In recent years I have typically played two top level events each quarter with minor variations. In general it has provided enough time for restitution between events but often left me slightly rusty early in the next tournament. As discussed in earlier blog posts I chose a different approach this winter to get back in form after varying results from June to November. It worked well. The subsequent two and a half months break, mostly at home, felt good. I enjoyed the excellent February/March skiing conditions locally and spent time with friends and of course followed the exciting Candidates tournament with interest. As last year before Shamkir (same dates as Norway Chess this year) I went south for a training camp early April. This time to Spain. Fortunately it seems to have contributed to a good start here in Stavanger.
The Blitz tournament yesterday was great fun although it was quite important for me as it more often than not predicts your classical chess form as well. I was even maybe a bit too excited, but it all worked out very well. Many good games and endgames and seven wins (and a draw) was enough for clear first ahead of Giri, Vachier-Lagrave and Kramnik. I chose start number five for the main event as I think the other winners of the Norway Chess Blitz have done in previous editions, providing me with the white pieces in both the first and the last round.
In my first World Youth event in Crete in 2002 Pentala Harikrisna was one of the favorites in the U/18 group, and he has made steady progress since. Lately he has challenged V. Anand for the position as top ranked Indian player and is currently ranked 13 in the world. I think this is his first participation in a top elite round robin (all play all) event, and I haven’t played him in a classical game before. I chose a somewhat unusual opening variation and after 13 moves we had both spent more than an hour on the clock. I think white was clearly better after the opening. Harikrisna found a way to avoid giving up material, but I was happy to oblige him, as the ensuing middle game was very pleasant for white. His isolated d-pawn and lack of counterplay gave me excellent winning chances. I gradually improved my position, but his decisive mistakes came in mutual time trouble. I felt in control although I was also scarily short on time close to the time control. The time control in Stavanger is accelerated compared to most top level events, and not surprisingly the three top ranked players (me, Kramnik and Giri) all won around move 40. Harikrisna resigned after the time control facing mate or loss of his queen. People tell me I haven’t won a first round in nearly two years. On high time!
Tomorrow I’ll face V.Topalov with black. Veselin seemed out of shape in the Candidates and also yesterday (despite having a winning position in the blitz against me at some point). But, clearly one should not underestimate the winner of Norway Chess 2015, and he did play a decent game against Aronian today even putting pressure on Aronian despite the black pieces. All rounds start at 4pm. The first six takes place in Stavanger Forum a short drive from the player hotel Scandic City Stavanger and once again the tournament is covered live on Norwegian television (TV2)!
Magnus Carlsen, Stavanger, April 19th, 2016