New York 2016: Dramatic near-win in game three

by Albert Silver
11/15/2016 – The world championship has finally started. After a cautious first two games, with the two fighters circling each other, studying each other’s moves and essentially trying to bait one another into making a potentially fatal move, the end result was a sleepy start. Game three seemed to repeat this until the Russian suddenly cracked on move 31, and a decisive result was in the air. Illustrated report with analysis by GM Yasser Seirawan.

ChessBase 17 - Mega package - Edition 2024 ChessBase 17 - Mega package - Edition 2024

It is the program of choice for anyone who loves the game and wants to know more about it. Start your personal success story with ChessBase and enjoy the game even more.


Report and photos by Albert Silver

(click on images for high-res version)

Right in front of the entrance is this map of Chess in New York. it not only highlights places where one can play chess, such as chess clubs or public spaces, or chess stores, but places that no longer exist but were once famous for chess in the city. All images in this report are high-resolution, so if you click on the above, you should be able to easily read the entire map.

After the hectic, not to say chaotic, day on Saturday, when the venue had been almost overrun by fans and families coming to see the champions at play, Monday seemed a stark contrast with a more ‘business-as-usual’ atmosphere. This isn’t to suggest it was empty by any means, but the long queues that had made navigating the space so difficult were no longer there.

Was it to be a quiet game for a third time? Though everyone hoped not, that is how it started.

 The round started with a quiet Berlin, and though it seemed to sidestep the main line with the nearly immediate queen exchange, the line the players had opted for seemed to actually promise even less bite. In fact, while the mainline of the Berlin is no doubt a controversial choice nowadays among fans, with a fair number of vocal haters, it does offer some subtle imbalances that can lead to a dynamic struggle.

While the game got slowly underway, some of the members of Team Carlsen took advantage to announce the launch of Magnus Carlsen’s latest mobile app. The CEO Kate Murphy led the presentation as she answered questions, and then conducted various TV chats.

The development team behind the Magnus app

With little happening at the board yet, and many pessimistically predicting another uneventful game, a snack seemed in order. The venue’s café has a very pleasant café, but overall it is a basic offering, with espresso, soft drinks, and the like. Going down, right nearby, opens up a world of options though, many for quite reasonable prices… for Manhattan that is.

Walking around New York some, one thing that stands out is the significant selection of street food vendors. Hardly the only city with such, the street vendors in New York do stand out by the sheer variety of items for sale. You have the typical hot dog vendors with a large selection of fast food stuffs…

… but you also have much higher quality fare such as this Soup Station that specializes in a bowl of soup with a pleasant and delicious selection available. The line seen above is in fact over twice as long as fit in the image.

Just a couple of blocks away is a miniature coffeehouse, where espressos, cappuccinos, and even an impressive selection of deli items can be found for a perfect coffee break or breakfast-on-the-go.  

Returning to the venue saw the game still going strong, and the body language of Magnus didn’t seem to promise much excitement. It is no secret Magnus is a player who relishes a long and tough endgame, but even he seemed less than enthused. This didn’t really bother those there of course, as many struck up impromptu games left and right, whether adults or children.

This is a very common scene, as fans set up a board to play some blitz

Kids are seen everywhere...

... and parents taking advantage to teach th3ir young ones.

Andrew Murray-Watson from AGON (above left) said that the official widget, not including the widgets at affiliate sites, which he proudly numbered at more than 30, had already enjoyed around half a million unique visits in the previous 48 hours of play. When asked how many of these were paying subscribers who accessed the video commentary, he would not go into numbers but assured me that it was a very healthy number and was growing. Stefan Löffler (right), the representative of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, was talking with Andrew, explaining how inconceivable it was there was no Journalist’s tournament. Eventually, Andrew agreed to set one up.

Whether or not he put on his jacket as a subtle tell that things had changed was not clear, but the World Champion's demeanor was clearly different

It was about now that a buzz spread throughout the venue and media room: Karjakin had made a terrible mistake! Carlsen was winning or at the very least a massive favorite. Indeed the computers and grandmasters present all agreed this looked like a wrap for the World Champion. He was going to strike first blood and the Calrsen Steamroller was about to start.

Looking in through the tinted panes in the spectator area, Magnus now looked awake, tense, and focused. He could smell blood.

What followed was a thrilling see-saw battle as Sergey Karjakin put up a stiff fight, showing all his defensive resources. The tension and fatigue showed as the game swung from drawn to winning on several occasions. It was no less an emotional rollercoaster for those watching, as claims that Karjakin had saved it, or that Carlsen was winning cropped up at regular intervals. In the media room, the journalists all stared at the screen which depicted only the game, with no live commentary, and many were challenging one another with ideas and variations. From rival colleagues we had returned to our roots: unabashed chess fans.

Magnus Carlsen - Sergey Karjakin (annotated by GM Yasser Seirawan)

[Event "2016 World Championship"] [Site "?"] [Date "2016.11.14"] [Round "?"] [White "Carlsen, Magnus"] [Black "Karjakin, Sergey"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "C67"] [Annotator "Yasser Seirawan"] [PlyCount "156"] [EventDate "2016.??.??"] {Match play is all about the result. Woulda, coulda, shoulda, explanations all fall before the final score. To get a result a player has to first establish the real battleground: In which lines of Opening play will the match be decided? Match play competition is also an exchange of information. The players start by making informed, educated guesses about their opponents primary Defense, their secondary Defense and so on. A player will play their primary Defense until a disaster before switching to a back-up Defense. For Game One Magnus chose the Trompovsky Opening and in the process learned precisely nothing about Sergey's primary Queen Pawn Defense. In a similar vein, Sergey learned something about Magnus's primary Defense to the King Pawn Opening but by opting out with the safe: 6.d3, instead of 6.Re1, in a Ruy Lopez, he didn't learn enough. The first pair of games were soft, two draws where the balance was barely disturbed. The match was now reduced to a ten game match. Would Game Three finally produce the clash that chess fans were anxious for?} 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 Nf6 {Amongst the elite King Pawn Opening players the Berlin Defense has been a huge problem. How to get any advantage as well as how to get play?} 4. O-O ({The other main try is:} 4. d3 { Which can be well met by either the active:} Bc5 {As well as:} (4... d6 { Transposing into a Classical Ruy where White has committed himself with the d2-d3, tempo.})) 4... Nxe4 5. Re1 {Disappointing.} ({Okay the "Berlin Endgame" that appears after:} 5. d4 Nd6 6. Bxc6 dxc6 7. dxe5 Nf5 8. Qxd8+ Kxd8 {May not be everybody's cup of tea but the imbalances can lead to rich strategic games.} ) 5... Nd6 6. Nxe5 Be7 7. Bf1 Nxe5 8. Rxe5 O-O 9. d4 Bf6 10. Re2 {Stop the presses! Novelty of the year! Mmm, no.} ({The text has been played a few times over the "standard" move:} 10. Re1 {Presumably the difference being that when Black readies a Rook swap down the e-file, recapturing on the e2-square is to be preferred. Hmm, such a nuanced difference strikes me as insufficient for a pull.}) 10... b6 ({Instead, I'll surmise that against the standard move:} 10... Nf5 {Magnus had planned to advance his d-pawn:} 11. d5 $5 b6 12. c4 $5 Ba6 13. Na3 c6 14. Rd2 {Is a line of play where the Rook might find a purpose along the second rank. Personally, I'm skeptical of White's play as it feels artificial.}) 11. Re1 {Having coaxed Black into playing: ... b7-b6, the e2-Rook moves yet again, this time to avoid: ...Bc8-a6, which would favor Black with a Bishop trade.} Re8 12. Bf4 $1 Rxe1 13. Qxe1 Qe7 (13... Bxd4 $2 14. Bxd6 cxd6 15. Qe4 Bxb2 16. Qxa8 Qf8 17. Nc3 Bxa1 18. Nd5 Bf6 19. Nxf6+ gxf6 20. Qxa7 {Would leave Black's structure in tatters.}) 14. Nc3 Bb7 15. Qxe7 Bxe7 16. a4 a6 {"Before the Endgame, the Gods have placed the Middle-game. And I thank those Gods." So said Tal. The position at hand queries this adorable quote. It feels as if the players have magically avoided a middle-game and embraced an Ending. Perhaps White has a smidgen of something but it sure feels balanced to me.} 17. g3 {Perhaps angling for an opportunity to play: Bf1-h3, hitting the d7-pawn at an inconvenient moment.} g5 {An active rejoinder to be sure that helps Black resolve the problem of his misplaced d6-Knight. The downside to this pleasant move is that the f5-square is weakened. Magnus was quick to pounce.} 18. Bxd6 $1 Bxd6 19. Bg2 $1 Bxg2 20. Kxg2 {Imperceptibly after these trades White does have something in the position. If he can maneuver his Knight to the f5-square, back it up with his g-pawn, he might yet find a serious pull.} f5 $1 {Nipping the idea in the bud before it could take shape.} ({Not as convincing would be} 20... Re8 21. Nd5 Re2 22. Ne3 $1 Rd2 23. Rd1 Rxd1 24. Nxd1 {When White has the more agreeable play.}) 21. Nd5 Kf7 22. Ne3 Kf6 { Sergey has "met" Magnus well and appears to be closing in on a boring draw.} 23. Nc4 Bf8 24. Re1 Rd8 $6 {A "mysterious Rook move" an echo of Game Two where Magnus played: Ra8-c8, backing up a c7-pawn. I suppose the idea is to discourage: Nc4-e5, by preemptively defending the d7-pawn. Very sophisticated indeed. The brutes among us might not have been so caring:} (24... d5 25. Ne5 Bd6 $11 {Strikes me as just fine for Black.}) 25. f4 gxf4 26. gxf4 b5 27. axb5 axb5 28. Ne3 c6 29. Kf3 {It is easy to get lulled to sleep and imagine that nothing is happening but the swap of four pawns has opened up the a-file and the g-file insuring play for the Rooks. On closer inspection a problem has crept into Black's position: The f5-pawn is a greater target than any White pawn. White is ready to seize one of the open files and ready an invasion. White is now for choice.} Ra8 30. Rg1 Ra2 $5 {A highly optimistic move to be sure. My concern is that it could be badly timed. The threat of: Rg4-g5, picking off the f5-pawn needs to be taken seriously. Therefore:} (30... Bh6 $1 31. Rg3 d5 $1 32. Rh3 Bg7 $1 {Is a nice way to keep White at bay. If White persists in his attempts to win the f5-pawn he could well miss the mark:} 33. Rh5 Ra2 34. b3 (34. Rxf5+ Kg6 35. Rg5+ Kf7 {Black will win back his pawn.}) 34... h6 35. Rxf5+ Kg6 {White has managed to tangle up his own pieces.}) 31. b3 c5 $2 {Sergey cracks. Up to now, nothing has gone seriously wrong but the text is born from excessive worry. The threat of: Rg1-g5xf5+, is stronger than its execution.} ({Upon cold reflection best was the simple} 31... d5 $1 32. Rg5 Ke6 $1 33. Rxf5 Bg7 {With a variation similar to the previous note. Black's counter-attack against the d4-pawn gives sufficient counterplay for holding the draw:} 34. Rh5 Bxd4 35. Rh6+ Kd7 36. Rxh7+ Ke6 {Seems to be finely balanced.}) 32. Rg8 $1 Kf7 33. Rg2 cxd4 34. Nxf5 d3 35. cxd3 Ra1 $5 {When I don't understand a move I tend to reward it with a (!?) mark as a sign of respect for the players sophistication. In truth this one is a bit beyond my comprehension. Sergey has jettisoned a pawn for active play or what the real cognoscenti would call "dynamic factors." Cool! So why not play actively? Direct, good and compelling was:} (35... Ra3 $1 36. Rb2 Bb4 $1 37. Ne3 Bc3 38. Rb1 b4 {When thanks to Black's active pieces it would be a real technical challenge to win this one.}) 36. Nd4 b4 37. Rg5 Rb1 38. Rf5+ Ke8 39. Rb5 { From an arid desert Magnus has managed to find an oasis. He has consolidated his extra pawn, now, remarkably, he has created real winning chances. Unlike the previous note, the f8-Bishop is now passive as well as a potential tactical target.} Rf1+ 40. Ke4 Re1+ 41. Kf5 Rd1 42. Re5+ {By no means a bad move. But around these parts Magnus missed a more incisive continuation:} (42. Rb8+ $1 Ke7 (42... Kf7 $6 43. Nf3 $1 $16) 43. Ke4 Re1+ 44. Kd5 Rd1 45. Nf5+ Kf7 46. d4 Rd3 {When appearances can be deceiving. At first blush it seems that there has been a lot of to-and-froing without much happening. In truth, things are going great for White. All his pieces are active and his once dormant d-pawn and f-pawns are playing fine supporting roles. This is laid bare after:} 47. Rd8 $1 Rxb3 48. Rxd7+ Kg6 49. Ng3 Re3 50. f5+ Kg5 (50... Kh6 51. Rf7 $1 { Did I mention the f8-Bishop could become a target?} Re8 52. Ne4 {White is close to winning now.}) 51. Ne4+ Kf4 52. Rxh7 b3 53. Nc5 {With good winning chances for White.}) 42... Kf7 43. Rd5 Rxd3 44. Rxd7+ Ke8 45. Rd5 {Trading off the d-pawns has benefitted Black. With the reduced material Black need only make a few more pawn swaps and he will be home free to make a draw.} Rh3 46. Re5+ Kf7 {Natural. But likely wrong. Black's King is more of a target on the Kingside than a stern blockader. For reasons as we will see in the game, there is less danger for Black's King on the d7-square. In addition covering the c6-square is important.} (46... Kd7 47. Re2 Bc5 48. Ne6 Be7 {When White has a hard task to convert ahead of him.}) 47. Re2 Bg7 48. Nc6 $1 {This is the rub. White defends the b3-pawn indirectly by creating a mating net against Black's King.} Rh5+ {Doubtlessly played with a heavy heart. Sergey had covertly eyeballed the b3-pawn dreaming that it would soon be his! Not so:} (48... Rxb3 $4 49. Nd8+ Kf8 50. Ne6+ Kf7 51. Ng5+ {With a forced checkmate to follow.}) 49. Kg4 Rc5 50. Nd8+ $1 {Obviously, White wants to keep the game alive. Again, a trade of pawns:} (50. Nxb4 $2 Rb5 51. Re4 h5+ 52. Kf3 Bf8 53. Nd3 Rxb3 { Is helpful to Black's cause.}) 50... Kg6 51. Ne6 h5+ 52. Kf3 Rc3+ 53. Ke4 Bf6 54. Re3 h4 55. h3 $2 {A careless slip when once again Magnus was close to fitting the noose. An opportunity was present to include the King into the attack by forcibly vacating the f5-square:} (55. Nf8+ $1 Kf7 56. Nd7 { Threatening a winning King and pawn Ending.} Rc2 (56... Bd8 57. Ne5+ Ke6 58. Nd3 $1 Bb6 59. Rh3 $1) 57. Kf5 $1 Bg7 58. h3 {Is a superior version of the game.}) 55... Rc1 56. Nf8+ Kf7 57. Nd7 Ke6 $1 {The difference between the two lines is now clear: White is prevented from playing: Ke4-f5.} 58. Nb6 Rd1 59. f5+ Kf7 60. Nc4 Rd4+ 61. Kf3 Bg5 $2 {After fighting so tenaciously Sergey makes an egregious slip which endangers all his hard work. With the draw nearly in sight the simple method was also a direct one, keep attacking the f5-pawn:} (61... Rd5 $1 62. Ke2 Kg7 $1 63. Rf3 {And only now:} Bg5 $1 {Black's King is ready to sweep away the f5-pawn and secure the coveted draw.}) 62. Re4 Rd3+ 63. Kg4 {And just like that Magnus is back in business.} Rg3+ {In such positions, there is the "human element" of wanting to eliminate all of White's pawns at the cost of a Bishop and to play K&R versus a K,R&N position. Where possible, you calculate where such an escape might lie. At first blush there appears to be an "easy" draw in view:} (63... Bf6 64. Re6 Rg3+ 65. Kf4 Bg5+ 66. Ke4 Rxh3 67. Ne5+ Kf8 68. f6 Rxb3 {Exactly at this moment, Black is a happy camper. Just one move away from the goal!} 69. Kf5 (69. f7 $1 Be7 70. Rg6 $1 $18) 69... Bxf6 $1 70. Kxf6 Kg8 {Mission accomplished. A draw is in the offing. How cruel is the scorpion's sting. Go back to move sixty-nine and play: 69.f7! Be7 70.Rg6!, instead. When Black is just lost. Yikes.}) 64. Kh5 Be7 65. Ne5+ Kf6 66. Ng4+ $1 {During the time that this phase of the game was being played I was having dinner at the Closing of the "Showdown" in Saint Louis tournament. In my nearest vicinity was Fabiano, Hikaru and Vishy. We all scrunched around Fabi's smart-phone to follow the cut and thrust. In rapid-fire succession, one defense after another was defeated. The verdict of the table was clear: Magnus was now winning. Our mirth attracted the attention of Veselin Topalov as well. I was beginning to feel out-rated but followed their analysis closely.} Kf7 ({ The plausible alternative} 66... Kxf5 {Was defeated by the important zwishenzug:} 67. Re5+ $1 Kf4 68. Rxe7 Rxh3 69. Rf7+ $1 {When Black's King is forced to go into the path of his Rook.} Kg3 70. Nf2 $1 {While:} (70. Rb7 { Is also good, the text is much stronger.}) 70... Rh2 71. Ne4+ Kh3 72. Rf3+ Kg2 73. Rf2+ {Forcing the trade of Rooks is the easiest win.}) 67. Re6 Rxh3 68. Ne5+ {Black is now forced to part with his Bishop.} Kg7 69. Rxe7+ Kf6 70. Nc6 Kxf5 $2 {A move the dinner table had rejected. The conversation had centered on a study-like position that arises after:} (70... Rc3 $3 71. Re6+ Kxf5 72. Nd4+ Kf4 73. Kxh4 Rd3 $1 {The "collective wisdom" of the table was having a devil of a time here. The analysis continued:} 74. Ne2+ Kf3 $1 (74... Kf5 $4 75. Rb6 $18) 75. Nc1 Rd1 $3 (75... Rc3 76. Re1 Kf2 77. Rd1 {Black's King is cut-off from the Queenside and White's King will march to victory.}) 76. Rc6 Ke3 77. Rc2 {At this moment, the table was reasonably sure that the game was won, as again, Black's King appears to be cut-off and another victorious White King march was in the offing. Vishy forced us away from our dinners with another offering:} Rd2 $1 78. Rc6 Rd1 {And no matter how we tried, the win, if it exists proved elusive.}) 71. Na5 $6 {Missing a golden opportunity to cinch the game.} (71. Re1 $3 {Comes with splendid timing. The text renders any tricks based on: ...Rh3-h1, and pushing the h4-pawn harmless. Secondly, White is ready to play: Ra1-b1, and then collect the b4-pawn. Finally, the King on the h5-square is poised to keep an eye on the h4-pawn. Play might continue:} Kf4 {This time, the move:} (71... Rc3 $2 {Has a cruel failing:} 72. Ne7+ $1 { And Black's King is forced to move into a fatal fork.}) 72. Rf1+ $1 Ke4 73. Na5 $1 {Winning. The key difference is that in this line of play White has managed to bring his Rook to the first rank with gain of tempo. Black is unable to prevent future pawn pluckings.}) 71... Rh1 72. Rb7 $4 {Tragedy after a supreme effort. With this, the win definitely slipped away.} ({Last chances were still to be had:} 72. Rf7+ $1 Ke6 73. Rf2 $1 h3 74. Kh4 Ra1 {The plausible alternative:} (74... h2 $2 75. Ra2 $1 {Is a rather pretty picture.}) 75. Nb7 Ra3 76. Rd2 $1 Ke5 77. Nc5 h2 78. Rxh2 Kd5 79. Rc2 $1 {At long last, White is winning.}) 72... Ra1 $1 {Sergey seizes his chance to save the game with a study like finish:} 73. Rb5+ Kf4 $1 {Otherwise the h4-pawn is removed from the board.} 74. Rxb4+ {What else? White cannot capture the h4-pawn:} (74. Kxh4 $4 Rh1# {Is spine chilling.}) 74... Kg3 $1 75. Rg4+ Kf2 76. Nc4 h3 77. Rh4 Kg3 78. Rg4+ Kf2 {Oh my what a game! The collective wisdom of the table was that if Magnus had won this game 'out of nothing' Sergey would have lost a lot of confidence, conversely thanks to this incredible save we now have a great match in store.} 1/2-1/2

After 48...Rh5+ Karjakin had sidestepped the potential trap Magnus had tendered

As the game neared its end, fans and pundits were glued to the screens

A disappointed Carlsen finally extends his hand

The moral victor was clear

Any doubts on who will be tossing and turning that night?


Born in the US, he grew up in Paris, France, where he completed his Baccalaureat, and after college moved to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He had a peak rating of 2240 FIDE, and was a key designer of Chess Assistant 6. In 2010 he joined the ChessBase family as an editor and writer at ChessBase News. He is also a passionate photographer with work appearing in numerous publications, and the content creator of the YouTube channel, Chess & Tech.


Rules for reader comments


Not registered yet? Register