Happy Thanksgiving, Happy Magnus: World Champ Evens Score

avd50797 Photo Max Avdeev

The 10th game of the epic C vs K saga was announced as the most important one up to this moment. A game in which Magnus had to create something, since another dull draw and the circle would have been close to completion. The World Champion had two strategies he could adopt, though looking back at it only one of them was suitable. He could drift away from his personal style and adopt an aggressive style, or he could continue trusting his instincts and follow his trademark strategy of stirring the game out of any potential theoretical battle, and try to outplay his opponent from an equal position with many pieces left on the board. As I look into retrospective right now, it is easy to understand that as a World Champion you can’t change your strategy. Magnus had to play his game!

15218412_1307250029298189_1868237376_n Photo Cristian Chirila

The game started as expected, Magnus opened with his beloved 1.e4 and Karjakin responded with his pet Berlin, an opening we’ve seen in game 3. That was a game that Magnus could have won quite convincingly if his trademark precision wouldn’t have failed him towards the end. But the dynamics of the encounter were slightly different today, Magnus did not have the freedom to simplify the position all the way to the last pieces, he had to keep some dynamic resources. And that’s what he did, he kept most of the pieces on the board. The challenger was not fazed by anything the champion was throwing at him, he managed to equalize and maintain the balance deep into the middle game. The only problem was that by the time the opportunity struck, Sergey did not have enough time to calculate all the complication and force the draw with precise play. This seems to have been one of Magnus’ change of strategy, play fast and pressure your opponent despite the slight inaccuracies that might cost you.

[pgn] [Event "World Championship--New York 2016"] [Site "?"] [Date "2016.11.24"] [Round "10"] [White "Carlsen, Magnus"] [Black "Karjakin, Sergey"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "C65"] [WhiteElo "2853"] [BlackElo "2772"] [Annotator "Cristian Chirila"] [PlyCount "149"] [EventDate "2016.10.06"] {The 10th game of the World Championship was the most exciting given the stakes and the match situation! The players surely managed to keep the crowd entertained for another 6 hour battle!} 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 Nf6 { Karjakin continues with the Berlin, absolutely no reason to change it as this is the most solid and frustrating opening against 1.e4} 4. d3 {Magnus returns to his pet Anti-Berlin} (4. O-O Nxe4 5. Re1 Nd6 6. Nxe5 Be7 7. Bf1 Nxe5 8. Rxe5 O-O 9. d4 Bf6 10. Re2 {was game 3, one of the games in which Magnus was extremely close to a victory}) 4... Bc5 5. c3 O-O 6. Bg5 ( 6. O-O d6 {is Karjakin's choice, he has a +1 score out of 12 games starting this position}) 6... h6 7. Bh4 Be7 8. O-O d6 9. Nbd2 Nh5 10. Bxe7 Qxe7 11. Nc4 Nf4 {the most natural continuation} (11... f5 {would have been a very interesting change of character, but surely not something that belonged to Karjakin's game plan} 12. Bxc6 (12. Nfxe5 Nxe5 13. Qxh5 Nxd3 14. Ne3 fxe4 15. Bxd3 exd3 16. Qd5+ Be6 17. Qxd3 Rae8 $11) 12... bxc6 13. Nfxe5 Nf4 14. Nxc6 Qg5 15. g3 fxe4 16. dxe4 Bh3 $13) 12. Ne3 Qf6 (12... f5 $5 {once again it seems like the most aggressive continuation should be the best one} 13. exf5 (13. g3 Nh3+ 14. Kg2 fxe4 15. dxe4 Qf6 $13 {and black is doing perfectly fine, the pressure on the f file should give him enough to keep the balance}) 13... Bxf5 14. Nxf5 Rxf5) 13. g3 Nh3+ 14. Kh1 (14. Kg2 Ne7 15. Bc4 c6 16. Bb3 $13) 14... Ne7 15. Bc4 c6 16. Bb3 Ng6 (16... d5 17. Qe2 a5 18. exd5 a4 19. Bc2 cxd5 $13) 17. Qe2 a5 18. a4 Be6 19. Bxe6 $6 {this is definitely not a Carlsenesque move. A tactical error that could have costed the champion this match} (19. Bc2 { would have kept the pieces and the tension}) 19... fxe6 20. Nd2 d5 $6 {the first imprecision} (20... Nxf2+ 21. Kg2 (21. Kg1 {I believe this was the variation Karjakin was concerned about} Nh3+ 22. Kg2 Nhf4+ 23. gxf4 Nxf4+ 24. Rxf4 exf4 25. Nc2 $13)) 21. Qh5 Ng5 $2 {this is already a mistake, black could force the draw with the following variation} (21... Nxf2+ 22. Kg2 (22. Kg1 Qg5 23. Qxg5 Nh3+ 24. Kg2 Nxg5 $15) 22... Qf7 $1 23. Kg1 (23. Qe2 Nh4+ $1 24. Kg1 (24. gxh4 Qg6+ 25. Ng4 Nxg4 $19) 24... Nh3+ 25. Kh1 Nf2+) 23... Qf6 $11 { only move, another potential miss of the Challenger when going through the variations. White has nothing better but to repeat the moves}) 22. h4 Nf3 23. Nxf3 Qxf3+ 24. Qxf3 Rxf3 25. Kg2 Rf7 26. Rfe1 h5 (26... Raf8 $1 {was much better, forcing white to come back to f1} 27. Rf1 (27. Re2 dxe4 28. dxe4 Nf4+ 29. gxf4 exf4 30. f3 fxe3 31. Rxe3 $15) 27... h5 28. Rae1 Rf3 {with much better chances to equalize}) 27. Nf1 Kf8 28. Nd2 Ke7 29. Re2 Kd6 30. Nf3 Raf8 31. Ng5 Re7 {White will have a free strategic advantage, a long torture is ahead of us} 32. Rae1 Rfe8 33. Nf3 Nh8 34. d4 exd4 35. Nxd4 g6 36. Re3 { a bit slow, much better was} (36. b4 axb4 37. e5+ Kc5 38. Nb3+ Kc4 (38... Kb6 39. cxb4 Nf7 40. a5+ $16 {and we get a very similar version to the game continuation, without allowing black the counterplay}) 39. Na5+ Kc5 40. cxb4+ Kxb4 41. Nxb7 $18) 36... Nf7 37. e5+ Kd7 38. Rf3 $6 Nh6 $2 (38... c5 $1 { would have given black much better chances of survival} 39. Nb5 Nh6 40. Nd6 Rb8 41. Rf6 Rg7 $11 {and without the extortion on the queenside with b4-a5, black is holding quite easily}) 39. Rf6 Rg7 40. b4 axb4 41. cxb4 Ng8 42. Rf3 Nh6 43. a5 Nf5 44. Nb3 Kc7 45. Nc5 Kb8 46. Rb1 {Now white has all the trumps, but he will have to time his break extremely careful} Ka7 47. Rd3 {Magnus is patiently waiting for the right time to strike} Rc7 48. Ra3 Nd4 49. Rd1 Nf5 50. Kh3 {Creating another plan to worry about, the f3-g4 breakthrough} Nh6 51. f3 Rf7 52. Rd4 Nf5 53. Rd2 Rh7 54. Rb3 Ree7 55. Rdd3 Rh8 56. Rb1 {the rooks have been alligned perfectly, now black has big difficulties finding the way to block all white's threats} Rhh7 $4 {the rooks are not aligned well to defend all the weaknesses after b5, e6 will be lost!} (56... Nh6 $1 {was the best move } 57. Rdb3 (57. g4 $2 g5 $1 58. hxg5 hxg4+ 59. fxg4 Nf5+ 60. Kg2 Nh4+ 61. Kg3 Ng6 $11) 57... Rc8 58. g4 Nf7 59. Re3 g5 60. gxh5 Rh8 $14 {/+/ - white is much better but black has found some counterplay}) 57. b5 $1 cxb5 58. Rxb5 d4 (58... Re8 59. Rb6 Rhe7 60. g4 Nh6 61. Rdb3 $18) 59. Rb6 Rc7 60. Nxe6 Rc3 61. Nf4 Rhc7 $6 (61... Rg7 62. Rb3 (62. Rf6) 62... Rc1 63. Ne2 Re1 64. Rb2 $18) 62. Nd5 { A slight innacuracy, but maybe this was the practical choice} (62. Rxg6 Rxd3 63. Nxd3 Rc3 64. Rf6 $1 Ne3 65. Nf4 d3 66. Rd6 Rc1 67. g4 $18) 62... Rxd3 63. Nxc7 Kb8 64. Nb5 Kc8 65. Rxg6 Rxf3 66. Kg2 Rb3 67. Nd6+ Nxd6 68. Rxd6 Re3 ( 68... Kc7 $1 {holding the 5th was crucial for survival} 69. Rxd4 Rb5 70. e6 ( 70. Re4 Kd7 71. g4 hxg4 72. e6+ Ke7 73. Kg3 $16) 70... Rxa5 71. e7 Re5 72. Rd5 Rxe7 73. Rxh5 Kc6 74. Rh6+ Kc5 75. Rh8 b5 76. Rb8) 69. e6 Kc7 70. Rxd4 Rxe6 71. Rd5 Rh6 72. Kf3 Kb8 73. Kf4 Ka7 74. Kg5 Rh8 75. Kf6 {An impressive grind by the World Champion, the score has leveled and the momentum has surely shifted in Carlsen's favor. We have a match on our hands ladies and gents!} 1-0 [/pgn]
19.Bxe6?! was a clear inaccuracy, and one that could have cost the Champion his title. Black responded very well but failed to delve in deep waters and go for 20…Nxf2! or 21…Nxf2!, which was a fairly simple calculation according to the specialists attending the ceremonies. In a world championship decisive match you will not have many opportunities to seize the day, and unfortunately for Karjakin, the champion did not err anymore after that. Magnus secured a slight endgame advantage and ground his opponent with the precision of a surgeon, one that has been his trademark throughout his whole career.

avd51045Photo Max Avdeev

The match dynamics have changed 180 degrees after the Thanksgiving game, Carlsen was simply rejuvenated at the press conference, while Karjakin was wound down and sober. Despite that the challenger kept his composure during the rough moments after the game, the ones in which he must surely have felt like his title hopes have evaporated. But the reality is different, the players will have a well-deserved rest day in which their teams will do everything in their power to place them on the right track. The stakes are now higher than ever, and the tension and enthusiasm are reaching epic heights. One of the biggest rivalries in recent history is shaping up right in front of our eyes, and we all get to watch. The score is 5-5, I can’t wait for Saturday!