A Tale of Two Leaders

Two rest days. Two tournament leaders. Two very different stories.

Standings after Rd 6 (courtesy Mark Crowther / TWIC)

Magnus Carlsen leads the 2019 Altibox Norway Chess Tournament on its second rest day by a healthy 1.5 tournament points. Yu Yangyi is in second place with 8 points, followed by Levon Aronian with 7.5 and Wesley So with 6.5. Fabiano Caruana is equal seventh place with Shakhriyar Mamedyarov at 5 points.

Standings after Round 9

Meanwhile, on the third rest day of the 2019 FIDE Women’s Candidates Tournament, Aleksandra Goryachkina has taken a commanding lead over the field. Her 7.5/9 score puts her a full 2.5 points head of Kateryna Lagno, who is in second place, with five rounds to go. The Muzychuk sisters – Anna and Mariya – share third place at 50% (4.5/9).

That Magnus Carlsen is leading Norway Chess is not surprising. He is the world champion, and the unusual format – more on this in a moment – seems to suit him. But very few would have predicted Goryachkina’s utter dominance in the Women’s Candidates. Outside of Russia, I suspect that very few even knew who she was. We will do our best to remedy that oversight in today’s report.

But first: exhaustion and Armageddon in Stavanger.

Norway Chess

As discussed in our Round 1 report, the 2019 Altibox Norway Chess Tournament features an innovative format. If players draw in their classical time control game, they then contest an Armageddon game where White has 10 minutes to Black’s 7, with a 3 second increment beginning on move 61. If White wins, he gets the point for the Armageddon round, while Black takes it if he wins or draws.

One assumes that the idea was to disincentivize draws at classical time controls… but it hasn’t quite turned out that way.

Standings for Classical Games, post Round 6

A quick glance at the crosstable shows that there have been rather a lot of draws in the classical format. Indeed, while some of the games have resulted in fighting draws, others seem to involve an unspoken decision to move to the Armageddon round as quickly as possible. This seems especially true in the fifth and sixth rounds, where all ten classical games were drawn, some at or immediately after the required thirty moves of play.

Why? Tournament leader Magnus Carlsen gave a hint in an interview after round six.

It is not uncommon to hear players complain of illness during a tournament, but combine being sick with the stress of the Armageddon format, and you begin to see why some players may already have “checked out,” as Alexander Grischuk has admitted.

Carlsen, however, is thriving in this format. His classical games have largely been combative, despite drawing five out of six of them, and he seems to pitch a pawn for (perhaps questionable) compensation in every game. Carlsen’s sixth round draw against Ding Liren is a good example of his energetic play.

It’s in the Armageddon games that Carlsen is really doing the business. He is 5/5 thus far, showing impressive skill and stability in his games. The format fits him like a glove, as Kostya Kavutskiy points out on Twitter.

The same cannot be said for Grischuk and So, who hung a piece and mate respectively in yesterday’s Armageddon round.

When two elite Grandmasters are hanging things like mere mortals, it’s a sign that something is amiss. It’s also no small comfort to those of us who make such moves more regularly, as WGM Tatev Abrahamyan noted:

Three rounds remain for the weary gladiators in Stavanger. Live coverage is available each day at the Norway Chess website, and their livestream with GM Judit Polgar and IM Anna Rudolf is available free of charge. Newly crowned U.S. Champion Hikaru Nakamura is also covering some rounds on his Twitch channel.

Women’s Candidates

Now we get to the real question. Just who is Aleksandra Goryachkina, and why is everyone losing to her?

Gorykachkina may not be a household name among American chess fans, perhaps in part due to her youth and lack of comfort in speaking English, but she is certainly well known to the Russian chess community. Playing in the Candidates as the replacement for current Oxford student Hou Yifan, Goryachkina has won multiple golds at World Youth and World Junior events, a silver medal at the 2017 European Women’s championship, and two Russian Women’s Superfinals.

All, by the way, before her current age of 20.

Clearly Goryachkina is an immense talent, and the 2019 Candidates must be seen as her coming-out party on the world stage. Goryachkina has shown outstanding technique, particularly in the endgame, steely resiliance, and attacking verve in her games.

With a 2.5 point gap separating Goryachkina and second place Lagno, and with only five rounds to play, thee race seems now to be for second place and “moral victory.” But hope springs eternal…

Play continues tomorrow in the 2019 Women’s Candidates, with rounds continuing through June 17th. June 15th is the final rest day. GM Evgenij Miroshnichenko and IM Elisabeth Paehtz offer live commentary daily via the FIDE YouTube Channel.

A complete set of games is available at Chess24 (with embedded YouTube coverage) and at The Week in Chess. Popular Twitch streamer Alexandra Botez is also offering a livestream of each round’s games.


  1. Thanks for the nice summaries John. It’s very convenient for chess fans such as myself to be able to get the highlights and overall feel for the event on days/weeks that have been too busy to watch the coverage.

    I was surprised to see that Wesley So didn’t offer a handshake after being mated by Aronian. Is there bad blood between them, or is the sad trend that MLB uses (not shaking hands with your opponent) now common at top-level chess events. Personally, I extend my hand at the start and end of every game. It may not be the latest trend, but I’ll keep doing it.

    • My sense is that So was just so shocked that he got up and walked away. I think we’ve all been there, especially when tired!

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