confidence, and I needed to stabilize to get back on track. I was close to winning several of the first games in London, but maybe the combination of somewhat lowered confidence and slightly more of a safety first-approach than earlier this year contributed to some missed opportunities.
In Qatar I managed to continue where I left in London (where I won two out of the last three games as well as the tie-break rapid match against M.Vachier-Lagrave). After conceding a draw in the first round I won four in a row including a quite spectacular game against Chao Li (2750). There were more draws at the top boards than last year, and after two draws against Wesley So and Anish Giri I was still joint leader and on board one in the penultimate round. Despite the black pieces I won quickly against Mamedyarov. His attacking plan simply didn’t work, but understandably he didn’t want to play d5 and enter a slightly worse ending with a miserable few hours ahead. A few accurate defensive moves were sufficient to defuse his attack and a pawn down he went berserk and lost immediately. As white against Kramnik today I decided to play safe. Half a point behind me Kramnik needed to win but seemed happy with a quick draw in a topical Ruy Lopez 5.Re1 line.
Last years winner 21 year old Yu Yangyi finished impressively again with two wins including a fighting victory against Wesley So today. In the Blitz tie-break for first, Yu never got going. I won a decent game with white and when he had blundered a piece on move 16 in the second game he simply resigned. 7/9 followed by 2-0 in the tie-breaks, and my first Open tournament in some 8 years ended with victory!
I’d like to thank Simonsen Vogt Wiig and my other main sponsors for the good and pleasant cooperation in 2015 and wish all of you a successful 2016!
December 29th 2015
From London to Qatar
Early in my chess career I sometimes traveled from one tournament to the next without any brake. Not so in recent years. After London a part of me wanted a brake, but most of all I’m eager to play again.
Flying via Doha many times in 2013/14 to other destinations, my first real visit to Doha was for a training camp prior to Gashimov Memorial in Shamkir, Azerbaijan in April this year. That turned out to be one of my best tournaments ever so going back to Doha for the Qatar Maters
Open 2015 brings forth fond memories and pleasant feelings.
Having struggled tremendously in Stavanger and to some extent also in Sinquefield Cup it was a huge relief and highly satisfactory for me to win London Classics and also the Grand Chess Tour last week! As most chess-pundits know by now, things went my way on the last day. Trailing the leaders by half a point I had to win. I outplayed Grischuk in the early middle game but it was hard to make progress. I lost control and we both blundered in the complications that arose. Fortunately he missed his one chance for a clear advantage, and later missed the draw. Instead he went for a perpetual that just wasn’t there, leaving him without any more options. He resigned a rook down. As expected both leaders (Anish Giri and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave) drew with black and play-offs followed. Having beaten Nakamura and Grischuk (and not tail-enders Anand and/or Topalov as the others had done), I had the best SB correction giving a bye in the first rapid play-off round. By the time Maxime had returned from the abyss and won against Giri in the armageddon I felt calm and very confident (as opposed to earlier in the day against Grischuk). In game one, Maxime somehow managed to escape from a precarious middle game but failed the last study-like rook-ending test. In the second game he threw light punches at me throughout the game, and all I needed to do was to spend enough time to refute the challenges. When he sought a repetition in a lost ending that was fine with me. 1,5-0,5.
The stay in London was overall very pleasant and the playing conditions at the London Chess Classics very good. The organizer did a good job, although the Grand Chess Tour does need to review regulations and their communication for 2016 as much can and should be improved upon. Three such top-level events with great merits on their own can’t afford any lack of professionalism when brought together to bring mutual benefits for all.
I look forward to starting over in Stavanger in April, but first there is Qatar Masters Open 2015! After two days in Oslo we flew directly Oslo-Doha yesterday and has settled in excellent The Torch Doha close to the playing venue here in the Aspire zone in Doha. I drew the white pieces in round one and look forward to getting started tomorrow!
December 19th 2015
London Chess Classics 2015
I did not expect to enter the rest day with 5 draws, but it does not bother me much. In 2015 more than half my games have been decisive, including way too many losses. Having had favourable or clearly favourable endings against Caruana, Anand and Adams in round 2, 3 and 4, I would normally have a plus score. They all defended well, and I did not manage to convert any of the advantages.
Despite the no-draw-offer rule we have seen just four decisive games overall. Except for Grand Chess Tour-leader Topalov, who lost three games already. We are all at +1 or 50% and the tournament is wide open.
Fortunately the lack of a driving license did not stop me from featuring in a cool campaign launch for the new Porsche 911 aired today. I think it is a sign of chess becoming accepted with a wider audience. I hope you like it when you see it!
Just returned from Chelsea – Porto in the Champions League that ended 2-0. Entertaining game, good atmosphere and a pleasant way to spend the rest day.
In the final stretch of the Classic this coming weekend, I start off playing black against Anish Giri in round 6 Thursday.
December 9th 2015
Back in London for the Classic
London Chess Classics has become a Classic and it is great to be back for the 7th edition. When I heard about the plans to stage a top level event in London back in 2009 prior to the 1st edition, I felt that it was such an encouraging step for our sport to be represented in this great city. And of course, winning the first two editions and also the 4th contributed to a sense of satisfaction and anticipation knowing that the Classic goes on. The last time I played in London was the highly intense Candidate tournament in the spring of 2013. Due to World Championship matches in November 2013 and November 2014 I have not been playing the 5th and 6th editions.
As you may know the London Chess Classic has partnered up with Norway Chess and Sinquefield Cup (in St.Louis) this year for the Grand Chess Tour. The results in the first two events have left the overall competition wide open, and the winner of London is likely the overall winner as well.
A lot of good work has been done with chess in schools in the UK in parallel with the Classics over the last 6-7 years, and maybe it was a sign of the times that I was invited to a major talk show earlier tonight (BBC The One Show). After an intro about Fischer-Spasskij I played bullet chess with time handicap with one host while the other host fired questions at me. A good concept in my view. I hope the audience enjoyed it as well.
The pairing for the 9-round main event was done earlier with colors reversed from Sinquefield, and tomorrow I’m black against the Frenchman Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. We have had many interesting battles including a few this year. I look forward to get started, at 4 pm local time tomorrow. The tournament will be covered live on Norwegian TV and on internet.
Simonsen Vogt Wiig has been one of my main sponsors since the 1st edition back in 2009 and I’m proud to announce that our cooperation will continue in 2016 and 2017!
December 3rd 2015
After Berlin 2015
I considered myself the main favorite in the Blitz World Championship last week, but maybe it was easier to win the Rapid part. Not necessarily because of how it turned out in the end. The margins are smaller in Blitz, and my own expectations maybe too high. In the longer time control I managed to stay calm and won fairly controlled by playing reasonably well with just a few exceptions. In the Blitz I played really well the first day, but the last round loss against Karjakin (resulting in 9 out of 11 after day 1) rocked the boat. In three-days events you may win even with one poor day, not so in a two-day Blitz. I blundered over and over again on the second day, and didn´t manage to find my rhythm. Despite the poor 50% score of the day I was still in contention for 1st with two rounds to go. Blundering mate in two against Ivanchuk in a good position after having survived a disastrous opening sealed a 6th place in the end. Congratulations to Grischuk who clinched 1st in the end ahead of long time leader Vachier-Lagrave and Vladimir Kramnik.
Overall it was a great and very exciting event and hopefully a valuable learning experience for future Rapid and Blitz events.
The coming week I’ll visit Trondheim for my main sponsor Nordic Semiconductor on Monday and Bergen to play a simul for my main sponsor Simonsen Vogt Wiig on Wednesday. I look forward to both events.
The next two weeks will be relatively quiet before a period of four classic events in just two and a half months. First I’ll play for Norway in the European Team Championship in Reykjavik from November 13, followed by London Classics early December, Doha Open late December and last but not least Tata Steal Chess 2016 in 2nd half of January.
October 19th 2015
Rapid and Blitz World Championship Berlin 2015
The Rapid and Blitz World Championships take place in well-suited facilities in Bolle Meierei in Berlin this year.
I’ve been looking forward to these events for quite some time. Winning both events in 2014 in Dubai gave me the clear goal of defending my titles, and I’ve prepared specifically for these events for some time, which included a training camp with Nielsen and Fressinet in Oslo the week before last.
A week ago I did a challenging blindfold clock simultaneous display against 5 players with 12 minutes on the clock in Vienna for my main sponsor Simonsen Vogt Wiig. Arriving in Berlin early I spent three days playing training games with Vladimir Kramnik (who finished 6th in the rapid).
The Rapid event attracted most of the World elite grandmasters with the exception of the strongest Americans who takes part in Millionaire Chess instead and the Chinese.
The time control was 15 minutes each plus 10 seconds increments per move per player. We played 5 rounds spread over more than 7 hours per day for three days.
Last year I scored 4, 4 and 3 points on the three playing days and 11 points was enough to win outright. 4/5 on day one was enough for shared 2nd this time, and another 4/5 on day two, once again, brought me into shared lead. I was generally doing well winning several hard-fought battles in pressed situations by a combination of more time on the clock, experience and good technique.
As usual the final stretch was decisive. In 2014 I played Aronian, Anand and Grischuk in rounds 11 to 13 while this year they were all out of contention (with 5.5/10 points) at this point. In round 11 I played black against surprise co-leader Sergei Zhigalko whom I met for the first time since Youth events in 2003! Sacrificing a pawn to activate my pieces in the Ruy Lopez variation, after a complicated middle game I managed to force mistakes in the rook and queen endgame and win. In round 12 I met Ivanchuk who had been on a rampage winning something like 6 in a row and he outplayed me in the middle game with black. I defended stubbornly and when he over-pressed slightly in the rook endgame I quickly changed mindset and starting to play for a win. He gradually slipped allowing me to reach a queen and pawn against queen endgame. It is tricky to defend against a c-pawn and he went quickly went wrong with queen checks forcing my king to b6.
With a 1,5 points lead and 3 rounds to go, I played two quick draws against Dominguez and Kramnik. It was enough to secure 1st with one round to go! After a 75 minutes break it was difficult to focus in the last round against Mamedyarov. Having more than equalized with black from the opening I made several inaccuracies, and he put me under serious pressure at some point. Fortunately I managed to defend and draw to stay undefeated with 8 wins and 7 draws and 11,5 points in total. Ian Nepomniachtchi came second with Teimour Radjabov 3rd both a point behind.
The two-days Blitz event October 13-14 is my favorite event, and it feels great to enter the battle with the Rapid win in the pocket.
We will play 21 rounds in total, and Norwegian Television channels NRK and VGTV will cover the event live. I look forward to an exciting finish to the Berlin championships!
October 12th 2015
Sinquefield Cup 2015 R5
Things have been shaping up for me after the shaky start. I got a small but clear edge from the opening against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and managed to put enough pressure on him to win quite comfortably. Against Anish Giri in round 4 I was doing fine out of the Sicilian Sveshnikov opening. He outplayed me for some time in the middle game and I had to find some accurate moves to keep the balance. He offered a draw in a dead drawn position as soon as the no-draw-before-move-30-rule allowed him to. Wesley So, whom I know from a training camp many years ago, is now playing for the US and he got the organizer wild card for the Sinquefield Cup. Wild card might be a bit misleading as he was offered a regular place in the whole Grand Chess Tour but had to decline due to other obligations. As white I played the Najdorf with Be3 and he played a sideline I didn’t know that well. White has compensation for the pawn but after my Bc4 black had his share of the chances. Maybe he played slightly indecisively at some point, and I improved my position gradually with the monstrous knight dominating on d5 more than compensating for the pawn down. Close to the time control I was a bit fortunate to find and play winning moves despite a couple of oversights.
We have seen more than 50% decided games and I’ve contributed more than my part with just one draw. Most of the top ten players in the world, of which nearly all are present in St.Louis enjoys a fighting game and the lack of increments before the first time control clearly increases the likelihood of decisive games. The lack of restrictions on our use of time should in theory improve the quality of the games, and I think we all try to manage our time efficiently. Clearly indecision and not correctly foreseeing the remaining complexity until move 40 sometimes cause crazy time scrambles as in my game with Caruana in round 2. Yesterday against Wesley So I was generally doing fine time-wise although a missed opportunity on move 40 brought two more hours of concentrated thinking to bring home the full point.
As last year I’ve played football and basketball (twice) with the chess students over at Webster University after the round, and enjoying the rest day today I’m optimistic about the continuation of the tournament.
Following our mutual training camp prior to the tournament, Aronian – who scored another brilliancy in round 4 against Wesley So - and I, have raised our level significantly compared to Stavanger and share the lead with 4 rounds to go!
August 28th 2015
Sinquefield Cup 2015 R2
Today it was great fun playing chess. Mostly because of the good fight. Black against Fabiano Caruana (who won the Sinquefield Cup so convincingly last year) is always a challenge. Today I managed to get a reasonable position in an Arhangelsk Spanish opening transposing to Anti-Marshall. Fabiano played the middle game slowly but well and I was forced to calculate deeply to find countermeasures to keep the balance.
Short on time long before the first time control we could both have chosen more drawish continuations. Both desperately wanted to win as I lost to Topalov and Caruana to Aronian in round 1 yesterday. My b4-push kept the position messy while probably objectively dubious. Despite having to blitz out moves Caruana played well nearly all the way to the time control. Then he went from clearly better to about equal and in move 40 blundered away the game by first trying to avoid a perceived mate threat (where the saving combination eluded both of us) and by capturing on d2 on reflex.
After the horrible result and play in Stavanger in June (7th place) I hope the training camp with Peter Heine and Levon Aronian - who is playing very well here in the Sinquefield Cup - at the East coast a week ago helps bringing me back to normal form. I’m feeling fine and it is fun playing chess. I can’t ask for more really.
Sinquefield Cup is part two of the new Grand Chess Tour (following Norway Chess in Stavanger), and Topalov, who won in Stavanger, has taken the lead with 2 points here.
Tuesday I’m white against M.Vachier-Lagrave who started with a win against Wesley So and a quick draw against Aronian.
August 24th 2015
Successful Gashimov Memorial 2015
You don`t have to be superstitious to appreciate the statistics of tournament performances. In recent tournaments I`ve often lost round 3 and struggled in the last round. In Shamkir I won round 3, despite the black pieces. Yesterday as white against lowest rated Rauf Mamedov I got everything I could hope for from the opening having cemented his weak b-pawn at b7 and a pawn majority in the center. In the middlegame I did not find the best continuation and he defended very well. The queen and rook endgame is pleasant for white, but without a clear mistake from black it is difficult to make progress. If I had started to move my kingside pawns he would get counterplay. Surprisingly, slightly short on time, he blundered a pawn before the time control and resigned in disgust when I played Qf7. Not an entirely convincing last round victory, but overall I`m very satisfied with having made few mistakes, and the result 7 out of 9 is of course far better than expected.
Most of my strongest tournament performances in the past have been in 6-player double round robin tournaments. In 10 player all-play-all events (mainly Tal Memorial and Norway Chess) I`ve consistently scored +2 for several years. With the Grand Chess Tour using the 10-player format in Norway Chess, Sinquefield Cup and London Classics, scoring +5 in Shamkir was an encouraging prelude to the Tour?
V. Anand played very well in Shamkir. In addition to the three victories he had some very promising and few worse positions. His clear 2nd place secured sufficient rating point gain to place 2nd on the May rating list.
My younger challengers Wesley So and Fabiano Caruana placed three and four with 5/9.
I`m leaving Shamkir tomorrow having spent the day at the local chess center playing a simul and enjoying a tour with spectacular views into the nearby mountains in the Gadabay district.
I hope to be back next year. The organizer Synergy Group has done everything possible to make the stay in Shamkir comfortable and pleasant for me and my team. I`m sure the other players join me in expressing gratitude for staging Vugar Gashimov Memorial 2015 in such an excellent way. Thank you!
April 27th 2015
Gashimov Memorial 2015 R7
I have to go back to the winning streak in Wijk aan Zee in January to find something resembling the comfortable feeling of being in the zone at the chess board experienced here in Shamkir this week.
Today I tried to surprise Vladimir Kramnik in the opening with the choice of 1.e4 and a novelty in the d3 Ruy Lopez. Kramnik is probably the player with the best opening repertoire in the world, but still I was impressed with his knowledge in the variation today. He took the pawn I offered him on a5 and objectively the position was about equal. When he allowed Nxc6 I was getting optimistic and the queen against rook and bishop ending he went for should be winning for white. He made it simple for me with his Rd1.
The victory brought me to 5.5 points and a clear lead with two rounds to go. Anand won after an interesting exchange sacrifice against Adams and is sole second at 4.5 followed by Caruana and my opponent tomorrow Wesley So, at 4 points.
As during most chess tournaments my focus during the event is quite limited. I do appreciate that Shamkir is surrounded by snow-covered mountains in the horizon, and it`s quite a sight on a clear sunny day. We visited a very good local restaurant a few kilometres out of town at the rest day Wednesday after the important and fun football tournament staged the same day.
I`m black against So at the usual 3pm local time Saturday.
April 24th 2015
Shamkir 2015 R3
About an hour into round one Friday I blundered against Anand; A pawn down without counterplay. How different compared to last year when I started off with two quite nice victories and was close to winning round 3. Surprisingly I`ve reached the same 2,5 our 3 as last year. After the blunder I defended quite well against Anand. There might have been a win for white but the Kf5-line he chose ended draw after a few accurate defensive moves. Yesterday I won a smooth game against home favorite Mamedyarov. In round 3 as black against Caurana today I was a bit fortunate when Caruana started to drift in a drawish ending. He thought there were many ways to draw, but allowing Nf3+ was a mistake, and I don`t think he could save the rook ending. Until a year ago we won several games each with white for a fairly even score, while from June 2014 onwards I`ve had black in six of our seven classical encounters and black has won four, white none!
Wesley So has played well and is co-leader after beating Giri and Adams with white and even putting some pressure on Kramnik as white. Kramnik is 3rd with 2 points followed by Anand, Vachier-Lagrave and Mamedov at 50%.
I have black tomorrow as well, against Michael Adams. I have a great score against him as white, but black is another matter.
April 19th 2015
Gashimov Memorial 2015 in Shamkir
Last year Synergy Group demonstrated that they know how to organize a top level chess event, and I was thrilled to hear that they would host another elite event in memory of Vugar Gashimov in Shamkir this spring.
At the end of Easter I went for a training camp with Peter Heine Nielsen and others and arrived via Baku three days before the event. My opponent tomorrow, V. Anand, was already here. I drew no 7 and five black games in the grand opening ceremony earlier tonight. Having drawn 1st I have no one else than myself to blame? On the bright side I won most of the table tennis matches against Peter, my father Henrik and our chef Magnus Forssell this afternoon. Despite the harsh drawing, I`m filled with a joyous anticipation after a two-month tournament break.
We are staying at the fine Excelsior hotel a 10-minute walk from the playing venue.
The participants includes world no 2 Fabiano Caruana, Viswanathan Anand (6), Anish Giri (7), Wesley So (8), Vladimir Kramnik (9), Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (11), Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (13), Michael Adams (16) and Rauf Mamedov.
I`ve written a lot about my esteemed opponent tomorrow, V. Anand, in the past, and probably also the fact that we played already 10 years ago in a rapid-event in Leon in Spain. Since then we have played more than 50 classical games and many rapid and blitz (and blindfold) games, and finally during the World Championship match in Sochi last autumn I reached a positive score in classical chess after having trailed heavily in my teens (up to 1-6).
The organizer will broadcast the event and provide commentary in three languages. Round 1 starts at 3 pm local time (12 CET) Friday.
April 16th 2015
A year ago my Rapid and Blitz chess ratings and world ranking (4th) was not satisfactory, and I promised to change the situation. Winning the World Rapid and Blitz Championships last summer helped, and based on live ratings I expect to be no 1 on both rating lists March 1. It feels great to have all three World Championship titles and top rating spots simultaneously, but it is not going to be easy to defend that position.
In Baden-Baden early this month my level of play varied again as in Wijk, but as long as the overall performance was reasonably good, I`m quite satisfied. The final stage of the tournament was a thriller. After catching up with Naiditsch near the end, I had the chance to decide the tournament in the last round as white against Bacrot. It was not to be as I squandered a winning position just before the time control. Both Naiditsch and I drew our games reaching 4.5/7 and there was a blitz playoff that went all the way to Armageddon. After playing well in the first Rapid game my level of play went down drastically. With 2-2 in the Blitz portion I was unusually tense also for the must-win-with-white Armageddon. I got a nice initiative and he blundered or went astray with Bc5 after which I was simply winning due to his exposed king. I`m of course happy to have won another strong elite tournament, and I`m grateful to the hosts for organizing such a strong event in beautiful Baden-Baden!
My next tournament will be the Gashimov Memorial in Shamkir, Azerbaijan in mid April, and if feels great finally to have had a few weeks at home, and still have time to both relax and prepare for the next event.
Next week I`m off to Barcelona and the week after to Nice for sponsor events. Next I'll visit Iceland during Reykjavik Open, without playing myself, to finally see some of the attractions I missed out on in 2004 and 2006, and to see how some of my friends and my father are doing first hand.
February 28th 2015
Baden-Baden Grenke Chess Classic 2015
I played some Bundesliga games for the strongest German team Baden-Baden many years ago. It is great to be back in Baden-Baden for the arguably strongest tournament in Germany ever. The famous spa-town does have a long and important chess history with major events stretching back to the 19th century, as well as the first two editions of this event in 2013 and 2014.
I couldn`t have asked for a better way to spend the few days between Tata Steel Chess and this event. Lots of sports every day and a great cross-country skiing trip last Saturday.
We are staying at the very good and grandiose Brenner`s Park-Hotel & Spa close to the playing venue, and during the five minute walk to the venue for round 1 yesterday we had some real Norwegian weather with snow and hail. This must be my tournament!
We are playing 7 rounds with a restday Thursday, and my competitors are Caruana, Anand, Aronian, Adams, Bacrot, Naiditsch and Baramidze. The two local players qualified by winning the all-German edition last year. Except for Baramidze we have all played for Baden-Baden in the past or are playing for Baden-Baden now. Some of the players as well as my coach Peter Heine Nielsen came straight from Bundesliga Sunday evening.
As in Wijk they turned the rating list upside down, and when it was my turn during drawing of lots Sunday night, no 6 was left resulting in 4 black games overall and 3 in the first 4 rounds.
The round 1 game against Aronian yesterday was quite interesting. After some manoeuvring I got a bit too optimistic. Allowing gxf5 was an oversight, and I needed to find some accurate moves to equalize in time trouble from a cramped position. His advanced f-pawn turned out to be a weakness and I managed to put pressure on him in the 5th and 6th hour of play. He defended well and the long game ended in a draw, as did all the other games.
Today I played white against the strongest UK player Michael Adams. He helped me during the World Championship match and knows me well. It was quite a challenge to find an interesting and promising opening. It was probably fairly balanced out of the opening, but at least my strong pawn center provided the potential dynamics to allow a lot of manoeuvring. I felt I had found a good plan with a4 followed with b4 and a5 to force his bishop to a7. Surprisingly it was probably not enough to break through. Maybe he could have defended more successfully by simply standing still but completely passive defense is never easy. He gave up his b-pawn to keep his pieces active. It turned out he didn`t have enough counterplay and I could slowly improve my position and trade off to a winning rook ending. All the other games ended draw despite lots of action, and I`m sole leader after two rounds.
Next I`m black against Naiditsch who beat me at the Olympiad in Tromsoe last year.
February 3rd 2015
Winning Tata Steel 2015!
It feels like ages since I had my 6-game winning streak. There are not many above-ten rounds elite tournaments outside FIDE, and even if I really like to come back to Wijk aan Zee year after year the last week is always long.
Some of my young competitors seemed to have retained enough energy for the last round, and I needed a draw to avoid a five-way tie for first.
The final round draw against Saric was my fourth in a row, and although I was unhappy with my own play (reminding me of the near-loss against Caruana in the last round of 2010), it was enough to win outright at +5. It brought me a slight rating gain for the first time since February 2014, and my fourth Tata Steel tournament victory.
It is also my first two wins in a row (2013 and 2015) in Wijk aan Zee as I didn`t participate last year.
Vachier-Lagrave, Giri, So and Liren all ended at +4. Suddenly there are some 15-20 players in the world that may all win top events on the right day.
I need to continue to make progress to stay ahead in the future. A formidable challenge! My 7 out of 13 decided games was more or less representative of the stat`s for the Masters group. It is always good to see a high number of decisive games.
On the way to the traditional closing event I was treated with an unexpected and heartwarming ceremony at the market square in Wijk aan Zee with the mayor, the local choir and lots of people present. Thank you!
The organizer did a great job as usual making the players feel most welcome and I think the tour playing two rounds in other cities - works well.
It is less than a week till my next tournament in Baden-Baden, and after some rest I hope to be back in good shape for another interesting event starting February 2nd.
January 27th 2015
Tata Steel Chess Tournament R10
In my last blog the tide had started to turn with the R4 victory against Loek van Wely. I consider myself an optimist but winning the next five rounds as well came as a pleasant surprise. I did play well in the important games against Aronian in R5 in Rotterdam and against Caruana the day after. I have mixed feelings about the next three games as I missed some tactical tricks. On the bright side my positional evaluations were in general satisfactory. And of course; Winning helps.
Maybe inspired by Norway Chess two rounds are played in other Dutch cities. With the traveling it results in potential long days for the players, but it is a great way to bring chess to the world.
Against V. Ivanchuk you never know what to expect. It turned out he just wanted to force a draw with white yesterday and the Ragozin line I played did not offer any real possibility of stopping him. The game in Den Haag finished in less than half an hour. I was happy to spend 30-40 minutes as a live-commentator instead. For those interested there?s an imbedded video at: https://chess24.com/en/read/news/carlsen-rampage-ends-with-a-brilliant-interview
The ridiculously short game yesterday followed by a rest day today is a bit too much. It helped to play some bowling yesterday evening and a long session of basketball this morning.
Currently I?m sole leader with 7.5/10 followed by Wesley So, US (former Phlipines) and Vachier-Lagrave, France at 6.5 and F.Caruana, Ding Liren from China, A.Giri from Holland and Ivanchuk, Ukraine at 6.
The below-25 players are dominating thus far. Whether it is the anticipated change of guard or the young composition of the field (without for instance Anand, Topalov, Kramnik and Grischuk) is hard to tell.
I look forward to play again Friday. I?m white against Vachier-Lagrave at 1:30 pm, and the tournament finishes Sunday.
Wijk aan Zee,
January 22nd 2015
Tata Steel Chess 2015 is on!
Eleven years ago I scored my first Grandmaster norm in the C-group here in Wijk aan Zee. At the time it was by far my best performance to date.
After two subsequent years in the B-group, I played the A-group seven years in a row 2007-13, winning three of them. It was with mixed feelings I watched the tournament last year from afar and I`m really happy to be back this year.
The Tata Steel Chess tournament (formerly Corus and before that Hoogovens) stands out due to the combination of strength, long tradition (77th edition!), the unique 14 players all-play-all format, and the combination of elite events with plenty of amateur tournaments in parallel.
With 13 rounds a slow start is not necessarily critical, but 1/3 after two draws against Giri and So and a loss against Anand-second Radoslaw Wojtaczek was just dismal.
Over the years the Dutch organizers hase been forthcoming in many ways, and on a number of occasions also the Dutch participants have contributed significantly to my results?
Yesterday as black against Look van Wely I was worse out of the opening. He played solidly and my attempt at creativity once again turned out less of a success than I had hoped for.
Fortunately he spent a lot of time in the critical early middle game and with several good knight-options available went for Qb3 instead having missed my response Qe6. After trading queens the position was about equal but with a lot of play for both sides. Short on time he made some accuracies and I managed to play fairly precisely to win just after the time control.
Ivanchuk is sole leader with 3.5/4 followed by Caruana and Ding Liren with 3/4 I`m in the middle of the pack with 2/4.
I`m here with my coach P.H.Nielsen as well as my father Henrik, and for a few days now a couple of friends from back home as well.
As usual we played football with some of the other chess players on the rest day today.
Last year the organizer introduced new playing sites for some rounds and this year round 5 will take place in Rotterdam and later we will go to Den Haag for round 10.
With 9 rounds to go I look forward to the continuation, and tomorrow I `m white against four-time winner of this event Levon Aronian!
Wijk aan Zee,
January 14th 2015
Looking back at 2014
2014 has been a very good year for me as a chess player. Probably my best to date although while the results have been fully satisfactory for me, my level of play has varied too much. I`ll be striving to improve my game in 2015.
What about memorable moments? It depends on what matters most.
It is hard to compare winning the top titles (classical, rapid and blitz) in chess, or winning a close to perfect game, or the sensation of exceeding your own expectation or reaching a challenging target.
In the spur of the moment any one of those experiences are truly exhilarating, even compared to winning my first Norwegian (U11) championship back in year 2000 which in a way has been a yard stick for me personally.
Longer term; titles, world ranking and maybe also Chess Oscars are permanent achievements I will treasure now and later in life.
2014 has been remarkable in that most top level events have been covered live on main TV and through extensive internet coverage. I was thrilled to learn that more than half the Norwegian population tuned in to the Carlsen-Anand World Championship match live TV coverage from Sochi in November.
I`m proud to note that Simonsen Vogt Wiig has been one of my main sponsors for more than 5 consecutive years and we will continue the stimulating cooperation in 2015. I wish all of you and all those reading this blog a Happy New Year!
Last but not least, let me thank all of you; sponsors, management, trainers, seconds and family and others, that have helped in the past or are helping me day to day or occasionally, one way or another, contributing to success!
December 31st 2014
Sochi World Championship Victory!
Yesterday was a highly emotional day. Surprisingly I remained relatively calm during most of the game even when Anand got some initiative through his well-timed b5-break. But when he sacrificed the exchange on b4, and I subsequently moved my king to the centre (e4), played Nh5 and saw Rd7 that should be winning for me, I was overcome by anxiety. The release of emotions suppressed for weeks was overwhelming.
With some time on the clock I managed to calm down and finish the game efficiently to clinch the World Championship title with 6.5 – 4.5 !
With the next match coming up in two years, the time has come to reveal all my seconds and helpers for this match.
In the last minutes of the round 11 game, Norwegian media interviewed my hardworking seconds located at the Kragero resort south of Oslo; Jon Ludvig Hammer, Laurent Fressinet and Michael Adams! A special thanks to the three of them and to my main coach Peter Heine Nielsen present in Sochi. I’m very grateful also to Garry Kasparov for valuable advice before and during the match and some really good help from my friends (and former European Champions) Ian Nepomniachtchi and Vladimir Potkin who was having a training camp at the player hotel in preparation of Ian’s participation in the Russian Super Final starting later this week.
Thinking back one year; In addition to several of the above seconds, Pavel Eljanov contributed significantly before and during the Chennai match.
I’d like to thank all of you very much in addition, and the same goes to my team consisting of manager Espen, chef Magnus, doctor Brede and my family for the support and help during the two Anand matches.
My esteemed opponent former World Champion Viswanathan Anand was excellently prepared and put up at great fight. The match was not decided at all until the end of the 11th round cliffhanger.
The Agon organizers deserve praise for a well-organized match and for doing their utmost to make me and my team as comfortable as possible here in Adler, Sochi.
Directly, and through Espen and my father, I’ve received so many joyous greetings after the game yesterday and during the celebration last night, from friends, fans, family and representatives of Simonsen Vogt Wiig and my other main sponsors.
The prize giving will take place at 6 pm Tuesday and I’ll return to Norway on Wednesday.
November 24th 2014
Halfway lead in Sochi match!
The opponent W. Anand is the same as in Chennai. The match format, regulations and FIDE rules are the same as in Chennai. But each match has a life of it’s own, as has been demonstrated in the first six rounds of the Sochi match.
This time the players offered energetic fights and exhilarating excitement from day1.
Magnus felt slightly uncomfortable in the early middle game against the innocent-looking Bd2 variation in the Grunfeld. The white bishop on h3 paralyzed black, and Magnus had to find several precise defensive moves. Anand let him slip and the slightly better ending for black was nothing but harmless. Magnus achieved a significant edge, but instead of the probably winning Re3 he went for Re2. He had missed Anand’s only defence (Qh1), leaving both players fairly satisfied with the outcome of the first game.
Game 2 was a treat for the spectators. After achieving a fairly equal but playable position Magnus launched a formidable kingside attack. Anand’s defensive moves where not always the best, and in due time Magnus could convert the attack into dominance of the open e-file supported by the white f5-pawn. Anand blundered in a difficult position and Magnus got an early match lead.
Anand hit back immediately and impressively after being close to winning out of the opening in game 3.
In the next two games, white was pressing. Magnus drifted a bit in game 4 and Anand escaped by finding some only-moves in the queen ending.
Magnus was in trouble in game 5 but surprisingly Anand decided to force a draw instead of trying to push to benefit from the destroyed pawn structure of white.
Game 6 has already received a lot of publicity due to the mutual blunders. The rest of the game is worth a closer look. Magnus got the opportunity to demonstrate how to exploit the initiative with a nice rook lift to d3 and pressure in the g- and h-files. As warranted by the general game development (outside the blunders), Magnus won his second white game in the match to catch the lead 3.5 - 2.5 at the halfway mark!
Calling the hotel, the food and the playing venue in Chennai high class is an understatement. The Radisson Blu Paradise hotel we are staying at in Sochi is also very good. In addition to the usual amenities, the spa and the outdoor sports facilities are splendid. Coupled with close to 20oC in the sun at noon, Magnus and his team are enjoying the days in Sochi!
The match is covered extensively in Norwegian media, including live coverage in main channel NRK1 and VGTV, and the coverage is also impressive in many other countries.
Towards the end of the match we expect more journalists and visitors from Magnus’s main sponsors.
Hopefully the basketball session today is a good preparation for the important game 7 tomorrow. Colors are reversed halfway in the match, so that Magnus has the white pieces once again in game 7.
November 16th 2014
World Championship match 2014
When I visited the winter Olympics in February this year, the idea of coming back later this year for the World Championship match did not cross my mind, and certainly not when (non-Russian) Anand won the Candidates. In retrospect maybe it is not such a surprise that Sochi was chosen as the venue in the end considering how the Russians consistently host international events in Sochi. Last month they staged a Formula 1 race, and towards the end of November chess will coincide with the World Robot Olympiad.
It’s now two months since I signed the contract to play in Sochi at the backend of the Sinquefield Cup 2014.
Preparations for the match have progressed as planned. My team and I particularly enjoyed a week of chess, hiking, skiing and team building in the Alps in the middle of October.
I arrived in Sochi Tuesday night together with manager Espen, trainer Peter Heine and my father. The chef Magnus was already in place and the doc’ Brede arrived yesterday to complete the core team.
We are staying at the seaside Radisson Blu Paradise hotel in Adler. The climate is nice and we enjoyed a good game of basketball in the sun both yesterday and today.
The playing venue is scheduled to be ready tonight for the final inspection. The opening ceremony is Friday November 7th (as last year!) and Game 1 Carlsen-Anand 2014 finally starts on Saturday at 3 pm.
November 7th 2014
Sinquefield Cup 2014 Half way
In the first half we saw 10 decisive games out of the 15 exciting games, and Caruana cruising through the field with a highly impressive 5/5.
In round one as black against Vachier-Lagrave I accepted his invitation to play a sharp line. Unfortunately he seemed better prepared, but I managed to find the right continuation. The ensuing battle was tense and sharp all through the game. He found a perpetual at the end. If felt great to play in St.Louis once again!
I was black again against Nakamura in round two, where I went for an unusual sideline. My opponent chose the safe rather than risky continuation both in the opening and in the middle game. I allowed the awkward looking pawn structure in the centre with my pawns on d4 and d6, with just enough time to create a king side attack before he could round up my d4-pawn. He wisely allowed a perpetual, and in lack of any better alternative for me, we drew well before the time control. Caruana won against Vachier-Lagrave with a novelty in a sharp Caro-kann and Aronian’s bishops came alive to finish off Topalov after the latter won an exchange out of the opening.
With white against Caruana I made several mistakes in the opening, and by the time I understood I was worse I was already in trouble. When he allowed the interesting bishop sacrifice on f7 I felt the game could go either way. Despite the ensuing complications, he played the rest of the game very accurately. Having missed his great Nd3 resource I ended up a pawn down without much hope of salvation, when I even blundered horribly just before the time control losing immediately.
In round 4 with white against Topalov I had a strong initiative in the middle game with ample compensation for the sacrificed pawn. My e4-plan was dubious as he could sacrifice back a pawn to reach an equal ending. I seemingly tried very hard to lose the game, over-pressing well beyond being in control. If he had seen Rc5 I would have had to find some really accurate defensive moves to save the draw. He didn’t, and we swapped all pieces and drew with kings and one knight left each.
Despite playing below par in round 3 and 4, it didn’t feel as if I was doing as bad overall as the meager 1.5/4 would indicate, and it felt great to win with black in round 5 against Aronian. A fairly decent game by me, but winning with black usually requires some assistance from your opponent as well. A pawn down he seemed to be defending. His Nb3 was a mistake, and maybe the 5 against 4 pawn-ending can be held for white but it is pretty difficult. Instead of pushing g6 he could have chosen the 3 versus 2 pawn ending where I would have had a passed pawn in the e-file. That might also be a theoretical draw, but in practice it is very difficult to defend. Finally I got my first victory in this event, and Topalov and I are an ocean of points (2.5) behind Caruana with 5 rounds to go.
On the rest day today we played golf at the excellent 1904 Olympic course at Glen Echo, and later there was The Burning Boards event at the World Chess Hall of Fame in the evening. Tuesday at 2 pm local time I’m white against Vachier-Lagrave
September 1st 2014
Sinquefield Cup 2014 in St. Louis
It was not only about chess. I’ve looked forward to coming back to St. Louis and the Sinquefield Cup for some time, having had lots of good experiences during the visit last year. The people, excursions, sport activities, restaurants, the nearby park and even some sightseeing are fond memories. And, it was no drawback that I won and gained confidence prior to the Chennai match.
The hospitable Sinquefields hosted a nice dinner yesterday, and today we had signing and photo sessions, did interviews, and of course the opening ceremony with the drawing of lots.
For once I’ll start with two black games against M. Vachier-Lagrave and H.Nakamura. The rest of the historically high-rating-field averaging above 2800 consists of L.Aronian, F.Caruana, V.Topalov and me.
The chess Olympics in Tromso wasn’t a great success for the Norwegian top team as lost a critical match against Croatia in the penultimate round. Until then we had had many good results merged with the occasional disappointing result. On the last rest day I participated in a nice chess exhibition event hosted by one of my main sponsors Simonsen Vogt Wiig before returning home to prepare for this event. In the last round my teammates won 4–0 as expected, and it was enough for 29thplace. In the past, being the best Scandinavian country was an ambitious goal. This time this achievement did not feel as much of a consolation.
I’d like to congratulate the Open group winners China, and the silver and bronze medalists from Hungary and India with their impressive results. Especially when considering that none of them were rated top three in advance and both China and India played without several of their highest rated players.
Hopefully the Olympics and the broad Norwegian media coverage contributed to an (even) broader national chess interest.
The Sinquefield Cup will be covered live on TV2 starting tomorrow at 2 pm local time in St.Louis (9 pm back home).
August 26th 2014
Tromsoe Chess Olympiad 2014 Round 9
I started with a decent win against Caruana after the rest day. Since then my play has been unusually erratic.
Spoiling a much better position against Najditsch and even losing in the end was pretty tough, especially as we lost the match against Germany 2.5–1.5.
I wasn’t happy with my play yesterday against Borki Predojevic either, but it was enough to win.
Today we faced Turkey and in the NRK live studio after the game one of the reporters questioned my inspiration. The problem today was rather too much inspiration. In a topical Slav set-up I went for a g4-g5 plan, while missing the strength of Solak’s counterplay a pawn down. Without a safe haven for my king I chose to castle long. He maintained a strong initiative but seemed to panic in time trouble, and after his a3-check I was calling the shots and managed to win the tricky ending. With two draws and a loss on the other boards we drew against Turkey and needs to win tomorrow against Croatia in the penultimate round.
Norway2 came close to another sensation today but lost 2.5–1.5 against Russia in the end.
I look forward to the rest day after tomorrow!
August 11th 2014
Tromsoe Chess Olympiad 2014
The Rapid and Blitz World Championships in Dubai in June had high priority for me this year. I hoped the Dubai Chess & Culture centre would continue to be a successful venue for me 10 years after scoring my final GM norm down there.
A month later it has resided into the background, but at the time winning the Rapid and Blitz titles resembled the feelings after round 10 in the World Championship match against V.Anand in November last year! The tense, sometimes nerve-wracking swings within games and in the standings during the tournaments made it exhilarating and exhausting at the same time. I look forward to similar events in the future.
With the titles in my belt, it is good to have a variety of challenges ahead. Having dropped the 2012 Chess Olympiad, I’ve looked forward to playing on home soil in the Tromsoe Olympiad together with the great bunch of GM’s (Agdestein, Hammer, Johannessen and Lie) on the Norwegian team.
We did some chess training and team-building at the Krageroe resort last week where I successfully prepared for the World Championship match last August.
And, I’ve already achieved one of my ambitions during the Olympiad having trekked the Tromsdalstind (1238 meter above sea level) with my parents earlier today.
In my absence the Norwegian 1st team won 2.5–1.5 against Yemen in Round 1, and we will gradually meet stronger opponents in the days ahead. Finland is next.
August 2nd 2014
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