The 2016 World Championship Match between Norway’s defending champion and Sergey Karjakin, his Russian challenger, finally got underway today in Manhattan, as Hollywood actor and avid chess aficionado Woody Harrelson made the ceremonial first move of the 12-game match. But little did Woody know that one move later, it would lead to much mirth breaking out on social media and even the popular media over the outcome of this week’s U.S. Presidential election.
Barely a minute later, Carlsen played the provoking 2.Bg5, the Trompowsky…and almost immediately the puns came thick and fast in the chess chatrooms and on social media, such as re-christening it “the Trump-owsky”, to “The U.S. has been Trumped and Tromped in the span of four days.”, or that “The only way Karjakin has a chance is if he can take Michigan & Pennsylvania.” And conspiracy theories were abound also that a certain politician might have even swayed the World Champion’s decision to play it.
After the game, which ended in a careful hard-fought draw, Magnus perhaps began to regret his opening choice, as inevitably there came many questions from the press, asking if it was indeed a nod to the new President-elect Donald J. Trump? A little frustrated, but also seeing the funny side to it all, Carlsen commented: “If I had known how many questions I would get about the opening, I would've played something else."
Forty years ago, the aggressive early bishop sortie with 2.Bg5 was nothing more than a mere sub-note in the opening books. It became eponymously ascribed to the one-time Brazilian champion Octavio Trompowsky (who in a curio with Magnus here, also shares a birthday with the World Champion, on Nov 30th!) , who played it almost exclusively through the 1930s and 1940s. But it really came to the fore in the 1980s after it was popularised by the young English grandmaster Julian Hodgson - and after he demonstrated many wonderful swashbuckling wins with it (even against top grandmasters), the “Tromp” - as it is affectionately known as - took off at club and tournament level.
GM Magnus Carlsen - GM Sergey Karjakin
World Chess Championship, (1)
1.d4 Nf6 2.Bg5 d5 3.e3 c5 4.Bxf6 The central tenet of the Tromp is to exchange off the bishop for the knight when it involves the doubling of Black's f-pawns. It's for this reason that, normally in the Tromp, Black will play 2...Ne4 to avoid the doubled pawns. 4...gxf6 Correctly capturing towards the centre. Not so good, but also playable is 4...exf6, though after a swift 5.dxc5 Black has lumbered himself with a weak and isolated d-pawn, as well as his doubled f-pawns. While these difficulties are less of a problem in the opening, come the middlegame and the endgame, it can often become a game-loser. 5.dxc5 Nc6 Karjakin want's to try and develop his white-squared bishop first before playing ...e6. And the immediate 5...e6 was what Vladimir Kramnik played against Carlsen at the 2013 Tal Memorial, that turned into a complicated struggle which Carlsen won. The game continued 6.Nf3 Nd7 7.c4 dxc4 8.c6 Nb6 9.Nbd2 c3 10.bxc3 bxc6 11.Qc2 Bg7 12.Bd3 f5 13.e4 with Carlsen seizing the advantage and going on to win. 6.Bb5 Online, the punters were calling this a novelty - but, in fact, it is known, although through the different move order of 5. Bb5+ Nc6 6. dxc5. 6...e6 The first real think of the game, as Karjakin thought here for roughly just over 15 minutes. He was perhaps a little thrown by Carlsen's move order surprise of 6.Bb5, and likely just wanted to reassure himself what his best strategy was now, as here he had options, such as the unusual 6...Rg8. 7.c4 This often can be the best way to play in the Tromp after a Bxf6 as it attempts to open lines around Black's weakened king, and also a bonus of a Plan B of an early endgame scenario with the queens off the board and Black pawn structure damaged. 7...dxc4 Black can't allow White to play cxd5 here, as his pawn structure would be major liability. 8.Nd2 Right now, Karjakin's king is the more open, so Carlsen keeps the queens on for now. 8...Bxc5 9.Ngf3 0-0 10.0-0 Na5 11.Rc1 Another little accurate move from Carlsen, who continues to apply a bit more pressure by steadily developing his pieces for now, knowing full-well that Black's extra c-pawn isn't going to be going anywhere. Karjakin now has to be careful, and he does by correctly finding a position where the pressure is relieved a little with the queens coming off. 11...Be7 12.Qc2 Bd7 Correctly assessing the time has come to exchange off the bishops, because if not, Carlsen will have control over the white squares, and particularly those on Karjakin's kingside. 13.Bxd7 Qxd7 14.Qc3 Qd5 A good accurate move from Karjakin that now forces Carlsen's hand into a major exchange of pieces, otherwise Black will consolidate the extra pawn on c4 with ...Rac8. 15.Nxc4 Nxc4 16.Qxc4 Qxc4 17.Rxc4 Rfc8 18.Rfc1 Rxc4 We're now down to an ending, but Carlsen still has a little hope left to squeeze a trademark grinding win from, as he has the better pieces and pawn structure - but Karjakin is one of the toughest defenders in chess in today's game, and for this reason I can see this contest being a close match-up, as he's less likely to collapse as many grandmasters have done against Magnus in the past. 19.Rxc4 Rd8 The only sensible move, taking control of the only open file he can for his rook. 20.g3 A little bit too cautious. Better, as suggested by official match commentator Judith Polgar, would have been 20.g4 to prevent Karjakin's plan of playing ...f5 and ...h5. 20...Rd7 Karjakin is now solid, with his rook defending the vulnerable seventh rank. 21.Kf1 f5 Now Carlsen's rook is prevented from swinging over to the h-file, should Karjakin's king start to move over towards the centre. Indeed, I'd say around about here, the draw was becoming a reality. 22.Ke2 Bf6 23.b3 Kf8 Another good solid move from Karjakin - his intention is to play Ke7-d8, where it will help to exchange off the rooks and steering the game towards a draw. And with the rooks coming off, Karjakin's king will be ideally placed to head in whichever direction it needs to, kingside or queenside. 24.h3 h6 25.Ne1 Carlsen has to find a better square for his knight, as on f3 Karjakin's bishop covers all its potential outposts, so it is re-routed through d3 and potentially to c5 hitting the queenside. 25...Ke7 26.Nd3 Kd8 27.f4 It is hard to criticise this move, as it restricts Black's bishop - however, it helps Karjakin get the draw now, and not the long trademark grind Carlsen was looking for to sap the challenger's energy. "Maybe f4 wasn't the best way," Karjakin commented in the press conference after the game. "But you cannot say that White missed big chances." Carlsen said he had lofty ideas of playing Ne5 and after the trade winning the king-and-pawn ending. "But that was just a mirage." 27...h5! Nicely timed by Karjakin, stopping in its tracks any thoughts Carlsen might have had of expanding on the kingside with g4. 28.a4 Rd5 29.Nc5 Creating at least one hole on c6 for the touring knight to exploit, but it is not enough to come anywhere near winning the game. 29...b6 30.Na6 Be7! Now Carlsen's problem with f4 becomes a factor, as when the rooks do come off, Karjakin's bishop can come behind White's kingside pawns should the king stray too far. 31.Nb8 a5 32.Nc6+ Ke8 33.Ne5 The problem with going into the rook and pawn ending is that Black has a clever little trick that indirectly defends the vulnerable b-pawn: 33.Nxe7 Kxe7 34.Rc6 Kd7! 35.Rxb6 Kc7 forcing 36.Rb5 (Certainly not 36.Ra6?? Kb7 and suddenly White's rook is lost.) 36...Rxb5 37.axb5 Kb6 with a drawn king and pawn ending. 33...Bc5 And around here, Carlsen's body language was telling us that the game was going to be an easy draw, because when the rooks come off, then the bishop can sneak in behind the kingside pawns. So basically both players were simply biding their time now until the time-control for the draw offer to come. 34.Rc3 Ke7 35.Rd3 Rxd3 36.Kxd3 f6 37.Nc6+ Kd6 38.Nd4 Kd5 39.Nb5 Kc6 The "safe" draw. The only plan Carlsen has, if it can be called a plan as such here, is the knight tour of c7-e8-g7 attacking e6, f5 and h5 - but even here Black has this covered with 39...Bb4 40.Nc7+ Kd6 41.Ne8+ Ke7 42.Ng7 h4! 43.gxh4 Kf7 44.Nh5 Be1 which is also a draw. But Karjakin's first choice is much simpler and best, as now Carlsen's knight has no way through to threaten the pawns. 40.Nd4+ Kd6 41.Nb5+ Kd7 42.Nd4 Kd6 ½-½