After Boris Spassky and his first wife were divorced the former world champion reportedly said that they were “like bishops of opposite colors”. And Spassky’s chess simile with two pieces sitting next to each other on the board but never to interact directly is very poignant - and one that has become something of a theme of late in the World Championship Match between Magnus Carlsen and Sergey Karjakin being held at the Fulton Market Building in Manhattan.
It is well known that many endgame scenarios with opposite-colored bishops can lead to a draw - and for this reason, it has become something of a safe-haven for many a player in the ending, as it all but guarantees a draw even if you go a pawn(s) down. And this 'Chess Survival 101' fact came to the rescue of Carlsen in game seven, as the champion made an inexplicable error that his Russian challenger couldn’t cash in on.
After Karjakin deviated with 1.d4, Carlsen gained a slightly better position from the opening with his surprise of 10…Nc6. But somewhat uncharacteristically, almost immediately the world champion blundered away a pawn - but he kept calm to find a mass exchange of pieces followed by - and for the third game in a row! - salvation in the opposite-color bishops.
"Fortunately there are more than enough resources in my position to hold,” a clearly relieved Carlsen said after the game. “The last couple of games haven't been too interesting. I am hoping for something more fighting in next few games” And with games running out fast, the pressure is now on Carlsen to produce - and he has the added advantage now to do so, having three Whites in the remaining five games of the match.
But the tension is mounting, and the pressure on the champion will be immense now with so few games left in the best-of-12-game match, as one more costly slip-up could prove fatal for Carlsen and see Karjakin retreat even further into his defensive shell to unexpectedly clinch the title.
Match score (best-of-12-games)
Carlsen 3.5-3.5 Karjakin
Sergey Karjakin - Magnus Carlsen
World Championship, (7)
Queen’s Gambit Accepted
1.d4 The first switch of the match from Karjakin, who deviates from 1.e4 which was getting him nowhere fast with the tame Anti-Marshall sidelines he was using. 1...d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.e3 a6 After Karjakin has played 4.e3, the Chebanenko Slav with 4...a6 is a good and provocative punt from Carlsen (who has this in his arsenal), as White's dark-squared bishop is locked in behind the pawn chain. The only drawback, though, is that Karjakin instinctively heads in the direction of a sterile Queen's Gambit Accepted line - obviously not wanting to give the world champion anything at this stage of the match. 5.Bd3 dxc4 6.Bxc4 e6 7.Nf3 c5 8.0-0 b5 9.Be2 Bb7 As I said, we're now in a tame variation of the Queen's Gambit Accepted - but Magnus has a trick up his sleeve. 10.dxc5 Nc6!? Rare, extremely rare - only played a handful of times. Usually, we see the queens coming off here, and an almost as equally notoriously drawn endgame as in the Berlin endgame. But Magnus is a player noted for having an in-depth and excellent grasp of games from the past - and this falls into his sphere of knowledge of those classics, with the most notable occurrence of it being played previously was in Colle-Tartakower, 1925! 11.Nd2 After a near 20min think after Carlsen's surprise-package of 10...Nc6, Karjakin instinctively looks for the nearest fire exit! Here, he has no intentions of looking to press for the advantage with the White pieces, instead opting for Nde4 to exchange on f6 and lessen the chances of any fire damage. 11...Bxc5 12.Nde4 Nxe4 13.Nxe4 Be7 14.b3 Nb4 Carlsen's rarity of 10...Nc6 has paid off, as the world champion has almost effortlessly reached a position which is slightly the better side of equal. 15.Bf3 0-0 Carlsen had to strike now if wanted to make anything at all of what advantage he has here, and play the stronger and forcing 15...f5! 16.Ng5 (No better is 16.Nd6+ Qxd6 17.Bxb7 Ra7 18.Qxd6 Bxd6 and Black will dominate the coming endgame. Also, if 16.Nd2 Qd7! 17.Bb2 0-0 18.Bxb7 Qxb7 19.Qf3 Qb8 and Black has the better prospects, with moves such as ...Rfc8 and ...Nd3 in the mix.) 16...Qxd1 17.Rxd1 Bxf3 18.Nxf3 Bf6 19.Nd4 Rd8 20.Ba3 Bxd4! 21.Rxd4 Rxd4 22.exd4 Nd5 where he has the advantage of the "good knight" vs "bad bishop" ending. Not only that but White also has an isolated d-pawn and the a2-pawn is a bit weak. This position has a Carlsen trademark grind written all over it! 16.Ba3 Rc8? A basic error from Carlsen, who had to play 16...Rb8 first to consolidate his position - and we will soon see the tactical reason why it had to be played. Carlsen has clearly overlooked something at the board - and you can't continually be doing this in a world championship match and get away with it, as your luck is bound to run out. 17.Nf6+! Karjakin hits his spot, as the tactics all work in the Russian’s favor, as he emerges with a pawn. Fortunately, though, despite the gaffe, Carlsen is lucky that it didn't turn out to be fatal, as he escapes with a draw thanks to the safe haven of the resulting opposite-color bishop ending. 17...Bxf6 18.Bxb7 Bxa1 19.Bxb4 Bf6 20.Bxf8 Forced, as although after 20.Bxc8 Qxd1 21.Rxd1 Rxc8 it's an ending of bishops of the same color, White will not emerge with his extra pawn as in the game. 20...Qxd1 21.Rxd1 Rxf8 22.Bxa6 b4! All but guaranteeing the draw. 23.Rc1 g6 Defending against any back-rank threats is also a good safety-first precaution. 24.Rc2 Ra8 25.Bd3 Rd8 26.Be2 Basically, Karjakin can't do anything with his extra pawn, as Carlsen's b4-pawn - being on the same color square as his bishop, and far down the board - puts White's a- and b-pawns out of commission. 26...Kf8 27.Kf1 Ra8 The only thing Black needs to avoid now is falling for the trap of 27...Bc3? 28.a4! where at least White has freed his a-pawn which would now be a passer, and can at least press on to try something here. But with Carlsen putting all that distance between his b-pawn and his bishop, Karjakin can never win this. 28.Bc4 Rc8 Also, given the opportunity, Carlsen would love to exchange rooks and then the ending would be 'upgraded' to that of a cast-iron guarantee of the draw. 29.Ke2 Ke7 30.f4 h6 31.Kf3 Rc7 32.g4 g5! Another precise drawing move. With Carlsen's bishop on f6, Karjakin can't ever mobilize his kingside pawns with h4 - so he is able to contain both the queenside and the kingside. 33.Ke4 Rc8 Carlsen is simply going to sit on this position and pass with his rook on c8 and c7 - and if Karjakin goes for Rd2 to get out of the pin, then ...Rd8(or d7) offering the exchange of rooks on the d-file. There's no way through for Karjakin, so a draw it is. ½-½