Magnus Carlsen stands one round away from winning his third straight Norway Chess title, and the fourth at Stavanger overall in his career. But he’ll have to deal with Chess World Championship challenger Ian Nepomniachtchi in what promises to be a dramatic final round.

Norway Chess odds Magnus Carlsen
Magnus Carlsen (pictured) holds a slim lead over Richard Rapport heading into the final round of the 2021 Norway Chess tournament. (Image: Carina Johansen/NTB)

Carlsen will take Black in his final game in what could be a preview of his World Championship match against Nepomniachtchi later this year.

Carlsen beats Karjakin to retake Norway Chess lead

Nepomniachtchi and Carlsen played to a draw in their first Norway Chess meeting, with Carlsen winning in their Armageddon game to take the bulk of the points.

Carlsen has scored 18 points in total, putting him 1.5 points ahead of Richard Rapport heading into Friday’s final round. At Norway Chess, players receive three points for a win in a regulation game, and zero points for a loss.

In the case of a draw, the players meet again in an Armageddon game, in which White takes a time advantage, but must win, with Black earning a victory even if the second player only achieves a draw on the board. The Armageddon winner earns 1.5 points, with the loser taking a single point.

Rapport led the tournament by a half-point heading into Thursday’s Round 9. Carlsen took the lead by scoring a regulation victory with White over Sergey Karjakin. Meanwhile, Rapport couldn’t beat Nepomniachtchi in their classical game. The Russian then won with Black in the Armageddon, holding Rapport to a single point.

That left Carlsen with a 1.5-point lead heading into the final round of Norway Chess. Rapport will take Black in his last game, and faces youngster Alireza Firouzja, who sits in third place with 15 points. Firouzja retains faint hopes of catching Carlsen and forcing blitz tiebreakers to decide the tournament, though he would need to win in regulation while Carlsen loses in his classical game.

Fireworks unlikely in World Championship preview

If Carlsen manages at least a draw in the main game, he’ll eliminate Firouzja from the equation. Rapport has more scenarios in which he could force a tiebreaker or even win Norway Chess outright. But if Carlsen can beat Nepomniachtchi outright, he’ll not only clinch the tournament title, he’ll also strike a psychological blow ahead of the World Championship.

Norway Chess Odds – To Win Tournament (via Bwin)
Magnus Carlsen: -2000
Richard Rapport: +700
Alireza Firouzja: +5000

Despite the many possible permutations, the World Champion remains a heavy favorite to take the Norway Chess title. Bwin lists Carlsen as a massive -2000 favorite to win the tournament. Rapport comes in at +700, while Firouzja is a distant +5000 long shot to take first place.

The fact that Carlsen will face Nepomniachtchi in a 14-game match beginning in November likely improves his odds of winning Norway Chess. Nepomniachtchi has no reason to dig deep into his preparation, especially since he’s out of the running in Stavanger. That makes a relatively quiet position – and an ensuing draw – likely on Friday.