‘Same Thing As Basketball: It’s All About The 3 Points’: Caruana Bounces Back With Black

'Same Thing As Basketball: It's All About The 3 Points': Caruana Bounces Back With Black


There were nine games in round six of Norway Chess 2023, and GM Fabiano Caruana was the only player to win a classical one. With the black pieces, he won for the first time in classical chess against GM Nodirbek Abdusattorov, extending his tournament lead to 2.5 and taking back the world number-two spot from GM Hikaru Nakamura

The other four matches went to armageddon tiebreaks. GM Gukesh D won with White against GM Anish Giri with a caveman-style hack attack, while Black won all the others (no draws).

Nakamura beat GM Alireza Firouzja after responding to a pawn sacrifice with an attack of his own. After a near-miss in the wild time scramble at the end of the classical game, GM Magnus Carlsen defeated countryman GM Aryan Tari. Following an opening implosion for White, GM Wesley So gained the advantage and finished the game with a deadly retreating move to win a piece against GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov

Three rounds remain for Caruana’s pursuers. An exciting pairing on Tuesday will be Carlsen vs. Firouzja, whom the former world champion has praised as the most talented player of his generation.

Norway Chess continues on Tuesday, June 6, starting at 8 a.m. PT/17:00 CEST.

As the tournament reaches its one-week mark, one factor has remained unchanged since the first day: Caruana leads. His loss to Mamedyarov on Sunday may have planted the seeds of doubt in some, but his bounce-back victory on Monday was a proclamation: I’m not going down without a fight.

A young crowd of fans greets the players. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Fans were excited not only to see the players but also to take selfies with the commentators.


Both players entered the game coming off a loss on the previous day—Caruana lost the classical game, while Abdusattorov lost in armageddon. In 2022, Abdusattorov defeated the US champion at the Chess Olympiad in their first-ever classical game and went on to win the gold medal for Uzbekistan. 

It also must be mentioned that, more recently, they battled in the Grand Final of the Champions Chess Tour’s ChessKid Cup. The Uzbek grandmaster won that encounter—but, of course, that was rapid chess.

Caruana observes the other games while his young opponent thinks. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

The game entered fresh grounds early on in a Ruy Lopez after Caruana essayed 8…b6, a move that GM Levon Aronian played against Abdusattorov in Wijk aan Zee. Caruana later played it with White against Aronian himself at the American Cup.

After a long maneuvering phase where Abdusattorov had a few chances to seize the advantage, the game spun out of control around move 40. The players gained 10 seconds per move by this point, but they had little time for the level of complexity at hand: 20 minutes for Caruana and 14 for Abdusattorov.

Caruana would say after the game: “The time control is such that once you get into time trouble you never get out and when it’s very complicated basically you just are out of control. And I was fully out of control, but somehow it worked out. Yesterday the same thing happened and it didn’t work out. I can’t say it was a great game… but the ending was good.”

The time control is such that once you get into time trouble you never get out.

—Fabiano Caruana

With three minutes on the clock each, the younger grandmaster played 49.h6?, when he should have tried to simplify with 49.Rc1, and Caruana’s queen swooped into the white position to lead an ultimately decisive attack. 

Caruana’s fourth classical victory in the tournament is our Game of the Day, annotated below by GM Dejan Bojkov. (To be added soon.)

Chess.com Game of the Day Dejan Bojkov

Asked about whether he felt close to the finish line, Caruana replied: “Yesterday I would’ve said the tournament was going great, but yesterday was some sort of mini-disaster. The thing is I actually like playing armageddon… so it’s funny I’m avoiding it every day.”


Besides the game of the current leader, the other major duel of interest was between third place (Firouzja) and second place (Nakamura), also third in the world vs. second in the world by rating at the time.

It’s surprising that they’d played just two classical games before, despite dozens of battles online. Both games occurred in the 2022 FIDE Candidates; Nakamura won a nice game in the Sicilian Najdorf, and they drew the other.

The third classical encounter between two legends. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Firouzja spent over an hour on the first 13 moves, while the American GM used about half of that. After 7…Nh6N, improving on a 2022 game played by Abdusattorov, Nakamura, in his confessional during the game, noted: “I think I’ve outprepped him.”

Nevertheless, by move 20, Nakamura’s time advantage dwindled to a 15-minute edge, and Firouzja managed to gain an advantage on the board. In the confessional, Nakamura shared during the game: “I think I’ve done something wrong, but if I can get the knight to d6 and e4, maybe b5, I think I’m probably completely fine. And then it’s gonna come down to whether he can maneuver a knight to d3 and then the c5-square.” 

Nakamura did evaluate correctly that White had an advantage and, although the engine disapproves of placing the knight on d6, where it can be chopped off by the bishop, Nakamura was still able to hold a worse position.

In a unique situation where the two knights were better than his opponent’s two bishops, Firouzja offered a draw on move 38 with under three minutes against six.

The armageddon game saw a confident Nakamura go on the offensive in the opening, despite only needing a draw to win the match. The commentators praised the brazen 10…g5, after which Nakamura continued to gain space on the kingside at the risk of weakening his own king. 

There were a few moments where Firouzja could have kept more pieces on the board, but once he sacrificed a pawn with 20.d4? there was no coming back—Black was much better. Nakamura won the pawn and later trapped his opponent’s rook. 

Asked if he was paying attention to Caruana’s game, Nakamura said: “Yeah. I mean, I didn’t really have time to look at it because everyone was watching the Magnus game. I don’t know… there’s still three rounds to go, anything could happen obviously, but gotta find a way to win something in classical.”

He quipped: “Same thing as basketball: It’s all about the 3 points.”

Same thing as basketball: It’s all about the 3 points.

—Hikaru Nakamura

You can also watch Nakamura’s recap here:


The two Norwegian players in the tournament crossed swords on home soil in round six. Tari (who celebrated his birthday on the previous day) was having a rough tournament, in last place, while Carlsen won all of his armageddon encounters but had yet to win a single game in classical.

The former world champion had a healthy +5 -0 =3 score against Tari, but he had the black pieces. Would Tari angle for a solid draw against his countryman, given his shaky form?

The Norwegian faceoff. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Asked if he would play for the win before the game, Carlsen responded: “No, but it would help a lot. Based on previous experience, it is never too late to win a few in a row. I’ve started to run out of time though. It does not feel like I could’ve done anything differently in the last four rounds. I think I’m playing OK.”

Despite reaching an equal heavy-piece endgame with a queen and rook for each side, with almost symmetrical pawns, Carlsen was still able to work his endgame magic. After much maneuvering, he was able to squeeze out a winning position after 42.Re1?. With 21 seconds on the clock, however, he was unable to put it away, and the game devolved into a mad time scramble.

The former world champion could have lost the game. Carlsen nearly lost on time as he played 53…Qh4+ with one second. For a brief moment close to the end of the game, Tari also had an objective win just on one move, confirmed by tablebases. Still, it ended in a draw.

It’s difficult to out-prepare in the opening someone who has played five world championships—and harder still to beat the world’s best player on demand.

Carlsen equalized comfortably in the Italian Opening and, by move 20, Tari had to play the inferior 20.Qg4 to avoid a draw. Carlsen took advantage of the match situation and earned an edge on the board.

Tari had one last chance to at least stay in the game on move 23, but once that was missed, he faced an incredible checkmating attack. Funnily, in the final position, it seemed like Carlsen reached for his g7-rook to checkmate on g2 without realizing it was pinned; but Tari resigned, and they laughed about it after.


The psychological disparity between these two players was clear going into the game: Mamedyarov scored a classical win against tournament leader Caruana on the previous day, while So lost in his fifth armageddon game of five rounds. Bigger picture, though, they were more or less evenly matched. So led their head-to-head record by a slim margin: +3 -2 = 14.

The moment before a Queen’s Gambit Accepted was on the board. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

The first game ended in a straightforward draw. After So introduced the novelty 16…Nd3, Mamedyarov really only had one opportunity for a slight advantage with 22.Qb2. After the move played in the game, though, there were no chances for either side, despite both of their kings feeling a bit naked in the ensuing heavy-piece endgame.

The loss in the armageddon game can be attributed to the opening phase. Mamedyarov seemed to have confused something and was already worse after 10.b4?. Although So had better ways to keep an advantage, all he needed was a draw. He kept equality (at least) the entire game and ultimately won after the blunder of a piece on move 28.


Gukesh and Giri played for the first time in 2023 at Tata Steel Chess and the WR Chess Masters. Giri won in 27 moves in the first game, while they drew their second. It was the first time, however, that Gukesh had the white pieces.

Giri remains +1 in their classical encounters. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

In the confessional, where Nakamura provided commentary on all of the other games during his own, he said he expected this game to be drawn quickly based on the “boring” opening. This was called into question minutes later when Gukesh made a mistake in the opening.

While the Game Review feature initially gives this move a full question mark (“mistake”), it’s not so clear on deeper analysis. Even if Black finds the series of engine-approved moves and sacrifices two pieces, the final position is still difficult to assess.

Instead of sacrificing two pieces, Giri played the natural 18.Bxc5, after which the game never veered from equality.

Gukesh would later say: “In the classical, he equalized pretty quickly. I mixed up something in the opening and… I felt like I tried to make the most out of my chances, but he defended well in the endgame.”

Gukesh, who said he was quite happy with his play after the game, revealed his thoughts about the armageddon: “I decided to change from d4 to e4. We got a very sharp and complicated position, and I guess he didn’t have enough time to figure it out.”

 In the armageddon game, Gukesh went into hack attack mode by pushing both his g- and h-pawns. While looking quite “bluffy,” it worked spectacularly as Giri wasn’t able to find a proper defense to the crude attack.

Round 6 Scores

Round 7 Pairings

Bo. Rtg White Black Rtg 
1 2764 Fabiano Caruana Gukesh D 2732
2 2760 Wesley So Nodirbek Abdusattorov 2731
3 2775 Hikaru Nakamura Shakhriyar Mamedyarov 2738
4 2853 Magnus Carlsen Alireza Firouzja 2785
5 2768 Anish Giri Aryan Tari 2642

The 2023 Norway Chess is an elite over-the-board tournament in Stavanger, Norway. The event started on May 29 with a blitz tournament, followed by a classical event beginning May 30. 

In the tournament, 10 players compete in a single round-robin where they earn 3 points for a win in classical,1.5 for a draw and armageddon win, 1 for a draw and armageddon loss, and 0 for a loss. The player who played White in the classical game plays White in the armageddon. The time control for the classical game is 120 minutes for the entire game with a 10-second increment per move starting on move 41. In the armageddon game, White gets 10 minutes, and Black gets seven minutes with draw odds, plus a one-second increment for both players starting on move 41.

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