The opening round of the Altibox Norway Chess Tournament 2016 was played on Tuesday, 19th April. One is never quite certain how such things will go, as players can take a little time to settle in to their rhythm. However, perhaps the blitz round from the day before had fired them up a bit, as the round saw three decisive games.
Vladimir Kramnik resorted to the London System to defeat Nils Grandelius. Dark squared bishops were traded, as is often the case in this opening, and White tied up the centre with his pawns on d4, e3, f4, directing play towards the wings — in this case the Queenside. White did not seem to be playing for a huge advantage, and will have been quite satisfied when the Queens came off, leaving him in a position of control and (barring serious errors) safety.
That being said, Grandelius was not doing too badly, it was a slight inferiority in activity swinging the balance, his light-squared bishop was somewhat hemmed in and would take a move or two to address. Whether he would have the time in hand for this would remain to be seen.
His 15…Nc8 (shown in the above diagram) was rather strange looking, (…Rfc8 was a good alternative), and allowed Kramnik activity along the c-file. However, a few moves later, the players had a rook and pair of knights each and things were looking rather equal. When Kramnik got in e3-e4 at his move 28 (shown, below), however, something in the position changed and White’s position began to sparkle again.
Black chose to exchange twice on e4, and in hindsight this was probably too much of a simplification and it was better to maintain the knights. After 28…dxe4 29…Nf5 was perhaps a valid idea. The plan would be to then play …Ne7, …Nd5 and then possibly …Nec7, with a credible blockade. (It is interesting to note that this Knight sat idly by on e8 and one can not afford to do that. Even when it did come off the back rank, it soon became a liability.)
As it was, Kramnik was handed a situation that he thrives in, a small but evident advantage in which he could play on with little risk. His opponent did not handle the situation well, it has to be said, but the former World Champion closed things off in textbook style, tying his opponent’s pieces in knots and then mopping up. Black folded quickly.
Magnus Carlsen got his home tournament off to a good start, notching up a win over Indian Grandmaster Pentala Harikrishna. The game was a Queen’s Indian, with Black producing the novelty of 12…Rfc8 (shown, below) and then seemingly getting caught out a couple of moves later.
From the diagram position, there followed 13.Rfd1 d5 14.cxd5 exd5 and then 15.Bxc5. Picking up a pawn? After 15…Qxa5, perhaps Carlsen’s 16.Qc2 (which makes the extra pawn temporary) should have given way to 16.Qxa5. This leads to natural 16…Nxa5 17.Nd4 Rxc5 18.b4, but obviously the World Champion did not like this. The doubled pawns along the a-file does rather mute White’s extra pawn somewhat.
As it was, Black got his pawn back, with 16…Bxe2 17.Qxe2 Qxc5, but White’s structure was preserved along with a tempo on the Queen via 18.Rac1. Slow play from his opponent, along with persistant avoidance to enter an endgame, gave Carlsen the initiative. Harikrishna’s 25…Ng5? (see following diagram) was mistaken and would cost him dear.
After 26.Bd7, Black was in some bother, and it is hard to understand why Harikrishna allowed this. One must assume that he saw it, so he must have misjudged the situation after his 26…Red8. The problem after 26…Red8, is that White has the strong continuation of 27.h4!
(26…Reb8 27.Qe5 Rd8 28.Qxe7 Qb7 29.Re1 Rxd7 30.Qe5 Qb6 31.Kg2 when Black is struggling for positive moves and the Ng5 is a self-imposed liability; 26…Qxa3 27.Bxe8 Rxe8 when Rc3, Qc3, Re1 all hold the advantage.)
It is possible that Harikrishna thought that he had …Nh7 here, which is horrid, to be honest, but that is all I can think of. Unfortunately, at closer inspection, Black is just in all kinds of problems. The trouble would not so much be the Nh7 (as horrible as it is) but the Ne7. After 27…Nh7 White continues with the very potent 28.Re1, attacking the Ne7. This piece is undefendable, yet is the only piece stopping White’s Knight from hopping in to c6. There is no answer to this that is not excruciating.
Thus, Harikrishna chose 27…Nxf3+, and would pick up three pawns for his piece after 28.Nxf3 Qxa3 29.Kg2 Qb2+ 30.Rd2 Qxb4. However, Carlsen was still very much winning, and even though he missed a forced mate along the way, he secured the point nicely.
The other point of the round went to Anish Giri. The Dutch Grandmaster, who just a few weeks ago was causing a stir by drawing every one of his games in the 2016 Candidates Tournament, broke his point-halving run at the cost of Pavel Eljanov. The game was a Giuoco Piano, and many people were praising Giri’s idea of 11.Na3, the knight on its way to c2 in order to reinforce the d4-square. When the centre exploded, White got the better of things, and the players arrived at the following position [1.6].
Here, Giri unleashed the surprise of 20.Rxe4! on his opponent, a powerful exchange sac. Eljanov’s 20…Bxe4 was not the most resistant — instead, 20…hxg4 21.Rxe5 gxh3 22.Qf3 hxg2 23.Kxg2 Kg7 sees White with the edge, but there is a lot of play left before the outcome is clear; 20…Qxd1+ 21.Rxd1 hxg4 22.Rxe5 also sees White with a large plus.
As it was, there came 21.Qxd8 Rfxd8 22.Nf6+ Kg7 and 23.Nxe4. And White was very much better. Eljanov did not recover, and when a further mishap allowed his rook and bishop to be skewered, he resigned. A nice game from Giri.
The other games were drawn, Vachier-Lagrave and Li Chao got in to a Petroff that was a non-starter really. Veselin Topalov, who seems to be going through a bit of a rocky patch, turned things around rather well playing the black side of an English Four Knights against Levon Aronian. However, ultimately the point was split.
This sees the standings as follows, after round 1:
Carlsen, Kramnik, Giri — 1
Vachier-Lagrave, Aronian, Li Chao, Topalov — .5
Eljanov, Harikrishna, Grandelius — 0
The line up for round 2 is as follows:
Grandelius vs Aronian
Li Chao vs Kramnik
Giri-Vachier vs Lagrave
Topalov vs Carlsen
Eljanov vs Harikrishna
Play begins at 16:00 local time. If you need to, you can check your time, here.
More Information: Altibox Norway Chess 2016 Website
Games from this round: