25 Nov

Reasons To Be Grateful

If you think Independence Day is America's defining holiday, think again. Thanksgiving rightly deserves that title, hands-down, no questions asked.  It commemorates the famous harvest feast of 1621 when the Mayflower Pilgrims sat down in gratitude with the native Indians to thank them for helping them through that first very difficult year. 


After 57.b5!

I know from personal experience that the reality of Thanksgiving is often torturous travel ventures followed by family feuds and endless debates about tasteless turkey, but nonetheless, the whole idea of a national holiday devoted to gratitude is inspiring. I suspect we would all benefit from taking time out to be grateful.

And for Magnus Carlsen, as he sat down for his first American Thanksgiving, not to carve a turkey but to play Sergey Karjakin in game 10 of their $1.1 million World Championship Match at the Fulton Market Building in Manhattan, he was probably extremely grateful that, come the end of the day, and after weeks of utter frustration, he’d finally beaten his dogged Russian challenger to keep his title defence hopes alive and kicking.

At the press conference, a smiling Carlsen said he was “Extremely relieved and incredibly happy. It has been a struggle and it will continue to be a struggle – but at least we are fighting on equal terms now.” But spare a thought for Karjakin, who but for an oversight of missing 20...Nxf2!? that would have forced a draw, he could well have been the one smiling on Thanksgiving.

Magnus is back! © Max Avdeev World Chess by Agon Ltd

However, the match is now tied 5-5, and some would say we  have a two-game match for all the marbles now. But, if anything, the pendulum could well now have swung firmly back in the direction of Magnus Carlsen - and you can bet he’ll be pumped-up and brimming with confidence now, and I wouldn’t put it past him to strike again to narrowly retain his title.

Match score (best-of-12-games)
Carlsen 5-5 Karjakin
(Next game is on Saturday)

Magnus Carlsen - Sergey Karjakin
World Championship, (10)
Ruy Lopez, Anti-Berlin
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6 4.d3 Bc5 5.c3 0-0 6.Bg5 This is uncommon - but it was whipped out quickly and confidently by Carlsen that left Karjakin thinking right from the start of the game. Standard here is 6.0-0 - however, looking for something a little different, Carlsen and his team came up with 6.Bg5 which has been played by the world champion's first coach, Simen Agdestein. It can't be said to be an improvement on the almost exclusive 6.0-0 here; it was just something a little different that was known to Carlsen, a little psychological strategy that he probably believed could work for him and have Karjakin thinking for the off. 6...h6 7.Bh4 Be7 Moving the same piece twice in the opening, like this, might confuse some players newish to the game, but here, this makes perfect sense, as Karjakin want's to play ...d6 but not without first retreating his dark-squared bishop to challenge the influence of Carlsen's dark-squared bishop on the kingside. 8.0-0 d6 9.Nbd2 Nh5! This gives Karjakin instant equality; his retreat with 7...Be7 has paid off. 10.Bxe7 Qxe7 11.Nc4 Nf4 12.Ne3 Qf6 13.g3 Nh3+ If anything, Karjakin can claim a little advantage here; Carlsen's gamble in the opening looks now to have backfired, leaving the world champion struggling for a way forward that doesn't give Karjakin more than he already has here. 14.Kh1 Ne7 15.Bc4 c6 16.Bb3 Ng6 17.Qe2 a5 18.a4 Be6 19.Bxe6?! Retreating the bishop with 19.Bc2 was better, even although Karjakin would have claimed a mini-victory with the better bishop - but exchanging was wrong, as it sees Carlsen's position beginning to drift now, and Karjakin having an ever-greater grip on the position after the opening of the f-file. 19...fxe6 20.Nd2 d5?! After the game, Karjakin says his 20...d5 was the natural move here, and that he wasn't clear of the assessment of such a move as 20...Nxf2+!? that leads to a forced draw - and that may well have broken Carlsen's resolve for the final two games of the match. The game would have continued: 21.Kg2 (21.Kg1 Nh3+ 22.Kh1 Nf2+ etc.) 21...Nh4+! 22.Kg1 (The knight is immune, as Black has a winning attack: 22.gxh4 Qg6+ 23.Ng4 Nxg4 24.Kh1 Qh5 winning.) 22...Nh3+ 23.Kh1 Nf2+ 24.Kg1 Nh3+ etc. with a draw by repetition. In view of what now happens, this may well leave a psychological scar on Karjakin going into the pressure of the final two games of the match proper. Certainly, if Karjakin goes on now to lose, it will go down in the annals as one of the great 'What Ifs’ in chess. 21.Qh5 Ng5 If you don't trust it the first time around, then the chances of trusting the second time is just as remote. Again, Karjakin could have bailed out with a safe draw with 21...Nxf2+! 22.Kg2 Qf7! (threatening ...Nf4+ winning the queen, which forces its retreat and a return to the above-mentioned repetition.) 23.Qe2 Nh4+ 24.Kg1 Nh3+ 25.Kh1 Nf2+ etc. 22.h4! Now we are in Carlsen country! The ensuing ending is one that Carlsen likes to squeeze blood from a stone with for unlikely wins. For the first time in the match, I think Carlsen had to have felt this position had promise for him. 22...Nf3 23.Nxf3 Qxf3+ 24.Qxf3 Rxf3 25.Kg2 Rf7 Karjakin could double rooks on the f-file immediately with 25...Raf8, but there's dangers of perhaps White playing a possible Nf5 later winning the rook on f3. 26.Rfe1 h5 27.Nf1 Carlsen's knight is not so much looking to head over to the queenside via d2, but instead via d2-f3-g5 and a wonderful outpost there. The retreat also puts pressure on Karjakin's e5-pawn - and with his knight potentially becoming immobile on g6 as it has to defend e5, before doubling rooks on the f-file, he takes the time to move his king over to protect his central pawns. There's not much in the position - but crucially, Carlsen pieces are more mobile and have the greater potential - especial targeting the central pawns and/or exploiting what happens in the aftermath of expanding on the queenside with b4. 27...Kf8 28.Nd2 Ke7 29.Re2 The immediate 29.Nf3 was bad, as after 29...Raf8 Karjakin will have won the f-pawn, and with it the game. 29...Kd6 30.Nf3 Raf8 31.Ng5 Re7 32.Rae1 Rfe8 There's no easy solution to pressure mounting on Karjakin's e5-pawn. If 32...d4 33.cxd4 exd4 34.f4 and White has a good advantage. 33.Nf3 Nh8 34.d4! These are the sort of positions that engines just can't comprehend, as there's a lot of subtle manoeuvres and nuances to come that cannot be equated merely by decimal points. 34...exd4 35.Nxd4 g6 Trying to secure the f5-square away from Carlsen's knight - and note also that ...c5 loses: 35...c5? 36.Nb5+ Kd7 (There's no way to save the pawn, as there's also a mating threat: 36...Kc6? 37.exd5+ Kxd5 38.Rd1+ Kc4 39.Nd6+ Kb3 40.Ra1 Rd8 41.Ra3#) 37.Rd1! Kc6 38.exd5+ exd5 39.Na7+ Kb6 40.Rxe7 Rxe7 41.Nc8+ winning. So suddenly, it's all become a very worrying position for Karjakin to defend - and for Carlsen, it had to come as a relief, as he has the sort of position he loves to squeeze and grind a trademark win with. 36.Re3 Nf7 37.e5+! Now the threat is Rf3-f6 and infiltrating right into the heart of Karjakin's long-term weaknesses on e6 and g6. 37...Kd7 38.Rf3 Nh6 39.Rf6 Rg7 40.b4! Carlsen now ties down the queenside. Once he has his pawns on a5 and b4, he'll be in python-mode squeezing the life out of Karjakin's position. 40...axb4 41.cxb4 Ng8 42.Rf3 Nh6 43.a5 Nf5 44.Nb3 Kc7 45.Nc5 Kb8 No use is 45...b6, as all it does is create for White a strong passed pawn: 46.Na4! bxa5 47.bxa5 Ra8 48.Nc5 with an easy win. 46.Rb1 Ka7 47.Rd3 All Carlsen wants to do is to make Karjakin suffer at the board - and here, he's prolonging Karjakin's agony a little longer by stopping his knight getting to d4. But one thing this match has shown us is that Karjakin is a very resilient defender, and he's capable more than other players at this level of enduring Carlsen torture. 47...Rc7 48.Ra3 Nd4 49.Rd1 Nf5 50.Kh3 Nh6 51.f3 Preventing Karjakin getting in ...Ng4, but crucially looking to open up a second front with a possible later push of g4. 51...Rf7 52.Rd4 Nf5 53.Rd2 Rh7 54.Rb3 At the ever-entertaining Chess24.com live commentary, top commentary team of Peter Svidler and Jan Gustafsson came up with the apt term here of 'Karjakinzwang' - certainly the Russian is beginning to run out of useful moves he can make that doesn't allow Carlsen in for the win. 54...Ree7 55.Rdd3 Rh8 56.Rb1 Carlsen now has the prime positions for a breakthrough with b5 and doubling rooks on the b-file to hit b7 - and it looks as if Karjakin has convinced himself that moving his rook away from the h-file will allow Carlsen to get in g4 and a further breakthrough on the kingside. 56...Rhh7? Under pressure, it was a tough call to make for Karjakin, given that he didn't want to allow Carlsen a kingside breakthrough with g4. But it seems the Russian had simply miss-assessed the difficulty he was in, as it looks as if he can play 56...Ra8!? or even just 56...Nh6 and he's still in the game - albeit with Carlsen happy to continue probing for the big breakthrough. But now, after 56...Rhh7?, he just hastens his own demise. 57.b5! Carlsen doesn't need to think twice here to strike. 57...cxb5 58.Rxb5 d4 What else? If 58...Re8 59.Rb6! Rhe7 60.g4 Nh6 61.Rdb3 and either b7 or e6 now falls - and either will prove fatal for Black. 59.Rb6 Rc7 60.Nxe6 Rc3 61.Nf4 Rhc7 62.Nd5 More clinical was 62.Rxg6 Rxd3 63.Nxd3 Rc3 64.Rf6! and a clear win. 62...Rxd3 63.Nxc7 Kb8 Karjakin has to find an escape route for his king from the threat of Nb5. If 63...Rxf3 64.Nb5+ Kb8 65.a6 Rxg3+ 66.Kh2 there's mating threats or the monster a-pawn passing, so pick your poison. 64.Nb5 Kc8 65.Rxg6 Rxf3 66.Kg2 Rb3 67.Nd6+ Nxd6 68.Rxd6 Re3 The rook and pawn ending will be won due to Karjakin's king being prevented from quickly crossing to the kingside where the game will ultimately be decided. 69.e6 Kc7 70.Rxd4 Rxe6 71.Rd5 Rh6 72.Kf3 Now, Kf4-g5 is the simple winning plan. 72...Kb8 73.Kf4 Ka7 74.Kg5 Rh8 75.Kf6 1-0 Karjakin resigns, with the threat being Kg7 and then Rxh5. And if 75...Rg8 76.Rg5 leads to much the same. 

0 Comments November 25, 2016

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