The top two of the world list have fallen on the opening day of Norway Chess, probably the toughest private tournament of 2023. The Norwegian Magnus Carlsen, against Fabiano Caruana, a day after failing in the American blitz tournament that traditionally precedes the classic in Stavanger (Norway). And Alireza Firouzja, still 2nd in the world about to turn 20, against the Indian Dommaraju Gukesh, who turned 17 on Monday and jumps to 15th. The other three games (So-Nakamura, Mamediarov-Tari and Abdusattorov-Giri) ended in draws and - according to the norm that distinguishes this competition - were followed by sudden death, with victories by So, Giri and Mamediarov.
"What surprises me is not only that Magnus loses, but how he has lost," said the Hungarian Judit Polgar, the only woman in history who has been among the ten best in the world, as she said goodbye to the public after more than four hours of live commentary. Certainly, the former world champion has performed below his level: it is not extraordinary that Caruana, with white, leaves the opening with a clear advantage; but it is that, under pressure, Carlsen does not find the best defenses and surrenders in the 37th throw. Even more so if this happens a day after his 7th place in the lightning tournament, which was won by the Uzbek Nodirbek Abdusattórov. Carlsen is now 3rd in the world in that modality, after Firouzja and Nakamura. And the 2nd in rapids, surpassed by the Chinese Liren Ding, new world champion since May 1.
A moment of the game between Caruana and Carlsen, this Tuesday in Stavanger (Norway), in an image distributed by Norway ChessLennart Ootes
Precisely the renunciation of the world title, because he could not bear the prospect of losing to opponents that he considers clearly inferior, places Carlsen before the psychological obligation to achieve a great triumph in Stavanger. The presence of Firouzja, Gukesh and Abdusattórov, 20th in the world at 18, as well as Caruana (4th in the world after his triumph today), Nakamura (6th), Giri (7th) and So (8th), is a litmus test for the Scandinavian, more needed than ever to prove that he is the best, even if he is not the champion. If Firouzja and Gukesh play all their games with their throats, as they fought between them today, the level of demand for Carlsen will be very high.
The peculiar format of Stavanger gives three points to the winner of a slow game, one and a half to a 'sudden death' (ten minutes for White, forced to win, and seven for Black) and one to the defeated in the tiebreaker. The pace of play is also rare: two hours for the first 40 moves, no increment, and ten minutes more for the rest of the game. "In this tournament there is going to be tremendous time constraints. The watch will be a decisive element," says the triumphant Caruana.
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