2016 will go down in the annals as being the ‘Year of the Blindside.’ Against all the odds, everyone was blindsided by little Leicester City winning the English Premier League title in soccer; blindsided by the unexpected Brexit vote in the UK; blindsided by the Chicago Cubs finally winning the World Series again; blindsided by Donald Trump’s triumph in the U.S. Presidential race. So why not Sergey Karjakin completing the cycle by beating Magnus Carlsen?
And “Why Not?” was in fact the the title of Dirk Jan ten Guezendam’s editorial in the New in Chess 40-page special (available free when you register at www.newinchess.com/special) on the Carlsen-Karjakin World Championship Match, that starts in just two days time in the redeveloped Fulton Market building along the South Street Seaport in Lower Manhattan, New York.
It explains that Karjakin, with the full financial backing of the Russian Chess Federation, has assembled an experienced team behind him, led by Yury Dokhian, Garry Kasparov’s former trainer. And when asked if he thought he had a chance against Carlsen, the challenger’s simple answer was: “Why not?”
For what its worth in this year of everything going against the odds, I’m predicting a slender 6.5-5.5 win for Carlsen - but this 12-game match is likely to be hard-fought from start-to-finish, with nothing much between the two contestants, so don’t expect any pyrotechnics. And the world champion goes into the match having the advantage in their previous classical match-ups, having won four, drawn 16 and lost only once - and that was four years ago in Wijk aan Zee, seen in today’s game.
So will Carlsen also fall victim to the cycle of being blindsided in 2016?
GM Magnus Carlsen - GM Sergey Karjakin
Tata Steel 2012, (9)
Queen’s Indian Defence, Kasparov-Petrosian Variation
1.Nf3 Nf6 2.c4 b6 3.Nc3 Bb7 4.d4 e6 5.a3 The Kasparov/Petrosian Variation, named after two world champions, no less! Tigran Petrosian who first popularised this system, and Garry Kasparov who finely-tuned it as a new attacking weapon. 5...d5 6.Bg5 Be7 7.e3 0-0 8.Rc1 h6 9.Bxf6 Bxf6 10.cxd5 exd5 11.Bd3 c5 12.0-0 Na6 13.Ne5?! It all starts to drift here for Carlsen. In a position such as this, White should be prepared to keep his centre really solid, manoeuvring his pieces, and waiting for the correct moment to open up the pawn centre. The onus is on Black to decide what to do with his pawns. 13...cxd4 14.exd4 Bxe5 15.dxe5 Nc5 16.Re1 Re8 17.f4? This is a loose move, a mistake, and the start of all of Carlsen's troubles, from which he couldn't recover from. Instead, the natural 17.Nb5 heading for the d6 outpost was better and promised a more equal struggle, e.g.: 17...Nxd3 18.Qxd3 Ba6 19.Qb3 Bxb5 20.Qxb5 a6 21.Qb3 Ra7=. 17...d4 18.Ne4? It doesn't matter if you are a club player or the world No.1: when you get on a wrong thread in a game, one blunder can usually be followed by another, and things can go spectacularly wrong very quickly. Carlsen clearly overlooked the entire ...Bxe4, ...d3 idea. 18...Bxe4! It was easy to see how Carlsen may have been seduced by 18.Ne4, as Karjakin equally could have strayed here with 18...Qd5? 19.Qg4! and the tables being turned. 19.Bxe4 d3! 20.Rc4 Carlsen is busted, as 20.Bxa8 d2 21.Bc6 Qd4+ 22.Kh1 dxe1Q+ 23.Qxe1 Nd3 24.Qf1 Rd8 25.Rc2 Nxf4 and the e5-pawn will also fall. 20...Rc8 21.Bf5 Qd5! Carlsen catches no breaks whatsoever - and the way the game goes, you would be mistaken for believing that Carlsen was Black here, as Karjakin squeezes the life out of his opponent now. 22.Rc3 Rcd8 23.Qd2 Carlsen is looking to shift the troublesome knight with b4 - but if he does it immediately, then ...Qd4+ hangs the rook on c3. So now, he has to take the time to first defend the rook, and this allows Karjakin to prevent b4. 23...Qd4+ 24.Kh1 a5 25.Rb1 Still fishing for the freeing b4. 25...a4! Forever preventing Carlsen playing the freeing b4 - and now Karjakin consolidates his pieces on his dominance of the d-file. 26.Rd1 Rd5 27.h4 g6 28.Bxd3 There is no other option now. If 28.Bh3 Ne4! wins the house with the knight fork on f2. 28...Red8 29.Qe1 Qxf4 30.e6 The only try, as 30.Bc2? Rxd1 31.Bxd1 Nd3 easily wins. 30...Nxe6 Karjakin now goes a pawn up with the better position - there's no escaping the inevitable here for Carlsen. 31.Bc2 b5 32.Rxd5 Rxd5 33.Re3 Nd4 Karjakin's knight still dominates the bishop. 34.Bd3 Kg7 35.Kg1 Qf6 36.Kh2 Rh5 37.Rh3 Ne6! Winning yet another pawn, as now there's a double attack on b2 and h4 - and Carlsen can't defend both of them. 38.Rf3 Rxh4+ 39.Kg1 Qd4+ 40.Qf2 Qxf2+ 41.Kxf2 b4! Carlsen has been totally outplayed - and the rest of the game sees Karjakin expertly convert his huge advantage to a win. 42.Re3 Rd4 43.Bb5 Kf6 44.Rf3+ If 44.Bxa4 bxa3 45.Rxa3 Rd2+ 46.Kg3 Rxb2 and the 3-1 kingside pawn majority easily wins. 44...Ke7 45.Rd3 bxa3 46.bxa3 Rf4+ 47.Ke3 f5 48.Rd7+ Kf6 49.Rd6 Carlsen has at least achieved a little activity now - but it is too little and too late. 49...Re4+ 50.Kf2 Kg5 51.Be8 Nf4 The knight dominates the bishop yet again, both defending and attack at the same time. 52.Bb5 Re5 53.Bc4 Nh5 54.Ra6 Nf6 55.Rxa4 Ng4+ 56.Kf1 Kh4 57.Be2 Kg3 58.Bxg4 fxg4 59.Rb4 h5 60.a4 Kh2 0-1 Definitely not normal Magnus, since he was basically busted coming out of the opening, but still very powerfully played from beginning to end by Karjakin.