The penultimate round of Altibox Norway Chess 2018 witnessed the most number of decisive games in a single round so far, with two out of the four games concluding decisively. Unfortunately, the Indian ace, Viswanathan Anand, was at the wrong end of one such game against Fabiano Caruana. The other victor of the round was also an American — GM Hikaru Nakamura — who enjoyed a relatively easier win against Sergey Karjakin, who messed up in the opening.
Caruana, who had the black pieces, put his faith yet again in the Petroff Defence. It's been a while now since the American No 1 has been experimenting with this opening with a fair bit of success. The depth of his preparation has been very impressive, so much so, that even the World Champion Magnus Carlsen chose to sidestep the line altogether when he played Caruana in the inaugural round.
However, Anand chose to take the bull by its horns and went for the old main line of the opening. Caruana’s decision to expand on the kingside after having castled there looked a little odd at first glance. Further, he even allowed Anand to double his central pawns. But as it turned out, Caruana was well aware of what he was doing.
“It looks very anti-positional, but concretely, it’s quite dangerous for white,” Caruana said, talking about his opening. Caruana also pointed out that a critical moment came on the 14th move when Anand could have played 14.Qb3 instead of 14.Nbd2 and the ensuing complications seemed to favour white.
“This was sort of a bluff,” Caruana said. “I had analyzed it but it’s not good for black”. Further, explaining his choice of a dubious line, he added, “At least, I put pressure on him this way and I have my own chances to take over the initiative.”
When asked why Anand did not play the line, Caruana said, “We both saw this move. I guess he (Anand) saw some variation which concerned him a bit. And maybe he was worried that there was some sort of preparation behind it.”
After this, Caruana got a comfortable position and began to press for the advantage and soon, his pawns and pieces began flooding in. Anand tried to hold on by giving up an exchange for two pawns., but after a forced sequence of moves, the black queen and rook came marauding in. Anand tried to defend by fleeing with his king to the centre but this hardly helped and by the 50th move, he decided to throw in the towel.
For Anand, this loss means he will have to win in the final round and pray that the games on the top two boards finish in draws in order to join the leaders. If he draws or loses, however, he will have no chance at the title.
The other decisive game of the round between Nakamura and Karjakin was also the first game to finish in round eight. After a little more than three hours, the American No 3 had demolished his opponent. Karjakin was simply caught off guard in the opening. Just a few moves out of the opening, Karjakin was put under tremendous pressure by his American opponent and before the 20th move, horrible threats loomed around his king.
Karjakin survived the middlegame by giving up an exchange to liquidate into an endgame, but this was just a case of ‘out of the frying pan and into the fire’. The endgame provided no relief and one by one, all of black’s pawns were hacked off the board and by the 41st move, Karjakin had to resign.
Shakhriyar Mamedyarov did not get his usual short draw in round 8. He was playing a well-rested Magnus Carlsen who had come back from a rest day in the previous round. In the opening, Mamedyarov took a page from Anand’s book and played the open variation of the Ruy Lopez, which the Indian ace had deployed in his win against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in the previous round. Mamedyarov was also sure that since Carlsen had a rest day in the previous round, he must have looked at the line and, therefore, chose to deviate from Anand’s moves on the 11th turn.
As play progressed, well timed central pawn breaks helped Mamedyarov liquidate into an endgame with both sides having a rook and a pair of bishops. Keeping up his solid play, Mamedyarov exchanged more pieces to enter a pure ‘bishops of opposite colours’ endgame where he had no problems forcing a draw.
With this draw, the tournament has come to a close for Mamedyarov. He was to play Ding in the final round but due to the Chinese player’s withdrawal, one round had to be cancelled. With a score of 3.5/8 is currently placed fifth. But he is sure to go down the leaderboard as other players play their final round and score some points to get past him.
Wesley So had to play an 80-move-long marathon against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave before he could sue for peace in the penultimate round. With the white pieces, So chose the quiet 6.Be2 line against the Frenchman’s Najdorf which led to some interesting skirmishes on the queenside and in the centre. But once the dust had settled, Wesley had entered a rook endgame with a pawn deficit. Theoretically, the endgame was a drawn one but Vachier-Lagrave decided not to let the American off the hook until he proved the theoretical draw over the board. It took Wesley a few moves, but he did succeed in splitting the point.
Going into the final round, the race will mainly be between four players — Magnus Carlsen, Wesley So, Fabiano Caruana and Hikaru Nakamura. Anand, with his loss on Thursday is half a point behind the leaders at 3.5/5. He has a chance of catching up with the leaders if he wins his game and both the top games are drawn.
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Updated Date: Jun 07, 2018 18:30:31 IST