13 Nov

The Boys Are Back In Town

The boys are back in town...literally!  Norway’s Magnus Carlsen and Sergey Karjakin of Russia are battling it out in midtown Manhattan for the $1.1 million, 12-game World Chess Championship Match - but unlike all the previous world championship matches in the past, this is the first in its 128-year history that sees both contestants vying for the title being under the age of 30, as the grandmasters become younger and younger.  

After 22...Bb4!

Carlsen and Karjakin were born in the so-called ‘golden year’ in chess of 1990, so they’re both still relatively young: Carlsen is 25 and Karjakin 26, yet they’ve lived nearly half their lives as rivals and grandmasters - not only that but two of the three youngest grandmasters ever in history. Carlsen gained the title at the tender age of 13 years, 4 months and 27 days; Karjakin, amazingly much younger at only 12 years and 7 months - and he still holds the record of being the youngest grandmaster ever!

So this match was destined to be. There’s much riding on it for both players, so don’t be upset by the fact that for the first few games we’re likely not to see much happening, as both Carlsen and Karjakin will carefully be ‘feeling each other out’, much like boxers do at the start of a big fight. But there’s careful and then there’s careful, and in game 2 Karjakin opted to dodge a mainline Ruy Lopez - and after some light jabs and a little dodging, the game turned into an anti-climax as it soon fizzled out to the second successive draw of the match.

When we were but boys: Karjakin and Carlsen

Some pundits say both players are nervous - but to play in a world title match (as Karpov and Kasparov would attest to) you need nerves of steel and take your chances whenever the opportunity arises.  And the longer the match goes on now, the tension will inevitably mount, and with nerves there will come cracks, and only then will we see which of these two former prodigies will strike the first blow - and with it, the likely winner in this close contest.

Match score
Carlsen 1-1 Karjakin

Sergey Karjakin - Magnus Carlsen
World Championship, (2)
Ruy Lopez
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 The first sigh of relief is that Carlsen didn't play 3...Nf6 and a Berlin defense! Karjakin and his team no doubt have something ready for Carlsen's Berlin - but I doubt now whether there's any possibility of a bombshell waiting to go off in the Berlin. So would we be back to a big mainline Closed Lopez that proved to be an epic strategical struggle during the 1990 Kasparov-Karpov match? 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Be7 6.d3 If Karjakin wants to become world champion, then he has to be bold and take the initiative with white, especially when he has a chance to go into a big mainline Lopez against Carlsen, which would come after c3 and d4, just like the aforementioned Kasparov-Karpov 1990 match. Quiet lines such as 6.d3 just isn't going to ruffle Magnus. 6...b5 7.Bb3 d6 8.a3 0-0 9.Nc3 Na5 10.Ba2 Be6 This is a common theme from Black against 6.d3 - the idea is that if White takes on e6, then after ...fxe6, Black no longer has to worry about the Lopez bishop and will also have central control with his pawns. 11.d4 Again, Karjakin is taking the timid approach - and this game-plan could well backfire if the challenger falls behind in the match, as I can't see him fighting his way back into it if Magnus takes the lead. 11...Bxa2 12.Rxa2 Re8 13.Ra1 I should point out that in several lines over the next few moves, that in most variations Magnus is defending his e-pawn indirectly, as taking it can lead to White opening the game up for Black's pieces, such as 13.dxe5 dxe5 14.Qxd8 Raxd8 15.Nxe5 Bd6 and Black will win the e-pawn and have the better pieces. 13...Nc4 14.Re1 Rc8 This is the sort of "mysterious rook move" that Nimzowitsch liked - the idea is to prevent the exchange of rooks for now, looking to keep the tension in the position, which generally favors the better player. 15.h3 h6 16.b3 Karjakin's problem now is where to develop his bishop - and the only option left to him now after 15...h6 is on b2 and put pressure on e5. 16...Nb6 17.Bb2 Perhaps now, though, was the time to take on e5? The reason is that it seems to work better for White than what happens in the game : 17.dxe5!? dxe5 18.Qxd8 Bxd8! (This time 18...Rcxd8? DOES work for White, as there are no tricks for Black after 19.Nxe5) 19.Bb2 Alternatively, 19.a4 c6 20.axb5 axb5 is also an equal game. 19...c6 20.a4 Nbd7 21.axb5 axb5 and Black will soon play ...Bb6, and again there's nothing much in the position for either player. 17...Bf8 18.dxe5 dxe5 19.a4 Over the next three moves, Karjakin seemed to have a slightly uneasy position - certainly, he mishandled it and ends up slightly on the back-foot now, as Magnus gets easy activity for his pieces - did Karjakin misjudge something? 19...c6 20.Qxd8 Rcxd8 21.axb5 axb5 22.Ne2 There are sometimes little miscalculations in World Ch. matches - could it be that Sergey intended 22.Ra6? but overlooked 22…Nfd7! and Magnus is definitely not any the worse? Who knows? But with 22.Ne2, Magnus is the one now with the very minor pull in the position - though nothing he could ever intend grinding on for an unlikely win. 22...Bb4! And just  when the game gets a little spark to it, Karjakin now forces the exchange of more pieces to dampen down the action and the game soon fizzles out to a rather tepid draw. 23.Bc3 Bxc3 24.Nxc3 Nbd7 25.Ra6 Rc8 26.b4 Karjakin had to stop Magnus playing ...Nc5 hitting the rook on a6 and the e4 pawn. Now we're left with a sterile position and the draw coming anytime now after the compulsory 30-move mark. 26...Re6 Magnus could perhaps have made Karjakin work a little bit more for the draw with marginally better option of 26...c5!? 27.Nxb5 cxb4 28.Nd6 (Not 28.Re2? Nc5! and Black will have good chances of winning.) 28...Re6 29.Nxc8 Rxa6 30.Rd1 and Black has a little pull, but nothing to write home about, and indeed White will likely consolidate very quickly with ideas such as Ne1 (to defend c2) and then f3 (defending e4) - the game might well struggle on a half dozen or so moves than it does, but there's no way Black can win here without White making a gross blunder. 27.Rb1 c5 More pieces coming off just hastens the draw - definitely not an exciting Saturday for the chess fans who paid good $s to watch the game live in Manhattan! 28.Rxe6 fxe6 29.Nxb5 cxb4 30.Rxb4 Rxc2 It's a symmetrical position, both sides having a rook and a pair of knights, and crucially all the pawns on the same side of the board, and the only possible result here is a draw. 31.Nd6 Rc1+ 32.Kh2 Rc2 33.Kg1 Karjakin can't avoid the repetition with 33.Kg3 as after 33...Kf8! Black is quickly following up with …Ke7, and suddenly White's knight is kicked from d6, and now the pawns on e4 and f2 are vulnerable; also there are threats in some lines of Black playing ...Nh5+, certainly a tangible position Magnus would have played on longer with. But not here…so ½-½

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