Magnus Carlsen’s incredible story from child prodigy to world champion hits the cinema screens this month with the release of the documentary, called, simply, ‘Magnus’. But in his World Championship Match at the Fulton Market Building in Manhattan with Sergey Karjakin, Carlsen almost went down for a second successive game no thanks to an online video production that his Russian challenger was probably busier watching than Benjamin Ree’s acclaimed portrait-of-a-genius documentary.
After losing game 8, and then storming out of the building in frustration, Carlsen was hit by the double-whammy of going behind at a critical juncture of the match and also fined 10% of his prize purse - though it has been confirmed Carlsen is appealing the fine - by FIDE/Agon for skipping Tuesday’s press conference yesterday. So in game 9, Carlsen had to show he was far from down, and there was still time to stage a comeback, especially with having the advantage of White in two of the three final games of the contest proper.
World Championship Matches are always a lot more interesting when someone was always ahead or behind, as it forces at least one side to fight. So the game-plan for Carlsen was probably to try and lure Karjakin out of his comfort zone with some complications, build the tension and re-establish his credentials as the game’s No.1 Alpha-player by dominating - after all, wasn’t this what had proved so successful for him in the earlier stages of the match, where he had Karjakin continually under pressure?
But the game took a somewhat strange twist with something unCarlsen-like, as the world champion opted to enter into a heavy theoretical battle - and that played right into Karjakin’s hands as the Russian challenger totally flummoxed Carlsen by cutting across his novelty, as he uncorked a promising recommendation that was suggested by Peter Svidler in his popular Chess24.com video series, Svidler’s Archangels.
And with it, Karjakin emerged with yet another big advantage - and all of Norway had to have had a collective sigh of relief when the Russian didn’t play the very critical 39.Qb3! that could well have ended there and then Carlsen’s reign. After the game, a somewhat relieved Carlsen said: “There were many difficult moments, but I was happy to survive.”
But survive he did, so the moment of truth now comes for Sergey Karjakin, as the world champion has the big advantage of two Whites in the remaining three games of the match, and now simply has to throw everything he can at the Russian.
Match score (best-of-12-games)
Carlsen 4-5 Karjakin
Sergey Karjakin - Magnus Carlsen
World Championship, (9)
Ruy Lopez, Archangel
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 b5 6.Bb3 Bc5 A surprising choice for Carlsen. The Archangelsk - westernised to Archangel - proper with 6...Bb7 was fun back in the days of yore BC (before computers) and led to fascinating positions - but computers beat them to a pulp. And now this popular new approach to the Archangels has become very popular - but Karjakin comes to the board more prepared than Carlsen to take it on. 7.a4 Rb8 8.c3 d6 9.d4 Bb6 10.axb5 axb5 11.Na3 0-0 12.Nxb5 Bg4 13.Bc2 exd4 14.Nbxd4 Nxd4 15.cxd4 Bxf3 16.gxf3 Nh5 We now have an interesting struggle ahead, as White has the bishop pair and Black looking to outpost his knight on f4 with play against White's king and perhaps the crippled pawns. 17.Kh1 Prophylaxis at it's best! This move will have to be played sooner or later - but the new thinking here is to play it immediately, and wait for Black to first declare his hand with the queen to f6 before committing to Be3. 17...Qf6 18.Be3 c5 If it wasn't for this timely advance, Black players would have a field day with this line. But unfortunately, e5 cuts across Black's game as the position opens for White's bishops. 19.e5 Qe6 The point being that 19...dxe5? 20.dxc5 Rfd8 21.Qe2 Bc7 22.Be4! Nf4 23.Qc2 Qh4 24.Rg1 and White is well on the way to winning this. 20.exd6 c4 There's a sting in the tail after 20...Qxd6? as 21.dxc5 Bxc5 22.Bxh7+! Kxh7 23.Qc2+ g6 24.Qxc5 and White is two pawns up - and he has the active position with the better pieces to boot. 21.b3 So far, so theory. This is Nakamura-Kasimdzhanov, USA 2014 which led to a win for Naka - this doesn't bode well for Carlsen, so let's see what he has in mind here. 21...cxb3 [Here's Carlsen's new idea, but is it any good? The aforementioned game continued with 21...c3 and Naka went on to blow Kasimdzhanov out of the water. With this in mind, I can't see how Carlsen now opening the game up further for White's bishops can be any better than keeping the game closed with 21...c3. 22.Bxb3 Qxd6 It's swings and roundabouts here. Karjakin may have the extra pawn and the bishop-pair, but Carlsen has more than enough compensation with the state of White's crippled kingside pawns and the d4-pawn under pressure. 23.Ra6! Karjakin had to have watched Svidler's Archangels, as the 7-time Russian champion suggests this promising possibility in his analysis to the Nakamura-Kasimdzhanov game - and he mentioned this fact during his Chess24 live commentary last night. I wonder if Magnus is aware of the 1979 one-hit wonder from The Buggles, 'Video Killed The Radio Star'? Just saying. 23...Rfd8 Carlsen thought for 30 minutes here, and he was the one that initiated the new novelty sequence with 21…cxb3! But now, after 23.Ra6!, it could well be that Carlsen and his team had skipped not only the press conference but also the screening of Svidler’s video, as suddenly the world champion begins to get outplayed and ends up with an uncomfortable position to defend. 24.Rg1 The rook takes the open g-file and builds pressure on Carlsen king - but Karjakin also has an ulterior motive for this move, as he intends to use it to prop up also the defence of d4. 24...Qd7 25.Rg4! Karjakin has been very resourceful, and this further frustrates Carlsen who now begins to lose the thread of the game. 25...Nf6 26.Rh4 In the press conference afterwards, Carlsen said he missed the strength of this manoeuvre and now had very little compensation to show for his pawn. 26...Qb5 I didn't rate this, but then again I'm the one writing about the match and not playing in it! A better option here I thought for Carlsen, to keep tabs on f7 and hitting simultaneously f3, was with 26...Qb7!? 27.Ra1 Rd6 28.Bc2 Rbd8 29.Kg2 h6 30.Qd3 Qd7 and a lot of pressure building now on d4, which makes it impossible, I think, for Karjakin to launch an attack on Carlsen's king. I can't see how he can, so the position will end in a likely draw with Black maintaining all the pressure on d4. 27.Ra1 g6 Carlsen isn't so much worried about Karjakin launching a kingside assault, he's just taking the precaution of creating a little 'luft' for his king and not fall for a back-rank mate if he gets a chance to captures on d4. 28.Rb1 Qd7 29.Qd3 Nd5 30.Rg1 Karjakin is frustrating Carlsen yet again, by making the most with his pieces. And now, by threatening to directly attack Carlsen's king, the world champion begins to stray as he loses the thread to the game. 30...Bc7 31.Bg5 Re8 32.Qc4 Rb5? Error creep - Carlsen had to play 32...Qe6 33.Ba2 (Not 33.Re4? Qh3! and suddenly Black's winning now with the mate threat on h2 and the simultaneous attack on f3.) 32...Ra8 33.Bb3 Rab8 and continually ask the question of the bishop. 33.Qc2?! Karjakin was obviously worried about letting Carlsen in with ..Qf5 to hit f3 - but is it that big a deal? After 33.Ba4! Qf5 34.Qf1! Rb1 35.Qxb1 Qxf3+ 36.Rg2 Nc3 37.Qf1 Nxa4 38.Bd2!Karjakin has everything covered and it is difficult to see Carlsen making anything out of this position with the Russian material ahead. 33...Ra8 34.Bc4 Rba5 35.Bd2 Ra4 36.Qd3 Ra1 Carlsen has lost the thread of the game and the exchange of rooks now just helps Karjakin to mobilise his bishops for an attack on the Black king. 37.Rxa1 Rxa1+ 38.Kg2 Ne7!? The distinctly awkward silicon solution is 38...Bd8 39.Re4 Nf6, and with the true non-beating heart of a machine, it says Black is coping here - but all that the human eye sees here is that everything looks uncoordinated and fraught with danger for Black. And for this reason, Carlsen opted to go all-in with a very risky plan indeed. 39.Bxf7+? What a tension-filled moment in the context of the match! After having the luxury of thinking for 30 minutes here, Karjakin picks the wrong choice and lets Carlsen off the hook. After 39.Qb3! the pressure on Carlsen's position reaches critical mass, as f7 and his king comes under attack from all of White's active pieces: 39...Nf5 40.Bxf7+ 40...Qxf7 (After 40...Kg7 41.Rh3 Qe7 42.Bg8! forces 42...Nh4+ 43.Rxh4 Qxh4 44.Qf7+ Kh8 45.Qxc7 Kxg8 46.Qd6! and White is simply winning, as there's no way to stop Bf4 and multiple-mating threats after Be5.) 41.Qxf7+ Kxf7 42.Rxh7+ Ke6 43.Rxc7 Nxd4 and Carlsen said he thought he had realistic drawing chances because of White's shattered pawns. He's probably right here, but I am convinced had Karjakin played this, he would have had Carlsen grovelling all the way to the bitter end to prove it. 39...Kxf7 40.Qc4+ Kg7 41.d5 Nf5! Staying alive! Despite what the engines might think, this is the most natural move for Carlsen to play here. The knight is well placed and unmovable on f5, should Karjakin not play what he is now forced to play. And what he does play helps Carlsen survive, as it swaps off a set of rooks and eases the pressure on Black's position. 42.Bc3+ Kf8 43.Bxa1 Nxh4+ 44.Qxh4 Qxd5 45.Qf6+ Qf7 46.Qd4 Ke8 47.Qe4+ Qe7 48.Qd5 The crux of the matter is that all Carlsen is looking for here is to exchanges queens, put his K on e6 and pawn on h5 and it will be an easy draw. For Karjakin's part, any slim hope he has of playing on for a win involves keeping the queens on the board at all costs. 48...Bd8 49.Kf1 Qf7 50.Qe4+ Qe7 51.Be5 Qe6 52.Kg2 If 52.Ke2 Qa6+ 53.Ke3 Be7 and, with White's king more out in the open on e3 (rather than covered on g2), Black will have so many opportunities to check the king around the board and hold the draw. 52...Be7 53.Qa8+ Kf7 54.Qh8 h5 It's about now that Karjakin probably wished he did have another opposite-bishop ending here, as those pawns on g6 and h5 would become prime targets. 55.Qg7+ Ke8 56.Bf4 Qf7 Again, because of Karjakin's shattered pawn structure, if the queens are exchanged, then Carlsen will simply march his king to f5 where, along with the pawns on g6 and f5, will do the ‘mannequin challenge’ by not moving at all, and he'll simply pass with random moves with his bishop. With this set-up, White can make no progress. The rest of the game is now somewhat academic, as both players play a little cat and mouse chasing trying to avoid the exchange of queens. 57.Qh8+ Qf8 58.Qd4 Qf5 59.Qc4 Kd7 60.Bd2 Qe6 61.Qa4+ Qc6 62.Qa7+ Qc7 63.Qa2 Qd6 64.Be3 Qe6 65.Qa7+ Ke8 66.Bc5 Bd8 67.h3 Qd5 68.Be3 Be7 69.Qb8+ Kf7 70.Qh8 Qe6 71.Bf4 Qf6 72.Qb8 Qe6 73.Qb7 Kg8 74.Qb5 Bf6 ½-½