A narrow escape: Seirawan on Carlsen vs Karjakin (3/3)

by Yasser Seirawan
12/13/2016 – Magnus Carlsen won the World Championship match against Sergey Karjakin by winning the tie-break convincingly 3-1. The last move of the match was a stunning queen sacrifice. Carlsen retained his title and it is easy to forget how close Karjakin was to becoming new World Champion. Yasser Seirawan takes a look at the second part of the match and all its drama.

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Almost World Champion: Sergey Karjakin misses his chances

Beginning with Game 7, the players “switched colors” and Sergey would enjoy his second game in a row with the White pieces. This time he tried his hand with the Queen Pawn Opening. Magnus answered with the venerable Slav Defense, which quickly transposed into the channels of a Queen’s Gambit Accepted. Instead of trading Queens and going for an ultra-safe line of play with a potential plus, Sergey tricked himself with his eleventh move, Nf3-d2, and found himself with a slight disadvantage for his Opening efforts. Once more, the advantage of playing the White pieces had slipped to less than nothing. Magnus returned the favor with a slip of his own on move sixteen. Just at the very moment that I thought a vintage display by Magnus might be in the offing, he was worse. But not by much. Sergey managed to win a pawn but the presence of opposite colored Bishops meant an easy draw.

Game No. 7 - Notes by Tiger Hillarp Persson:


With five games remaining, with Magnus wielding the White pieces in three of them, the discussions amongst chess fans at various websites was quite furious. How certain was Magnus’ victory? Near absolute. ELO rating differentials multiplied by the statistics of White’s winning percentage, squared by the x-factors and the breakthrough fans long expected would happen in game 8. They were right. Only for the wrong player.

Sergey Karjakin after game eight

Oh my, what a nerve wracking game. To start the affair, again, expressing his own dissatisfaction with the White pieces, Magnus chose the Colle Opening. The Colle? Again, let me repeat myself, the Colle? Good grief. Isn’t this one a favorite of Club players the world over? Primarily because little to no preparation is needed… On his nineteenth move, Magnus slipped, trying again to press for an advantage that wasn’t there. Sergey was given a golden opportunity to initiate an attack leading to great complexity. He declined. On any other day, in any other event, he would have eagerly accepted such a challenge. Here I feel that he may have been conflicted.

Thus far, his match strategy of playing safe, defensive chess was working well. The match was tied, Magnus was being frustrated, a draw with Black is okay, why take a risk? The answer is: Because it was good. The attack, properly played would have seen an advantage too Black. Perhaps encouraged by his opponent’s safety first approach, Magnus kept pushing his luck, taking risks, first splitting his Queenside pawns and then in a time scramble sacrificing them both for what he thought was certain victory. Too late, there was a hidden defense, Magnus was busted! But time trouble reared its ugly head and Sergey allowed a great tactic that brought Magnus right back into the game and level. Again, I don’t know if Magnus was encouraged by the ups and downs of the struggle or simply doing what he has his whole career: playing out a position to its last full measure. In any case, Magnus kept pushing for a win when most would have pulled the chute and taken a draw. Amazingly, his gamble paid off. Showing remarkable fearlessness towards Sergey’s well advanced passed a3-pawn, Magnus played for a win. Suddenly, shockingly, there it was: Magnus had over-played his hand. Returning his extra pawn with a timely e4-e5, to unlock his g2-Bishop would have clinched a draw. Easily. When Black’s Knight landed on the e5-square and his Queen alongside to the c5-square, Sergey understood the situation clearly: he was winning. A final error by Magnus, 51.Qe6, sealed the deal, Challenger Sergey had broken through and now led the WCM.

Game No. 8 - Notes by Fabiano Caruana


One person’s dream is often another person’s nightmare. In this case it was too much for Magnus. Sitting for minutes for the post-game press conference to begin the excruciating wait for Sergey was too long, Magnus had enough and walked away. He would be slapped with a significant fine.

Really? I mean please. Come on. Is it necessary for the player who has just lost a long and cruel game to sit before the cameras and mumble a litany as follows, “My opponent played well.” “I missed some key moments.” “I feel terrible.” “Yes, I’m now behind in the match.” “Yes, I agree, I’ll have to try harder in the next games…”

Four games remained. For the first time in a WCM Magnus trailed. His career is an astonishing testament to his come-back abilities. With his back against the wall, could he pull it off again?

Lucky Magnus

For Game 9, Sergey returned to his King Pawn. Perhaps reflecting his precarious match situation and doubtlessly dissatisfied with the quiet strategic games played Magnus decided to enter the Archangelsk-System of the Ruy Lopez. For me this line is a real groaner. The position is fraught with sharp double edged lines of play at every turn. Lazy “general principles” grandmasters like myself, have to bear down and calculate. There is no escape with this line. Only hard work, good preparation and at the board calculating counts. In such lines chess engines are remarkably good. Both players were well versed playing the latest and greatest in modern Opening theory. At last Opening specialists were happy.

For me, it was in this game that Sergey’s fine play really stood out. He came up with a remarkable Rook maneuver: Rf1-g1-g4-h4, which appeared misplaced. Looking at such a Rook one is tempted to ask the question, “What are you doing there?” Confoundingly the answers are for all to see: White’s KS pawns are doubled, requiring that the King be further protected. The h4-Rook squashes all attempts by Black of launching a KS attack. The Rook protects the extra d4-pawn, covers the f4-square and h3-squares and as it occurred in the game, has the potential of aiding in an attack. It was in fact a brilliant maneuver that stumped the world champion. Before the time control everything was going Sergey’s way. He had continued to build up his advantages and on move thirty-nine, cashed in for the win of what he thought was a second pawn. With hindsight, he should have played, 39.Qb3, a move the engines prefer, claiming a big advantage for White. In that case, a victory for Sergey would have meant back to back wins and in practical terms sealing the match. As it was, Magnus bore down, kept the position and managed to draw the game. It was simply a huge reprieve. Norwegian fans could only breathe a sigh of relief.

Game No. 9 - Notes by Fabiano Caruana


Chess blindness and comeback

Game 10 was another of those, “what if,” affairs. This one featured a case of double-blindness all too common in big games between elite players. Magnus was back to the King pawn, the game was a Berlin Defense with: 4.d3, keeping all the pieces on the board. Magnus went with the off-beat: 6.Bg5, which was well met by Sergey. Finally, and for practically the first time in the match, I liked White’s position out of the Opening. With: 19.Nd2, White has a lot of opportunity. Magnus dismayed his fans by electing to trade Bishops on the e6-square, opening up the f-file and allowing Sergey an immediate opportunity to seize a draw. As Magnus sat realizing his error he reconciled himself to allowing a perpetual check to occur. The game would soon be over, he could go home and would likely have to “win on demand” the 12th and final round. Sergey missed the draw, allowing Magnus an Ending where he held a significant structural advantage. It was enough to bring out the best in the World Champion and he played in grand style to win a crucial game and tie the match.

Game No 10 - Notes by Wesley So


As Magnus stated in his post-game press conference, “After ten games, I managed to win one. That doesn’t happen to me very often.” Quite so. Self-doubts had begun to creep in and Sergey’s match-strategy had nearly earned him a huge upset surprise.

Before Game 11 Magnus had foreseen the most likely course of events: two draws and take the match into tie-breaks. However, he couldn’t help himself. After achieving comfortable equality as Black, he decided to press a little bit. Eschewing safe draws, he sacrificed a pawn to put Sergey under pressure. Sergey was equal to the task and a well-played hard-fought draw was the result. Everyone was happy. The stage was set for a dramatic final game of the match.

Game No 11 - Notes by Wesley So


With the whole world watching, Game 12 was a dud. A thirty-five-minute punch. The less said the better.


The tie-break

After a free day – there sure seemed to be a lot of free days – the players came to play the first set of potential tie-break games: four games of Rapid Chess. Magnus played fantastic. He was in an incredible zone.

Magnus Carlsen before game three of the tie-break

Playing virtually flawless chess, he won decisively: 3 – 1. It might have been even worse. And so the curtain closes on an unexpectedly close and hard fought match. It was marvelous to watch and commentate upon. I’d like to thank Chess Base for asking me to annotate a game or two and to commend my colleagues for their annotations to the match games as well. A fan need only print out the annotations to create a very decent match book of their own. Sorry, I’m not available for signatures.

The tie-break games - Notes by David Navara


In closing, I think it is fair to say that the world’s top ten players cheered Magnus’ victory. He will not be in the next Candidate’s tournament…

Carlsen vs Karjakin: Missed Opportunities (1/3)

Surprises and Frustrations: Carlsen vs Karjakin (2/3)


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