Altibox Norway Chess: Viswanathan Anand should be buoyed by draw with black pieces in 1st round
With his win in the very first round, Nakamura has emerged as the sole leader after round 1. He is followed by eight players, including Anand, who are tied at 0.5.
Stavanger: Featuring eight out of the top ten players in the world, the Altibox Norway Chess is indeed a spectacle. Among the participants are big names such as the current World Champion Magnus Carlsen, his former challenger Sergey Karjakin, and World No 2 Wesley So, who is considered by many to be the biggest threat to Carlsen. The only Indian at the event is Grand Master Viswanathan Anand. The tournament is a 10-player round robin event and is being held in the Norwegian city of Stavanger.
Round One began with some exciting match-ups. The former champion from Chennai, Anand, was playing against the French No 1, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave; World Champion Carlsen was paired with his arch-rival Wesley So; Vladimir Kramnik was pitted against his countryman Karjakin; Levon Aronian was to cross swords with Fabiano Caruana; while Hikaru Nakamura was to play the Dutch No 1, Anish Giri.
Also, to add thrill to the encounters, the Sofia Rule has been applied, meaning the players are not allowed to talk to one another during the rounds and therefore could not offer draws at any point during the game.
But despite all the efforts of the organisers to limit the number of draws in the event, four out of the five games were drawn in the first round. Anand kicked off his game with an off-beat line of the Caro-Kann Defence moving his queen-bishop pawn twice, on moves 1 and 3.
The Frenchman, however, did not hesitate to drift the game into a slightly double-edged middle-game where he gave himself a weak pawn on c3 in order to gain activity. After the game, Maxime said that he felt he was better throughout the game but wasn’t able to prove it. And although the game looked placid on the outset, a lot of complications loomed around in the background which the players chose to side-step.
This is a good result for Anand considering how effortlessly he was able to hold someone like Lagrave to a draw with the black pieces. It would be interesting to see how Anand fares with the white pieces in the next round. Given his choice of a slightly unorthodox opening with the black pieces, it is possible that he might uncork something even more surprising when he has white.
Wesley has shown an astounding form in the one year and to rise to the World No 2 two spot. Many chess experts think that he can be the biggest threat to Carlsen given the prodigious quality of his game. But Magnus too showed that he is up for a fight. The organisers of Altibox had organised a blitz tournament before the main event began in order to allot numbers to players for the drawing of lots. The winner of the blitz tournament got to pick the number of his choice while the subsequently ranked players got the highest available number. Magnus not only won the blitz tournament by beating Wesley in the last round but also chose the number that would pair him against Wesley in the inaugural round of the main event. But when the round began he chose the modest Italian opening which didn’t offer him much advantage. The game soon fizzled into a draw. The same opening as well as the same result was seen in the all-Russian clash between Kramnik and Karjakin.
The Armenian superstar, Aronian, felt he had an edge throughout his game against Fabiano Caruana but wasn’t really able to convert it into a full point and had to settle with a draw.
The game between Nakamura and Giri was the only decisive game of the round. Anish chose to answer Hikaru’s 1. d4 with a relative sideline of the Grunfeld Defence. Giri also sacrificed a pawn and had to liquidate into a slightly worse endgame to recover his pawn. However, his crucial mistake came on move 45 when Giri, with the black pieces played 45… Ke7. The rest was then a technical task which Naka accomplished successfully.
With his win in the very first round, Nakamura has emerged as the sole leader after round 1. He is followed by eight players, including Anand, who are tied at 0.5/1 while Giri, with his loss, is at the bottom of the table. There are, however, eight more rounds to go and given the closely-matched field, battles can be expected to be gruelling.
Aditya Pai is an editor of ChessBase India