UPDATED: After getting off to a terrible start at the Norway Chess tournament in Stavanger, Magnus Carlsen was breathing a bit easier on Tuesday. He even smiled after logging his first victory over the weekend, but the tournament has turned into a major disappointment for the Norwegian two-time world champion and is hurting his top ranking.
Carlsen and his latest rival, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave of France, logged a remis (tie) after just over an hour of play Tuesday afternoon. Vachier-Lagrave admitted Carlsen had “scared” him and Carlsen was able to joke about his opening: “In some openings, there should be a warning ‘Don’t try this at home,'” he told TV2 right after Tuesday’s match. “This opening was one of them. It was ridiculously risky, but I thought ‘This could be fun. If I don’t play most precisely, it would be most fun for him.'”
It ended after 17 moves. Vachier-Lagrave said Carlsen had psyched him out. “It was crazy,” he told TV2. “He played so fast.”
On Monday it had taken around five hours before Carlsen and Hikaru Nakamura of the US also agreed on remis. Carlsen was said to have had the upper hand through much of the match, but told Norway’s TV2 that he was “a bit irritated” when Nakamura offered remis: “I had thought about giving him remis earlier, but since he offered it then, I though that he should sit there himself, even though there wasn’t anything to play for.”
Nakamura was also irritated, claiming he had to play “50 minutes more than he should,” but added that “it didn’t take much energy.” He has never beaten Carlsen, though, and the two are known for not being the best of friends. Nakamura has also called Carlsen’s playing style “boring.”
No home-turf advantage
The tournament in Stavanger, which has attracted the world’s chess elite, has clearly provided no home-turf advantage for Carlsen. Brimming with confidence on arrival, Carlsen’s fortunes immediately took a turn for the worse when he lost three matches and tied one, stunning spectators. His third loss was to his rival at the World Championships, Vishy Anand of India, who more or less steered the entire match from start to finish.
“I should be much better than this,” Carlsen told TV2 after his loss to Anand. “I’ve performed much too poorly.”
He did smile a bit on Sunday after finally logging his one and only victory so far, against Alexander Gristsjuk of Russia. He admitted to underevaluating Gristsjuk at one point and had “no illusions other than remis” after that. But then Gristsjuk made a weak move that gave Carlsen an opening, and Gristsjuk opted to resign two moves later. “This showed Magnus at his best,” said his former coach Simen Agdestein, brother of Carlsen’s relieved manager.
Norway Chess has nonetheless been a suprisingly sobering experience for the 24-year-old Carlsen. “It’s a bit surrealistic to lie at the bottom of the tournament,” he told news bureau NTB on Sunday. “If you’re going to call it a crisis, it hasn’t blown over, because I still don’t have so many points. But it was a positive experience that I take with me further in the tournament.”
So followed the two matches that ended as remis, with little chance Carlsen will wind up among the top players in a tournament he was widely expected to win. His performance at Norway Chess is also hitting is world ranking, because he hasn’t won points while his rivals have.
“With this tournament, I’m losing everything I’ve won earlier in the year,” he said on Wednesday, when he’d lost 18.8 points and unofficially held 2857.2. In the last official ranking, Carlsen had 2876 points, 76 ahead of the number-two Fabiano Caruana of Italy. Now Carlsen’s advantage has been cut in half, after Veselin Topalov of Bulgaria has climbed to take over the number-two spot, just 36 points behind Carlsen.