Chess: Magnus Carlsen wins as Alireza Firouzja blunders in pawn endgame

Leonard Barden
·4-min read

Thursday’s penultimate round of the Altibox Norway tournament at Stavanger was the scene for one of the classic chess occasions, a fight for first prize between the reigning world champion and a fast rising young star who, if he won, would be established as heir apparent to the throne.

The round ended with the champion victorious as Magnus Carlsen made sure of outright first prize with a round to spare, while the young pretender was left nursing a self-inflicted wound of a basic blunder in a simple pawn endgame.

Carlsen, playing Black and a point ahead of 17-year-old Alireza Firouzja, chose a solid opening line but with an interesting approach. Carlsen made his moves so rapidly that after 20 moves he was an hour ahead on the clock, aiming to utilise the novel time limit where after move 40 the players had only a 10 seconds per move increment.

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The game finished in a level knight v bishop ending, which transposed to a pawn ending where Firouzja had a forced draw but only 12 seconds left on his clock. White (Firouzja) had king on d3, pawn on e4, against Black (Carlsen) with king on d6, pawns on e5 and f6.

The fatal blunder was 1 Kc3?? Kc5! when the white king must give way and the black king captures the e4 pawn. All other king moves also lose except for 1 Kd2! Kc5 2 Kc3! which draws. Black cannot make progress.

Carlsen had also defeated Firouzja in their second-round game after surviving some hairy moments and with the aid of the ex-Iranian’s flagfall in the last few seconds.

Carlsen’s fresh achievement still left the 29-year-old from Oslo “very, very disappointed” at the surprise fifth-round defeat by Poland’s Jan-Krzysztof Duda which finally ended his record 125-game unbeaten run spread over two years. Duda had lost his previous four rounds, but Carlsen overpressed, miscalculated, and found himself with queen and bishop against queen and two rooks.

Leaders before Friday’s 10th and final round (4pm start, live on Norway Chess) are Carlsen 19.5, Firouzja 15.5, Levon Aronian (Armenia) 14.5, Fabiano Caruana (US) 14, Duda 9.5, Aryan Tari (Norway) 2.5. The Norway scoring system gives 3 points for a classical win, 1.5 for a win by Armageddon tie-break, 1 for a loss by Armageddon, and 0 for a classical loss.

Firouzja left Iran in December 2019 because of its policy of barring games against Israelis and its ban on playing in the world speed championships. He made an immediate impression there, highlighted by his controversial game with Carlsen, and followed up by leading in the early rounds at Wijk aan Zee and winning first prize at Prague. He defeated Carlsen twice in extended matches at one-minute bullet and three-minute blitz, then seemed to lose his way in the online Carlsen Tour.

Related: Chess: Carlsen extends record unbeaten streak after beating world No 2 Caruana

Despite his double reversal against Carlsen in Stavanger, Firouzja, who now lives in France, has made a quantum leap in strength in classical chess despite lack of experience. He used the Caro-Kann 1 e4 c6 as his principal defence which gave Caruana, the world No 2, the chance to surprise him with the offbeat counter 2 d4 d5 3 f3. Firouzja survived a worse position in the classical game, but was totally crushed in the Armageddon.

Firouzja has already broken into the world top 20, and is currently ranked higher in classical chess than such luminaries as the US champion, Hikaru Nakamura, former world champion Veselin Topalov, and eight-time Russian champion Peter Svidler. Should he confirm second prize at Stavanger on Friday afternoon it will be a performance at age 17 comparable with Bobby Fischer at Mar del Plata 1960 or Garry Kasparov at Baku 1980, although not at the same level as Carlsen at Wijk aan Zee 2008.

3693: 1 Rh8+! and Anand resigned because 1...Kg7 2 Qd4+ Bf6 3 Qxf6+! Rxf6 4 Rh7+! Kxh7 5 Nxf6+ and 6 Nxd7 is an easy endgame win.