After winning game 10 to tie the World Championship Match at the Fulton Market Building in Manhattan, it was a more reassured and confident Magnus Carlsen who went into the penultimate game 11 against challenger Sergey Karjakin. But although the world champion showed a little more daring, the odds were always stacked in favor of it being a relatively easy draw, and indeed it was - though nevertheless cleverly played by both players.
So now, with the advantage of White in the final game on Monday, Carlsen has one last-ditch effort to try to avoid the match going into overtime, and everything up in the air with a playoff for the title - but don’t bet on a dramatic, final game decider. The latest game 12 odds show that the bookies have Carlsen at 2/1 to win, the draw at 9/20, and Karjakin 14/1 to win.
But should the match go into what looks now like an inevitable nerve-wracking playoff for all the marbles, although Carlsen would be the big favourite to win and retain his title, anything can happen when it comes to the vagaries of a speed playoff, and especially one that could well go the distance of rapid to blitz and then armageddon.
Many pundits and fans have long complained about the length of the match, feeling that 12 games are just not enough to determine the outcome of the world championship title - and it does feel that an additional 2 or 4 games would have built the tension, added to the excitement, and with it the added bonus that it could possibly have led to an outright victor emerging.
While 24 games of famous bouts of the past are too much for today’s game, it would have been easy for Carlsen-Karjakin to have stretched to 14 games within the framework of the timetable they currently have. Game 11 on Thanksgiving Saturday brought with it a bumper live audience - the largest so far of the contest - to the Fulton Market Building, being that it was a holiday weekend. But now, bizarrely, there’s an extra rest day after the penultimate game and that holiday audience that brought an added atmosphere, is now lost.
And coincidently, without the additional rest day between the final two games of the match, organizers FIDE/Agon could quite easily have made it a 14 game match by adding an extra day to the schedule they already have - and that would have maximized the weekend audiences. It just seems silly not to be playing on the Saturday and Sunday during a holiday weekend.
Match score (best-of-12-games)
Carlsen 5.5-5.5 Karjakin
(Next game is on Monday)
Sergey Karjakin - Magnus Carlsen
World Championship, (11)
Ruy Lopez, Anti-Marshall
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Be7 6.d3 The Closed Lopez yet again, and yet again Sergey Karjakin sidesteps all of the big mainlines - such as the Marshall Attack, Zaitsev, Chigorin and the Breyer - for this slow, Anti-Marshall build-up. 6...b5 7.Bb3 d6 8.a3 0-0 9.Nc3 Be6 Carlsen deviates from game 2, that went 9...Na5 10.Ba2 Be6. What Carlsen played, though, is favored in Peter Svidler's Chess24.com video series - and again, you have to ask if, in preparation for the match, they were binge-viewing Svidler's videos! I'm sure they will soon be appearing on Netflix... 10.Nd5 Nd4 11.Nxd4 exd4 12.Nxf6+ Bxf6 13.Bxe6 fxe6 14.f4 This has to give Karjakin a very small plus - but not anything Carlsen can't deal with easily enough. 14...c5 15.Qg4 Qd7 16.f5 This sort of idea could be dangerous for Black - but Carlsen is a very resourceful player who immediately starts looking for ways to hit back. 16...Rae8 17.Bd2 c4 18.h3 c3!? Also an option had to be 18...e5 - and indeed, Anish Giri even ventured to tweet that he'd put money on Magnus to win if he had played it. But many other top players and commentators much preferred what Magnus had played. 19.bxc3 d5! And now we see what Magnus had been thinking about, as this is an incredibly committal decision by the world champion with so much at stake - but one he has the added confidence in playing following the high from winning game 10 to level the match. 20.Bg5! But this admittedly came as a bit of dampener for Carlsen, as he commented in the press conference that this was Karjakin's best and safest reply - and one that led him to ponder if, in fact, he should have taken on c3 first before playing ...d5 to keep some life left in the position. Karjakin himself also pointed out that Black wasn't without good compensation for the pawn(s) had he gone down the 'awkward' route of 20.fxe6 Qxe6 21.Qxe6+ Rxe6 22.exd5 Re2 23.Rf2 Rxf2 24.Kxf2 dxc3 25.Be1 Rd8 where Black gets back the sacrificed pawn(s) and emerges with the better chances. Not what you want to be defending this sort of position against Carlsen, who would quite happily grind on and on here to try to force a win. 20...Bxg5 21.Qxg5 Truth be told, after Karjakin's correct assessment of 20.Bg5, this game now had 'draw' written all over it - a fair result for a fairly interesting penultimate game where a small error could have proven fatal for either player here. 21...dxe4 22.fxe6 Rxf1+ 23.Rxf1 Qxe6 24.cxd4 e3!? Well, you can't blame Magnus for trying his utmost to prolong the struggle! The obvious draw was 24...exd3 25. cxd3 and White can never make anything of his extra material as those d-pawns are doubled and isolated, and one of them will easily be picked off soon. But instead, Carlsen has faith in the strength of his passed e-pawn that he can make Karjakin work a little more for the draw. 25.Re1 h6 Creating a little 'luft' for the king is always a good idea, but here, Carlsen wants to shunt Karjakin's queen a little, to see where she heads to. 26.Qh5 Staying 'onside' of the pawn is always going to be best, as straying offside could potentially lead to complications you don't necessarily want to have. 26...e2 27.Qf3 a5 And here's Carlsen little added dimension to prolonging the game. Karjakin would love to play Kf2 and corral the e-pawn, but he can't as Carlsen would have ...Rf8 winning the queen. So what Carlsen is trying to do is to create a little extra threat of creating an additionally passed a-pawn and go into the queen ending with it advanced far down the board. 28.c3 Qa2 If Karjakin doesn't react accurately now, then Carlsen could well have stolen the game - but the ever-resourceful Russian is up to the challenge with the correct response. 29.Qc6 Re6 30.Qc8+ Kh7 31.c4! Qd2 32.Qxe6 Qxe1+ 33.Kh2 Qf2 The e-pawn is so near yet so far, as Karjakin has successfully engineered a perpetual. 34.Qe4+ ½-½ It's a draw, as Carlsen can't play 34...Kg8 35.Qe8+ Qf8 36.Qe6+! Kh8 37.Qxe2 bxc4 38.dxc4 Qxa3 39.c5 and the White pawns win the race. A worthy game from both players.