Magnus Carlsen celebrated his 26th birthday in style yesterday, as he beat Sergey Karjakin, by a score of 3-1 in the rapid playoffs of their $1.1 million World Championship Match staged at the Fulton Market Building in Manhattan, to retain his world title. And such was the level of respect between these two players, even defeated challenger Karjakin was magnanimous enough in defeat to be the first to offer Magnus birthday congratulations at the start of the closing press conference.
After Carlsen's tough three-week tussle against a determined and tenacious challenger, that proved more grueling and arduous than many observers had expected, Karjakin’s finally cracked halfway through the rapid playoff - but not without yet another miracle ‘Hail Mary’ save from the Russian. After Carlsen missed what should really have been an easy win in game 2 of the rapid playoff, he came back to the board even more determined than he had looked in the match, and this time it was the Magnus of old as he simply outplayed Karjakin with the Black pieces.
And that emphatic win for Carlsen finally broke the resolve of his dogged Russian challenger, as any chances of trying to stage a comeback with the Black pieces by going all-out to win against Carlsen looked likely to backfire - and it did. But fittingly, the match ended with a touch of élan, as Carlsen played arguably one of the finest world championship-winning moves ever to be played.
"I think it was a wonderful fight," Carlsen said at the closing press conference, admitting that he played for the tiebreak scenario in the final two games of the match. "I pretty much knew this was going to happen when we made the draw in the 11th game," he added. "My strategy was to go for the tiebreak and try my luck there."
The match had a prize fund of one million euros (about $1.1 million). But because it went to a playoff, as winner Carlsen received 55 percent of the purse and Karjakin 45 percent. So a big birthday bonus for Magnus - but can he now make it a Christmas to remember because, from 25-30 December in Doha, Qatar, he’s defending his World rapid and blitz championship titles. Can Magnus now become the first player to win all three world titles in the same year?
Magnus Carlsen - Sergey Karjakin
World Championship (Rapid) Playoff, (4)
Sicilian Defence, Prins Variation
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 This is the "Last Chance Saloon" line to reach for when you need to win at all costs. 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.f3!? This rarity has resurfaced again thanks to the interest shown in Sergey Kasparov’s New in Chess book Steamrolling the Sicilian: Play for a Win with 5.f3! - but according to Sicilian all-time hero Bobby Fischer, in his timeless tome My 60 Memorable Games, it's "A passive, non-developing move which leads to nothing. White wants to gain control of d5, establishing a Maroczy bind with c4, Nc3, etc. But after going to all that trouble he can't prevent ...d5 after all. Correct is that tired old move -- 5.Nc3. " 5...e5 6.Nb3 Be7 7.c4 a5 8.Be3 a4 9.Nc1 It looks as if Magnus' pieces are being forced back - but the reality is that Karjakin's moves have created holes and weaknesses that Magnus' pieces now swiftly move into action to fill those holes. 9...0-0 10.Nc3 Qa5 11.Qd2 Na6 12.Be2 Nc5 13.0-0 Bd7 14.Rb1 The idea is to push for b4 and leave Karjakin with an isolated b-pawn and also a weak backward d-pawn - these are long-term weaknesses that can't be fixed, and the match situation dictates now for Karjakin that he has to risk everything to complicate the game and hang the long-term effects. 14...Rfc8 15.b4 axb3 16.axb3 Qd8 17.Nd3 Ne6 Karjakin must keep pieces on the board if he wants to try and somehow win this. 18.Nb4 Bc6 19.Rfd1! This all but seals Karjakin's fate now: Carlsen has total control of the d5-square and this makes the d6-pawn very vulnerable. 19...h5 20.Bf1 h4 21.Qf2 Nd7 22.g3 Ra3 23.Bh3 Carlsen's bishop springs back to life on h3 - and with it, he has ways to engineer multiple piece exchanges which will make Karjakin's task of defending his long-term pawn weaknesses impossible. 23...Rca8 24.Nc2 R3a6 25.Nb4 Ra5 Karjakin is in another bind coming from the Maroczy bind - if he returns with 25...Ra3 26.Nc2, then Carlsen will be all to happy to continue repeating moves for a draw. 26.Nc2 b6 27.Rd2 Qc7 28.Rbd1 With the knights fro now preventing Karjakin's rook(s) from entering the game, Carlsen now shifts his attention and his heavy pieces to the d-file and that weak backward d-pawn - but Carlsen may well not win the pawn, but the pressure on it will force Karjakin to keep his pieces defending rather than attacking. 28...Bf8 29.gxh4 Nf4 30.Bxf4 exf4 31.Bxd7 Qxd7 32.Nb4 The end is nigh for Karjakin, as the doomsday mongers placards would say - Carlsen's knights simply dominate Karjakin's bishops here, and he now has three further pawn weaknesses on b6, d6 and f4 to worry about. 32...Ra3 33.Nxc6 This simplifies everything, as Karjakin is left with the bad bishop vs the good knight. 33...Qxc6 34.Nb5! Much stronger than Nd5; now Karjakin has to shed material to try and muster some sort of pseudo-threatening attack. 34...Rxb3 35.Nd4 Qxc4 36.Nxb3 Qxb3 If Karjakin could ever get his bishop to c5, then he would have chances to make life difficult for Carlsen - but Carlsen doesn't allow this to happen. 37.Qe2 Be7 38.Kg2 Qe6 39.h5 Safe, as Karjakin can't ever attack the h-pawn as Carlsen will always have Rd5. 39...Ra3 40.Rd3 Ra2 41.R3d2 Ra3 42.Rd3 Ra7 43.Rd5 Rc7 If 43...Ra3 Carlsen will be content to play 44.R1d3 Ra1 45.Rd1 Ra4 46.R1d4 Ra3 47.Rd3 etc and a draw by repetition. 44.Qd2 Qf6 45.Rf5 Qh4 46.Rc1 Ra7 47.Qxf4 Ra2+ 48.Kh1 Qf2 49.Rc8+ Kh7 50.Qh6+!! 1-0 A spectacular fitting finale-of-a-move to win the world championship title with! Any capture of the queen leads to mate: If 50...Kxh6 51.Rh8#; and if 50...gxh6 51.Rxf7#.