World Championship Game 11: "At this point the tension is at its peak"

by Macauley Peterson
11/25/2018 – And then there was one! The World Championship match is headed to a dramatic conclusion after Magnus Carlsen could not score a goal in his last White game. Game 11 ended up as one of the shorter and least interesting draws of the match although it started promisingly enough. The previous Challenger Sergey Karjakin was the surprise guest making the ceremonial first move and he got a smile out of both players by starting with 1.b4 for Magnus. Carlsen opted not to take Karjakin's suggestion to heart and played into a critical line from the Petroff preparation of Caruana — a line shown in the training video accidentally leaked before Game 4. Guest analysis by GM BORIS GELFAND and IM LAWRENCE TRENT. | Photos: World Chess

The Reliable Petroff The Reliable Petroff

The Petroff (or Russian) Defence which is characterised by the moves 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 has been popular at the highest levels for many years and enjoys the reputation of being an extremely solid defence.


Will we see a Drawxit?

Today in Brussels, EU and UK leaders are meeting to finalise a Brexit deal, which has been the talk of the town this past week. You can scarcely go into a restaurant in central London without hearing someone discussing the political wrangling surrounding this controversial topic.

In the chess world, the question is when will we see a decisive game in this Championship? Fans were looking to Magnus Carlsen to press with his last White game on Saturday, and the opening phase initially sparked interest when it mirrored the ChessBase analysis file inadvertently leaked prior to Game 4.

A former second of Magnus thinks his current team got a gift

This was precisely what appeared on the board after nine moves in Game 11: 


Despite this bit of advance intelligence, Carlsen was not able to get much of any edge out of the opening. The players followed a recent game— Krishnan Sasikiran ½-½ Evgenij Miroshnichenko from the St Louis Winter Classic A group — all the way to a queen trade on move 14.


Here Miroshnichenko preferred 14…Rfe8. "My conclusion was that Re8 is actually safer", he told me via Skype. "I was still in my book". He noted that Magnus' pawn push 13.c4, offering the queen trade, is suggested by chess engines as the best move, and it even promises some advantage for White at first but, he added, there are "not that many ideas against the Petroff, to be honest".

Caruana opted for 14...h6 keeping the knight out of g5 and after 15.Nh4 Rfe8 16.Ng6 Ng4 17.Nxe7 Rxe7 18.Re2 Ne5 19.Bf4 Nxd3 the players reached an equal position with opposite-coloured bishops.

In his round-up show, IM Lawrence Trent, who used to manage Caruana and was instrumental in bringing Rustam Kasimdzhanov on board as Fabi's chief trainer and second, had this to say about Carlsen's opening choices:

"Once this match is over, there are some big questions that are going to have to be asked about Magnus' opening preparation, and even though he said he's happy with his team, I'm not sure I'd be happy — that if I knew I were starting with this position [after 9...Nf6] that I couldn't try and even fight for a realistic practical edge."


Carlsen struggling in the opening | Photo: World Chess

Sergey Karjakin was the early guest on the official webcast after making the ceremonial first move. The players were both unaware that Karjakin would be there until minutes before the start of the game, but they couldn't help cracking a smile when he put 1.b4 on the board for Magnus. Afterwards, the former Challenger spoke about this and the match in general. One point he made, in particular, pertains to Carlsen's opening prep and its relationship to the match format:

“The problem of these matches is that the players are afraid to lose and they don’t want to [take] any risk. I feel like Magnus was trying to play super solid chess at some point and in a tournament he would not play like that.”

Replay Karjakin's first move and guest commentary

GM Sergey Karjakin joins Judit Polgar and IM Anna Rudolf

Commenting on the Saint Louis Chess Club's "Today in Chess" live show, Garry Kasparov was also playing amateur psychologist, diagnosing the World Champion's problem as the "gravity of past success": 

“It seems to me that Magnus had no big ideas for the match and he decided, wisely, not to take too much risk and to stick with his real strength which is to play for a small edge and just to keep playing, trying to use his minimal advantages...Minimising risk, that’s the style, and it’s very hard to has been working for so long, trying to change it and going back to a more aggressive approach makes him very uncomfortable.”

CaruanaHe sees the present moment in Carlsen's career as the culmination of a trend away from an aggressive approach in the opening towards a more technical style that began in 2010 when he became the world's highest rated player.

“Fabiano is extremely stable, you can feel it", says Kasparov. "Even if something changes, even if something is happening in the game, he’s not panicking.”

This characteristic of the Challenger, Kasparov thinks, is depressing for Carlsen, and makes him vulnerable. Even so, he expects both players will do what they think is best to win the match. “At the end of the day if it’s 6-6 [Carlsen] believes that he would be the favourite in rapid…He would be happy to collect it even if it would be decided in blitz.”

Kasparov also expects the public's dismay over the drawing streak will be short-lived. “At the end of the day people will forget what was the score; they will remember who won the match...The public doesn’t care if you played great chess and lost.”

At the press conference, Caruana said that the final game and any possible tiebreak will be decided by nerves. When asked if he would have "fighting spirit" in Monday's Game 12, when he will have the white pieces, he calmly replied, “I always have fighting spirit, and of course there’s a lot riding on the last game. It will be very tense for both of us. I’m not going to go crazy or anything but I’ll definitely try to put pressure on him.”

Match standings


Game 11 summary

GM Daniel King presents a brief summary of the game

Game 11 press conference

Caruana: "At this point the tension is at its peak"

Game 11 analysed by Boris Gelfand

Former World Championship challenger Boris Gelfand played a tiebreak himself against Viswanathan Anand to decide their 2012 match in Moscow:

"I am happy to see that Fabiano sticks to a Petroff, which served him well this year...before my World Championship match vs Vishy Anand in 2012, I switched to the Sveshnikov (Magnus' choice in this match!) in order to surprise my opponent. It seems that Fabiano has even more trust in Petroff than I had!"


Round-up shows

IM Lawrence Trent reviews the game

All games of the match



Macauley served as the Editor in Chief of ChessBase News from July 2017 to March 2020. He is the producer of The Full English Breakfast chess podcast, and was an Associate Producer of the 2016 feature documentary, Magnus.


Rules for reader comments


Not registered yet? Register