Norway Chess 2018 - Great start!
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.