Altibox Norway Chess 2017 was one of my worst performances since joining the chess elite.
I continue to appreciate the great efforts made by Kjell Madland and the other organisers to stage such a great event, and it remains somehow inexplicable how I could go from 7th place in 2015, win outright in 2016 and again do poorly in 2017. The field was very strong this year, and having -2 after 7 rounds, the 8th round win against Karjakin was not sufficient to significantly lighten the feeling of being in a slump when it comes to classic chess. Confidence is a key ingredient, and it is partly missing these days.
In Rapid and Blitz the situation is different, and fortunately both the first two stages of the 2017 Grand Chess Tour are Rapid and Blitz events. Six of the main nine GCT participants play each Rapid and Blitz. Here in Paris all six of us (So, Caruana, Lagrave, Nakamura, Karjakin and me) played in Stavanger as well. We are joined by four wild cards; Mamedyarov, Grischuk, Topalov and Bacrot. I knew well in advance that the break between Altibox Norway Chess and Paris Rapid and Blitz would be short. Nonetheless it feels great to move directly to a new tournament. The Tour kicked off in Paris with a corporate day at Vivendi headquarters yesterday and Day 1 of the Rapid stage today.
The tournament is covered live on TV, and we are playing in the Canal+ studios by the Seine. In the first round I played black against Grischuk. I went for a somewhat passive but very solid position hoping to get chances later in the game. It went more or less as planned and my counterplay looked fairly promising at one point. But, I don’t think there was much of an advantage as his fast h-pawn and queen checks kept the balance. Maybe I could have continued to pose challenges with Nxc8 instead of Qxc8.
In the next round I played in-form Mamedyarov. (He recently reached 2800 in classical rating for the first time.) As black, I was slightly worse when I sacrificed the a-pawn to improve the activity of my pieces. Somewhat surprisingly he quickly blundered with a4 allowing the tactical shot Bf3! He could well have played on, but after a long thought he simply resigned. Despite being a tenacious fighter and one of the most aggressive elite players, he clearly doesn’t like to defend miserable positions at all.
In the 3rd round I played home favorite Vachier-Lagrave with white. Initially his exchange sacrifice (for a pawn and the bishop pair) looked fairly promising for white, but later I understood the position was just unclear and chose to take back the pawn instead of the exchange. At the critical junction white is probably better despite the vulnerable king. My knight is better than his bishop and my b-pawn is not so easy to stop. I played Qe2, a healthy positional move with the additional tactical threat of f4! Vachier-Lagrave is such a great tactician that I did not expect him to miss it. Surprisingly he did play Kh8, and f4 won a piece and shortly after the game.
I’m sharing the lead with Wesley So with 5/6 points after 3 rounds. (Rapid wins pay 2 points, Blitz 1). Rounds 4 to 6 coming up Thursday!
Magnus Carlsen, Paris, June 21st, 2017