Entering the Twenties on a high note
Philosophical questions about year 0 and 1 aside, I conveniently consider 2020 the start of the 3rd decade in the 21st century. After a successful autumn 2009 I became no 1 on the FIDE classical chess rating list for the first time 10 years ago (January 2010 list), and has held on to this position after two short stints as no 2 in 2010/11.
The computer has dominated humans in chess since early 2000’s, but apart from help in verifying and finding marginal opening improvements, I haven’t been particularly enthusiastic about computers until receiving inspiration from the Alpha Zero games released in 2018 and 2019. New profound insights are rare. I can think of the experience of working with Garry Kasparov in 2009 when discussing certain opening concepts with the originator of the ideas, and again late last decade when browsing certain Alpha Zero games. These were particularly inspiring moments, but of course the main contributions to improving my chess understanding consists of adding small pieces of new information gradually and consistently through playing, studying, and cooperating with main coach Peter Heine Nielsen and other strong chess players.
The cooperation with Kasparov was facilitated by the cooperation with long time main sponsors Simonsen Vogt Wiig and Arctic Securities initiated late 2009.
My motivation has not been as consistent this autumn as it was in the first half of 2019, but I didn’t hide my strong ambition to do well at the Rapid & Blitz World Championship in Moscow at the end of December. As was the case with many of my competitors I was a little low on energy after a long season, but I managed to stay reasonably focused and avoid too many mistakes (and just lost one game out of 36). Hardly any of my games were memorable, but I’m really proud of winning both events through hard work at the board combined with a slightly pragmatic and efficient approach. The organizers deserve praise for hosting a great event!
Entering the new decade holding the Classical, Rapid and Blitz World Championship titles was just what I’ve dreamed of this autumn. But, more importantly I should now focus on how to maintain an edge in 2020. The first test starts tomorrow with the Tata Steel Chess Masters group in Wijk aan Zee. It’ll be my 13th participation in the A-group / Masters and I’ve won 7 times. In all my previous tournament victories I’ve scored five wins or more (in 13 rounds), so I know what is likely to be required this time as well. The rating average might be slightly lower than in some other editions, but the field is anyhow one of the most challenging I’ve faced. More than half the players are very young, hungry, ambitious and aggressive players that will give the old guard a hard time.
Runner-up in both 2018 and 2019 was Anish Giri, and tomorrow in round 1 at 1:30pm I’m white against the very same Anish!
Wijk aan Zee,
January 10th 2020
Kolkata victory – London GCT final
Lack of confidence is maybe the key challenge facing elite chess players from time to time. Despite the many tournament wins in the first half of 2019, I experienced it myself somewhat in the less successful period from August to October. When we arrived in Kolkata for the Tata Steel Rapid & Blitz I was highly motivated to show my best side and at the same time surprisingly confident. Thinking about it in retrospect it could be an effect of returning to a country where you have had career-changing success in the past. Avoiding set-backs in itself breeds confidence, and the steady harvest of points each day in the rapid portion reminded me of the Abidjan GCT in May where I also enjoyed the games and managed to play well most of the time.
In the first round as black against Wesley So I felt a bit rusty, and despite a favorable middlegame I missed some key variations and decided to secure a draw via a pawn down ending. Game two brought the smooth victory I needed to settle in. Nepomniachtchi can play rapid chess game at the highest level, but his level varies more than for some of the other elite players. He made a few mistakes in the early middle game and it was enough for me to win without too much risk. The razor-sharp Najdorf against Aronian turned my way in end to secure a great first day. My play improved the next two days and I had a solid lead ahead of Nakamura and So before the Blitz.
I played decently on the first day of the Blitz portion, and even a troubling stomach on the last day couldn’t stop me from achieving a marginal plus score that day and reaching 27 points overall. It is the best Rapid & Blitz in the 5 years of the Grand Chess Tour. Nakamura came clear second.
Unfortunately I didn’t get rid of the stomach trouble in the days between Kolkata and the GCT final in London. My form varied from day to day and going into the third day of the semifinal against Vachier Lagrave I was somewhat optimistic despite being sluggish and low on energy. The optimism turned out to be unwarranted. Lagrave played quite well, and I needed a bit of luck just to keep the balance into the Blitz phase. The rest was pretty much a disaster. I was fortunately to draw the first game as black, and in the second game I completely lost the thread in the rook endgame and lost. Somehow I managed to play decently in the 3rd game and equalize the score. An uneventful draw in the 4th game resulted in a play-off. I decided on the brave but not entirely wise choice of allowing his Najdorf in the first play-off game. I even got a winning position only to completely collapse later in the game. I soon was lost in the must-win-with-black last game, and never had any chance to equalize. He chose a draw-ish endgame to ensure his advance to the final against Ding Liren who had thoroughly demolished an off-form Aronian.
Ding continued to impress and won the final convincingly to clinch GCT 2019 1st. Congrats!
Aronian was probably in even worse shape than me, and I managed to win the white classical game after he slipped up in the endgame. He had me on the ropes through most of the next classical game, but fortunately I posed enough difficulties for him to allow me to save a draw in the end. That was actually more important than it felt at the time as it would have meant the end of my non-losing classical chess streak throughout 2019.
In the first rapid game I had a completely winning position only to miss a mate. Having already mentally bagged the point, I relaxed too early and for once felt more amusement than anger after a loss. Immediately hitting back with an attractive, although not perfect, attacking game was nice, and the Blitz phase was more of a formality.
In London, the memories of the reasonable successful World Championship Match defense against Caruana in 2018 didn’t transfer as in Kolkata, but the two cases are not really comparable. I’ve played in London many times over the last 10 years. I’ve won a lot but not every time.
Right now, the important thing is of course the Rapid & Blitz World Championship in Moscow starting tomorrow. I’m highly motivated and eager to see if I can prove once again that I’m the man to beat.
December 25th 2019
November 2019 update
In the new chessclub Offerspill SK founded this summer we now have our own facilities centrally in Oslo, and Sunday 3rd we hosted the initial Eastern Norway league round of the season for several of our teams. Our top team has been granted a spot in the 2nd tier division (Div.1) and we hope to advance to the Elite next season and play internationally maybe also next autumn. A late victory on board 5 secured an important 3-2 victory over the young Nordstrand 2 team!
Tuesday I played a simul against representatives of the finance community in Norway as part of a seminar organized by the Norwegian Chess Federation.
Later this week I’m going on vacation to recharge and get ready for the Kolkata Rapid & Blitz late November, the London Classics early December and the Rapid & Blitz World Championship in December.
Now, back to Isle of Man. In the second half I simply played too many draws to get in serious contention for 1st. After draws with black against Alekseenko and (tournament winner) Wang Hao, and with white against Caruana, I finally got close to the lead after winning the penultimate round against Matlakov. However, my tie-break (based on average rating of opponents) didn’t leave me any chance of clinching first. With black I played an interesting draw with Aronian to end shared 2nd but 6th on tie-break. Interestingly I had a better tie-break than Aronian before our last round encounter but my higher rating rocketed him into 4th! (Long before the tournament started, I communicated this inherent absurdity in the tie-break rules to FIDE, but decided to participate anyhow as I didn’t need the coveted win to qualify to the Candidates, and money-prizes where shared.)
The local organizers did a great job, and I think the introduction of a Grand Swiss qualifier to the Candidates is a good idea also for the future.
Finally a few words about the inaugural Fischer Random (Chess 960) World Championship that took place at Hovikodden in Baerum outside Oslo last week. It was a great event and well organized. Right or wrong, I had been spotted a place in the semifinals based on my match victory against Nakamura in the unofficial Fischer Random WC match in 2018 (also at Hovikodden).
Based on both the historical results in the FR Chess tournaments in Maine more than a decade ago, and the qualifiers this year, FR Chess generally favors the same players as classical chess. The other three contestants were Caruana, Nepomniachtchi and Wesley So. Caruana has been my main competitor in classical chess for quite some time, and is ranked clear number 2. Nepomniachtchi was ranked as no 5 in October while Wesley So was no 2 for quite some time in 2017.
I wasn’t particularly satisfied with the drawing of lots, facing Caruana already in the semi-final. The matches started off with 4 slow Rapid games over two nights, and I was a bit lucky to lead 7.5-4.5 going into the last day (featuring 4 fast Rapid games and 8 Blitz games). My play was a bit nervous and again I was a bit fortunate to clinch the match already in the last Rapid game. In the other semi-final Wesley So somewhat surprisingly took down Nepomniachtchi with apparent ease, and it turned out to be an ominous sign for the final as well.
I don’t want to dwell too much on the final. It is still a rather painful memory, and my play was generally disastrous. In retrospect I should maybe be reasonably happy with my play on day 1 despite missing wins in the first game and losing the second. In the second game I had equalized from the opening and was quite optimistic allowing his kingside attack. I survived but the endgame was much more difficult than anticipated. Game 3 was devastating. Instead of exchanging a rook first I erroneously pickup my bishop and was simply lost (after Bc6) and cursed myself repeatedly. Unfortunately I didn’t manage to forget about the incident and focus properly, and I never really recovered.
Congratulations to Wesley So on winning the Championship! He generally played pragmatically and made very few mistakes, and it turned out to be more than sufficient this time around. Second place is arguably better than third or fourth, but not much of a consolation anyhow, and I have to do better next time.
November 7th 2019
Isle of Man FIDE Grand Swiss
I hadn’t visited Isle of Man prior to participating in the 2017 edition of the strong Open event, which was both an interesting visit to a beautiful island, maybe especially agreeable to people from Norway and other northerners, and it was a success chesswise as I came out on top back then.
This year the tournament organizers captured the status as FIDE Grand Swiss, the recent addition to World Championship qualifying events. The winner is secured a place in the 2020 Candidates. As with other FIDE qualifying events, the regulations does not stop or discourage elite players to whom the qualifying step does not apply, in this case Caruana and me. On the rest day after six rounds we are both in contention. He is joint leader together with Wang Hao and I’m shared 3rd half a point behind with five rounds to go, so that we both may influence the outcome for the others trying to qualify to the Candidates.
I played less convincingly in the August Sinquefield Cup than in the other classical events this year. Nevertheless, winning the last two rounds and the fact that I haven’t lost a classical game in more than 14 months should give me plenty of confidence here at Isle of Man this year.
In the first round I played white against Kuzubov, Ukraine. We met already 17 years ago in World Youth U12, and it is interesting how several of the participants from U12 back then are active very strong Grandmasters today.
I thought I was clearly better after the opening, but suddenly I simply could not find a clear plan. I underestimated his counterplay with Nd2+, and 31. Qb4 was an attempt to force a draw as I had missed a5 32. Qxa5 Qxd4 33. Rh1 Qxe5 stopping my mating attempts, and he wins. (Other moves, for instance 33… Qxd3 leads to a perpetual check and draw.) My hope was to continue fighting after 33…. Qxe5 34.Ne4, but I was not particularly optimistic. After Bxd2 I thought I would hold, but to end up winning was asking too much!
As black against young Sarana in round two I have to be satisfied with calculating well and defending accurately to hold the draw.
In round three against Kasimdzhanov my technique was not good enough, although he deserves praise for defending well.
In round four against Kovalev I thought I was more than fine with black in the middle game. In retrospect I should have considered my options more carefully and spent more time before taking such risks. Cudos to him finding 23. Ree1, the only move that not only gave him an advantage, but close to a winning position. Fortunately I started fighting well early enough to give him some difficult choices before the first time control, and this was clearly something positive to take away from a difficult game. He missed his chances and after the time control the game quickly petered out to a draw.
In round 5 and 6 against Ganguly and Shirov, I’m generally happy about my own play. There were some oversights, especially missing Qd8+ in the Qh4-line I missed against Shirov, but my play have gradually improved and I very much look forward to the finish!
Isle of Man,
October 16th 2019
Sinquefield Cup 2019
After winning the inaugural (4-player) Sinquefield Cup in 2013, I’ve struggled quite a bit in several of the subsequent events with shared 1st last year as the main highlight.
The Sinquefield Cup is part of the Grand Chess Tour and the field was identical to the Zagreb field in June/July, but with alternate color pairings.
My rather awful performance in the Rapid & Blitz event the week before Sinquefield Cup eroded some of the confidence gained in Zagreb and previous tournaments. Starting with several draws (and more draws, and…) was frustrating, but I wasn’t overly surprised that victory eluded me for so many rounds. On the bright side the opening preparation worked well (cudos to Peter Heine and his team), and I didn’t have any really dubious or seriously worse positions during the eleven rounds. My play was not as good as in Zagreb, and I did miss a great opportunity against Mamedyarov.
The round 8 game against Ding Liren was amazing. As white I sacrificed two pawns for a lasting initiative, and Ding had to maneuver a minefield just to stay alive. I simply couldn’t believe that his king would survive in the g-file, but he managed to find a beautiful geometrical defense. Ding proved he is a formidable calculator, and he generally showed why he belongs in the top 3 (rated players).
Initially my Italian opening and early middle game against Wesley So in the penultimate round didn’t look particularly promising. It is not obvious that the open b-file compensates for the double pawn in the c-file. More importantly, the resulting pawn structures hide an amazingly rich plethora of positional nuances and tactical tricks. He probably only got one chance to close down the position and afterwards he faced continuous difficulties. The second half of the game is well worth a closer look! He was probably lost already after 29.Ne8. I played slightly inaccurately in the rook ending, but he didn’t put up the most stubborn defense. 1-0.
Ding was sole leader with +2 before the last round, and he seemed content playing a draw. As black against Vachier-Lagrave I was hoping he would play aggressively to try to secure an overall top-4 placement in the Grand Chess Tour to reach the final in London in December. My Rossolimo structure looks somewhat dubious, but I think it is actually quite sound. His early h4-h5 break looked premature, and black was probably not worse at all. I could have played 20… Qf8 with a small advantage, but I felt it was too little and Nc6 instead kept the tension. I suspected his 22.Nf3 simply was a blunder, and although he surprised me with 24.Rd3 keeping maximum tension, I continued to think that he was objectively lost. While getting gradually lower on the clock, I managed to keep relatively cool, and as expected my attack was more dangerous than his.
The play-off against Ding Liren this morning was not particularly fun. I was not in great shape, as opposed to Ding who played really well. I managed to salvage the two Rapid games, but in first Blitz game I made a mistake early on and had to give a pawn. He converted the extra pawn into a won endgame. In practice it was not so easy and when I hesitated to claim a three-fold draw fearing that a faulty claim resulting in one more minute for him would give him sufficient time to find a killing blow, I lost on time instead. The second Blitz game was very interesting, and I thought I had an advantage after Nc6! He found the amazing continuation Bxc6 Qxc3 Bxd5 Qa5 Bxe4! as g5 winning a piece gives no more than a draw after Ba8! I had to play on without capturing on f6 and lost instead.
Congratulations to Ding Liren on a well-deserved victory!
Anand and Karjakin shared 3rd, although Anand could well have won overall had he converted just two more of his many promising and winning positions.
In the Zagreb and St.Louis classical events I scored +7 in 22 games against the rest of the elite and even gained a few rating points overall. Combined I’m highly satisfied with my results in these events!
Right now I’m glad I decided against playing the World Cup. I need another long break and some time back home. I will instead follow the World Cup as a keen online spectator, and get prepared for the Isle of Man tournament mid October and the Fischer Random World Championship back home late October.
Heartfelt thanks to Jeanne and Rex Sinquefield and the staff and volunteers at the St.Louis Chess Club for a great event!
August 29th 2019
Crowning my best 6 months to date with Zagreb GCT victory
Irrespective of having scored slightly better both in Shamkir and Grenke Chess Classics, I left Zagreb at least as delighted with my own play and score. I’ve had two sensational tournaments in a row before as well, but adding another one just two months later feels terrific. That said, the most important thing is that it was such a joy to play classical chess in Zagreb, and I already look forward to Sinquefield Cup in August.
After the drawing of lots I was not particularly looking forward to two black games in a row in round 7 and 8, although it seemed a less intimidating after the rest day and my round 6 win against Nakamura. I knew I could match Nepomniachtchi and Ding despite never having beaten any of them in classical chess. My rapid and blitz score is fine, and chess is of course to some extent commutable, making rating somewhat relevant. Individual score against opponents you have played less frequently are not necessarily statistically significant. I try to use psychology only to my advantage, but at some point during a game historical score may influence you anyhow.
Against Nepomniachtchi in round 7 I chose an opening that is solid while having some potential if white becomes too optimistic. Already when he played Qa2 I was starting to expect that I might be able to take advantage of the potentially displaced queen.
I played confidently and fast, well, maybe too fast! It was satisfying to play 25…c4, as it is the kind of move that just invites to be played. Shortly after I played f5 too fast based on an oversight. However, I had probably not won the game if I had played another move, and this makes it impossible to be unhappy with f5. He blundered with gxf5 having missed gxf3 four moves later. 0-1.
Against Ding I was of course delighted to get the chance to play an interesting novelty in the opening. I was less happy ending up in a position that I knew was okay for black but which was clearly easier to play for white. Suddenly having to start thinking myself, I fortunately managed to pull my self together. We gradually reached a position that felt quite safe for black, and that was already a small victory. When he played Bc6 instead of the expected Nd8 I was starting to hope to be able to play for a win. The rest of the game went very smoothly and I was especially delighted with Bg8! and g4! 0-1.
Aronian played the Vienna against my 1.d4, and I was satisfied to get a fairly unbalanced and slight better position out of the opening. It is a line that has been considered reasonably good for black, but as the game showed white can still pose some serious questions. After my plan with h4 and Rh3-g3-g4 etc followed by king side pawn advances, I was very optimistic. His counterplay on the queenside always seemed somewhat inadequate. My rook came to f6 and it was only the fantastic resource 31….h6! that somehow kept him in the game. Aronian defended excellently throughout the game, and it is one of those draws that are both exciting and probably well played by both (and maybe especially by him).
In round 10 I was white against my main challenger for tournament victory, Wesley So, who was half a point behind. We repeated a line I had been in trouble with against Mamedyarov back in Wijk aan Zee in 2018. Unfortunately I didn’t remember the detailed analysis this time either. I thought I had solved blacks problem, and so did he. His post-game comments indicated that he had abandoned any real ambition earlier in the middle game partly due to my recent impressive results with black. Instead of 29.b4 he should have tried d6 and black is left with a passive rook on d7 for quite some time. I assume he would have tried this if he had spotted and delved deeper into the critical line. For me an early draw with black was fine, and I could focus on making a serious effort with white against Vachier-Lagrave in the last round.
Lagrave played his pet Grunfeld opening in which he has had a great score event against the elite. After a long think he deviated from the computers first choice 14…. b6 with Bxf3 which in retrospect turned out to create the structural problems that became his demise. His counterplay against d4, and after f5 against d5, was never sufficient. 28…. Rxd5 was losing tactically as in the game continuation, but I fully understand why a passive move as for instance Rb8 didn’t look tempting. With the bishop pair and passed e-pawn, black is doomed to defend a miserable position.
Tomorrow I’ll play banter Blitz against Premium members at Chess24, and otherwise I’ll continue to enjoy Norwegian summer in Oslo for some time.
July 15th 2019
Grand Chess Tour Zagreb 2019
I expected it would be challenging to play both Norway Chess in June and especially the Grand Chess Tour Zagreb tournament in June/July while also spending time and energy on taking a stand in the heated discussion within the Norwegian Chess Federation (and subsequently in Norwegian mainstream media as well) about a potential cooperation agreement between the Federation and Kindred, and starting a new chess club in Norway, Offerspill SK, together with four good friends.
I must admit it worked out surprisingly well chess-wise. Having won both in Stavanger and in Zagreb and played decent chess, it is hard to see that it could have had much of an effect. When the chess form is good, it is easier to handle both adversity and the unexpected, at least short term.
Looking back I can think of a couple of earlier events where I’ve managed to perform reasonably well despite similar extraneous factors. Most likely it will take longer than usual to recover, and fortunately there is a full month until my next chess tournament Sinquefield Cup in St.Louis.
Back in 2003 my family traveled through Croatia on our way to Budva, Montenegro for the World Youth Championship. (I came 3rd in the U14 group.) Later I’ve been training with Kasparov and also going on vacation in Croatia, but this has been my first tournament in Croatia. It is a bit surprising really considering the strong chess tradition here.
Together with Sinquefield Cup (also part of the Grand Chess Tour) sporting the same combatants as here, the Zagreb tournament is the strongest classical round robin event this year with the top five rated players (FIDE June list) and all twelve among the top 17.
Once again I drew an extra black in the drawing of lots, and faced Anish Giri in round 1. The game became quite typical for many of my wins with black this year. With the unexpected and maybe slightly dubious 7…. d6 I got my opponent out of theory. The position is maybe objectively better for white, but the computer evaluation in not really that important in such an unbalanced position without a clear plan for white. Knowing that you have a better position but not how to exploit it, can sometimes even be detrimental. Your imperative is to accept the imbalance and try to win, although maybe caution would have paid off instead. His 16.Nd2 has been criticized, and rightly so, but I think the main mistake was Qa4 displacing the queen and raising the stakes. After 19.c3 it was lost for white. His king is just too exposed to survive long-term.
My friend Ian Nepomniachtchi started with three victories, while I drew round 2-5 despite good winning chances with white against both Anand and Mamedyarov. The game against Mamedyarov was extremely complicated and having missed so many things in the early middle game to go from a winning position into such difficulties, I was happy and maybe a bit fortunate to find all the necessary defensive resources while low on time. It was enough to hold and eventually put some pressure on him before reaching a draw.
My round 6 opponent Nakamura has struggled a bit in classical chess over the last year, while maintaining his strong performances in rapid and blitz. I didn’t get much out of the Queens Gambit opening. Trying to make progress, I went with 16.e4 after a long think. I had missed something, and when he tried to take advantage of the pin in the c-file with 17…. Nd4, I wasn’t particularly optimistic. The rest of the game became highly tactical. Afterwards I was surprised to discover that 21.Rd3 was a mistake as Qe2 works out tactically and is significantly better for white. However, he immediately went astray after Rd3 with his response Rec8? I already knew I had to play Qb2 as anything else looked bad for white, but spent time trying to figure out if I had missed anything. I couldn’t understand what it would be, and my alternatives were anyhow not tempting at all. Suddenly discovering what he has missed earlier, Nakamura wisely tried to complicate further with 22…. Nc5, but the subsequent tactics where less difficult to find, and I managed to convert to a winning endgame with two extra pawns on the kingside, a safe king, and pressure against his passed a4-pawn.
In end I won with the highly satisfying score 8/11 ahead of Wesley So with 7/11.
I’m flying home tomorrow and will be back with more on round 7-11 the coming week!
July 7th 2019
Altibox Norway Chess 2019
My Danish head coach Peter Heine Nielsen moved to Lithuania many years ago, and I haven’t visited Denmark since he turned 40 back then. I accepted an offer from the professional and friendly event people in f-reklame to come to Copenhagen two weeks ago for a 24-board simul, an interview with a brain researcher and two games of rapid chess against young Jonas Bjerre. It took place in the Circus building and showed that chess can work as the main theme of an evening of entertainment together with a good meal.
The same weekend I played the inaugural edition of the Lindores Abbey Chess Stars outside Edinburgh. It was my first visit to Scotland and it is a country and a landscape agreeable to a Norwegian; The same irresistible early summer green, many striking similarities with parts of Norway combined with the unique moors and coastline. Against opponents Ding Liren, V.Anand and S.Karjakin I guess I couldn’t expect a similar score to Abidjan but +1 was a not particularly good, and it could have been worse. Fortunately it turned out to be a close run throughout, and +1 was enough. Ding had a winning position against Anand on day 2 (game 5) and could have had a half point lead before our last round encounter. Instead he lost and had to win with white against me. At some point he outplayed me, and the pawn down endgame was highly uncomfortable. I thought I had reasonable changes to hold, and it turned out to be difficult to find a winning plan. His h4? allowed h5, and with his king cut off from the kingside pawns, I suddenly had enough counterplay to hold despite being low on time. I managed to hang on and draw to take sole 1st. The Lindores organizers showed great passion for chess and I hope it becomes a regular event.
Altibox Norway Chess has made some promising changes to the format this year to make the tournament even more attractive to media and spectators (and hopefully more fun for the players as well J). In addition to the initial 2 hours each in the classical games we just get 10 sec/move increment from move 61. If the classical game end in a draw, we play a so-called Armageddon game with half the original stakes. White has 10 minutes, black 7, and 3 sec increment from move 61. White has to win, black wins in case of a drawn game. We keep the same colors as in the classical game. Personally I favor black in this format, but so far white has scored slightly better. A classical win yields 2 points (2-0), a classical draw half a point each, and the winner of the Armageddon gets another full point (total 1.5-0.5).
The initial Blitz Chess tournament on Monday was great fun. I played some speculative and interesting openings and was still in contention for 1st when playing the leader Vachier-Lagrave in the last round. I got a winning advantage, but again I failed to find the critical line (Nd7) and lost. Shared 2nd with Aronian (and third on tie-break) was a fine start here in Stavanger, and I have five games with white in the classical event.
Against Anand in round 1 I got a slight advantage with the bishop pair and a potentially marginally better pawn structure, although it should not be much for white. He allowed me to make significant progress and ended up sacrificing the e-pawn to exchange a pair of bishops and activate his knight. My play didn’t feel right, but I’m not sure where I could have improved to get real winning. He held the rook ending a pawn down fairly easily to a draw. There were several interesting games in round 1 but somehow all ended draw to reach Armageddon games.
Having watching Aronian – Grischuk struggle with their time management in the unusual new format to reach a crazy time scramble, I was a bit nervous about how to approach the must-win-with-white game. I think Anand made a mistake already with 12…. dxe5 after which white seemed to be much better. Subsequently I didn’ t find all the optimum moves and the position was not winning until his mistake 29…. Nf6 gave me access to and full control of d6. Later, with a pawn on d6 supporting c7 he couldn’t control both the 7th and 8th rank and his king became too vulnerable to avoid a mating attack.
Against Aronian in round 2 my inaccuracy 10… Be7 allowed his brilliant Qb1! after which my position was highly unpleasant. Trying to activate my pieces with a pawn sacrifice (g5) failed, and I was simply a pawn down with a worse position and bleak prospects. Somehow I managed to hang in there until mutual time trouble, and he failed to find winning resources in the rook endgame. After this narrow escape it was just a pleasure to play another Armageddon game, while Aronian must have had exactly the opposite feeling having missed such a chance in the classical part. He didn’t manage to get any advantage with white and in desperation went astray, after which I won comfortably.
In todays game against Grischuk I got a very pleasant position from the opening and I had fun playing an attacking game throwing everything at his king. His counterplay on the queenside was not sufficiently efficient, and when he got low on time as well, I quickly got a winning attack. Having won my last four games in Baden-Baden in the previous classical tournament, I was very satisfied to score a full point after a bit lackluster play in the classical part of round 1 and 2.
On the first restday I’m the leader with 5 points ahead of Aronian, Ding and So at 4.
Saturday I’m white against Mamedyarov at 5pm local time and hope to have more fun!
June 7th 2019
May 2019 update
Compared to April and June, my May schedule is less hectic. I appreciated celebrating national Independence day May 17th with friends in Oslo after returning from a great trip to Abidjan, one of the capitals of the Ivory Coast, hosting the first 2019 Grand Chess Tour event (in Rapid & Blitz).
Even after a highly successful run in classical chess this year, playing a different format brings some uncertainty. Finding the right balance between strategic plans requiring deep calculations and intuitive play, is particularly challenging in Rapid chess. My last Rapid performance, in the World Rapid Championship in St.Petersburg in December, was not optimal despite a reasonable score. All the more, I was delighted to be able to play quite well in the Rapid portion in Abidjan. The great score 7.5/9 gave me a healthy lead before the Blitz, although my play had varied somewhat more than the score would indicate. I’m very satisfied with the games against Nepomniatchchi and Karjakin. Against So and Nakamura I made a tactical mistake and against Ding a strategic mistake at critical moments. Overall I played quite decently.
In Rapid & Blitz, multiple games a day do not allow you to recover overnight from a bad game as in classical chess. Looking back at GCT and World Championships in Rapid & Blitz I’m generally doing well overall if I’m in good shape four out of five days. Sometimes three is enough. It was a very unpleasant the way neither my calculation nor my intuition worked on the first day of Blitz, and squandering a great position to lose in the end against Vachier-Lagrave (who kept his cool admirably) didn’t particularly help. Fortunately the results were nowhere near catastrophic, and I had a healthy lead overall also going into the last day. Another early loss against Vachier-Lagrave, when I botched a very comfortable position by bringing the knight to d3, having missed Ne1 after Rb1 Rd2 Rxb3 from afar, forced me to look back over my shoulder. Later my form gradually improved, and I ended on a high note beating Nakamura with black from an equal ending in the last round.
I finished clear first with 26.5/36 ahead of Nakamura and Vachier-Lagrave in shared 2nd with 23 point in my first elite event as World Champion in Africa, and I’d like to thank the GCT and local organizers for this great opportunity and for a well-organized event. And, it was great to see so much passion for chess in the parallel events and among organizers and spectators!
The Rapid section started at 5pm and one day we went to the beach by nearby city Grand-Bassam. The waves were surprisingly big. We were told it is a typical phenomenon in this part of Africa despite little wind, and we enjoyed the combination of beautiful beaches and a challenging swim.
The day after returning from Abidjan I played a 15-board simul for my main sponsor Simonsen Vogt Wiig in Bergen. They had managed to bring together an impressive field of interesting opponents, and I thoroughly enjoyed the event!
Tomorrow I’m traveling to Denmark for a simul and a short Rapid match against Danish Vice-Champion Jonas Bjerre in Copenhagen. Amazingly it is the first time I’m playing chess in Denmark in more than a decade.
Next weekend I’m going to Scotland for the first time ever to participate in the Lindores Abbey Chess Stars Tournament where I’ll play Liren Ding, Viswanatand Anand and probably Karjakin in a two-day rapid event.
May 20th 2019
In the flow - Grenke Chess 2019
Complaining about fatigue in the previous blog post may now appear to be counterfactual. I won all my four games in Baden-Baden to reach my highest elite nine-round-robin score ever with 7.5/9. Probably my opponents were just as affected by the string of hard-fought battles throughout the tournament as I was.
In round 6 Meier chose his usual set-up with kingside fianchetto, short castle, d4 followed by 6.b3. I think I managed to surprise him with the interesting response b5! Later he played a4, Na3, Nb5 with such speed and determination that I had to suspect it was preparation. I couldn’t see what was wrong with my counterplay, and as he thought for more than 30 minutes after my natural response Rc6, he might simply have been lured by the apparent harmony of his queen side set-up, while it didn’t really jive with the rest of his position. It turned out his position is already quite tricky. I soon got an overwhelming position despite being a pawn down. I had plenty of time but couldn’t calculate anything properly, and we both made several mistakes in his time trouble. By move 40 I had squandered most of my advantage and was fortunate to have 40…. Qe1 maintaining excellent practical winning chances despite the lack of a clear plan. He defended well until his impatient and too ambitious king-march to capture the d2-pawn. This was an important victory both to create traction after three draws and also because co-leader Anand lost to Naiditsch giving me a one-point lead.
My games against Aronian and Svidler were both sheer pleasure. By achieving positions were I had a clear plan and harmonic piece placement, while my opponents lacked a clear plan, I could play natural moves fast and still continuously pose problems. Arguably none of them put up a great defense, and a staunch defense is generally a prerequisite for inclusion among my best games. I’m highly satisfied with my own decisions throughout both games, and that is the utmost I can achieve on my part. The level of opposition is not something I can control.
Caruana won in round 7 and 8 and could theoretically catch up with me in the last round. I played white against Vachier-Lagrave and in a symmetrical English Opening he chose 6…. Bf5 planning to control the c8-h3 diagonal. I prioritized 7.h3 to counter his plan, and out of the blue he sacrificed a pawn with 10… b5 Benko style. His problem was that while his structure resembled the Benko, my pawn structure was significantly more compact than in the Benko. Maybe he had a slight compensation for the pawn initially, with the pin on c3 and control of b4 and d4 but it only took a few precise move to cement my advantage. I think his decisive mistake was 17…. Nxf3 and that he maybe had missed 19.f4. The queen, rook-and-bishop-ending a pawn down is maybe not totally lost for him but in practice very difficult. He seemed to have mentally resigned when we entered the pawn-up queen ending, and after 35… h5 I had a quite comfortable win.
Caruana-Aronian drew and Caruana took clear 2nd with 6/9 ahead of Naiditsch and Lagrave at 5/9.
Having thoroughly enjoyed Gashimov Memorial and gained confidence, I was optimistic before Grenke Chess. Actually improving upon the +5 from Shamkir was not something I could reasonably expect or even hope for, and now I just need to try to continue to enjoy chess as much as possible in the quite busy months ahead
My next event is the Grand Chess Tour 2019 opening event; the Ivory Coast Abidjan Rapid & Blitz starting next week!
In the second part of May I’ll attend an event and play a short rapid match in Copenhagen on May 22nd, and play rapid chess in Scotland May 25-26, before two more classical chess events in June (Norway Chess and Zagreb GCT).
Praising the tournament organizer is of course very simple when I’m in the flow and enjoying chess so much, but clearly Grenke Chess 2019 was indeed a well organized and popular event, and I’m truly grateful to organizers and sponsors for this great tradition!
April 29th 2019
Grenke Chess Classics 2019
We have just arrived in Baden-Baden for the second part of Grenke Chess Classics after playing round 1-5 in the Kongresszentrum in Karlsruhe. The opening ceremony took place April 18 before the 1st round of the Grenke Open. Due to the great efforts of the organizers and support of main sponsor Mr.Grenke, the Open had two thousand participants (!) making it the biggest tournament in Europe.
In the Classics, my nine opponents are Caruana, Anand, Vachier-Lagrave, Aronian, Svidler, Vallejo Pons, Naiditsch, Meier and the young winner of Grenke Open 2018 V.Keymer.
The drawing of lots determines the number of games with the white and black pieces for each player. Starting number 1-5 begin with white and has 5 white and 4 black, 6-10 vice versa.
I drew number 6 and started with black as I have done fairly consistently for more than a year. (Maybe Caissa still remember all my consecutive white starts a decade ago.)
The number drawn by the other participants determined the line-up for each round. A must-win start with the black pieces against a V.Keymer in round 1 was probably the only alternative I hoped to avoid. Well, I did win in the end after a long and tense fight. I knew the counterintuitive 13…. Bxc3 in this particular Kings Indian line is fine for black. The challenge was to get winning chances. Keymer played well positionally until just before the first time control when he missed the strong 36…. Qf6. After the time control black should be winning although I struggled to find a simple plan. In the 6th playing hour I made an inexplicable mistake (Rg7) after which white had excellent drawing chances. Fortunately I managed to complicate further and short on time he missed the critical line starting with 67.Kb3(!)
I had the black pieces also in round 2 against Vallejo Pons, the strongest Spanish player. The Ruy Lopez line led to a fairly balanced position. I played g5 and accepted an isolated pawn in the d-file for the bishop pair. He defended well and was maybe even better late in the middle game, but just before the time control I seized the initiative and didn’t let go. He might have got a rook against rook and bishop endgame that is theoretically drawn while practically hard to hold, but opted for a line resulting in the unusual knight and bishop against rook and bishop (with opposite colored bishops). I knew it should be winning and that the 50-move rule may be a challenge. Initially I probably chose the wrong plan. My second attempt seemed better, and when he didn’t manage to put up the best defense, my king helped force his king to the corner, and he resigned just 23 moves after the last capture.
Having won my last three games in Shamkir and round 1 and 2 in Grenke, the tide turned in the 6th hour against Anand.
I played the same 4.e4 line in the English as in the first World Championship match rapid play-off game against Caruana in London. Black is not worse but the position is quite tricky. Anand made a positional blunder with 9… c6 after which only white had winning chances. I had a considerable advantage for most of the game without making decisive progress against his excellent defense until 52… Nc7 allowing Bf2! and Bg3. I was convinced it was winning (and it was). Too tired to calculate well I was unable to verify how for instance 56.Kg2 would be winning and blundered with Qe2 instead having missed the obvious response Ne6 resulting in a draw.
Arguably I got some winning chances also against Caruana in round 4 and Naiditsch yesterday without ever having anything decisive. Both defended well at the critical moments, and before the Baden-Baden stretch I’m in shared lead with Anand at 3.5/5 with Caruana, Lagrave, Aronian and Svidler all just half a point behind.
I felt I played poorly in the game against Naiditsch. The computer doesn’t fully agree, but to me it is more significant that I missed far too many nuances and relevant variations. Despite spending all my time by the board I just didn’t calculate well on a day when my intuition didn’t function properly. Having had five quite long games in a row, the rest day today (to move to Baden-Baden) was most welcome, and by now I look forward to round 6 as black against Georg Meier Friday!
April 25th 2019
Victory in Vugar Gashimov Memorial 2019
I won a highly interesting game against Karjakin yesterday to secure 1stwith a round to go. It was my third consecutive win with black against the 7.Nd5 Sveshnikov this year. After 12.Qa4 Bd7 13.Qb4 Bf5 I allowed a repetition of moves, but as expected he deviated with 14.h4 h5 and 15.Bg5. (Caruana played Be3 in our 12thWorld Championship game). I didn’t expect him to repeat moves both due to the tournament situation and because it doesn’t make sense to prepare all the 7.Nd5 lines if you are planning to accept an early draw.
As against Jorden van Forrest in Tata Steel in January I sacrificed the pawn on h5 and had sufficient compensation with e4, Ne5 and the white square weaknesses around the white king. His c5-move trading his c-pawn for my e-pawn made sense, but he had had to follow up with Qc2 despite the unpleasant pin Bf5 against his knight on e4. Playing Nc3 instead he expected me to force a draw with Bd3 Bxd3 Nf3+ Nxh4 etc. At this point I started to really like my position, with more than compensation for the pawn. The critical moment came after Qf5 when he should have tried to bail out with f3 and hope for a draw. His f4 ran into Qg6 threatening Qxg3 and black is already lost. It took me a while to find Qg6 as it is not an obvious move. With the pawns on c4 and b4 and my three pieces in the center, the tactics should normally work for black, and as expected there was Queen to g6 utilizing the white weaknesses. Gradually lower on time, he didn’t manage to coordinate his pieces and lost on time in an awful position just before the time control.
In the last round against Grischuk, I didn’t get anything from the opening. I just tried to find reasonable moves and didn’t focus on the result at all. Only after 17. Nb3 I felt I got a small edge. Grischuk thought for a long time and ended up trading on b3 conceding the bishop pair. In hindsight the plan with Ng4 and Rd6 just ended up losing time and allowed me to develop my pieces optimally. I was getting quite optimistic when I found the pawn sacrifice with Be3 recapturing on f4 with the g-pawn (as against Giri) after which the position was almost critical for black. Short on time he succumbed to continuous pressure in open the d and e-files.
I’m not sure I’m generally playing these kinds of positions any better than before. The main difference is maybe that I feel more at ease now in high-stakes positions due to more experience (and good results). Round 7-9 against Giri, Karjakin and Grischuk were simply very enjoyable games for which I’m grateful.
In football Expected Goals (xG) is based on the number and quality of chances everyone has. A similar concept would be interesting in chess.
Last year I suffered from too many missed opportunities throughout most of the year, while so far this year I’ve taken more or less every realistic winning chance in my games. How to attribute weight to my own play, my opponents play and the kind of chances that I’ve got, is not straight forward. Clearly, I’m highly satisfied with the development and is eager to play again less than two weeks from now in Grenke Chess Classics.
I think it is obvious to anyone that has been in Shamkir or have watched my games that I’m very comfortable playing here. Everyone have such a passion and respect for chess, and my team and I have been treated with great hospitality. Thank you all very much!
April 9th 2019
Vugar Gashimov Memorial 2019 in Shamkir
It is good to be back in Shamkir for the Vugar Gashimov Memorial 2019 paying tribute to a great player. I’ve won in my three attempts in 2014/5/8 and hoped to do well this year, although there is always a little uncertainty about form after a two-months break from tournaments.
The tournament is very strong (category 22) as usual, and I’m facing Ding, Giri, Mamedyarov, Anand, Grischuk, Radjabov, Karjakin, Topalov and Navara.
Todays round 7 against Anish Giri would normally be important for the fight for first for both, as Anish was no 4 on the March 2019 Fide rating list, runner up in Wijk aan Zee both in 2018 and 2019 etc. Surprisingly, he has been out of form in Shamkir, and was at -2 prior to the round. (I was in shared lead with Karjakin at +2).
Initially we followed a main line in the English Opening with 8... h6. White has a slightly more compact structure and black compensation with space and early development. Normally black is fine after the typical 13… Nd4. I thought todays position was somewhat promising for white due to 15.Qxf3 planning Qh5 and f4. He decided to take on f4 (while f5 is probably better) and grabbed the pawn on e3. After Kh1, my next few moves brought all white pieces into play against the black king and he lacked counterplay. The position looked overwhelming for white.
I couldn’t find a clear winning attack and decided to go for 25.Bf6 aiming for the exchange-up endgame with very good winning chances. He was low on time and went astray immediately with a4 and b4 after which Be8 is crushing. He lost on time, but the position was well beyond repair.
I didn’t start out particularly smoothly. Flight connections were a challenge this time, and we decided to arrive via Tbilisi in Georgia, a two-hours drive from Shamkir. Despite having arrived already Friday 29thin Shamkir, I was not at my best in the first game against Radjabov on the 31st. He was close to 2800 rating 6-7 years ago, and after a substantial drop he is gradually closing in on the top ten again. I equalized fairly easily and should have taken his invitation to repeat moves with 15…. Bh5 16.Ng3 Bg6 etc. I went for 15… d5 and made several more inaccuracies leaving me in serious danger had he played 26.Bc4. He chose Nxc5 instead which may have looked promising as well, but I managed to draw relatively quickly.
I won the next two rounds - more on that later - and was sole leader until Karjakin caught up with me in round 6. In the penultimate round Monday I’m black against the very same Karjakin. With the others at 50% score or less, it is likely to be the decisive game of the tournament.
April 7th 2019
Looking back at Tata Steel Chess 2019
During the World Championship match in London in November, I admitted to admiring and missing the player I was three to four years ago. For the second year in a row my level of play during Tata Steel Chess represented progress. 2018 was a step in the right direction, and despite the same score, 2019 was clearly better in several ways. Looking back I don’t have any real regrets, generally avoiding blunders (compared to making several in most tournaments last year). Probably part of the reason was my mental and physical preparation as well as discipline during the tournament. More knowledge and experience hopefully offset slightly less youthful energy compared to my early to mid- twenties.
I was in shared lead before the last two rounds with home favorite Anish Giri. In the 12thround I got an objectively big advantage from the opening against young Duda, but it was surprisingly difficult to make any progress without allowing significant counterplay or seriously compromising my king safety. I allowed much of my advantage to disappear without necessarily making it easier for Duda to defend. I liked the plan with 45.Kc1 and Bc2, and after a lot of maneuvering (and moves) I managed to win an important victory securing sole lead before the last round against runner-up Giri.
In R13 Giri didn’t make much progress in the Sveshnikov variation as white, and he tried a more than dubious exchange sacrifice that wasn’t too hard to refute. As black I was better in a complicated position, and decided to simplify to a drawn position to secure sole victory!
As usual the organizers did a great job, and I continue to feel comfortable and happy about spending most of January on the Dutch coast :-)
I would have preferred to play again quite soon after the encouraging Tata Steel Chess experience, but the elite tournament program is curiously skewed this year. After a two months break, the plan is to play a lot more than in previous years from late March throughout the year.
Yesterday I played a short blitz exhibition match on chess24.com against Peter Svidler and won comfortably 5.5-0.5.
My next event with my longtime main sponsor Simonsen Vogt Wiig is in Nice March 12th!
February 25th 2019
Tata Steel Chess 2019 R10
The weather was nice on the rest day Monday, and Peter and I went for a walk and also had a (quick) bath in the sea. For those who haven’t been to Wijk aan Zee, the beach is a spectacular and mighty sight both on sunny days and when the western winds bring roaring waves across the shallow water.
My play the day after with the black pieces against reigning US champion Sam Shankland may not have seemed particularly inspired though. The opening choice allowed him to play for a small advantage without too much risk. I calculated quite well and slowly equalized. His a4 weakness offset my isolated pawn on d5, but I did not find any way to make progress in the endgame, and we drew after 40 moves.
Yan Nepomniachtchi won seemingly without too much difficulty against Vidit to join me and Anand in the lead with four rounds to go, with Giri and Ding Liren half a point behind.
Round 10 was played in the Pieterskirk in Leiden, a University city 45 minutes drive from Wijk aan Zee.
I’ve already played more than 60 classical games against former World Champion V.Anand. Against 1.e4 yesterday he played the 3…a6 Ruy Lopez that he hasn’t used against me for quite some time. I went for the sideline 5.Nc3 Bc5 6.Bxc6. We exchanged pieces and I got a slightly better pawn structure although without having enough of an advantage to be particularly optimistic. Even the endgame after exchanging queens wasn’t really promising despite his isolated e6-pawn.
Neither my opponent nor I seemed in top shape yesterday. My calculations took longer than usual. Anand seemed somewhat uncomfortable and maybe tired, especially after the first time control. I worked quite hard to try to utilize the kingside pawn majority and the position was always slightly better for white although I missed some opportunities. His main mistake was probably exchanging rooks on h2. The three against two pawns knight endgame was surprisingly tricky, and he had a very difficult choice when I played a5. I thought bxa5 71.Kd5 Nf4 72.Kxc5 Ne2 73. Nd6 looked very promising for white, and at the very least it keeps the game going. Anand took a long think and chose 70….b5. Afterwards I’m told it is winning for white. Anyhow, he soon blundered with 74…Nxc3 having missed my response 76.Ne2, (he had seen 76.Nb1, which leads to a draw after 76…b3! 77.Kd4 Kb7 78.Kc3 Ka6 79.Kb4 b2, and I will win b5, but not mate his king in the corner since his remaining pawn will queen with a check) and I stop his b-pawns without losing the a-pawn.
That was one long and difficult game, and I’m of course thrilled to have won in the end and secure a sole lead with 7 points ahead of Giri at 6.5 before the final weekend!
Today some of us played indoor football over at Hemskerk and I’m starting to look forward to R11 against Radjabov tomorrow.
The round 8 victory against Rapport has received praise and the game had some nice features. After Nd5! I was a pawn down, but still the position was overwhelming. Black had no counterplay, and I could just build up the kingside attack until he allowed the cute final combination. He resigned facing a lost endgame a pawn and an exchange down.
January 24th 2019
Tata Steel Chess update
As have become something close to a habit, I had a slow start in Tata Steel Chess 2019. Four initial draws were not ideal, but it hasn’t stopped me from having a good tournament before, and as I felt I played reasonably well I wasn’t seriously worried.
The playing schedule in the 14-player all-play-all event used to be 4,4,2,3. This year we started with five consecutive rounds before the first rest day, and the rest goes 3, 2 and 3 to make sure we play both Saturday and Sunday all three weekends.
It is probably a significant advantage to have played in Wijk many times before (although I did play very well in my first visit winning the C-group in 2004). It is tempting to think you are still early in the tournament in round 6-8 and disregard signs of fatigue. Playing in the dark of winter after a week and more is reminiscent of the tough second part of usual 9 or 10 round events and most players start making more mistakes at this stage. My own play has been far from flawless but fortunately I’ve avoided significant blunders so far.
Having won in the on-tour round 5 in Alkmaar against young Dutch player Jordan van Forest in my new pet line in the Sicilian, round 6 was crucial. I played white against Shakriyar Mamedyarov, the current Azerbaijan top player who as mentioned before, has had a few tremendous years. He looks slightly more shaky here in Wijk this time, or maybe our game was simply a turning point for him as well. I didn’t expect the Queens Gambit Accepted and the early middle game position is only slightly more pleasant for white (as black had weakened his b6 pawn/square with a6) in an otherwise symmetrical position. He successfully fended off my attempts to create a lasting initiative until 20.Kf1 where his response h6 and Nd5 probably is a bit inaccurate. I could have gained a lasting initiative with 29.Ndc5 but missed his active counterplay (and moved the other knight to c5). His counterplay left me with knight and bishop against his rook and extra pawn. After move 40 I spent half an hour finding a drawing line and concluded that only white could really hope for more. I’m not sure what he missed when he played h5? as e3 is fairly straight forward and leads to a perpetual checks as I cannot leave the e and f files. It was not a great game, but it was such an important win. I’m satisfied with the way I kept pushing and calculated quite well throughout the game.
Holding the pawn-down ending in round 7 was also important, and in a two against one pawn rook ending I lost with the white pieces against Aronian in 2009.
In round 8 Rapport misplayed the Sicilian opening somewhat and I got a lasting initiative. More on that later as I’m off to watch several fellow Norwegian (footballers) in Alkmaar-Vitesse!
Wijk aan Zee,
January 22nd 2019
World Rapid & Blitz and Tata Steel
Winning the World Chess Championship in Blitz at year-end was of course a great success in itself of which I’m proud and immensely satisfied with. As important is the boost it has given my spirits and hopefully will continue to provide for some time. Having successfully defended the Classical Chess World Championship title in the match with Caruana in London in November, after struggling a bit with my classical chess despite a couple of tournament victories in 2018 (Tata Steel, Shamkir and Sinquefield Cup), the Blitz was just what I needed to be really enthusiastic about and motivated for 2019.
The new FIDE leadership is already up and running and managed to stage a good Rapid and Blitz World Championship event in central St.Petersburg on short notice. I spent a few relaxing days in the sun far south prior to St.Petersburg. The extensive travel just before the event seemed to be more than offset by the benefits, also in retrospect.
A few elite names were missing from the starting list, most notably Vachier-Lagrave, Ding and Kramnik, but overall the competitions were particularly strong this time with the large number of strong well-known and less known Russian Grandmasters and rapid/blitz specialists.
Small margins are a known maxim in most sports, and despite the 15 rounds in Rapid and 21 in Blitz it certainly holds true also for Rapid & Blitz chess.
In round 1 of the Rapid I failed to convert a dominant position as black and the queen against two rooks pawn ending was maybe heading for a draw until he made an inaccuracy or two. I could escape the checks and would in practice have had winning chances, when I clumsily lost on time. That was no catastrophe, but losing round two with white against a promising young Uzbek was pretty close.
My play gradually improved, but still I was quite fortunate to win round 8 and 9 (and 10) to be back in contention before the last day of the Rapid. I did play well on the last day, but it was not enough. Slightly unfortunate pairing resulted in black against my World Championship Match second Dubov in R11, white against solid Anand in R12 and finally black against Nakamura in R15. Without having checked with the computer my impression was that I played at classical level this last round, seeing all the tactics and putting pressure on him. After failing to get an advantage in the early middle game he was (unfortunately for me) not ambitious and defended well to draw. All top boards ended draw, and I’m for once honestly thrilled to congratulate the winner. Daniil Dubov was such great help before and during the World Championship Match and I was so happy for him! Mamedyarov in 2nd, Nakamura 3rd and Artemiev 4th all edged me out on tie-break. While I’m not generally collecting 5th places, the nearly successful comeback after losing round 1, 2 and 7 was absolutely acceptable as part of my long term performance level in Rapid and Blitz, always fighting for medals.
In the Blitz the results were very good also on the first day although I’m not really happy with my performance. Against lower rated players I’m too tense and generally make more mistakes. Part of the explanation is that it is more difficult to predict their plans and moves. This is definitely not the full explanation as it is still possible to play good moves in return. I did beat Duda fairly convincingly in round 7 though, when we were both on 4.5/6.
On the second day my energy and play in general was everything I aim for. Managing to let go, just playing fast and with the flow, was cause for great satisfaction. Young Duda kept putting pressure on me throughout after winning eight in a row in the middle rounds and never slowing down, scoring an amazing 12/14 after our mutual encounter, facing most of the top players in the process. Fortunately I managed to stay reasonable calm and focused to reach 17/21 and clear first ahead of Duda at 16.5 and Nakamura at 14.5.
Caruana has more or less caught up with me in classical rating, but I do lead all three lists (Classical, Rapid and Blitz) also on January 1st 2019, and it is the 10th January list in a row as no 1 in Classical!
Tomorrow I’m heading for Wijk aan Zee for the 15th time to defend the 2018 victory. Once again the capable organizers have put together a strong and interesting field, and I can’t wait to get started!
January 11th 2019
The World Championship match in London. No 4!
Prior to the match in London I was optimistic. Admittedly Fabiano Caruana has had a great year, winning the Candidates and several top level tournaments, and nearly overtaking me on the rating list, but I had significant match experience, and my score against him has been good over the last few years. A few additional near-wins this year were also part of the picture.
As planned I pushed quite hard as Black already in game 1, and generally throughout most of the first half of the match I remained very optimistic. His impressive play in game 6, outplaying me with Black, changed the psychology significantly, despite the boost I got from finding a far from obvious fortress to hold the game. The trend continued for a few more games.
Putting the title on the line in game 12 was never a tempting option. The margin of error is smaller in a single game, and with Black, and Caruana had already shown impressive preparation in several games. To avoid this scenario, I was both very eager and optimistic about game 9 and managed to out-prepare him as planned. Not surprisingly, he took a disciplined decision with Bxf3 to simplify the position. I could play for two results, but as he had a clear defensive plan I didn’t find a way to make progress except the h5-challenge in his time trouble before the first time control. Caruana was up to the challenge, and combined with the subsequent f5 and h4 he defused the position. The opposite-colored bishop ending is not that simple, but he seemingly held it with ease. If, for instance, he had moved the h-pawn, I would have had something to target and play for. With three games to go, I prepared myself mentally for both a possibly decisive game 12 and a likely play-off.
Caruana showed impressive composure throughout most of the match, while in round 12 the huge stakes involved showed in his middlegame play. White is a little better after h4 h5!, but Black has lots of counterplay. His Rh2-plan was interesting, but not fully sound, as long as I resist the temptation to go for a quick b5, which would only weaken my queenside and bring his pieces to life, and instead focus on getting f5 in. After which the pride of his position, the knight on e4, is pushed back, and I become active. I somewhat underestimated the strength of my position, and never saw a clear path where I could play for a win without much risk. I thought his plan Bd4 would equalize. Accordingly, I offered a draw after move 30 as planned, to reach a four game play-off. Had I seen the Nd3-threat, preventing Bd4, maybe I would have played on. He was getting low on time, and after a long think he accepted. The classical portion ended 6-6 after 12 draws, and we could prepare for the Rapid Play-Off, just as in the New York match in 2016, and also seen both in the 2006 (Kramnik - Topalov) and 2012 (Anand-Gelfand) matches.
The decisive moment came already in the first rapid game. I got a both promising and interesting position from the opening with a clear plan of playing against his weak pawns on the queenside combined with emerging back-rank themes. When he played the active Nb5 instead of trying to defend passively with Nb7, I had two very interesting alternatives. I couldn’t make Rxd4 work, missing Kh1 next (despite looking at Kf1), and chose Bxc4 to enter a rook ending a pawn up. His counterplay (active rook, king and passed c-pawn) might be enough for a draw, but it was of course very tricky. He defended well until missing I had the intermediate check on e7 before taking on g7, after which it was a matter of technique.
His play in the second game was clearly influenced by the loss of the first game, and despite an opening advantage he soon embarked on the wrong plan. I felt sufficiently confident and fresh all day and fairly quickly managed to get a winning position.
In game 3, a must-win situation, he had to deviate from previous games and chose the Sicilian. I knew I was better well into the middlegame, but anyhow went for e5 to simplify the position, as I thought I had calculated far enough to see a balanced ending. He had to take risks, and after Ne6? I was compelled to play for a win. Despite playing quite well, 3-0 is maybe too flattering, and the overshadowing fact was that I defended my title against such a strong opponent. Caruana matched me in the classical part, making the final victory not only a fulfillment of personal necessity, but also an achievement for which I'm very proud.
I feel deep gratitude to Peter Heine Nielsen and the rest of my team of seconds. They have worked very hard and conscientiously, and once again I take this opportunity to send my heartfelt thanks.
In London I had the usual team onsite, and you all contributed to the success. A special shout-out this time to chef Magnus Forssell, who prepared excellent meals for me and my team throughout the match. As usual my whole family was present for part of, or all of, the time, and it helped create the environment I needed to perform well.
I would like to mention my previous trainers, most notably Torbjørn Ringdal Hansen, Simen Agdestein and Garry Kasparov, and my loyal long-term main sponsors financial firm Arctic Securities, Simonsen Vogt Wiig lawyers, newpaper VG and water supplier Isklar as well as my own Play Magnus.
I’m told the world-wide coverage of the match was impressive. Judging from the varied geographical background and number of journalists in the final press conference, the World Championship match arguably continues to be the most important event in chess.
For the players the match was reasonably well-organized and special thanks goes to FIDE Supervisor A.Vardepetyan for his steady hand throughout.
Many thanks also to the media and all the chess fans in Norway and abroad following the match and engaging and contributing on social media and onsite.
Last, but not least, I’d like to thank Yuri Milner for hosting the great victory party (as in New York) at Rosewood hotel (where we stayed throughout the match) on the 28th!
There are encouraging signs from the new FIDE leadership elected in October. I was thrilled to hear that the Rapid & Blitz World Championship will take place this year as well, between Christmas and New Year, and I’m looking forward to travelling to St. Petersburg to fight for those titles.
A four-week break from tournaments is just what I need now. I look forward to following the London Chess Classic as a spectator this time.
I’m planning to play regularly (approximately four tournaments) in the first half of 2019, starting with Tata Steel Chess in January.
December 4th 2018
World Championship Match 2018 in London coming up
I’ve spent most of October abroad. In the UK we saw a few football matches and I met young chess enthusiast and top Liverpool footballer Alexander Trent Arnold for a game of chess. Later the same day the annual Play Magnus live event took place in Hamburg in the offices of Der Spiegel. Several of the players put up a good fight and I was a bit lucky to win all the games.
Next we went to Rome for the excellent Simonsen Vogt Wiig event October 9th. I managed to beat all my opponents within the allotted 30 sec but it was a close call, and the 3min against 30 sec is an exciting concept that has come to stay!
My last tournament before the World Championship Match was playing for Vålerenga in the European Club Cup in Greece. An old cold hadn’t completely let go, and the emphasis was more on the social aspects of playing on a team of friends than the chess games, at least compared to my approach during regular top tournaments. My teammates did great, and before the last round we had the sole lead despite being outrated by several of the other teams. The last round loss didn’t prevent us from placing as good as 5th, by far the best result of a Norwegian team in the ECC ever. Together with the 5thplace in the 2016 Olympiad, Norway is starting to be a serious top place contender also in team events!
After the ECC my team and I had the last regular training camp prior to the match. We have tried to learn from the previous matches, what worked well and what can be improved, and now all look forward to the match itself.
My last preparations before leaving for London tomorrow was a few days of cross country skiing up at Gausdal, reknown for a unique chess history. It was an emotional reminder of my more than a dozen visits to tournaments at Gausdal Hoyfjellshotel from 1999 to 2007, organized by the indefatigable Hans Olav Lahlum who took up the tradition of legendary Arnold Eikrem. The Gausdal chess tournaments were so important for me and a generation or more of Norwegian chess players.
The Carlsen-Caruana match Opening Ceremony and drawing of lots takes place November 8th, and round 1 starts at 3pm GMT Friday!
November 6th 2018
More on Sinquefield Cup 2018
The drawback of arriving in the US a week before Sinquefield Cup is that the longer you stay, the worse jetlag arriving back home. I’m doing quite well though, and I’ve had time to relax and start thinking about events ahead.
As pointed out, (maybe too many times already!), I had just 4 whites in Sinquefield Cup, and there are remarkable similarities between the games. After a fairly innocuous opening I got a winning or significant advantage in the complex middle game, and partly due to less than optimal time management I missed the critical continuation or overestimated the game continuation. As discussed earlier I still managed to have faith, keep on pressing throughout and win in the 7thhour against Karjakin and Nakamura.
Against Wesley So I certainly didn’t lack motivation. I have a good score against him historically, but he won a nice game against me in Norway Chess in June.
This time I had the white pieces and played 1.d4. His plan with cxd4 and Qxd5 really surprised me as I thought it would leave white with interesting possibilities and hardly any risk. Unfortunately I didn’t find anything tangible, and when I later played Bg5 I had spent most of my time and realized we were heading for a draw. I was astonished and delighted to see Qe7, but the forced variation I chose was not as promising as expected, and suddenly the position was drawn again. Once again, time management was critical. With more time left, I might have seen that while optically promising, the chosen variation didn’t actually work, and tried the simpler and far more effective Rc1 followed by Rc3 with a clear advantage!
The next great chess event is the Chess Olympiad in two weeks, which I will follow as a spectator.
September 6th 2018
Sinquefield Cup 2018 - Conclusion
What an exciting last round of the Sinquefield Cup yesterday. Before the last round Caruana was at +2. I was shared second (with a bunch of others) and had to win with white against Nakamura. The other players also had the overall Grand Chess Tour standing to think about, as the top four qualified for the final in London in December.
Wesley So didn’t show much ambition against Caruana and they drew relatively quickly. An hour or so later Aronian won against Grischuk after a really hard-fought game that could have gone either way. Aronian bravely sacrificed an exchange in a slightly worse position to benefit from Grischuks mounting time trouble in a complex middlegame.
I started 1.Nf3 but the game soon transposed to a Queens Gambit. It is a topical line slightly more pleasant for white. I was somewhat better when I spotted the Bxh6 variation played, and I thought it was more or less winning. Nakamura found the good defense Re8 and later I regretted my impatience. The doubling of rooks in the d-file wasn’t useful, and I should have just kept the rooks in the c-file and chosen the less ambitious Be5.
Anyhow, in a must win situation I had to keep pushing and just not give up. With four against three on the kingside and his a-pawn stuck on a7 white was better, but I did not see how to make progress with both queen and a rook left, and was very relieved after his Qf7 allowing Qa2 to trade queens. Then I had something to work with although black was still far from losing. When he played g5, fixing his pawns on e5, f6 and g5, and allowing h5 the position became critical. He decided to just give up the a-pawn to activate his rook and probably thought he should hold. I thought it was just winning, and in the game continuation bringing the king to b8 and giving up the f3-pawn to get the king behind his pawns at e6 etc was a pretty straight forward win!
Having had two 2ndplaces this summer, I was thrilled to reach a three-way tie for first with Caruana and Aronian.
The Grand Chess Tour organizers had not changed the inadequate tie-break rules used last year of maximum two players in play-off. I did not intend to accept being part of a lottery drawing and discussed other options with Aronian (as Caruana was not present for the drawing). Caruana also had to play a rapid play-off against So for the qualification for the 4thspot in the London final, a play-off which he won today, and understandably didn‘t want a three-way play-off for the Sinquefield Cup in addition as well on the same day. But we all agreed that sharing first (and no play-off) was a viable option and the St.Louis Chess Club and arbiter magnanimously agreed.
The past five editions have seen five different winners (chronologically me, Caruana, Aronian, So and Vachier-Lagrave) and pointedly the three first of us all became repeat winners this yearJ
I had acclimatized well before the tournament, the openings went well and overall I’m satisfied with the result. Some of the challenges I’ve had with indecision and not having enough confidence in my own intuition earlier this year persisted throughout most of Sinquefield Cup as well, but I feel there has been significant progress compared to Norway Chess and especially Biel.
Tomorrow I’m returning to Norway and will probably only play the European Club Cup mid October prior to the World Championship Match in London in November.
I’d like to thank the organizer and the Sinquefield’s for this great event and hope to be back next year!
August 28th 2018
Hard fights in Biel
I’ve always been ambivalent about rest days. It brakes the tournament rhythm which is generally a disadvantage and especially so if you are in the “flow”. But, objectively it is needed so that players can regain part of their strength during a taxing tournament. On my part I’ve played really long games here in Biel, and if anything I could have benefited from it already days ago.
In round 3 against Peter Svidler, he somewhat surprisingly went for the Najdorf Sicilian. I think I surprised him back by choosing the aggressive and sharp Bg5 variation. Optically the position looked promising for white and I calculated furiously ways to sacrifice material. Bb5 was a simple choice. If he captures, I take on e6 etc. Nf5 looked promising as well but he found the only defensive plan available. Still I might have gained an upper hand after Bg5 sacrificing another piece, but I couldn’t calculate it till the end (or to an advantageous position). Long term he had counterplay along the h8-a1 diagonal and none of us found an alternative to a repetition of moves before the first time control.
The local GM Georgiadis had lost his first three games when we played in R4. I played a bit speculatively in the opening and was at least slightly worse when he offered to trade queens. His exchange sacrifice on d4 looked dubious to me, but his pawn on d6 kept the tension. I was an exchange and pawn up, but my pieces were nearly all tied down to stop his d6-pawn. Underestimating my position at this point, I unfortunately went for the game continuation with Bf5, Rh7 and Rg7 as I missed his best counterplay. If he plays Rg3 (with check) after capturing on g7 I get my king to g6 with good winning chances. However, Rg5! picking up both the h5 and h3 pawns left us with a drawish ending. I tried to complicate the position by sacrificing the d4-pawn to create a passed pawn in the f-file. He found the required counterplay - draw.
I had white against co-leader Mamedyarov in round 5 and got a slight edge from the Ruy Lopez opening. White had more maneuvering possibilities but I could not find any clear path to an advantage. The Rc7-Rxc6 plan looked promising as white got a passed b-pawn and queen, bishop and knight against queen and two knights in addition to pawns on the kingside. Mamedyarov defended very well, and the last critical point was when I could play Be7 (Nxe7 Qd8+). To me it looked a bit too drawish, but if I had evaluated the game continuation correctly I should and would have gone for it. My opponent held a draw convincingly despite many potential pitfalls. He is currently ranked no 3 in the world and he recently came 2ndin the Candidates after 2ndranked Caruana. The current mature and disciplined Mamedyarov is simply a significantly better player than the more erratic (while always dangerous) player he was just three years ago.
In the first half of this event all my games where long, hard and complicated games reminding me of Tal Memorial 2011 where I started with the same creative ambition and three crazy games against Aronian, Gelfand and Kramnik.
Yesterday in round 6 against Navara, I didn’t manage to create that much. Rc8 was probably a mistake as it left me with a worse rook and knight ending, which I held without too much difficulty though. Mamedyarov beat Georgiadis and is leading with 4.5 points. I’m second at 4 with Lagrave, Svidler and Navara at 3 points.
Last night a group of chess players played football near the lake in the beautiful warm weather. It was just what I needed.
Biel needed some rain, and unfortunately the weather gods chose the rest day today:(
Sunday I’m white against Vachier-Lagrave at 2pm.
July 28th 2018
Accentus Grand Master Tournament in Biel
In preparation for the Biel GM Tournament I’ve spent more than a month in Oslo thoroughly enjoying the unusually warm summer.
I’ve played in Biel six times before (last in 2012), and it is good to back for this 51stBiel Chess Festival. I have many pleasant memories from the earlier editions, starting in 2005 with the far strongest tournament I had played at that age. I have won twice (2007 and 2011) and generally performed well, always enjoying the city restaurants and the location next to Bielersee with high hills to the west. The organizers have put together an interesting and strong field. My opponents are Mamedyarov, Vachier-Lagrave, Svidler, Navara and Nico Georgiadis (one of the strongest Swiss GM’s, who did very well last year in Biel).My ambition prior to the tournament was to fight hard in every game and to come up with some creative and interesting ideas. Having won both as white against Navara and black against Lagrave, I’m of course highly satisfied with the first two rounds. A lesson learned from Norway Chess is anyhow to be a little less panegyric than I was after three rounds in Stavanger (after which there wasn’t much to brag about on my part). I have played quite well so far, but the most important game is always the next one. That is how it should be throughout the tournament.
In round 1 Navara surprised me with Nxc5 in the opening, and I didn’t manage to get much of an opening advantage. After 14.e5 I had the choice between a very drawish continuation or the slightly speculative queen sacrifice which I ended up chosing to obtain imbalance. It was definitely not better for white, but it wasn’t easy for black to claim an advantage either. 20.Bf3 was a mistake I discovered a few seconds too late. I shouldn’t have had any problems after f4 instead. Fortunately Navara seemed to underestimate his position and chose 31... Nc4 to enter a drawish ending. I made a last attempt at maintaining the imbalance with Rd7, but the resulting queen versus rook, knight and pawn ending looked very drawish as well.
Navara had played a good game until move 40, and I was surprised to see him advancing his g-pawn. Suddenly the position got very tricky for black, and after some maneuvering my e-pawn started to roll. He had to sacrifice his queen for my rook and knight, and the pawn ending was winning for white (by one tempi).
I was nearly as surprised to get winning chances today against Lagrave. I surprised him with the Pirc, and he avoided the sharpest lines. After the exchange of queens the ending looked fairly balanced. When he allowed Bc5 and the exchange of both bishops, the double rook ending was suddenly uncomfortable for white. Black is more active, but it was very hard to tell if there were real winning chances during the game. We both had plenty of time and really needed it after the first time control. Double rook endgames without king protection are notoriously difficult, and my opponent is maybe the best in the world in these kind of positions. At a crucial point I had missed his Rg8-Rd8 idea and seemed to have allowed him back in the game. It was however still extremely difficult for him to defend. In the end I managed to win what was one of the most challenging and rewarding games I’ve played in recent years!
Both Mamedyarov and Svidler have won against Georgiadis and share 2ndwith 1.5 points. I’m white against Svidler in round 3 Tuesday at 2pm.
July 23rd 2018
Mid year 2018 status
Having played three elite events in two and a half months in addition to the 10-day trip to the US lately, it is good to spend some time back in Oslo and also enjoy the football World Cup featuring magical matches as witnessed in Spain – Portugal (3 – 3).
Play Magnus is continuing to improve our Apps, and Monday we launched the Magnus’ Kingdom of Chess, for kids, together with Dragonbox. It is great to see the continued strong interest for chess among Norwegian kids.
In the first half I’ve played the Fischer Random Match against Nakamura and four elite events (resulting in two 1st places and two 2nd places), enough to maintain the top rating spot (since July 2011). I always believe I can do better, but again, compared to last year there is progress (although the back-end of Norway Chess could have been more encouraging to put it mildly).
Looking back at all the events in 2018 more generally, I’ve felt in control during the games with few exceptions, and my seconds have done a good job. I haven’t been able to grab the initiative as often as I’d like.
I’ll play two more elite events in the 3rd quarter, starting with Biel late July. Playing quite frequently in preparation for the World Championship match scheduled for November still makes sense to me. I’m highly motivated for the match, and Caruana’s classical chess results after Wijk have been stellar. Quite likely we will have the first match in ages between the two top-ranked players in the world. It is also the second match between players from the early 1990-generation (in a row), and right now Kramnik is the only player above 35 in the top10. The average age of the chess elite has generally declined in the last decade, despite Anand and Kramnik continuing to fight at the highest level. It should be expected, as chess has become more of a sport. While the increased focus among chess players on maintaining physical shape might mitigate the disadvantage of age, the age distribution in elite chess is showing similarity with other sports.
June 17th 2018
Altibox Norway Chess 2018
I’d like to congratulate Caruana on winning Altibox Norway Chess 2018 with an inspired spurt winning the last two rounds to reach +2. The last round could have seen a five-way tie for first with 8 rounds of Blitz play-off on Friday. I had drawn as black against Vachier-Lagrave, Nakamura a bit later against Aronian while Anand beat Karjakin with black. Caruana-So was a hard-fought exciting came apparently heading for a draw at the time control, when So made a rushed 41st losing move,maybe not aware that he had reached the time control. Surely a thrilling finish to the strongest elite event of the year!
I came 2nd at +1 on better tie-break than Nakamura and Anand. We played just 8 rounds due to the unfortunate bicycle accident Ding Liren had on the first rest day. I wish him a speedy recovery, and upon leaving Stavanger early this week he seemed much better already.
Having experienced far worse in the 2015 and 2017 editions I’m not going to complain too much about the overall result this time. The finish was clearly disappointing though. Crudely speaking the last 5 rounds represented little more than two uninspired draws with black and three off-days against Anand, So and Mamedyarov, more than offsetting the exceptional start.
I stayed fairly fresh throughout the tournament and thoroughly enjoyed the highly unusual bout of early summer for once leaving the event with much less need to recuperate than the norm.
I quite enjoyed both the Simonsen Vogt Wiig simul event and the youth event Friday and would like to thank the organizers headed by the indefatigable Kjell Madland for the 6th edition of this world class event!
I’m planning to revert with another wrap-up next week. Stay tuned!
June 10th 2018
Norway Chess 2018 - Great start!
Hopefully this is what good form is about. Sleeping well. A relaxed atmosphere and little emphasis and focus on expectations. Not second-guessing own opening choices. Efficient time-management. Enjoying the games.
Easier said than done, of course.
Irrespective of the continuation I’ve enjoyed the memorable start of the 6th edition of Norway Chess in Stavanger.
As in 2017, NC will be the strongest round robin on the chess calendar this year. From the current rating list I’m joined by Caruana, Mamedyarov, Ding, Vachier-Lagrave, Karjakin, So, Nakamura, Aronian and Anand. Out of the top-10, only Kramnik and Giri are missing. You just have to think back to last year to appreciate how difficult it is to win games and avoid losses in such a field.
I’m usually highly focused on winning the Blitz tournament on the first day. This time I think I was too relaxed to really care or to have the sharpened agility needed in high-level blitz. Leaders changed several times and Wesley So’s three victories in a row in the second half was decisive in securing him first. I came 4th. Mission accomplished with regard to securing five white games in the main event.
In round one I was once again facing 2018 World Championship match Challenger Fabiano Caruana. (We met in round 2 last year in NC, and have faced off in round one in every RR tournament since then!)
We played the Bishop’s Opening and having spent quite a lot of time on the interesting pawn sacrifice idea (d4, e4, Ne5) I felt I should go through with it despite uncertainty about the counter-exchange sacrifice Rxe5. When he took with the knight I was still uncertain about the level of compensation. With the excellent piece placement I couldn’t be worse, but did I have an advantage? The d4-blockade and control of the c-file was optically esthetic, and it is hard to see how he can create any counterplay. He didn’t have time to rearrange his knight from f6 to e6 while I could try to improve slowly. I’m not sure I had made any real progress when he played Rc7 to exchange the last rook slightly low on time. It was clearly a mistake, and one or two additional inaccuracies left me two pawns up in a won, while slightly tricky, queen and knight ending. I managed to keep control and find a winning plan and with queen against my queen and three pawns, he resigned. Winning what may be our last encounter before the World Championship match in November is not necessarily significant, but it sure was a pleasant way to start off!
Round 2 as black against Karjakin was less eventful, and after two rounds, my win against Caruana was still the only decisive game in the main event.
Against Aronian yesterday I played the 5.Re1-line in the Roy Lopez. It is not considered the most ambitious opening but after 10. … Nf5 followed by the exchange of rooks, he played the surprising 14… Bg5 probably assuming he could gradually develop his queenside rook. It turned out to be very difficult. A player who always enjoys activity, Aronian seemed quite unhappy with his passive position. Spending too much time, he got low on time well before the first time control, and failed to defend properly against my pressure along the f-file. 27… Nf6 allowing Rf3 and Ne4 was the final decisive mistake, and I got revenge for the loss last year in Stavanger.
The other four games ended in draw, and I’m a full point ahead on the first rest day today.
I’m normally not fully satisfied with 2nd place, while in the cooking competition today my team mate Wesley did a good job and 2nd after Anand and Ding was a pleasant surprise:)
Enjoyed another game of soccer this evening in the unusually beautiful Stavanger summer weather. Tomorrow I’m playing black against Hikaru Nakamura at 16:30 local time.
May 31st 2018
Vugar Gashimov Memorial 2018 Victory!
The penultimate round turned out to be decisive in Shamkir. Giri played1.c4 and a reversed Dragon Sicilian against me. After his 12.Nd2 I think he both expected and hoped for 12… Nd5 allowing simplification and a balanced position. Prior to the game I had a flexible approach and didn’t want to avoid a draw at high cost, but in the actual position f5 felt like an obvious choice. Despite computer evaluations I think most players might even prefer black. After grabbing the pawn on a4 White had no clear plan, and with Qd7, Rd8, Bg5 etc I had space and could soon put some pressure both in the center and on his kingside. The position was highly complex, and we both probably made some inaccurate moves although I never felt I was in any real danger. White got quite tied down and before the time control he made some decisive mistakes. Rather than suffering a lost endgame, he tried an interesting trick on move 41 When I responded appropriately he resigned.
Ding won against Mamedov, and Carlsen-Ding became a true final in round 9 Saturday. I contemplated both aggressive and more solid approaches to the game, but when he went for 4.Nd4 it became both tempting and realistic to secure clear 1st playing a drawish line. Ding came 2nd and Karjakin 3rd after beating former leader Topalov.
I cannot be fully satisfied with my own play despite winning in the end. As in Grenke Classics there were too may uneventful draws. Except after the opening against Topalov in round seven I never felt in trouble. There is a clear correlation between risk and reward in chess but I’m not sure it is very strong, particularly not in a single tournament. I hope to be able to create more eventful games and at the same time avoid too many precarious positions also in the future.
A few years back I felt there was something unreal and even unreasonable when others won events. Despite my good statistics that arguably was a somewhat objectionable perception, but maybe it helped me win some close fought events. This has changed slightly. This time I truly appreciated lifting the trophy and treasure my 3rd Shamkir victory.
Our flight is Tuesday morning and today we went on an excursion to beautiful Lake Goygol courtesy of the always hospitable and friendly organizers. My heartfelt thanks to the organizers, and tournament sponsors Synergy and Socar from me and my team!
In May I have a few events in the US, and my next major tournament is Norway Chess in Stavanger starting with Blitz on May 27th.
April 30th 2018
Leading Gashimov Memorial in Shamkir with two rounds to go
Usually I’m in good shape two days after a tough football match. This time I wasn’t and misplayed the opening against Topalov. Probably both made several inaccuracies, and the middle game was pretty balanced. My plan with Rd2, Qd1, Re3 created challenges for black, but I expected him to see the necessary Kf8-resource. Topalov says he did, but chose to give his queen for rook and bishop. Sometimes you can defend fairly easily against the queen. Generally any misplaced pawn makes it very difficult for the lighter pieces. Today I gave him some drawing chances partly due to my exposed king. Evaluating the position correctly was tricky for both of us, and fortunately I won and took clear the clear lead!
The football matches on the rest day against media and organizing committee teams were as usual hard-fought and fun with reasonably well-matched teams. The local teams displayed impressive technique, but the Chessplayers team won due to better stamina, tight defense and admittedly some lucky goals by yours truly:-)
I’m purposely not focusing much on round 2 to 4. Against Navara I got most of what I could have hoped for out of the opening, and then immediately gave him the necessary counterplay with the mistimed b4. He found the tactical resources needed and defended well. I did get a good position against Rauf Mamedov as well despite the black pieces. He also defended very well, and I didn’t see what I could have done to make any more progress. The Azeri players are generally known for their solid approach, and Radjabov with the white pieces forced a repetition of moves in the same position in which I drew against Leko with white in Morelia in 2007!
Round 5 was more fun for me. Partly directed at the specific opponent I chose an idea against the Sicilian with a known set-up but with the pawn on c2 instead of c4. Having been Anand’s second for many years, Wojtaszek knows mainlines better than most, and he is a good tactical player. White has the advantage of king safety and unless black can refute the opening early it is not so bad for white. Wojtaszek chose a plan with h7-h5-h4 which was not the best approach. I got an overwhelming position and could have gained a winning advantage with the Nd5-sacrifice. My intuition said it should work (and it does), but I wasn’t able to find a decisive line. Later I regretted playing the prosaic g4 instead. He more or less equalized, but the position was difficult to play for black and short on time he quickly collapsed.
Finding the right balance between calculation and trusting intuition might sometimes seem easy to the point of being an obvious element of your play when you are in great form. In reality it is more often a subtle tradeoff that even elite players struggle with.
With two rounds left I’ve got half a point lead ahead of Topalov, Giri and Ding Liren and Iook forward to the exciting finish. Friday I’m black against none other than Anish Giri!
April 27th 2018
Vugar Gashimov Memorial Shamkir 2018
Expectations were high ahead of the first round today as I was black against second seed Mamedyarov. Still the game fizzled out all too soon. Maybe he expected a Grunfeld and was surprised by my Kings Indian. The line he chose didn’t leave enough play after the opening exchanges. I was hoping to gain some long term initiative with the queenside majority only to discover that his f4! was even slightly better for white. Draw is objectively fine with black against Mamedyrov, but having had too many non-games in April already, I had hoped for more of a fight. There were more content in some of the other games, but we are all sharing the lead with 0,5/1!
I entered the top elite with the Tata Steel shared 1st in 2008, and it is now exactly 10 years since my first tournament participation in Azerbaijan later that spring. It went well back then – I shared 1st with Vugar Gashimov and Wang Yue - and I’ve continued to be successful in Azerbaijan with 1st places in Shamkir 2014 and 2015 as well as contributing to the best Norwegian result ever in the Chess Olympics 2016 in Baku where our young team ended 5th.
Azerbaijan is one of the strongest chess nations in the world. Chess is supported at the highest level and by the state oil company (and tournament sponsor) Socar. The Azerbaijan team have won the European Team Championship several times, a feat of such caliber the nation has not been spoiled with in team events in other sports. In accordance with the status of chess over here, we are treated with great hospitality.
The line up is very strong despite coinciding with the US Championship. We are five top-10 players (Mamedyarov, Liren, Karjakin, Giri and me) and most of the others are approximately 2750 rated as well (Topalov, Radjabov, Navara, Wojtazek, Mamedov).
As in 2015 we (coach Peter Heine, chef Forssell, my father and me) arrived with the night flight from Istanbul early on the 16th and have had time to rest and get acclimatized. Courtesy of a local school I’ve played basketball or football every day so far, thank you!
Tomorrow I’m white against Navara, a dangerous and unpredictable tactician. We had some great fights 10-15 years ago and I look forward to the coming rounds.
April 18th 2018
Grenke Chess Classics 2.place
The last six rounds of Grenke Chess Classics took place in Baden-Baden. It is a short transfer by car from Karlsruhe, but the setting is very different. From the largest Open in the World, taking place in the middle of city, to the much more intimate Kulturhaus playing venue in the spa-town Baden-Baden, partly in summer weather. Curiously, my level of play hasn’t been stellar in Baden-Baden. Not so despite winning in 2015, nor in 2017 or this time. This year I fought hard, had many quite long games and was only in danger once, after over-pressing against Meier. In time trouble none of us saw the beautiful winning line involving a double rook sacrifice on h7 and h6.
In general my opponents played quite tight in this event, and when I missed some opportunities to press, +2 undefeated and clear 2nd place is a reasonable result despite loosing four rating points.
I played a sharp variation against Vachier-Lagrave and the Richter-Rauzer as black in the last round against Anand, and it contributed to a varied and quite interesting event on my part.
I’d like to congratulate clear winner Caruana on a great performance. Emotions high after his Candidates success he ended up cruising through the event saving worse or lost positions against me and Hou Yifan, and generally taking all his winning chances, including the last two decisive rounds. He confirmed his position as a dangerous and worthy World Championship Challenger in November.
Aronian recovered partly from his disastrous Candidates and shared 3rd with early leaders Vachier-Lagrave and Vitiugov. The Baden-Baden part of the event wasn’t “fire on board” for any us, and fortunately the fire alarm late last night at the hotel turned out to be a false alarm, after which the guests were treated to champagne instead:-)
Last but not least I’m greatful to main sponsor Grenke and organizers headed by Sven Noppes. Thank you!
Right now I’m tired, but anyhow treasure the idea of playing in Shamkir already next week!
April 11th 2018
Grenke Chess Classics 2018
From a spectator perspective the introduction of Candidates tournaments from 2013 onwards has been a resounding success. Somewhat surprisingly the 2018 tournament is arguably the most exciting so far. I really enjoyed the many intense fights and the uncompromising approach by nearly all the players. With 14 rounds the Candidates is the longest elite event these days, and with the high stakes and winner-takes-all dynamic, gravity pulls down the leaders and facilitates comebacks even at a late stage. Still, I think the early +2 score achieved by first Kramnik and then Caruana forced a risk-taking approach more generally.
My pre-tournament favorites were Fabiano Caruana and Levon Aronian. Their average score ended up being negative, but early leader Caruana held on to the lead and impressively won on demand after the round 12 loss to a resurgent Karjakin. I look forward to a highly demanding and challenging World Championship match in November!
I spent the week before Grenke Chess Classics at a training camp in Oman and arrived in Karlsruhe hungry for chess. This year we play 9 rounds; Three in Karlsruhe coinciding with the huge Grenke Open, and six in Baden-Baden from tomorrow till April 9th.
As usual the field comprise several elite players as well as some of the best German players and the best female player. I’ve played Caruana in round 1 in our last three classical chess round robin tournaments and amazingly we were paired in round 1 in Grenke Chess Classics as well. Caruana had only four days to recover after the Candidates, and I decided to play fairly aggressively with black. I got a pleasant position from the Kings Indian opening and thought the c- and d-pawns would decide. The double rook ending turned out to be more complex than anything I think I’ve seen before. It looked winning, but I couldn’t find the winning line, missing the subtle Kb1-threat at the end of the 54… Rh7- line. Anyhow I’m satisfied with the first two games. Hou Yifan defended well but went astray just before the first time control. A lot of work was left, but the extra white pawn should decide for me, and it did.
Against Bluebaum in round 3 I never got any real chances. He played successfully tight as white, and when the 29…. Ng4-trick he had missed held for white anyway, I had to settle for a draw.
Lagrave and Vitiugov have both started well with 2.5/3 and I’m playing Lagrave Wednesday at 3 pm with the white pieces.
April 3rd 2018
Fischer Random match and Trondheim event
I think the Fischer Random (or Chess960) match against Hikaru Nakamura (who won the last Mainz unofficial World Championship back in 2009), held at the Henie Onstad art gallery in my former home-municipality Baerum, was a great success and well beyond what I had expected. The games, where a new piece set-up was randomly generated among the 960 possibilities for every second game to allow one white and one black each before moving to a new set-up, turned out to be rich in chess content, highly interesting and surprisingly taxing compared to classical chess by posing new and demanding challenges from move 1. The match was hard fought, and while it took us some time to learn to absorb new structures, and both continued to be tempted to transform the positions into known classical structures throughout, especially the third and fourth day revealed such non-classical piece placement that we were consistently forced to enter pristine positional structures. I hope there will be more such events in the future also at top level. Still, it will be a relief to return to classical chess in my next event in April. Maybe some of the ideas seen and pursued in this match will serve as inspiration for me also in classical chess.
We played four days of slow rapidchess (each player having 45 minutes for 40 moves plus 15 minutes for the rest of the game) and 8 fast rapid-games on day 5 with 10 minutes + 5 seconds increment per move.
Starting with three hard-fought draws on day 1 and 2, the next 5 games were decided. I played quite well in game 4 and despite his stubborn defence I managed to win in the end. He simply didn’t have time to find all the only-moves in the tricky queen ending. Nakamura as expected tried to complicate and avoid quiet positional struggles and sometimes accepted being worse out of the opening. His clever defence and tenacious resourcefulness kept him in the match. I could have taken a clear lead after four days but didn’t claim a draw in time with rook and bishop against his rook in game 8. Frustrated after squandering a won position, I lost my head, as could probably be seen by the higher pulse – we had heart rate monitors which I think is a great idea – and the unreal time loss was my involuntary additional contribution to chess as performance art taking place in the Dag Alving photo-art exhibition, partly about chess history, surrounding the match. I had a 9-7 lead and was able to forget bygones and focus on having fun the last day. Managing to hold the queen versus rook and pawn ending in game three yesterday was psychologically important, maybe even decisive. I won game four, and was happy to secure match victory by winning game 5 as well. I’m not sure I’ve played more than 5 rapid games in one day before. The energy level dropped dramatically, and we even started to make serious mistakes in well-known structures and endings. I won 14-10 in the end and that is a decent result. Non the less, I think both of us could play better, and I already look forward to new Chess960 challenges in the not too far future. The match was covered live by main channel NRK, and I’d like to thank everyone involved for the great event!!
Right now I’m on my way to the Trondheim offices for a simul against Simonsen Vogt Wiig customers and cooperation partners this afternoon!
February 14th 2018
6th Wijk aan Zee victory!
In 2015 and 2016 I won outright with 9/13 in Tata Steel Chess. This time it was enough for shared 1st with Anish Giri, and with the new play-off rules implemented in 2017, tournament victory was decided by a Blitz play-off to the joy of most spectators and the chagrin of purists taking exception to deciding classical events with Blitz (albeit slow 5+3 Blitz). Personally I’m fine with both alternatives; shared victory, or play-off. I do like play-offs despite the extra pressure, and fortunately I managed to maintain my good record, and won 1,5-0,5 to clinch the title and capture the status of having the most tournament victories ahead of Anand at 5, and Aronian (among contemporary players) and others at 4.
Against Matlakov in round 12 I took my 4th win in a row with the white pieces in another rook and opposite bishop endgame a pawn up. These endgames tend to be theoretically a draw, but are very, and sometimes extremely, difficult to hold. I had a c-pawn and we both had h-pawns. There are no obvious attempts at fortresses for black, and he had three serious challenges; stop the c-pawn, defend his h-pawn and defend his bishop. (My own bishop was much simpler defended by the c-pawn or the king.) A human is faced with finding an adequate dynamic defense for each and every single move. His king became very vulnerable on the h-file, and I looked for a way to exploit this only to decide to play safe in the end. Advancing the c-pawn should win, and he resigned when it got to c6. I needed this win to keep up with Anish Giri who also won in the penultimate round.
In the last round I drew with Karjakin as black and didn’t really have any chances to play for an advantage. (If Giri had managed to beat Wei Yi with black he would have been a deserved sole winner at +6.)
I’d like to thank the organizers for staging a great 80th edition of the tournament. For most players the combination of a long event (13 rounds in 17 days) and the seaside North sea climate is somewhat of a challenge, and it really pays tribute to Tata Steel Chess, the Wijk aan Zee village, and everyone involved in the event that the level of play was so high this time. Half the field played very good chess throughout the tournament and scored +2 or more. I played much better than in most of 2017, and combined with the World Blitz victory a month ago it makes me quite optimistic going ahead. Giri played arguably his best tournament ever and was never in serious trouble in any game. Kramnik is getting in good shape for the Candidates, and he won more games than any other player. Two losses prevented him from reaching higher than shared 3rd at 8.5. Mamedyarov had a great 2017 and the half of Tata he played great. He remained a serious contender for first throughout. As expected it would be hard for him to keep the 5.5/7 pace, and the new “mature but still aggressive” Shakhriyar is now a force to be reckoned with. While I have a good score against him with black historically, I ended up in a fairly miserable position against him in round 11. He had the bishop pair, and when he allowed Bb5 and liquidation into a drawish rook and minor piece ending, I was quite relieved. Anand was the early leader. He generally, and specifically against Caruana, played very well except against Kramnik. Amazingly +3 was only enough for shared 5th this time. Wesley So did well except for his Groningen loss to me and shared 5th with Anand. Karjakin should also be mentioned. Wins against Caruana and Kramnik made Tata Steel Chess a great dress rehearsal for the March Candidate tournament, and just too many draws prevented him from becoming a serious contender for the podium.
February 9th to 13th I’m playing Hikaru Nakamura in an (unofficial World Championship) Fischer Random match at Hovikodden art gallery outside Oslo.
February 1st 2018
Three-way tie before final weekend in Tata Steel Chess 2018
In round 9 I had the black pieces against Viswanatan Anand who has played very well except against Kramnik. We ended up playing a Ruy Lopez variation that is somewhat better for white but solid for black. It was a surprise when he went c4 as I thought I might have more problems after a slower approach with b4, and eventually rerouting the knight from g3. White still had the initiative, but it was not much. When he offered me a draw on move 32 it was still fairly equal. Since I couldn’t see any scenario where I would end up better, I promptly accepted.
Anish Giri was the only one winner in round 9. Matlakov went wrong in a strategic middlegame, and Giri expertly took advantage.
The second host city in the 2018 Tata Steel Chess is Groningen, situated in the north, further away from Wijk aan Zee than other cities visited in past tournaments. The other players were shuttled to Groningen Tuesday evening while I chose to travel before the round Wednesday. In retrospect it worked out just as I had hoped. The initial museum visit was well planned and quite interesting. The academy building at the Groningen University represented an inspiring choice of venue, and visitors queued up to fill the playing hall. My opponent Wesley So has cooled down a bit after a great run in the autumn of 2016 and winter of 2017, but was still in contention for 1st with four rounds to go in this tournament. I played the London system as white and was happy to find the e4-trust despite my vulnerable king on d1. Black was fine until he got tempted to play Nd4 to exchange knights. My white-squared bishop was better than his black-squared bishop, and it more than offset king vulnerability. I think he would have been fine after Qe6-f7 instead of Qd7, but it is a counterintuitive move. As I hoped he quickly went Qd7. White was clearly better and with rooks left it is often a fine line between draw and victory. He found some tactical resources and should theoretically be able to hold with the extra piece against my three pawns. He quickly went astray and with four pawns for the bishop the win was relatively straight forward, especially as I can give up one pawn in order to exchange rooks in any of the lines. It was not perfect, but I really enjoyed the fight. Mamedyarov won convincingly against Svidler to make it a three-way tie for first with 7/10 with three rounds to go! Kramnik and Anand also won and is 4th and 5th.
I have the black pieces against co-leader Mamedyarov Friday.
Wijk aan Zee, Holland,
January 25th 2018
Actionfilled weekend in Tata Steel Chess 2018
We played rounds 6 to 8 this weekend, and while the individual results cannot be considered particularly unexpected, the many comebacks from lost positions are exceptional. Friday it was Mamedyarov’s and So’s turn, and by winning Mamedyarov took the sole lead ahead of Anand and Giri.
I planned a non-theoretical, highly interesting and chaotic draw against Peter Svidler, were I unfortunately forced him to play the kind of dynamic chess he is so good at. Both of us felt we lost control, and it was a bit surprising to find out that the game was actually well-played.
Saturday I got a much needed endgame victory as white against Hou Yifan where I had been better and even clearly better only to let her escape into a probably drawn albeit tricky endgame with rook and three pawns against my knight and five pawns. I tried to pose as many problems as possible, and she seemed to think it was lost all around. Maybe that contributed to her decisive mistake at move 50. After h5? my advanced b- and d-pawn decided the game.
Mamedyarov used the chance to pull ahead with his third victory in a row.
Next I played Gawain Jones with the white pieces. As admitted in an interview immediately after the game Sunday, I disliked both the trend and frankly also my position, and in that situation discovering that I had blundered badly with 17.g4?? was partly a relief. It couldn’t get any worse, and despite the extra piece black does not have an obvious plan. Trying to exchange queens was a mistake and after g5! I was at least close to being back in the game. The position after Qa3 and b3 was fascinating and inspiring because it didn’t resemble anything I’ve seen before. Black is a piece up, white has no direct threats, but it is far from obvious that black is better. He continued to go astray and even material down it soon became apparent that I was winning.
Meanwhile the leader Mamedyarov lost without much resistance to Anish Giri.
Going into the final week, I’ve achieved what I had been hoping for this weekend – an exciting finish ahead. Giri, Mamedyarov and I are at +3, Kramnik and So at +2, Anand and Karjakin at +1.
Monday is a restday and Tuesday I’m playing Anand with the black pieces.
Wijk aan Zee, Holland,
January 21st 2018
Wind aan Zee
Even for January in Wijk aan Zee the storm was quite heavy this morning. The planned basketball match in Ijmuiden was cancelled due to an authority red alert related to traffic dangers, falling trees etc. Early afternoon it calmed down a bit and we enjoyed a walk on the beach and a late afternoon basketball session at the local Heliomare, before playing the first online Proleague match of the year for the Norway Gnomes. Today's opponents were aptly named the (Gorky) Stormbringers. We won convincingly.
I did well with the black pieces in the King Salman Rapid & Blitz World Championship three weeks ago, and much better than with white. So far the trend has continued in Tata Steel Chess. In round 2 Baskaran Adhiban, India got a small but pleasant edge in the opening as white against me. Maybe he was too eager to draw the game and his attempt at simplifying resulted in an equal position with still some play left. I gave him a difficult choice with Bf5 and as expected he hesitated to play c3 and enter the complications after my d4-push. After two inaccuracies from him I had two passed pawns against his one and the rest was technique. 0-1.
As white against Wei Yi I played the Catalan. Already when he played Na6 I envisioned the resulting endgame and pawn structure and it didn’t offer much for white. I tried, but he kept the balance without too much difficulty.
Taking on the early leader Anish Giri with black in round 4 I went for a theoretical line in the Winawer French. Black has some compensation for the pawn and the position is quite interesting and dynamic with his vulnerable king offsetting the outside passed h-pawn. After a long think he went for Ne4 forcing Rxc2+ and the simplifications lead to a drawn ending.
Yesterday we visited Hilversum east of Amsterdam for round 5. In retrospect the highlight for me was maybe the Sesame Street pictures and game with Bert:-)
Well, to be fair, I’m very happy with the endgame. The variation Kramnik chose in the Ruy Lopez is supposed to be slightly dubious for black, but I couldn’t find a really promising continuation after his d5-push. I tried to complicate things with Ng3, exd5 and Be3 despite expecting Kramnik to find the principled and best response. He did. He captured on d5 with the Knight and took the pawn on d3. The resulting rook and knight ending was balanced. I mistakenly tried to play for an advantage with b5(?) and after Ne5 black was better. In the three against two pawn rook ending, I went for g4 to reach a known drawn, albeit tricky, ending rather than risk keeping the pawn and having to cope with numerous somewhat difficult decisions. I did hold the rook endgame against his two g-pawns despite his active king. The main point is to stop his king from coming to h3. Draw.
I would not be entirely happy with the situation in a short event, but with eight rounds to go, +1, half a point behind leaders Anand, Mamedyarov and Giri, is just fine for now.
Friday 19th 1:30 pm local time I’m black against Peter Svidler.
Wijk aan Zee,
January 18th 2018
Two weeks aan Zee ahead
Traveling from Oslo via London and Amsterdam to Wijk aan Zee, I’m reminded of one effect of living close to the Arctic circle. Just a short flight from Oslo there’s already 1,5 hours more daylight mid January.
Tata Steel is celebrating the 80th anniversary (!) of the Tata Steel Chess tournament by inviting a stronger field than in many years. I’m up against five other top10 players, and the rating average of the 14 players is just above 2750. Unfortunately I’m not superstitious otherwise winning in Wijk in most even years from 2004 onwards would have called for some optimism on my partJ
The organizer deserves praise for composing an interesting and varied (and funny) opening ceremony event, and when I drew white in the first round I had reason to be happy with the first day in Wijk in 2018.
Today against Caruana gave less cause for celebration. Maybe I couldn’t expect much after a fairly innocuous opening and early queen trade. I saw a potential longterm pawn structure advantage, but getting there remained too distant to ever materialize. Underestimating his Nd5 plan didn’t help. I did get some slight pressure until he found many good moves despite getting slightly low on time. Just before the time control I didn’t even like my position, and in a drawish position after the time control I made the unusual move (for me) of offering a draw. A reasonable start and 12 rounds to go! Anand followed up his great run in the World Rapid & Blitz with a win against Matlakov and is the early leader together with Kramnik and Giri.
Looking back at 2017 I didn’t fulfill my ambition of improving on my level of play from 2016 in classical chess. The results were not catastrophic, with a few 2nd and 3rd places in addition to winning the strong Isle of Man Open, and the 2nd half was better than the 1st half. In 2018 my plan is to play quite a lot of classical chess aimed at improving further to close the gap between what I know I can do and how I’m actually performing.
In Rapid and Blitz I have to be very satisfied with 2017. As expected there are some ups and downs, but winning Norway Chess Blitz, Paris, Leuven, the Champions Showdown match against Ding Liren, and the Blitz World Championship brought me the top rating spots in both Rapid and Blitz by a wide margin. Finishing 2017 on a high note with the Blitz victory in Riyadh was important, and it makes me quite optimistic with regard to 2018!
Wijk aan Zee,
January 13th 2018
Riyadh roller coaster ride
The King Salman 2017 World Rapid & Blitz Championships in Riyadh was organized at the highest level, and my family and I were treated with great hospitality throughout our stay. The quality of my play was more of a roller coaster until the last day. The great last day change was reminiscent of the Berlin 2015 Championship, with opposite signs. In Berlin I had 4 quite or very good initial days (including winning the Rapid) and a very poor 5th day finishing 6th in the Blitz despite an early 9/10 on day 4. This time I generally struggled throughout day 1-4 intermingled with some good games especially with the black pieces, and finished with an extraordinary 9/10 streak against world class players on the last day to win the Blitz.
Planning to enjoy the event and not have concrete ambitions was easier said than done, having done well in the previous four World Rapid and Blitz Championships (2012, 2014-6) I’ve participated in. (2nd, 1st, 1st and 3rd in Rapid, and 2nd, 1st, 6th and 2nd in Blitz).
Losing the first Rapid game was a small blow, but with 3.5/5 for the day I was more or less on target. Despite too many blunders I was leading after 12 out of 15 rounds and in shared lead before round 15. I played Grischuk with the white pieces; a very difficult opponent. I knew a draw was likely enough for a play-off (and co-leader Anand indeed took an early draw). Playing for a win in critical games has brought me many triumphs in the past, and I decided to be true to style and try to decide the championship myself. I was not happy with the opening and was under pressure after his e3!-push. Not handling the uncomfortable position well, I missed the few chances I had to get back in the game and went down in flames ending at 10/15 and 5th place. Anand won the play-off against Fedoseev to take the title and trophy. Congratulations!
While it is easier to perform consistently well in Rapid with more time available and less erratic play, I’ve had such a good year in Blitz that aiming for anything else than victory didn’t make sense initially.
Round one was weird, really weird. The game was interesting, and low on time my opponent Inarkiev made an illegal move (checking me while his king was in check). On reflex I moved my king out of check, reaching a legal position (where only his king was in check and it was his turn to move), instead of claiming a win by pointing out his illegal move. Next he stopped the clock and claimed a win arguing that I had no legal moves as his king was in check! Somehow the arbiter agreed to this preposterous idea and round 2 was delayed more than 30 minutes as I tried (and fortunately managed) to convince the chief arbiter that the game should continue in the final and fully legal position both based on the rules, and the 2014 Dubai World Blitz precedent where my trainer Peter Heine Nielsen had a similar experience!
Highly agitated I was thoroughly outplayed by Sjugirov in round 2. Three wins in row followed by a disastrous finish scoring 50% in the rest of the games, where I blundered badly in every game, left me trailing leader Karjakin by two points in 20th place.
In the morning on the last day I wasn’t as confident as usual, and more or less accepted that 1st might be out of reach. Against Grishuk with black in the first round I immediately noticed that my brain worked better. He played a topical Queens Gambit line and I decided to deviate from theory after his Qa4. He missed the best continuations, and I was slightly better with my rook and queen on the e-file. After Qc5+ he had to play Qd4 with compensation for the pawn. Moving his king instead he was simply a pawn down with a worse position, and the rest was a matter of technique. 0-1. Against Harikrishna I had a pleasant advantage and continued to put pressure on him throughout the game. I made a few inaccuracies and he defended well, and it was only short on time he blundered and lost. Quite a good game by both I think.
Next as black against Mamedyarov I managed to equalize and tried to tempt him into playing for a win in the queen and rook ending. He did, and when I counterattacked he blundered badly with Qd5 allowing Re1+!
Karjakin drew his first three games and with very few victories on the top boards I was back at the top board in round 4. He allowed an opening that has worked well for me in the past. My kingside attack consists mainly of natural moves while his defense is more difficult. He went wrong with Qf7 and his position collapsed quickly. I was suddenly sole leader!
I drew with white against Vachier-Lagrave in round 5 and managed to win the next four games by putting pressure on my opponents both on the board and on the clock to secure clear first with a round to go. When Aronian offered a draw with white in the last round I saw no reason to play on and try to interfere with the distribution of the other medals. It was great to feel once again that winning can be such an all-encompassing emotional experience. This is probably the Rapid or Blitz victory I’ve enjoyed the most!
Karjakin took 2nd and Anand 3rd after late game blunders by their opponents in the high-stake last round games.
We returned to Norway for New Years eve, and the Blitz victory is clearly a highlight of 2017 and a great prelude to the 2018 tournaments.
I’d like to wish all of you at Simonsen Vogt Wiig, your families, and your customers and contacts, a Happy New Year! I look forward to our continued (for the 9th year!) cooperation in 2018!
I’ll revert with a short summary of 2017 closer to my next classical event Tata Steel Chess starting on January 13th, but you might want to follow the final in the online chess.com Blitz Battle Championship Wednesday night. As last year, I face Nakamura in the final.
January 2nd 2018
After London Chess Classics
Midway between London Chess Classics and World Rapid & Blitz Championships in Riyadh I’ve had some much-needed time to relax.
In the last four rounds after the final rest day in London Chess Classics many of us struggled, and generally the level of play deteriorated. Entertainment value probably went up due to many great fights and decisive games. I had very little energy, made many mistakes and things generally went south in the first 3-3.5 hours in each game. Fortunately this changed closer to the time control, except in the penultimate round loss against Ian Nepomniachtchi. I’m very satisfied with the way I managed to pull myself together against Nakamura, Adams and Aronian and not only save the lost and worse positions, but even win against the latter two.
Ian took advantage of mistakes by Adams and me and played well against Anand to win three in a row and lead before the last round. Caruana seemingly had to settle for draw by repetition against Adams when Adams decided to play on. Caruana duly won and by winning the play-off emerged as a well-deserved winner of London Chess Classics 2017 ahead of Ian, both at 6/9. I shared third with Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Wesley So. As usual the organisers headed by Malcolm Pein did a good job.
I came to London low on energy with the expectation that it “would probably work out okay anyway”. That was not the case. It doesn’t really work, and especially not when you become slightly sick as well. 5/9 is not that bad, but it could have been worse, even much worse judging from my positions during the games.
My last round win was more than enough to secure overall victory in the Grand Chess Tour 2017 ahead of Maxime. This was a significant part of what we fought for in London, and in a turbulent year results-wise so far a clear highlight together with Isle-of-Man.
Next weekend we are heading to Riyadh for the much anticipated Rapid & Blitz World Championship. I don’t have any particular expectations this time, but hope I’m able to stay relaxed and enjoy the games more than I did last year.
December 19th 2017
London Chess Classics Update
The previous time I played the London Chess Classics, in 2015, I started with six draws. Involuntarily I’m on the same trajectory now.
After 5 rounds Caruana has shown good opening preparation and agile dynamic play, and deservedly is sole leader at 3.5/5 points. I’m multi-shared 2nd at 2.5 points together with overall Grand Chess Tour contenders Vachier-Lagrave and (theoretically) Aronian.
Overall I haven’t been playing as well as I had hoped. Yesterday against Wesley So was slightly encouraging as I managed to create an interesting and somewhat imbalanced position in the middle game (as he allowed c5 instead of shutting down with c5 himself). In the 5th hour I probably reached a winning position after Ba3 Kb3. Both Bc5 and Bc1 looked promising, but I should have spent more time calculating continuations as he managed to hold after Bc5.
In round 2 against Karjakin I played a sharp variation, but bailed out into a manageable endgame early. The game against Anand was a disappointment as I thematically sacrificed a pawn and never found a way to play for an advantage. I was black against Maxime (V-L) in round 4, and while the opening went as planned I missed a crucial variation and ended up having to defend a pawn down with some compensation in the bishop pair.
On the rest day today we followed another London tradition and played some football in Hyde Park.
The LCC games has had much more content than the high draw ratio (23 out of 25) so far indicates, but what really caught the attention of chess players is the report yesterday of Google Deep Mind AlphaGo Zero AI chess games. I’ve not been a huge fan of computer chess in the past, but I must admit that some of the examples shown from the match against Stockfish (previously considered the strongest chess engine) are truly remarkable. It will have a significant impact on the understanding of dynamic chess. And importantly it shows some of the mindboggling potential of Artificial Intelligence.
Friday I have the black pieces against Nakamura in round 6.
December 7th 2017
London Chess Classics 2017
Quite a busy chess schedule at the end of the year. London Chess Classics started this weekend and between Christmas and New Year I’ll play the World Rapid and Blitz in Riyadh.
In the Champions Showdown in St.Louis three weeks ago, Ding Liren and I played the Blitz part alone as the other three matches had finished already. The combination of jetlag and several losses from good positions must have been frustrating for Ding. He struggled also on day 3 and the match was decided in my favour with one day left. He played better on the last day of 5 minutes Blitz, and I was satisfied overall having played a decent match and bringing my Blitz rating tantalizingly close to 3000.
The following week I enjoyed some rest and played the two next stages of chess.com Speed Chess Championship. I didn’t play as well as in St.Louis, but won both matches to qualify for the final against the winner of Nakamura and Karjakin.
Today is rest in London Chess Classics, and we have played only one day! It is of course not as crazy as it sounds. Apart from the first round taking place in Google Deep Mind offices and the organizer having to move all the equipment over to the regular London Olympia venue, I have been in London for 4 days already with the technical meeting and the World Championship match 2018 (taking place in London!) announcement event Wednesday and the Probiz chess at Google on Thursday.
In round 1 yesterday all games ended draw which is maybe slightly surprising taking into account all the decisive games in St.Louis in August with a nearly identical field and the same time control etc. After an innocuous opening Caruana made a couple of inaccurate moves and I was better as white. I couldn’t find a decisive breakthrough and combined with playing slightly indecisive and his good defense I had to settle for draw after 5,5 hours play.
For my first move, Deep Mind founder Demis Hassabis suggested the English opening. I didn’t indulge him but appreciates UK traditions, drink tea in the evening and attended the very exciting Arsenal – Manchester United match-turned-robbery tonight :)
December 2nd 2017
From Hamburg to St. Louis
This week I was in Hamburg for our annual Play Live Challenge for Play Magnus. The highlight was the Thursday clock simul (30 minutes each) against 13 qualifiers chosen among our dedicated Play Magnus app users. I got quite low on time in the end but managed to win all games.
With an early morning flight Friday out of Hamburg I got to St. Louis in time for the Chess Hall of Fame Olympiad Exhibition Opening the same evening. The museum is one of many contributions to chess in St. Louis by patrons Rex and Jeanne Sinquefield cementing the status of St. Louis as the, or on of the, main chess cities in the world.
The main event this time is the Champion Showdown. The first edition took place during my World Championship match against Karjakin last autumn. The 2017 edition featured a new concept and format: Four matches with 30 games of rapid and blitz (with 30, 20, 10 and 5 minutes and no increments per player per game on the four days). My match against Ding Liren graciously started two days later than the other three matches allowing my participation after the Play Magnus event on the 9th while allowing Ding to reach the FIDE Grand Prix in Europe starting November 16th.
The three other matches finished today with Nakamura winning convincingly against Topalov as expected, while Caruana and So pulled off comeback victories against Grischuk and Dominguez respectively. Caruana was trailing until well in the Blitz portion where three-time Blitz World Champion Grischuk was the favorite, but Caruana still managed to pull if off. Wesley So was far behind after two and half days only to win most of the remaining blitz games on demand both yesterday and today.
Slightly low on energy despite a good nights sleep I got into trouble as white in game one yesterday. I had underestimated his kingside pawn push and was a bit fortunate to draw the game. Not much happened in game 2 while I managed to reach a winning position in game 3. With plenty of time on the clock I went for a non-existent win (planning to pick up the rook with check because I thought Kg7 or g8 was forced, completely missing the square h7) instead of taking the piece on b6 (and a likely technical win) and was again slightly fortunate to have a perpetual. In game 4 he allowed my d4 and d3 push creating a miserable position. The bind was highly unpleasant, but I expected him to be able to defend until he went for Ke1 instead of e4 and Ke3. It went downhill from there and I took the lead after day 1.
Today I played better, despite the reduced time control (20 minutes each per game), and when Ding lost his way as white in the bishop against knight pawn-ending in the second game of the day, he seemed to get slightly out of balance. He managed to draw the third game, but two subsequent losses (and a draw in the final game) left him trailing 30,5 against 13,5 with the point scoring system used in the Champions Showdown.
With two days of Blitz coming up, I hope to be able to continue to play steady chess and avoid big blunders.
November 12th 2017
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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