The duel: Magnus Carlsen vs Sergey Karjakin

by Johannes Fischer
7/21/2016 – Today, 21st July 2016, 16.00 CEST, Magnus Carlsen and Sergey Karjakin will meet in the eighth round of the Bilbao Masters. It is the last game these two will play before their World Championship match in November and it will be their 21st game with classical time-control. The current overall score favors Carlsen: He won 4 games, lost 1, 15 were drawn. All five decisive encounters were examples of brilliant modern chess. Here they are again – with comments by Mihail Marin, Sergey Karjakin and Magnus Carlsen.

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Nine years ago: Sergey Karjakin (left) and Magnus Carlsen (right) in Bilbao 2007

Sergey Karjakin (born 12th January 1990 in Simferopol, Ukraine) and Magnus Carlsen (born 30. November 1990 in Tonsberg, Vestfold, Norway) were both chess prodigies. Sergey Karjakin became grandmaster at the age of 12 years and 7 months and still holds the record for being the youngest grandmaster of all time.

Sergey Karjakin

Magnus Carlsen was a bit slower to gain the grandmaster title. He secured it at the age of 13 years, 4 months and 27 days, which makes him the third youngest grandmaster of all time – the Indian Parimarjan Negi was five days younger when he won the title.

Magnus Carlsen

It was on 18th January 2005, in Group-B of the Corus Tournament in Wijk aan Zee that Carlsen and Karjakin played their first game with classical time-control. After interesting and wild play – particularly from Carlsen who had White – the game was drawn after 40 moves.

A draw was also the result of their next four games, but five years after their first encounter, Carlsen scored a win. This time they played in Group-A of the Corus Tournament in Wijk aan Zee. Carlsen annotated this game for ChessBase – one of 24 games he annotated for the Mega Database. If games and comments would were printed the result would be a reasonably sized book which could hope for very good sales.

Here’s Carlsen’s first win against Karjakin – with comments by the World Champion.


But two years later, in 2012, Karjakin managed to get revenge – again in Wijk aan Zee, but this time in the Tata Steel Tournament.

Here’s the game with comments by Karjakin who over the years also "wrote a book" for ChessBase – he annotated 27 games for the Mega.


Maybe it is the rough climate of Wijk aan Zee in winter that makes Carlsen and Karjakin especially belligerent when playing there – at any rate, their third decisive encounter took place in the Tata Steel Tournament 2013. Creative pawn-sacrifices in an opposite-colored bishop ending that most experts had considered to be dead drawn helped Carlsen to an amazing win that made it to the textbooks.


Four months later, at the 1st Norway Chess Tournament 2013, Carlsen beat his rival again. However, despite this loss Karjakin won the 1st Norway Chess Tournament with 6.0/9, half-a-point ahead of Carlsen and Hikaru Nakamura. Karjakin also won the blitz tournament in Norway. Here he scored 6.5/9 and this time he was half-a-point ahead of Carlsen and Vishy Anand.


Sergey Karjakin and Magnus Carlsen at the
1st Norway Chess Tournament in Stavanger

After the excitement of two decisive encounters in 2013 followed a period of peace between Carlsen and Karjakin and their five next games all ended in a draw. But a week ago, in round three of the “Masters” in Bilbao 2016, Carlsen struck again and inflicted a bitter loss on the World Championship Challenger.

Magnus Carlsen and Sergey Karjakin comment on their game
in the press center of the "Masters" in Bilbao


In round eight of the “Masters”, Karjakin has White and the chance to take revenge. But no matter how the game will end today, the most crucial encounter between Carlsen and Karjakin will take place in November 2016 when these two play for the World Championship. If Karjakin wins this match, it does not matter how often he has won or lost before against Carlsen. But the question is how good Karjakin’s chances are to win the match. The current score indicates that Carlsen is favorite. But who knows what will happen in November?

Magnus Carlsen vs Sergey Karjakin - Games with classical time-control


Johannes Fischer was born in 1963 in Hamburg and studied English and German literature in Frankfurt. He now lives as a writer and translator in Nürnberg. He is a FIDE-Master and regularly writes for KARL, a German chess magazine focusing on the links between culture and chess. On his own blog he regularly publishes notes on "Film, Literature and Chess".


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