The Berlin Defence is killing chess, so says the man partly responsible for rehabilitating it at elite-level. Halfway through game 12 of the Carlsen-Karjakin World Championship Match at the Fulton Market Building in Manhattan, Miguel Illescas (Vladimir Kramnik's second when he memorably beat Garry Kasparov to become world champion), tweeted: ”Such a pity to see this symmetrical positions at [the] highest level! When helping Kramnik with the Berlin I didn't know we were killing the game!”
And sure enough, a handful of moves later, and barely 35 minutes played in the final game, both players opted to shake hands and take the match into a speed playoff to decide the title. Afterwards, Carlsen compared game 12 to soccer and one of those tedious World Cup-deciders, where both teams don’t attack in the final minutes and content to go into extra time and even penalties.
This has been an exceptionally hard fought match in the large, but game 12 was lame; a big anti-climax. Not only that but a pity for all those that paid good money to watch the final game and probably demanding a refund; and one that likely also had the mainstream non-chess media flummoxed as to what was happening. But as Carlsen added:"Not much to say. Lots of pieces chopped off, then we made a draw. I apologise to fans who wanted a longer game."
But the Berlin Defence is only a small part of the problem. The real problem has been the introduction in the first place of speed playoffs to determine who wins a title, and more especially the world title. Outspoken IM Greg Shahade is never one to mince his words, and like him, I believe that a world title match should revert back to the champion having draw odds and retaining the title in the event of a tie - this would at least force the players to play a proper match.
As it is, we now go into a series of tense speed-deciders on Wednesday for the title, with the prize purse now split 55-45 in favor of the winner. First up will be a 4-game-rapid match (25 min + 10 sec move). If no winner, then a series of five 2-game-blitz matches (5 min + 3 sec/move). If still no winner, then it all comes down to armageddon: White 5 min, Black 4 min; the draw seeing Black winning.
Match score (best-of-12-games)
Carlsen 6-6 Karjakin
(Speed playoff is on Wednesday)
Magnus Carlsen - Sergey Karjakin
World Championship, (12)
Ruy Lopez, Berlin Defence
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6 Once again the ultra-safe Berlin Defence, made famous by Vladimir Kramnik as he beat Garry Kasparov during their world title clash of 2000 in London. 4.0-0 Nxe4 5.Re1 Nd6 6.Nxe5 Be7 7.Bf1 Nxe5 8.Rxe5 0-0 9.d4 Bf6 10.Re1 This is the standard move here in tournament praxis, and with it Carlsen varies from his slightly more challenging option in game 3 of 10.Re2!?, which I am sure Karjakin was more than ready for now - and this, more than anything else, was a sure signal that both players had opted for the cop-out of this being a quick draw by move 30 and heading for the playoff. A disappointment, but that's the reality in top elite chess today. 10...Re8 11.Bf4 Rxe1 12.Qxe1 Ne8 13.c3 d5 14.Bd3 g6 15.Na3 c6 16.Nc2 Ng7 17.Qd2 Bf5 18.Bxf5 Nxf5 19.Ne3 Nxe3 20.Qxe3 Qe7 21.Qxe7 Bxe7 22.Re1 Bf8 The only real 'danger moment' of the game is here, where a couple of players have been known to fall for the trap of 22...Kf8?? 23.Bh6+! Ke8 24.Bg5 f6 25.Bxf6 Kf7 26.Rxe7+! Kxf6 27.Rxb7 and White has an easily won game. 23.Kf1 Many optimistic fans following online ventured to suggest this is the sort of sterile position that Carlsen likes to grind on and on and on in. No, not here; this position is just way too dry - dry as in Ice Cold in Alex desert-like, dry - even for Carlsen to want to play on. 23...f6 24.g4 Kf7 25.h3 Re8 26.Rxe8 Kxe8 27.Ke2 Kd7 28.Kd3 Ke6 29.a4 a6 30.f3 Be7 ½-½