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Norway Chess – The Eternal Struggle Against Time Print E-mail
By GM Ian Rogers   
June 17, 2015
Photo Cathy Rogers

After six hours of play at the first tournament of the new Grand Chess Tour, the atmosphere in the Scandic Hotel in Stavanger was buzzing.

As Kasparov explained at the opening ceremony of the Norway Chess event, this was a rare tournament where the World Champion would meet almost all of his serious challengers in a tournament, something Kasparov said had not happened since the 1980s. (Norway Chess features eight of the world's top ten players including Hikaru Nakamura and Fabiano Caruana, playing one of his last tournaments under the Italian flag before defecting to the US.)

Late on the first day Norway's main man Magnus Carlsen was winning his first round game against Veselin Topalov and the TV2 television audience was being shown the forced win available to Carlsen by Carlsen's former coach Simen Agdestein.  TV2 had paid large sums for exclusive rights to the Norway Chess tournament – going to the extent of geo-blocking the Saint Louis commentary team for anyone with a Norwegian IP address – and a Carlsen win, especially spread over six hours of prime viewing time, could not be bad for ratings.

In an adjacent studio where Dirk Jan ten Geuzendam and Jan Gustafsson were conducting the English language commentary – apparently not deemed to be a threat to TV2 - Garry Kasparov was throwing around variations with Gustafsson who, aided by computer analysis, was convincing an initially sceptical former World Champion that Carlsen's many checks would lead to a win.

The large local press gallery were impatiently waiting for the game to finish so that they could conduct the final interviews, take some snaps of a happy Carlsen, file their stories and go home before darkness began to fall around midnight.

Some of the foreign press had already called it a day and were partaking in their evening meal, including Yasser Seirawan, who no longer felt the need to wander between the press room and the smoking area listening to the US commentary team through a secret earpiece and wonder whether Alejandro Ramirez was angling to take his job on a permanent basis. (The US team had also packed up and gone home almost an hour earlier.)

Meanwhile, inside the playing hall, sparsely populated with fans who had decided to get full value from their $25 entry tickets, Carlsen and Topalov were looking at the board with totally different eyes.

Topalov had not seen the mate and was convinced that after hours of long and difficult defense he had finally earned himself a draw.

Carlsen was confident that he had seen a forced win, but with the time control at move 60 already reached, he decided not to rush and possibly throw away the victory.  

Carlsen calmly allowed his time to run down to zero, expecting that an extra 15 minutes would then be added to his account, as usually occurs after a time control at move 60 has been reached.
Photo Cathy Rogers

To Carlsen's dismay, the arbiter, Sava Stoisavljevic, informed him that he had just lost the game – the time control being used in the Grand Chess Tour did not offer a bonus at move 60 and Carlsen had exceeded the time limit.

Topalov himself admitted that a few moves earlier he had gone up to the arbiter to double-check the time control, not quite sure that he had heard correctly when Stoisavljevic announced the slightly unusual time limit – 40 moves in 2 hours followed by one hour to finish, with a 30 second increment added from move 41  - at the start of the game.

Carlsen, however, had not heard Stoisavljevic's announcement – he arrived a minute late, which seemed at the time to be merely a minor inconvenience for guest of honor Garry Kasparov who  was forced to wait before he could make the ceremonial first move.

So, through that tardiness the seeds of Carlsen's shock loss were planted. (As a wit later commented, perhaps someone should invent a rule to ensure that players arrive promptly at the start of a game!)

The Norwegian television audience had some inkling that Carlsen might not be au fait with the time limit when his manager, Simen Agdestein's brother Espen, was asked a few minutes before the disaster why his charge was running so short of time and the manager had to be corrected when he suggested that Carlsen should not be worried because he was about to receive a time bonus.

Meanwhile, eating in the Scandic restaurant, Chess.com's Peter Doggers had checked the tournament feed and was cursing the inability of arbiters to put the kings on the right squares at the end of a game. “They have registered the wrong result, 0-1 instead of 1-0,” he commented, only realizing the horrible truth when he checked Twitter.

Carlsen took the set-back with remarkable equanimity, analysing the position for a short time with Topalov while laughing at his own stupidity. There followed a long round of media interviews, where Carlsen took full responsibility for his awful error and made some dark jokes at his own expense.

This writer has extra sympathy for Carlsen having managed to lose a game at the 2002 Hoogeveen Open in an identical fashion, waiting for a move 60 time bonus which never came.

When my opponent, Dutch IM Herman Grooten, pointed out that I had lost on time, I immediately commented that the clock must have been wrongly set, because the noticeboard clearly indicated that players were to be given an extra half hour at move 60.

Grooten and I proceeded to the noticeboard and I showed him the move 60 time bonus. Grooten then pointed out that I was looking at the regulations for the four player round-robin tournament being played simultaneously. A little further down the page was the time control for the Open. Oops...

As I well know, Carlsen will be feeling sick as a dog so the rest of the tournament is likely to prove the supreme test of Carlsen's mental toughness.

Round 2 of Norway Chess begins at 10am AEST and games with commentary may be accessed via http://2015.norwaychess.com/, http://grandchesstour.com/ or Chess24.com
(Readers fluent in Norwegian may also enjoy http://www.tv2.no/2015/06/16/sport/norway-chess/7054372 )

Chess.com has daily wrap-ups of the tournament news at 5pm AEST.