Thanksgiving Eve at World Champs: Carlsen Survives

avd59010Round 9 at the World Chess Championships, Photo Max Avdeev
I arrived in New York on the exact day the Shakespearian tragedy happened (round 8), and I was hoping not to witness another one today (my return ticket is on the 30th). Luckily, my first day as journalist at the 2016 World Chess Championship was dramatic but still left me with hope for a tight match. After a shocking round 8 and a fairly hectic aftermath, with Carlsen not attending the press conference, the players met once again across the World Championship board for round 9. And what a threat they gave the spectators. Karjakin returned to his pet 1.e4, and as expected Carlsen did not deviate from the Ruy Lopez, as he had no problems equalizing in previous games. The surprise came when Carlsen chose the fairly forced Archangelsk Variation an opening that has not received much attention, especially at top level, in recent years. In general Black sacrifices a pawn in order to shatter white’s pawn structure and gain some important dark squares around his opponent’s king. White gets the bishop pair and the material advantage, if he manages to stabilize his position then the game will be played for two results only, a white win or a draw. Karjakin was no stranger to this opening and his previous results were extremely solid in this line, a lot of specialists have expressed their indignation towards Carlsen’s camp and his team’s choice for this crucial stage in the match. As the moves went by, Carlsen was slowly getting outplayed. Everybody that I talked to could feel the pressure that the Champion was facing, and the Challenger was playing brilliantly. Karjakin’s position was dominant, but the break was still longing far away. Karjakin slipped with 33.Qc2 to which Carlsen had only one move to balance the game and force a draw, unfortunately for him his trademark precision has been nowhere to be found throughout the match and he once again erred, giving white a long lasting advantage. Karjakin pressed and seemed like he is on his way to victory, the tension was rising at the venue, and everybody was eager to find the answer: Will Magnus crack? Karjakin failed to see a deep move in a very dangerous line, and after spending his last 20 minutes on the clock he decided to go for a forced line that allowed the Champion to escape and live to see another day.

[Event "World Chess Championship"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "2016.11.23"]
[Round "9"]
[White "Karjakin"]
[Black "Carlsen"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[ECO "C78"]
[WhiteElo "2772"]
[BlackElo "2853"]
[Annotator "Chirila Cristian"]
[PlyCount "124"]
[EventDate "2016.??.??"]
[SourceDate "2016.11.23"]

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 {As expected Carlsen continues with the same
approach as before, it has yielded good results up until this moment.} 4. Ba4
Nf6 5. O-O b5 6. Bb3 Bc5 {The first surprise of the match, we have an
Archangelsk on the board. A very sharp and very theoretical line, but one that
usually allows white to maintains a strong grip on the position and stir the
game into tame waters if needed} 7. a4 Rb8 {By far the main line} (7... Bb7 8.
c3 d6 9. d4 Bb6 10. Bg5 $14 {the results are very encouraging for White in
this variation}) 8. c3 d6 9. d4 Bb6 10. axb5 axb5 11. Na3 O-O 12. Nxb5 Bg4 {
All theory} 13. Bc2 (13. d5 {Was the move that Karjakin chose in his game vs
Svidler, and one of the moves I have personally prepared for white.
Nevertheless the Challenger clearly sensed something and had new variations
prepared. Kudos to his team, 90% of the home preparation will not be seen
during a match!} Ne7 14. Bc2 Qd7 15. c4 Ng6 16. h3 Bxh3 17. gxh3 Qxh3 18. Ng5
Qg3+ 19. Kh1 Qh4+ 20. Kg2 Nf4+ 21. Bxf4 exf4 $13) 13... exd4 14. Nbxd4 Nxd4 15.
cxd4 Bxf3 16. gxf3 Nh5 17. Kh1 Qf6 18. Be3 c5 {This is already a very obscure
sideline, with only 3 games being played in it so far} (18... g6) (18... Ra8) (
18... Nf4 {all have been played before, white has the upperhand against all of
these moves}) 19. e5 (19. d5 $6 c4 20. f4 g6 21. Ra4 Rfc8 $13) (19. dxc5 $2
dxc5 20. Rg1 Rfd8 21. Qe2 Bc7 $15) 19... Qe6 20. exd6 c4 21. b3 cxb3 {One of
Magnus' big strengths throughout the years has been that he can take
manipulate his opponents to go into the type of positions he likes, this has
not been the case in this match. This game proves it quite well, white will
only play for two results.} (21... c3 22. d5 Qxd6 23. Ra6 $14 {Nakamura vs
Kasimdzhanov 1-0 2014}) 22. Bxb3 Qxd6 23. Ra6 Rfd8 (23... Qd7 24. Rg1 g6 25.
Rg4 Nf6 26. Rg5 Rfd8 $14) 24. Rg1 Qd7 25. Rg4 {the queen is not allowed to go
anywhere close to the king} (25. Rg5 $5 Qh3 $1 $13) 25... Nf6 26. Rh4 Qb5 27.
Ra1 g6 28. Rb1 Qd7 29. Qd3 Nd5 30. Rg1 Bc7 31. Bg5 Re8 32. Qc4 Rb5 33. Qc2 Ra8
$6 (33... Rb4 {would have been the move to restore the balance, sometimes just
attacking pieces is the key!} 34. Qd3 Reb8 35. Bc4 Qc6 36. Ba2 Qa8 37. Bxd5
Qxd5 38. Qe3 Bd6 $11) (33... Nb4 $4 {the N can't allow the white square bishop
to open up} 34. Qxg6+ $3 hxg6 35. Bf6 Rh5 36. Rxh5 {mate is coming}) 34. Bc4
Rba5 35. Bd2 Ra4 36. Qd3 Ra1 37. Rxa1 Rxa1+ 38. Kg2 {Black has to be extremely
careful now, and with only 2 minutes on the clock Magnus allows white to
increase his advantage, but also sets up a trap!} Ne7 $6 (38... Bd8 39. Rg4 Kg7
40. Qb3 h5 41. Re4 Ba5 $13) 39. Bxf7+ {so temping, but so not decisive!} (39.
Qb3 $1 {would have sent the world champion into a severe agony. This is an
extremely difficult move to make, and can only be played if White manages to
see all the deep nuances of the ensuing complications} Nf5 40. Bxf7+ Kg7 (40...
Kf8 41. Rxh7 $16) (40... Kh8) (40... Qxf7 41. Qxf7+ Kxf7 42. Rxh7+ Ke6 43. Rxc7
$16) 41. Rh3 Qe7 42. Bg8 $1 {the key move, the one that Karjakin missed in his
calculation as he confessed during the press conference} h5 (42... Nh4+ 43.
Rxh4 Qxh4 44. Qf7+ Kh8 45. Qxc7 $18) 43. d5 Ra3 44. Qc4 Qf6 45. Be6 $18) 39...
Kxf7 40. Qc4+ Kg7 41. d5 Nf5 {the most practical defense!} 42. Bc3+ Kf8 43.
Bxa1 Nxh4+ 44. Qxh4 Qxd5 45. Qf6+ Qf7 46. Qd4 Ke8 {there's no way White can
make any progress here. White simply played further on to assert his
domination and crest a few more scarce in his opponent's armour.} 47. Qe4+ Qe7
48. Qd5 Bd8 49. Kf1 Qf7 50. Qe4+ Qe7 51. Be5 Qe6 52. Kg2 Be7 53. Qa8+ Kf7 54.
Qh8 h5 55. Qg7+ Ke8 56. Bf4 Qf7 57. Qh8+ Qf8 58. Qd4 Qf5 59. Qc4 Kd7 60. Bd2
Qe6 61. Qa4+ Qc6 62. Qa7+ Qc7 {An impressive and crucial escape by the World
Champion, who now only has 3 bullets left to try to equalize the score and
send it to overtime!} 1/2-1/2[/pgn]
Tomorrow is Carlsen’s 2nd to last white, and his match strategy has surely changed in the past 48 hours. Will he be able to drift from his usual play and go for a sharper opening to try and create imbalances and outplay his solid opponent in them? Will he continue with his dry approach and try to squeeze water from stone. The first strategy could basically end the match tomorrow if he misplays it, the first one did not give any results throughout the whole match. The spectators are in for a treat no matter what. Carlsen is not the type of player to give up, Karjakin has proved all match that he is not a player to step away from a challenge. Happy Thanksgiving and look for news on tomorrow's game after your turkey and pie.