St. Louis resident, Fabiano Caruana, the candidate for the title of the chess world champion, wins again. This time he scored a tournament victory in Norway, the homeland of the current world champion, Magnus Carlsen.
The 2018 edition of Norway Altibox Chess (May 27-June 8, in Stavanger, Norway) gathered a remarkable field of players: Carlsen, Caruana and seven other players from the top 10 in the world. “The weakest” player, #11 in the world rankings, was former world champion, and current world rapid champion, Viswanathan Anand.
It didn’t look promising for the brightest American chess star at the beginning of the tournament. Caruana lost the most principle duel to Carlsen in the very first round. That was seen by many as an unrecoverable, psychological defeat. Carlsen, apparently intending to drive the final nail into Caruana’s coffin, posted on Twitter: “But can he do it on a cold November night in London?” basically doubting if Fabiano has a chance against him in the upcoming world championship match.
Off to a fast start, Carlsen won another game in round three, and drew his game in round two, securing an extraordinary one-point lead at an early stage of the tournament. In the meantime, most of the players were hovering around a 50 percent result and playing bleak and lower quality games as compared to the world champion.
The tournament itself was destined to change. Due to a bicycle accident in which he broke a hip, Chinese player and No. 4 ranked Ding Liren had to withdraw from the tournament before round four. According to the rules, his scores were not to be counted toward the final standings as he managed to play less than half of all the games. Fortunately, his surgery went well.
Ding has been undefeated for more than year, and surely could have shaken the outcome of the tournament.
After that, the tournament was down to nine players out of the original 10. What would happen to the “survivors” next? Carlsen started faltering, while Caruana took revenge against Russian Sergey Karjakin (2016 world championship challenger) after his loss with black pieces at the Candidates Tournament earlier this year.
Wesley So, another American world top 10 player, stunned Carlsen in round six, beating the world champ in a python-like style game, slowly conquering all available space until Carlsen had difficulties finding reasonable moves. Visibly frustrated and discouraged, Magnus drew the three remaining games.
Fabiano played well but had considerable luck, too. He pulled off two more wins in the last rounds, catapulting himself to clear first place. The chess community has witnessed another demonstration of Caruana’s unbreakable character, iron nerves, and the will to win.
Grandmaster Yaroslav Zherebukh was a member of Saint Louis University’s first chess team. While attending SLU, he was also a competitor in the past two U.S. Championships. Along with preparing for graduation in August, Zherebukh is a commentator for the Grand Chess Tour’s Russian commentary team and the current St. Louis Chess Club Grandmaster in residence.