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Magnus Carlsen’s second over-the-board tournament of 2021 was much more successful than his first. While Carlsen was upset in in early August in the semifinals of the World Cup, in early September he finished first at Norway Chess, ahead of several highly ranked grandmasters.
The most anticipated matchup at Norway Chess was between Carlsen and Ian Nepomniachtchi, who will face Carlsen in the World Chess Championship match that starts in November. Nepomniachtchi drew Carlsen in the games they played using a two hour per player time control, which is similar to the time they will have in the world championship match. However, Carlsen came out on top in the much shorter tiebreak games that followed these two draws. These tiebreak games used “Armageddon” rules; white started the games with more time than black (10 versus 7 minutes), but needed to win, since a draw would be scored as a win for black.
In Armageddon Game 1, Carlsen played a conservative opening system, postponing tactical play until later in the game when both players would have less thinking time. Carlsen usually excels in situations where both he and his opponent are low on time.
1Nf3 Nf6 2g3 d5 3Bg2 g6 40-0 Bg7 5c4 c6 6b3 Ne4 7d4 0-0 8Bb2 per playera5 9Nc3 Bf5 10e3 Nxc3 11Bxc3 Be4 12Qe2 a4 13Rfc1 axb3 14axb3 Rxa1 15Rxa1 Qb6 16b4 Nd7?! Up to this point Nepomniachtchi has defended well and simplified the position, but 16…Nd7 lets Carlsen gain control of the queenside. A better plan for black was 16…dxc4 17Qxc4 Na6, followed by Nc7 to defend the d5 and b5 squares.
White to move
(Carlsen-Nepomniachtchi Armageddon 1, Move 17)
17c5 Qc7 18Ra7 Qb8 19Qa2 Bxf3 20Bxf3 e5 21b5. White has an advantage, and black should continue to exchange pieces by playing 21…exd4 22Bxd4 Bxd4 23exd4 Nf6. Instead, black played:
Black to move
(Carlsen-Nepomniachtchi Armageddon 1, Move 21)
21…e4? 22Be2 Black’s decision to lock up the center allows white to continue increasing the pressure on the queenside, while black has no good plan of attack on the other side of the board.
22…Nxc5 (unsuccessfully trying to complicate the position) 23Bb4 (Winning either the knight or black’s rook on f8. Not 23dxc5? Bxc3 and black wins a pawn)
23…Na6 24Bxf8 Bxf8 25Rxb7 Qxb7 26Qxa6 Qb8 27Qxc6 Qd6 28Qxd6 Bxd6 29Bd1 Bc7 30Bb3 Kg7 31Bxd5 f5 32g4 Kf6 33h4 h6 34Kg2 Bd8 35h5 fxg4 36hxg6 Kxg6 37Bxe4+ Kg5 38 f4+ Kf6 39Kg3 h5 40Kh4 Ba5 41b6
Black to move
(Carlsen-Nepomniachtchi Armageddon 1, final position)
Black resigns. White will win black’s kingside pawns and have a winning advantage with his connected central pawns. To view this game on a virtual board, go to https://www.chessgames.com/perl/chessgame?gid=2077817
In the second Armageddon game, Nepomniachtchi played white. Carlsen missed a couple of opportunities to gain a winning advantage, but was never in danger of losing – and a draw would be good enough for an Armageddon “win” for him playing black. The game was about even when Nepomniachtchi blundered late in the game, when he was low on time:
White to move
(Nepomniachtchi-Carlsen Armageddon 2, Move 52)
52Bg7? (better was 52Ke2, giving white’s rook more options for moving)
52…Rh1! (Black threatens Rh2+, winning white’s rook) 53Rc3 Rh2+ 54Kf1? (54Kg1 is better, but black’s pieces still dominate the game after 54…Rh7 55Bf6 Rf7 56Bd8 Be3+) 54…Be3 55Rc4+ Kf3
White to move
(Nepomniachtchi-Carlsen Armageddon 2, final position)
Black has a forced checkmate, so white resigns. To view this game on a virtual board, go to https://www.chessgames.com/perl/chessgame?gid=2079956
Keith Holzmueller has been the head coach of the Evanston Township High School Chess Club and Team since 2017. He became a serious chess player during his high school years. As an adult player, he obtained a US Chess Federation Expert rating for over-the-board play and was awarded the Senior International Master title by the International Correspondence Chess Federation. Keith now puts most of his chess energy into helping young chess players in Evanston learn to enjoy chess and improve their play. Please email Keith at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any chess questions.