That Magnus Carlsen leaves a tournament without winning a single game (in the classical modality) had not happened since 2007 when, at age 16, he began to emerge in the elite of chess. Now it has happened in the toughest private tournament of the year, the Norway Chess, which ended this Friday in his country, Stavanger (Norway). And just when he most needed to prove, at 32, that he is still the best despite his resignation from the world title, which since May 1 has been held by China's Liren Ding.
Carlsen, now 6th out of ten, had won the last four editions of Norway Chess. And those wins coincide with a very important and innovative change in the tournament format: the tables only count towards the world list, but not towards the tournament ranking because they are immediately followed by sudden death. In it, the player of White has ten minutes, but is obliged to win, by seven of Black, for whom the tie is equivalent to victory. So the winner of a slow game takes three points, the fast 1.5, and the losers zero and one, respectively.
If you only look at the final table of Norway Chess it would not be Carlsen's worst performance, 5th with eight draws and one loss in slow games, and seven wins and one loss per time in sudden deaths. Because his target result was worse in the 2015 edition (when it was a normal classic tournament), where he finished with 3.5 points in nine games (two wins, three draws and four losses), which led to 7th place out of ten. That same year he also scored very low (3.5 out of 7) in the European Nations.
But the first place in the world list of the classic modality is Carlsen's only argument now to affirm that he is still the best. In the ranking of quick games he is 2nd, after Ding. And in the lightning mode the 3rd, after the French of Iranian origin Alireza Firouzja and the American Hikaru Nakamura. It is true that his lead over the second is still very large (47.5 points) despite the 18 he has dropped in Stavanger.
But not winning a game of nine for the first time in 16 years (when the same happened in the Dutch tournament of Wijk aan Zee and the German Dortmund) creates a reasonable doubt about the hegemony it has exhibited since 2011. And also about his chances of equaling or beating the historical mark of Gary Kasparov, number one from 1986 until 2005, when he retired. In addition, Carlsen recently admitted that he is increasingly motivated by fast modalities and less by the classic. Today, in the last round, he first squandered an advantageous position against the emerging Uzbek Nodirbek Abdusattorov, and then lost sudden death in a clearly winning position.
The surprising 2nd in the world now – and winner of Norway Chess – is Nakamura, although he has close to his compatriot Fabiano Caruana, Ding, Russian Ian Niepómniashi, Firouzja and Dutchman Anish Giri. Everything indicated that Nakamura, a player of immense talent who for three years has dedicated much more time to his live programs on social networks than to his preparation or playing tournaments, was going to finish 2nd in Stavanger, given the impressive form of Caruana, leader until the last round, which has faced them both. Caruana made a tremendous mistake shortly after opening, very well taken advantage of by Nakamura. At the same time, Firouzja went through revolutions and lost to the colista, the Norwegian Aryan Tari (also of Iranian ancestors), which makes him lose the 2nd place in the world in favor of Nakamura, who charges 750,000 Norwegian crowns (64,815 euros).
Another very outstanding conclusion of this great tournament, in addition to its high level of combativeness and emotion, is that the Indian Dommaraju Gukesh, just turned 17, is emerging as a serious contender for the world title in a few years. He is already 13th in the rankings and 2nd under 20, and exhibits an impressive game.
Final standings: 1st Nakamura 16.5 points; 2nd Caruana 16; 3rd Gukesh 14.5; 4th Giri 13; 5º So 12,5; 6th Carlsen 11.5; 7th Mamediarov (Azerbaijan) 11; 8th Firouzja 10.5; 9th Abdusattorov 9; 10th Tari 6.
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