Norway Chess Kicks Off in Stavanger

After Monday’s blitz event, used to determine pairing numbers and won by Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, the 2019 Altibox Norway Chess tournament kicked off with today’s first round action.

Standings after Round 1, courtesy Mark Crowther / TWIC

This year’s incarnation of Norway Chess, the seventh in its short but impressive history, features two main innovations that differentiate it from its super-tournament peers.  Both require a bit of explanation.

While most FIDE rated events feature uniform increments throughout the game, the 2019 Norway Chess time control is “game in two hours” (G/120) with a ten second increment starting only after move 40. Americans are accustomed to sudden death controls, but this hybrid system has not been used in a major event before, and its effects on game play will bear watching.

Perhaps more interesting is the way that points will be totaled. If a draw occurs at the classical time control, the players advance to an Armageddon (i.e., White must win; draws count as wins for Black) game 15 to 20 minutes after the draw is signed and recorded. Both sides keep their colors in the Armageddon game, but White begins with 10 minutes on the clock, while Black starts with 7. Both sides earn an increment of 3 seconds per move after move 61.

Who has the advantage in such a game? Only time will tell, although University of Missouri chess coach and known Caruana “associate” Cristian Chirila is putting his money on White.

Players will earn points towards tournament standings according to the following schema:

Victory in the classical game: 2 points
Loss in the classical game: 0 points
Draw in classical game; victory in Armageddon: 1.5 points
Draw in classical game; loss in Armageddon: 0.5 points

Today’s first round was a good initial test of these two innovations. All five classical games were drawn, meaning that chess fans were treated to five Armageddon showdowns. Here’s how the results broke down.

Round 1

Magnus Carlsen                            1.5 – 0.5          Viswanathan Anand
Shakhriyar Mamedyarov           1.5 – 0.5          Fabiano Caruana
Liren Ding                                        1.5 – 0.5          Wesley So
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave         0.5 – 1.5          Yangyi Yu
Levon Aronian                              1.5 – 0.5          Alexander Grischuk

The marquee matchup, this being Norway Chess, was the encounter between Magnus Carlsen and Viswanathan Anand. Carlsen decided to test Anand’s memory, countering his QGD Vienna with a fairly obscure sideline.

Carlsen-Anand (photo Ootes / Altibox)

“The databases” say that Carlsen’s 13.0-0 was a novelty, but the good folks at lichess.org knew better, citing the famous game between Rashad_Revolver and schakeling from 2007.

Down a pawn, Anand carefully defended a drawish rook endgame, sending both players to the Armageddon round where, despite missing a mate in two, Carlsen prevailed.

With all the classical games drawn, much of the day’s excitement was found in the Armageddon games. Preeminent among them was Ding Liren’s beautiful attacking win over Wesley So.

The 2019 Norway Chess Tournament runs from June 3rd through June 14th, with June 7th and 11th being rest days. 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.

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