World Championship Poised for Dramatic Finale

 Photo Maria Yassakova (AGON)

After a dramatic round 10 in Carlsen-Karjakin, players and the fans were given a well deserved free day to contemplate and assimilate the consequences of an incredible turn of events. The champion regained his mojo, while the challenger let a huge chance slip that may haunt him for a long time.  Despite that, both men had to return to the table on Saturday, and Karjakin got his last white in the match.

[pgn] [Event "World Chess Championship "] [Site "New York"] [Date "2016.11.26"] [White "Karjakin, Sergey"] [Black "Carlsen, Magnus"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [WhiteElo "2772"] [BlackElo "2853"] [Annotator "Chirila Cristian"] [PlyCount "67"] [EventDate "2016.11.27"] [EventCountry "USA"] 1. e4 e5 {No surprise here. The players stick with their main guns and enter the open games (1.e4 e5)} 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 { No Berlin!} 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. O-O Be7 6. d3 b5 7. Bb3 d6 (7... O-O 8. a4 {and black does not have the option of defending the b5 pawn by moving his light square bishop on the c8-h3 diagonal}) 8. a3 (8. a4 Bd7 (8... Bg4) 9. c3 O-O 10. Nbd2 Na5 11. Bc2 c5 12. Re1 $14 {/=}) 8... O-O 9. Nc3 Be6 (9... Bg4 {is the main line} 10. Be3 Nd4 11. Bxd4 exd4 12. Nd5 Nd7 13. h3 Bxf3 14. Qxf3 c6 15. Nxe7+ (15. Nf4) 15... Qxe7 16. Qg3 $14 {white has a slight edge, nothing more.} ) (9... Na5 10. Ba2 Be6 11. d4 (11. b4 Bxa2 12. Rxa2 Nc6 13. Bg5 Qd7 14. Bxf6 Bxf6 15. Nd5 a5 16. Nxf6+ gxf6 17. Rb2 $11 {Black equalized comfortably in Dominguez vs Tomashevsky 1/2 2014}) 11... Bxa2 12. Rxa2) 10. Nd5 Nd4 11. Nxd4 exd4 12. Nxf6+ Bxf6 13. Bxe6 fxe6 14. f4 (14. Qg4 {is the more popular continuation, though it doesn't give white more than in the game} Qd7 15. f4 $13 {transposes}) 14... c5 15. Qg4 Qd7 16. f5 Rae8 (16... exf5 17. Rxf5 (17. exf5 Rae8 18. Bd2 c4 $13 (18... Be5 $13)) 17... Rf7 18. Bd2 Raf8 19. Raf1 Be5 { would have probably led to a quick draw as well}) 17. Bd2 c4 18. h3 {black has equalized and after this moves he starts increasing the pressure on his opponent} (18. fxe6 Qxe6 19. Qxe6+ Rxe6 20. Rf5 Rc8 $11) 18... c3 $1 19. bxc3 d5 {A move that was highly praised around the venue, but to my understanding this is quite a normal move to make in the position, as black the risk is minimal while inserting this type of structure volatility can sometimes prove concerning for white} (19... dxc3 20. Be3 Qc6 21. fxe6 d5 $11) 20. Bg5 { the right decision, its time to pull the breaks and go for the simplifications} (20. fxe6 Qxe6 21. Qxe6+ Rxe6 22. exd5 Re2 23. Rf2 Rxf2 24. Kxf2 dxc3 25. Be1 $11 {this works but looks very dangerous from afar}) 20... Bxg5 21. Qxg5 dxe4 22. fxe6 Rxf1+ 23. Rxf1 Qxe6 24. cxd4 e3 (24... exd3 25. cxd3 Qe3+ 26. Qxe3 Rxe3 27. Rd1 Re2 28. d5 Kf7 29. Rc1 Ra2 30. Rc7+ Kf6 31. Rc6+ Ke5 32. Rxa6 Kxd5 $11) 25. Re1 h6 26. Qh5 e2 27. Qf3 a5 28. c3 {inviting black to force the draw} Qa2 29. Qc6 Re6 30. Qc8+ Kh7 31. c4 Qd2 32. Qxe6 Qxe1+ 33. Kh2 Qf2 34. Qe4+ { a fairly dull and expected draw, Karjakin's strategy was to stop the bleeding and restore the match balance as soon as possible, while Carlsen was obviously content with the draw. Game 12 might follow the same pattern, though I expect Carlsen to pressure his opponent for a longer time.} 1/2-1/2 [/pgn]
In the penultimate game, Karjakin came to the round well prepared and quickly blitzed his first 15 moves in an unusual anti Ruy Lopez with a3 & Nc3-d5. Carlsen did not go for the main line with 9…Bg4 but instead opted for the less common 9…Be6, a move that is considered to allow white a certain edge. Three pairs of light pieces were quickly chopped off the board and the players reached a position in which both side were trying to grab space through an advancement of their pawns on the sides they had superiority. White was going for space on the kingside, while black was quickly preparing his response on the queenside. Despite the pawn marches and the apparent aggressive character of the position, both players were aware of the fact that the game is very close to complete simplifications, and one of them will have to engage those exchanges to avoid trouble. Carlsen found a very precise sequence of moves immediately after the theory ended and forced Karjakin to take a defensive stance and start pulling the breaks. Both players are well aware of the stake that is in play, and with only a 2 round mini match left, none of them looked to commit unnecessary mistakes. Karjakin had to dodge a few traps along the way but ultimately the players shook hands after only three hours of play. Throughout the press conference the champion seemed to be the more relaxed player, while the challenger seemed rather concerned that he still has to fight to equalized one game as black before going into tiebreaks. One moment that stroke a chord was when both players were asked how they would characterize the final games in terms of how much do nerves count, and how much do actual chess moves count. While Karjakin stressed the importance of nerves at this stage in the match and allocated 80% to it and only 20% to the actual level of play, Carlsen clearly stated that he only believes in chess moves, and that nerves will not be as important. The skills pay the bills as one could say! The whole conversation throughout the post game conference depicted quite clearly the roles of each of the contestants: Magnus Carlsen, the relaxed and confident champion vs Sergey Karjakin, the reserved and more tense challenger. Arguably, tiebreaks  is the most likely outcome, upon a draw in round 12. But first the players have the chance to win the title on Monday. I believe at this moment in the match Carlsen possesses a clear psychological advantage. My prediction for the rest of the match is as follows: Carlsen pressures in game 12 but fails to break Karjakin, followed by a dominant performance in the tiebreaks to keep his title. But don’t count out Karjakin, he has proved in numerous critical situations that he is the deserved challenger and he will do everything in his power to dethrone the reigning king. Follow along tomorrow at 2 PM EST on and find many more viewing options in GM Rogers' Couch Potato guide.