It can be called luck or quick reflexes or both at the same time. Alireza Firouzja beat Armenian Levón Aronián by time in the sudden death when his position was inferior. The Iranian thus consolidates his leadership, with a point of advantage over the world champion, Magnus Carlsen, winner of the tiebreaker with the number two, American Fabiano Caruana, who has not won a slow game from him since 2015. Firouzja faces Caruana on Tuesday in the 8th round of the ten scheduled at the Altibox Norway Chess tournament, which six players play in Stavanger (Norway).
The most impressive thing of the day was Carlsen’s defensive display, with black, against Caruana during three and a half hours of superb chess. The Italian-American has not won a slow game to the world champion since June 17, 2015, precisely in the Stavanger tournament; Of the 32 later between the two, the Scandinavian won five (the last, last week, after a serious mistake by his rival) and 27 ended in a draw (among them, the twelve at the London World Cup, in 2018).
But today it seemed that the runner-up was going to break that wall, after surprising in the opening with a sibylline homemade preparation, which forced Carlsen to spend much more time than normal. However, the champion showed that he is in all facets of the game, with a very fine and long defense, typical of computers. Former champion Vladimir Krámnik, a Chess24 commentator, recalled a couple of experiences with the adolescent Carlsen that impressed him a lot: “When he was 15 years old, in Wijk aan Zee, he left me astonished in the joint analysis after the game, by his profound understanding of positional play at such a young age; it was as if he had been born with that ability. And a year later, in a quick game in Monaco, he defended a very difficult position for a long time with less than ten seconds available ”.
After pulling off that huge merit tie, Carlsen was never inferior in the sudden death, which ended up wearing him out anyway. After forcing the draw which equaled a victory because he played as Black and gave him 1.5 more points on the table (the victory in the slow game is rewarded with three points), the world champion rejected the usual press conference, as well as the interview for Chess24 (a company of which he is the majority shareholder) because he was exhausted.
Firouzja also showed great excitement and fatigue after his fortuitous victory in the other tiebreaker (in the third game of the day, the Polish Jan Duda beat the Norwegian Aryan Tari). Forced to win with white, his main, not inconsiderable merit was being able to maintain tension with quality play for many moves when both had less than five seconds to spare. Aronian came to a near-winning position, but his 38-year-old (Firouzja is 17) was probably the deciding factor in the loss because he had fewer reflexes. In any case, this outcome questions that granting just one second of increase (from move 41) is enough to guarantee the justice of this tie-breaker system, that White starts with ten minutes and Black with seven.
After the game with Black against Caruana in the 8th round and the rest on Wednesday, Firouzja will lead White against Carlsen and will close the tournament, again with White, against Duda. The Scandinavian must win his compatriot Tari tomorrow, which will further increase the anticipation for Wednesday’s duel between the current champion and who is emerging as the future king of the board.
Classification: 1st Firouzja 14.5 points; 2nd Carlsen 13.5; 3rd Aronian 12; 4th Caruana 11; 5th Doubt 7; 6th Tari 1,5.