Norway Chess R5: Karjakin Beats Carlsen With Exchange Sac


GM Sergey Karjakin wasn’t happy with his play in the opening but, using a long-term exchange sacrifice, eventually defeated GM Magnus Carlsen for the first time in five years in a classical game. In doing so, the Russian GM leapfrogged his opponent and is now third in the standings at Norway Chess.

GM Richard Rapport is still the sole leader halfway through the tournament but only by a point after losing the armageddon game to runner-up GM Ian Nepomniachtchi. GM Alireza Firouzja is tied for fourth place with Carlsen after scoring his first (classical) win vs. GM Aryan Tari.

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Round 5 Standings

# Fed Name Rating C1 A1 C2 A2 C3 A3 C4 A4 C5 A5 Total
1 Richard Rapport 2760 3


1 3

1 9.5
2 Ian Nepomniachtchi 2792 3




1.5 8.5
4 Sergey Karjakin 2758 0



1.5 3

4-5 Magnus Carlsen 2855




1.5 0

4-5 Alireza Firouzja 2754



1 0


6 Aryan Tari 2642 0



1 0


Karjakin hadn’t beaten Carlsen in 15 classical games since winning game eight of the 2016 world championship match. In a completely wild middlegame, he managed on Sunday, saying: “It was a completely crazy game; I had no idea what was going on.”

Tarjei Svensen tweet
Norwegian chess reporter Tarjei Svensen’s tweet during the game.

Karjakin didn’t shy away from a proper fight as he dared to enter one of his opponent’s favorite battlegrounds: the 7.Nd5 Sveshnikov. “I have to say, Magnus is so good in this line; he won many games, also against me,” Karjakin said afterward. “Of course, it’s theory but he has fantastic statistics here. But at least, I thought, let’s be principled.”

Karjakin 2021 Norway Chess
Karjakin on entering the Sveshnikov battleground: “Let’s be principled.” Photo: Lennart Ootes/Norway Chess.

Karjakin “wasn’t impressed” with his own play in the opening, however, and noticed that his opponent got enough compensation for the pawn that he keeps on sacrificing in these Sveshnikovs: the one on h5. Carlsen was in the driver’s seat until a key moment on move 24.

Facing the threat 24…g6 25.Bf3 e4 followed by 26…e3, Karjakin chose to do something radical: the exchange sacrifice 24.Rc6.

He commented: “I didn’t see a move. I thought it was interesting as it completely changes the position.”

It sure did, and when Carlsen didn’t find the best response, Karjakin got two passed pawns on the queenside as tremendous compensation and eventually, after more complications, converted.

GM Dejan Bojkov has all the details, including Karjakin’s remarks in his interview after the game:

Game of the Day Dejan Bojkov

Magnus Carlsen 2021 Norway Chess
It was Carlsen’s first classical loss to Karjakin since 2016. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Norway Chess.

This win came after a game Karjakin wasn’t happy about at all. On a rest day for the other players on Saturday, he had played his round-one game with Nepomniachtchi and lost without much of a chance in a Berlin Endgame.

“Honestly speaking, after yesterday’s game I was close to some kind of suicide,” Karjakin joked. “My only hope was that it was a rest day for everyone, and nobody was watching!” 

Nepomniachtchi-Karjakin 2021 Norway Chess
Nepomniachtchi-Karjakin, played in an otherwise empty playing hall. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Norway Chess.

It was thanks to this game that Nepomniachtchi had moved up to second place in the standings, and on Sunday he narrowed the gap with the tournament leader even more. After a fairly quiet draw in their classical game, Nepo won the armageddon where Rapport repeated the Scandinavian that had worked so well against Karjakin. This time it failed him:

Karjakin Nepomniachtchi Norway Chess 2021
A good day for Russia at Norway Chess. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Norway Chess.

“It was a very difficult tournament for me until now,” said Firouzja after his win against Tari. “I lost many armageddons and the game against Rapport also. He played extremely well.”

Things had been so disappointing for him that it seemed Firouzja gambled a bit on Sunday against the tailender in the tournament. He avoided a repetition where, with perfect play, Tari could have reached a close to winning position.

Firouzja said: “I’m not sure I played the best way for the advantage, but at least it was very interesting,” and that was, in hindsight and with engine knowledge, an understatement!

Alireza Firouzja portrait
Firouzja after his win. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Norway Chess.

The sixth round is on Monday with the games Carlsen-Firouzja, Karjakin-Nepomniachtchi, and Rapport-Tari.

Norway Chess takes place September 7-18, 2021 in Stavanger, Norway. The format is a double round-robin among six players. The time control is 120 minutes for the whole game with a 10-second increment starting from move 41. In case of a draw, the players play an armageddon game with the same colors. White has 10 minutes and Black has seven minutes with a one-second increment starting from move 41. A victory in the main game gives three points; a loss in the main game, zero points; a draw in the main game followed by a victory in the armageddon, 1.5 points; and a loss in the armageddon, one point.

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