After a day of rest, the fourth round of the Altibox Norway Chess went underway Friday evening. The day saw players like India's Viswanathan Anand and tournament leader Magnus Carlsen held to a draw in their respective matches.
Before the start of the round, it was declared that Chinese No 1 Ding Liren will not be able to participate on Friday owing to the hip fracture he suffered due to a bicycling accident on Thursday.
Ding had to undergo a surgery on Friday and his fourth round game against Caruana was, therefore, postponed to the next rest day on 4 June until further notice. But on Saturday, the organisers of Norway chess wrote on the official website that Ding had to withdraw from the tournament as his recovery will take time.
The statement said that as per Article 8 of the FIDE Handbook C (Competition Rules), since Ding hasn’t completed 50 percent of his games, his results will not be counted for the tournament standings and tie-breaks. However, they will be counted for rating.
The other games resumed as per schedule on Friday and after the dust of the battles had settled, GM Sergey Karjakin had inched half-a-point closer to the Magnus Carlsen, who continued to remain on top.
With white pieces, Karjakin scored a fine win over Maxime Vachier-Lagrave while Carlsen was held to a draw by the American No 3 Hikaru Nakamura. While Armenia's Levon Aronian scored a victory in round four against Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, Anand and Wesley So were involved in a nice tactical game that eventually fizzled out into a draw.
Though Anand had the white pieces in the game, he went for the English Opening instead of the king’s pawn, which had been his choice so far in the tournament. Wesley drifted the game into the Four Knights Variation of the opening. Anand went for complicated moved right from the beginning. First, he made the flashy 16.Qc4 instead of recapturing his bishop on g2. Then, a few moves later, he grabbed a pawn on b7 and provoked complications when he could just have exchanged queens and had a peaceful game. This showed the Indian ace's will to take reasonable risks to push for a win. However, Wesley calculated perfectly and after a long tactical sequence, he whipped out a rook sacrifice that forced a repetition of moves immediately.
Both the games that finished decisively in round four featured the Exchange variation of the Gruenfeld Defence and it was the players with white pieces who were victorious.
For Vachier-Lagrave, the Gruenfeld is one of his favourite openings and he is a known expert in the line. However, on Friday, it was Karjakin who was much better prepared and with his white pieces, Karjakin blitzed out in his first 24 moves. Looking for counterplay, Vachier-Lagrave gave up an exchange and as compensation, he had two pawns and a weakened enemy king. But as play progressed, Karjakin demonstrated that with his active pieces, he was the one in the driver’s seat. As Karjakin’s pieces began exerting pressure on black’s position, Vachier-Lagrave cracked and got his bishop trapped behind the white pawns. And while the Frenchman went all out to save his trapped bishop on the queen’s wing, Karjakin generated play on the kingside to force a tap out.
Meanwhile, in Aronian’s game which also featured the same opening, he admitted after the game that he hadn’t expected the Gruenfeld and was caught by surprise when Mamedyarov played it with black. The Armenian said, “So I improvised to play something I hadn’t played in a long time to surprise him back.”
Aronian did succeed to a large extent by managing to come out of the opening with an extra pawn and secure the advantage. By the 30th move, an endgame arose where white had a rook and a knight against black’s rook and bishop. Aronian had an extra pawn and stopping this pawn from queening cost black his bishop. Some technical difficulties arose in the ensuing position as the number of pawns on the board reduced. Though at one point Mamedyarov had the possibility of holding Aronian to a draw, he failed to find the best continuation in this complex endgame and went down after 70 moves.
In Carlsen's match against Nakamura, the Norwegian was taken aback by the clear lack of ambition in the Japanese-American grandmaster's opening. Talking to Norway’s TV2, Carlsen said,” If I had known that he was so unambitious, I would've provoked him more. I tried to play solidly, because I thought his opening made sense. He probably has some explanation, but to me this was odd."
In the exchange variation of the Queen’s Gambit, Nakamura chose an almost symmetrical setup with the white pieces and went for mass exchanges at the first opportunity he got. Before the 25th move, nothing except queens and a bunch of pawns remained on the board. The ensuing endgame was played out for merely eight moves by the players before the players repeated moves and signed peace.
Halfway into the tournament, Magnus Carlsen still leads with a score of 3.0/4. But his lead margin has halved as Karjakin, with his win over Vachier-Lagrave in this round, has stepped up to 2.5/4, taking sole second place. Wesley and Aronian are a further half point behind at 2.0/4. Since Anand, Nakamura and Vachier-Lagrave had already played Ding, half points have been deducted from their scores. However, they will have an extra game as, from now on, one player will be sitting out in every round.
Aditya Pai is an editor at ChessBase India
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Updated Date: Jun 02, 2018 19:05:56 IST