It was déjà vu all over again in game 4 of the $1.1 million World Championship Match being held at the Fulton Market Building in midtown Manhattan, as Norway’s Magnus Carlsen squandered another golden opportunity to strike the first blow against his dogged challenger Sergey Karjakin, as for the second successive day the wily Russian channeled his inner Bear Grylls with remarkable survival instincts by finding a fortress to salvage a lost game.
Carlsen emerged from the opening with easy equality, then pounced as the challenger again cracked with a wrong move at the wrong time, allowing the world champion to completely dominate the board and what looked like a sure-fire win. But unfortunately, Carlsen miss-assessed a critical position he simply thought was a forced win, only to see Karjakin hit back by building himself an impregnable fortress that again denied the world champion the first win of the match.
And after nearly six hours of play and approaching 100 moves of yet another epic, the game ended in a forced draw. And now Magnus' pre-match remark on Sergey's amazing defensive skills, as it’s not every day that Carlsen fails to win two clearly superior positions in a row - and this could well play on the mind now of the world champion over the remainder of the match.
All four games in the match have now been drawn and the score is level at two apiece with 8 games left to play. And in this war of attrition, the players now take a well-earned break after two epic games that have gone the distance and then some, with over 170 moves and almost 13 hours at the board.
After game 3, Andrés Wadalupe, the cartoonist for Chess24.com, depicted Carlsen typically grinding away at the board while a smiling Karjakin simply pours himself a cup of coffee through the world champion's efforts. Now after the latest saga, and if the match continues like this, we could see Karjakin thinking about opening his own Starbucks branch!
Match score (best-of-12-games)
Carlsen 2-2 Karjakin
Sergey Karjakin - Magnus Carlsen
World Championship, (4)
Ruy Lopez, Anti-Marshall
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Be7 6.Re1 Will we see a big mainline Closed Lopez with c3 and d4 that became the strategic battleground of the epic Kasparov-Karpov World Ch. Match of 1990? 6...b5 7.Bb3 0-0 8.h3 And the answer is a resounding 'Nyet!' Avoiding this, Karjakin and his team look to be trying to take Carlsen on in the Anti-Marshall. I think this is a bad plan, as the slow manoeuvring battle is not the way to beat Magnus. 8...Bb7 9.d3 d6 10.a3 Qd7 Karjakin has had this position against Tomashevsky in 2010 Russian Championship. He also won with it against Etienne Bacrot. So the good news is that he is on familiar territory - the bad news is that Carlsen and his team will have totally dissected it. 11.Nbd2 Rfe8 12.c3 Bf8 13.Nf1 h6 14.N3h2 It's not bad per say, as in such Lopez positions a knight generally goes to h2 and then g4 - but usually it is the knight on f1. 14...d5! An attack on the flank is always - ALWAYS - best met by immediately countering in the centre! 15.Qf3 Na5 16.Ba2 dxe4 17.dxe4 Nc4! It's amazing how Magnus always gets to the heart of the position - and here 17...Nc4 stubs out the influence of the Lopez bishop on the a2-g8 diagonal. 18.Bxh6 The sensible option was 18.Ng4, though admittedly not so 'sexy'. 18...Qc6! It's an extremely tense position, and for a moment it looked as if Carlsen had made a blunder, allowing 18.Bxh6 - but the world champion has it all in hand, as after the e-pawn falls, he holds all the positional advantages. 19.Bxc4? After yesterday's near-death experience, Karjakin starts to wobble again today. It's a sort of cardinal rule in the Lopez that White must try to preserve his bishop-pair, as long-term that's his ace in the hole. But here, Karjakin makes a serious miss-assessment of the position. He should have played 19.Bc1! Nxe4 20.Ne3 Bc5 21.Nhg4 with dynamic play on both sides. Karjakin is certainly not worse here - but he is after what he played. And Carlsen must have been dreaming of inflicting yet another lengthy torture session on his Russian challenger. 19...bxc4 20.Be3 Nxe4 21.Ng3 Nd6 Yes, arguably better was 21...Qg6 22.Nxe4 Bxe4 23.Qg4 Bf5 24.Qxg6 Bxg6 25.Rad1 f6 26.Nf1 Rab8 but Carlsen also has this plan that's more or less similar. 22.Rad1 Rab8 23.Bc1 f6 24.Qxc6 Bxc6 25.Ng4 Rb5 26.f3 f5! Carlsen has the bishop-pair, the centre and the terminally weak b2-pawn to work on - what's not to like here for him? 27.Nf2 Be7 28.f4 Bh4! Another good move - the pressure is mounting for Karjakin. 29.fxe5 Bxg3 30.exd6 Rxe1+ 31.Rxe1 cxd6 32.Rd1 Kf7 Again, Karjakin shows he is a born survivor and can fight as if his life depended on it. Now, if Carlsen plays 33...d5, then he's restricting the scope of his own bishop, and gives Karjakin hopes of perhaps setting up a fortress-like position by playing Nd1 and Bf4, and asking Carlsen how he's going to make a breakthrough? And keep this fortress idea in mind, as it comes again later at a critical moment. 33.Rd4 Re5 34.Kf1 Rd5 35.Rxd5 Bxd5 36.Bg5 Karjakin has a terrible position, but he's far from dead - and forcing the exchange of rooks can only help him fight on and hope for salvation. His best plan is to try and see if he can engineer an opposite colour bishop ending, as invariably they can end in draws even if you are as much as three pawns down. 36...Kg6 37.h4 You don't really want to commit a pawn here, but Karjakin had to make space somehow to swing his knight back into the game - and this is what he comes up with rather than the automatic 37.Bd8. 37...Kh5 38.Nh3 Bf7 The point behind Karjakin's plan is that if 38...Bxh4 39.Nf4+! Kg4 (Worse would have been 39...Kxg5 40.Nxd5 and there's no way to stop White playing Nb6 and capturing the c4-pawn and it's a draw.) 40.Bxh4 Kxf4 41.Kf2 forces an opposite colour bishop ending - and Black can't defend the d6-pawn! An easy draw. And if 38...Kg4 39.Nf2+ etc. and we're back to the same position. 39.Be7 Bxh4 40.Bxd6 Bd8 41.Ke2 g5 42.Nf2 Kg6 43.g4 Bb6 44.Be5 a5?! This makes no sense to me. Loses a spare tempo, pawn more vulnerable (on a dark square), and a4 could well be needed for the king. But it's Magnus, so... 45.Nd1 f4? Magnus believed he had a forcing win here, but this is where it all goes tragically wrong for the world champion with a faulty assessment of the position. Instead, the way to a decisive advantage was 45...Be6 46.gxf5+ Kxf5 and he can start thinking about the win: he has a passed pawn, a pair of active bishops, and a king threatening either to support the passed g-pawn or perhaps infiltrate over to the queenside. Now, remarkably, rather than flat-lining, Karjakin's comes back from the dead with a game-saving fortress. 46.Bd4! Bc7 If 46...Bxd4 47.cxd4 and Black's king has no entry squares, allowing the White knight to re-emerge on c3 to complete the fortress - all in all, a remarkably quick find under relentless pressure from the ever-resourceful Karjakin. 47.Nf2 Be6 48.Kf3 Bd5+ 49.Ke2 Although the game stumbles on for another 40-odd moves or so, the rest is basically academic, as Karjakin has now completed his fortress, as Carlsen can't create the breakthrough needed now without his opponent blundering. 49...Bg2 50.Kd2 Kf7 51.Kc2 Bd5 52.Kd2 Bd8 53.Kc2 Ke6 If 53...Bf6 54.Bxf6 Kxf6 and White can simply 'pass' with Kc2-d2-e2 or even a timely Nh3 hitting g5 and back to f2 etc. The fortress is in play. Wisely, Magnus opts to preserve his bishop in the faint hope of Karjakin blundering back the advantage. No way - Karjakin has a simple fortress set-up and won't deviate from it now. 54.Kd2 Kd7 55.Kc2 Kc6 56.Kd2 Kb5 57.Kc1 Ka4 58.Kc2 Bf7 59.Kc1 Bg6 60.Kd2 Kb3 Carlsen has successfully got his king to b3 - but there's no way to take on b2 he needs for the win. 61.Kc1 Bd3 62.Nh3 Ka2 63.Bc5 Be2 64.Nf2 Bf3 65.Kc2 All the engines tell you that Carlsen is creaming this, some even going to -2. But what does the silicon beast really know, as they can't see beyond the horizon of the fortress? There's just no breakthrough. 65...Bc6 66.Bd4 Bd7 67.Bc5 Bc7 68.Bd4 Be6 69.Bc5 f3 70.Be3 Bd7 71.Kc1 Bc8 72.Kc2 Bd7 73.Kc1 Bf4 74.Bxf4 gxf4 75.Kc2 Be6 76.Kc1 Bc8 77.Kc2 Be6 78.Kc1 Kb3 79.Kb1 Ka4 The only try now for Carlsen is the walk of shame over to the kingside and pray for a blunder. 80.Kc2 Kb5 81.Kd2 Kc6 82.Ke1 Kd5 83.Kf1 Just look how Karjakin's pawns on a3, c3, g4 and the Nf3 prevents Carlsen's king from infiltrating. 83...Ke5 84.Kg1 Kf6 85.Ne4+ The knight check covers entry via g5. And if Carlsen puts his bishop on d5 to try to stop this, Karjakin will simply play Nh3 as the g4 isn't under attack anymore, and again a fortress. 85...Kg6 86.Kf2 Now it is even simpler, as Karjakin liquidates some pawns. 86...Bxg4 87.Nd2 Be6 88.Kxf3 Kf5 89.a4 Carlsen can't attack a4 without losing either his c- or f-pawns. 89...Bd5+ 90.Kf2 Kg4 91.Nf1 Kg5 92.Nd2 Kf5 93.Ke2 Kg4 94.Kf2 ½-½