As mentioned last week I was quite optimistic after the Blitz and round one. Subsequently my play has varied, while the results have been good. I’m in the lead with 4/6 before the final three rounds Wednesday to Friday. After six rounds in Stavanger Forum, we are playing in the Stavanger Concert hall from tomorrow.
In the Candidates tournament in Moscow in March a majority of the players (except Giri, Nakamura and Caruana) had participated in the Candidates before, and Karjakin, who came second in 2014, this time won after a last and decisive round victory against co-leader Caruana to qualify for the World Championship match in New York in November. Karjakin unfortunately, but maybe not surprisingly, subsequently withdrew from Norway Chess while Aronian, Giri and Topalov play both events. Topalov has had a bit of a comeback so far and is shared second with +1, Aronian has 50%, while Giri has an unusual -1 after his loss to Harikrisna yesterday.
My first two black games against Topalov and Chao Li were not particularly interesting. Both seemed happy with a draw. I did not manage to create enough from Li’s slight inaccuracies in a symmetrical position to pose any real threats. Against Topalov I didn’t try very hard.
The R3 game against Nils Grandelius was interesting. He played a somewhat dubious Sicilian sideline, and to avoid queen exchanges and a drawish endgame I simply had to sacrifice a piece for an advanced pawn. Objectively I might have just enough compensation, but black is uncomfortably tied down. After a long deliberation Nils decided to give a rook for the pawn. He snatched two more pawns on b2 and c2 attaching my king on e1. Still, the position was just lost for black. My pieces coordinated much better, and I won back the two pawns to reach a winning endgame.
Round five as white against an out of form Giri was disappointing. I played badly and was even slightly worse. Then Giri made several uninspired and inaccurate moves, but just before the time control I missed the opportunity to put some real pressure on him in the rook and knight ending. What a pity. Yesterday Maxime Vachier-Lagrave played a somewhat tricky sideline in the Berlin defense against me, and I spent too much time calculating variations and seeing ghosts. Low on time I tried a trick (Re8) that he didn’t fall for, and the position started to look really grim. Fortunately I had and found Bxg4, a piece sacrifice Maxime had missed, that collected his last three remaining pawns in the remaining nine moves I had to play in under one minute before the first time control. He played on for some time, but I managed to hold quite easily.
We played football in the sun on the rest day today, and I look forward to play Kramnik with the white pieces Wednesday!
Magnus Carlsen, Stavanger, April 26th, 2016