Monthly Archives: Nov 2016

Carlsen-Karjakin 2016 – Game 12

So he didn’t make them count. The white pieces I mean.

A very uneventful draw in the last game, but one that nevertheless provides some information about Carlsen’s psychology and how he sees things.

The very fact that a player like Carlsen, who values the white pieces and always tries to play for win, didn’t try to take advantage of these last white pieces in the classical part of the match, coupled with his statement at the press conference that he wanted to play a tie-break, shows that he deeply feels the trend of how things were developing in this match.

It was a difficult match for Carlsen – he didn’t win games he was expected to win, then his level dropped, then he forced matters unnecessarily and lost. He was lucky (please read here to understand what I mean by “lucky”) not to lose another one and then finally broke even. The last two games were tame affairs when neither player wanted to risk.

The flow of the match was uneven for Carlsen (less so for Karjakin, who firmly followed his pre-match strategy of playing as safely as possible at all times) and it didn’t allow for a last-game heroic win. It was against the natural flow of how things were developing in the match and we saw in Game 8 what happened when he tried to violently impose his will at all costs.

Carlsen is very good at feeling his inner state and followed his own counsel, not paying attention to the wishes of the public or the expectations of the world. He said he feels good about the rapid, soon enough we’ll see what he means and whether he’s right.

As for what to expect in the rapid, I have the impression that now perhaps Karjakin will show more venomous ideas with white. It seems that all his strategy was to draw with both white and black and he was completely toothless with white – if not now, when is he going to show his great preparation (which he undoubtedly had, but saw no reason to use the way the match was going). As for Carlsen, he will also show more daring ideas, especially with white (with black I expect both to stay solid) and if these predictions come true, we will witness a great fighting 4-game rapid match on Wednesday.

Until then, Game 12 for a good night sleep (in Europe at least):


Carlsen-Karjakin 2016 – Game 11

Both players seemed content with a draw and they eventually got what they wanted. However, there were 3 notable moments in this game that I will try to explain.

Karjakin again chose the line with a3 and Nc3 as in Game 2, but this time Carlsen varied and chose a line that was frequently played by Svidler in 2013. Carlsen’s choice was similar to his previous choices when he was black (games 6 and 9 in particular) – he goes for heavily analysed and forced lines in order to achieve a draw. An approach not characteristic of Carlsen when he plays in tournaments, but matches are different and in this match he was much better prepared in the openings than Karjakin, contrary to popular belief that it would be the other way round.

In view of Karjakin’s timid play (but perhaps the position is too dry for white to try for more anyway) Carlsen didn’t face problems. And then the notable moments started. On move 18 Carlsen started pushing forward. It was more of a psychological push, the position remained equal, but he wanted to make it clear that it was him who was pushing and trying, not Karjakin. He could have made a draw by simple means, but no, his 19th and 24th move were the same, he tried to impose his will, it was vintage Carlsen, from an equal position he tried to press. Press he did, only the position was too drawish for anything substantial to happen and Karjakin was careful. But these 3 moves showed that Carlsen is back to his confident self and he said it himself in the press conference when he said that the match “is trending in a good direction” for him and I am sure what he had in mind were these 3 moments when he showed superior will.

With the last game of the match remaining and Carlsen having white, he will undoubtedly try to make it count. Karjakin has mostly been an immovable object so another gruelling duel is expected.

Here’s Game 11 with analysis.



In the wake of the World Championship match the Swedish film director Alexander Turpin made a documentary called Sergey. The film has already been broadcast on Norwegian TV and it received positive reviews.

The film is approximately 20 minutes long and it primarily tells the story of Sergey’s beginnings by way of interviews with his parents, his coaches and Sergey himself. And the beginnings were difficult, being born in Simferopol the young genius didn’t have the necessary support to progress and his family was forced to make the life-changing decision to move to Kramatorsk where he got access to excellent coaches and organised structure. This propelled him to become the youngest grandmaster of all times, a feat he accomplished at 12 years of age. His coaches speak favourably of him, his family supports him and I get the impression he was a happy child.

Karjakin himself points out the period of 6 years, between 2003 and 2009, as one of relative stagnation and the main reason why he didn’t reach the top sooner, as it was widely expected of such a prodigy. Things start to feel uncomfortable when his move to Russia in 2009 becomes a topic – he left Ukraine in search for better conditions for his further development and switched federations, but it was his political views that caused quite a stir among his friends. Former World Champion Ruslan Ponomariov, who won the FIDE title in 2002 by beating Ivanchuk and was helped in that match by 12-year old Karjakin, sounds disappointed by Karjakin’s views of open support for the Russian annexation of Crimea. Karjakin himself was wise enough to decline to comment on those issues during the interview for the film.

The film is pleasant to watch (for non-Russian speakers, make sure you turn on the subtitles under the “CC” button!) and gives a personal view on Karjakin’s life and the problems he had to overcome. Things are never easy in life, even for the geniuses.
Director Alexander Turpin has made a fine effort to research the background of Karjakin’s beginnings – he travelled extensively to various places in both Ukraine and Russia (all this was paid by himself!) and spoke to many people who were involved in his upbringing. I would recommend the film even if you know everything there is to know about Karjakin – seeing the people who were (and are) part of his life talk about him will make you feel you know him better.

The film ends with Sergey’s words “I will be World Champion, if not now I will be World Champion later, but of course better now!” With two games left to play in New York, Sergey’s dream is within reach.

You can watch Sergey following this link.


Carlsen-Karjakin 2016 – Game 10

The Spanish with 4 d3 seems to be Carlsen’s lucky variation. Apart from beating Anand in a very nice game in the second game of their match in Sochi in 2014, he has also beaten all the leading players of today in it.

Carlsen got very little out of the opening, but there was a small detail that introduced some irrational elements in the position – black had a stranded knight on h3. I’m really curious to know if this was all prepared beforehand – not the exact line, but the possibility that this knight would appear on the board and that this would be unsettling for a classical player like Karjakin. This knight offerred black some tactical chances, but it also risked being offside. And then the players started to miscalculate things. Carlsen’s 19 Be6 allowed black a chance to either draw or force white into a very unclear position. Karjakin’s choices in this match were always inclined towards safety, so he passed this opportunity. Yet Carlsen allowed him another, an even better one, two moves later with 21 Qh5. Instead of the simple and solid 21 f3 with a good advantage, finally blunting the tactical chances around the knight on h3, he allowed black to force a draw. And Karjakin didn’t see it, he missed the quiet move 22…Qf7 after 21…Nf2 22 Kg2. From then on it was as if we were transported back to the beginning of the match – Carlsen was pressing from a very advantageous position, Karjakin was defending well. But this time Karjakin faltered and allowed the decisive breakthrough on move 56.

I noticed a very curious thing in this match, starting from Game 5. It appears that Carlsen makes a mistake, it often looks like a losing mistake. But once you start to analyse (or calculate, in Karjakin’s case) you realise that the pit is bottomless. The first appearance is deceiving, it is not losing and the variations turn out to be very difficult to calculate and evaluate. This is a very frustrating feeling for Karjakin, who must be upset that he cannot finish off his opponent, who makes such obvious mistakes! And this takes away energy, mental stability, inner calm, patience. Does this mean Carlsen is just lucky while Karjakin is unlucky? Or he just plays moves that take him to the edge of the precipice but still manages to hold his balance, mostly thanks to his intuition? Undoubtedly he sees a lot, but in this match we’ve seen that he also miscalculates, so it cannot be that he had seen everything, he must have relied on his feeling that even though these moves were dangerous, they shouldn’t be losing. That’s intuition in chess and things are perfectly in order with Carlsen’s. Should Karjakin feel unlucky? That depends on him, on his strength of character, whether he prefers to blame Fate or take things into his own hands and break the unfavourable trend by never giving up. Two more games to play.


Carlsen-Karjakin 2016 – Game 9

Still no time to panic, is what Carlsen’s second Peter-Heine Nielsen (more or less) said to the Norwegian media before Game 9.

Business as usual, is what Svidler said when describing Kramnik’s behaviour when he was losing to Leko in their World Championship match in 2004. Kramnik was doing things normally until the penultimate game, when he essayed the Benoni with black – he nearly won that game, before actually winning the last game of the match to level the score and keep his title. Carlsen won’t immediately keep his title if he levels the score, the regulations have changed and the match will go into tie-break, but that one win seems very big for him right now.

Carlsen chose the Neo-Arkhangelsk (one of the possible names for the line they played) variation in the Spanish, varying from his usual choice of 5…Be7 from the previous games. My impression is that he wanted a repeat of Game 6 – get his preparation in and make a quick and easy draw without much effort. The line is susceptible for such a thing to happen, it is sharp and as usual nowadays with sharp lines, full of dead-ends leading to a draw. But things didn’t exactly go to plan…

They followed Nakamura-Kasimdzhanov from the Tromso Olympiad and Carlsen demonstrated the obvious improvement on Kasimdzhanov’s play. But then I think he forgot what he was supposed to play (after Game 4 he said that he quickly forgot what he should play in the opening, hence my conclusion that the same happened here) and spent half an hour trying to remember and calculate – never a good combination (you either remember exactly or calculate without trying to remember). This led to an imprecision but not a very big one as the game continued to be balanced. The next imprecision was a bigger one, on move 33 Carlsen had a straight-forward way to solve all his problems, but he didn’t and his problems only grew from there onwards.

The critical moment was just before the time control. A very curious situation, Carlsen played a strategically desireable move, but one that looked horribly suspicious tactically. But I guess I can say he was lucky here – the move wasn’t losing. The variations after the sacrifices on f7 were very complex and difficult to see, so either he saw them all (Karjakin for example missed some things) or his intuition served him perfectly (he played the move 38…Ne7 trusting his intuition that it wasn’t losing, in spite of all the dangerous looking lines he undoubtedly saw).

And looking from the other side of the board you can say that Karjakin was unlucky. Such a wonderful opportunity and yet it’s not winning! Sometimes chess turns out like this. Karjakin did take on f7 and the game transposed to a drawn endgame that Carlsen didn’t have trouble holding.

What next? Even though he didn’t make it quick, Carlsen got the draw he desired from this game. Two whites in the last three games is an advantage, but winning opportunities have been scarce for him lately. Another problem is his imprecise play, also witnessed in this game. The only realistic chance for him is if he manages to lift his spirits after this difficult save and start playing at his usual (or even better) level. Then he can come back. Game 10 should give answers to some of these questions.


QGD Repertoire for Black

Some time ago I wrote about the new chess website Chessable, which is dedicated to teaching chess openings to improving players based on the power of repetition. These openings are prepared by strong players, often Grandmasters, and I also had a small part when I prepared a ready-to-go and very simple repertiore for black based on the Scandinavian Defence.

My second project with Chessable was a much more serious one. I took upon one of the most established defences for black, the “opening of the World Championship matches” (Kasparov), the Queen’s Gambit Declined.

The Queen’s Gambit has never been in a better shape. Ever since it served Kasparov perfectly in his matches with Karpov (it was his main line of defence in the first two matches, the unlimited match in 1984/85 and the match when he won the title in 1985) the opening has constantly been popular and the white players have the neverending quest how to pose even the slightest problems. To make things worse for white, black has developed more than one satisfactory line against all the main lines!

The repertiore is divided in 4 parts: The Exchange Variation and some minor lines (black’s suggested move order is 3…Be7, so there will be no typical suffering after Botvinnik’s plan with Nge2 as in the usual Exchange when black has played 3…Nf6), The Main Line with 5 Bg5 (black has several good options here – I chose the Kramnik’s latest favourite with 7…Nbd7 after witnessing how effortlessly he solved all his problems game after game), The Main Line with 5 Bf4 (this has been white’s main try in the last several years and from the three main options black has – 6…Nbd7, 6…c5 and 6…b6, I chose the most dynamic old main line with 6…c5, mostly because of Nakamura’s latest discovery in the famous line from Korchnoi-Karpov, Baguio m/21 1978, until now thought to be good for white) and Various 5thmoves for white (these cover 5 g3, 5 Qc2 and 5 e3).

The real quality of this repertoire lies in the fact that I actually used my own preparation and analysis to create it. It is a no-holds-barred revelation of my preparation, something I have never done before, and especially not with an opening I still actively use. My only hope now is that the people who take upon this repertoire will not be the people I will get to meet across the board!

If you would like to take a look at this repertoire and use the Chessable way to learn it, I promise you will have a world-class opening prepared at a GM level. With these two ingredients, you will have a reliable opening for life.

A Grandmaster’s Guide To The Queen’s Gambit For Black.


Carlsen-Karjakin 2016 – Games 6-8

I was away to England for the weekend to play the first two rounds of the new 4NCL season. Cheddleton got off to a flying start, beating the Celtic Tigers 7.5-0.5 and Blackthorne Russia 7-1. I won both my games, the second one against FM Robert Eames deserves special mention – a highly irrational and crazy game that arose from the King’s Gambit, but you’d be surprised if I told you that the queens were exchanged on move 10! Perhaps in a later post I will revisit this game.

In the meantime 3 games were played in New York. Brace yourself for a monster post and analysis of all three!

Game 6 was the first of the two whites in a row Karjakin got in the middle of the match (such are the regulations, the idea being that both players get to be white after a rest day, in this case Carlsen in the first part of the match and with this switch Karjakin in the second half. This was introduced after Kasparov complained of being too tired to try to win with white after playing (and usually suffering) with black the previous day in his match with Kramnik in 2000). Even though Karjakin missed a good chance to win in the previous game, he seemed unfazed and continued with his strategy of not avoiding draws (this time let’s put it like this). He repeated the opening from Game 4, but now Carlsen went for the theoretically best move 9…d5. Carlsen went on to demonstrate the depth of his preparation and practically made a draw without breaking a sweat. He continued to dominate the openings and was probably happy to get one black game out of the way.

For Game 7 Karjakin decided to switch to 1 d4. It implied that he wanted to fight, because he couldn’t possibly foresee which defence Carlsen had prepared. And sure enough, Carlsen’s choice of the Chebanenko Slav surprised him. As usual in such cases, he immediately went for an innocuous line (5 Bd3) aimed at simplifications. Even in this relatively rare line Carlsen had an improvement ready and after Karjakin’s dubious 11th move he could have started to play for more. But he didn’t and this was surprising! Realising that he can draw easily, it seems that Carlsen was content – he didn’t try to press with black like he did in Game 4, which he could have easily: on move 15 he had a wonderful opportunity to force a favourable position with no risk involved and one that he could play for ages trying to win. This slackness showed again one move later – on move 16 he blundered a pawn! Luckily for him, this meant massive simplifications and a transposition to an endgame with opposite-coloured bishops that was a relatively easy draw. Karjakin didn’t even try to play on. I got the impression that Carlsen was happy to draw both his black games so that he could concentrate on his remaining 3 whites, hence his careless play once he got out with a safe position out of the opening. But careless play is omnipresent – if you’re careless in one game, it tends to permeate to your other games as well. Generally speaking, Carlsen’s play lacked his usual precision in this match, starting from the missed opportunities early in the match (Games 3 and 4), his loss of control in Game 5 and now the failure to get the maximum out of the position, coupled with his blunder.

Game 8 was expected with eagerness. After successfully navigating his black patch, it was expected that Carlsen will step on the gas in a forceful manner and this should finally produce a positive result for him. The opening was again a different one from all the others we saw when he was white – the Zukertort System is not a one you get to see often on this level. Even though it served as a surprise, the system isn’t particularly frightening so black got out with a fine position after the opening. Carlsen was spending more time than Karjakin (for the first time in the match!) trying to make the symmetrical position come to life. So he took risks. They worked in the beginning, since Karjakin was too much draw-oriented, as usual (for example, missing 19…Qg5) and this gave Carlsen the false security that he can take even bigger risks. While watching this I remembered that I actually correctly predicted this strategy by Karjakin in my Preview – “…[Karjakin will be] cynical in playing openly for a draw… to put pressure on Carlsen by getting the match to the latter stages when Carlsen might lose patience and try something harsh and then Karjakin would strike from the counterattack.” And Carlsen seemed hell-bent on winning the game, disturbing the equilibrium by creating weakneses in his camp that were compenstated by his greater piece activity. He even sacrificed his a-pawn to increase his piece activity, but black was solid and without weaknesses and he had enough compensation for equality at best. That wasn’t enough for him, he kept pushing and in mutual time trouble he overstepped the mark – Karjakin could have won, but he also erred so the game was back to normal and it should have ended in a draw. Yet after the time control Carlsen’s level dropped. Instead of taking the draw on several occassions, he allowed his position to become uncomfortable and missed his last (human) chance to draw on move 49 – you can see the details in the analysis below. For the first time in a World Championship match Carlsen is trailing and he only has 4 games to do something about it. Carlsen is known for playing so much stronger after a loss – it seems that a loss is sharpening his senses and motivates him to strike back. With Karjakin probably continuing with his strategy he may even opt to try and strike back immediately in Game 9, even though he will be black. Yet it is a Herculian task to beat Karjakin – he does make mistakes, but so does Carlsen – if only Carlsen managed to lift his level then he could capitalise on those mistakes, but so far he has been unable to do that. Plenty to think of during the rest day and I cannot wait to see what does he come up with, not only for Game 9, but also for the remaining of the match – he must change something, otherwise Karjakin’s cynical strategy will prevail and even though I must admit that every strategy that gives good results has a right to exist, I have always been in favour of positive and proactive approaches. Interesting games ahead!


Carlsen-Karjakin 2016 – Game 5

Apparently Karjakin didn’t manage to solve his inferiority complex during the rest day.

Carlsen changed the opening for a third time with white, this time going for the popular Giuoco Piano. I didn’t mention the Giuoco in my Preview of the match because I didn’t consider it serious enough for a big match, but it does have the potential for a one-game opening. And judging from Carlsen’s strategy when playing white, it appears that he will change the openings in every game – hence the Giuoco deservedly got its chance.
Karjakin was actually quite alright after the opening, perhaps the best position of all his black games so far. With the game dynamically balanced with chances for both sides and a full-blooded fight in sight Karjakin, perhaps not-so surprisingly anymore, went for the passive and prospectless option to take on c5 and transpose to a worse and defensible position. It is now safe to say that willingly going for these passive yet defensible positions is his match strategy. That shows his confidence in defending these positions (although coming so close to losing in the previous two games makes the whole strategy look extremely risky, but eventually the results are the only thing that matter) and his hope is to make Carlsen upset that he doesn’t win positions that he usually wins and then perhaps provoke him into excessive aggresion as a result of these failed attempts.
The game settled into the familiar pattern of Carlsen taking his time to improve his position while Karjakin sat back and banked on the opposite-coloured bishops. And then perhaps Karjakin’s strategy finally worked – Carlsen became too complacent, expecting only passivity of Karjakin and again, like in the previous game, didn’t show the necessary precision, only this time it meant underestimating Karjakin’s excellent plan of the king evacuation to c8 followed by g5. This was followed with the reckless 38 g4 and immediately after black’s next he was under attack. In positions with opposite-coloured bishops the side that attacks practically has an extra piece and defending such positions is incredibly difficult. For the first time in the match Carlsen found himself on the defensive and facing serious danger of actually losing. But Karjakin faltered and all ended well for the World Champion.

Here’s the game with light notes. I write this from the airport, as I’m on my way to the UK to play the first two rounds of the new 4NCL season for Cheddleton. Let’s hope we improve from last year when we finished second!


Carlsen-Karjakin 2016 – Game 4

Game 4 was even more winning for Carlsen than Game 3, but again he failed to nail it.

The openings of the first 4 games showed the contrary to what many experts predicted – that Karjakin will be the better prepared player. In all the games it was actually Carlsen who was springing surprises and coming out better off from the opening phase. In Game 4, after Karjakin went for the main line in the Spanish, he showed that he had prepared the Marshall for the match, an atypical choice for him you might think, as he’s been known to prefer lines which are less forced and explored, but that is not entirely true if you see his repertoire in the World Championship matches. In Sochi he prepared the Grunfeld and the QGD, both heavy theoretically. Now it’s the Marshall, another reliable weapon for black. As I wrote in my comments to Game 2, it is more difficult to avoid theory with black, especially if you want to be solid and Carlsen has shown his willingness to go down theoretical lines. In fact, it is Karjakin who is avoiding heavy theoretical discussions, quite contrary to pre-match expectations.
Carlsen didn’t employ his favourite Breyer maneuver this time and went for the set-up with Qd7, invented by Smyslov in the 1959 Candidates tournament (Smyslov played it in the basic position of the Closed Spanish). Karjakin didn’t achieve much but he showed ambition when he played the flashy 18 Bh6. How short-lived that was! After missing black’s next he seemed to panic and even though he spent 16 minutes on his 19th move he nevertheless committed an awful positional mistake. Such drastic changes of the inner state are sign of lack of confidence, he couldn’t objectively see that the position was still OK and he could continue normally. As if he had pre-programmed himself to be the inferior side, the one that needs to defend all the time, so he willingly went for it. And then he started to play normally! Karjakin’s inner state doesn’t promise him bright future in this match, even though he may be banking on the the old football maxim of “if you don’t score, you concede” working in his favour.
The game then entered the expected phase of Carlsen increasing his advantage and obtaining a winning position. People have criticised some of his decisions in this phase, mostly because they were looking at what the computers were saying. Bear in mind that this is a comparison to an entity playing at the strength of 3500 rating points – I think such comparisons are pointless since Carlsen’s play was more than enough to obtain a winning position against another exceptionally strong human being. Comparing human and computer play perhaps serves to get an “absolute” evaluation or solution, but that is for analytical purposes only, not to be abused in order to belittle the players.
And just when it seemed that Carlsen’s win was inevitable, he slipped. In his own words, he was “sloppy,” he didn’t delve deep enough to understand that he couldn’t break through. It was his conditioning that hurt him, he said it himself when he said that he “didn’t believe in fortresses.” He assumed there wouldn’t be one and spent only 5 minutes on such an important decision. While it is true that Karjakin did all he could, this time Carlsen has only himself to blame for his negligence. He missed in Game 3, he missed in Game 4, these things affect the player and he may even start to think that his opponent is magically invincible. I don’t think Carlsen will think that, but missing golden opportunities in a World Championship match is a luxury he cannot afford.
Both players will have something to think about during the rest day – Karjakin will have to deal with his inferiority complex, Carlsen with his carelessness. Will they manage?
Here’s the game with analysis.


Carlsen-Karjakin 2016 – Game 3

In Game 3 we finally saw the Berlin, or, rather, one of its most solid lines, 5 Re1.

After only two games it is possible to see the contours of Carlsen’s strategy with white: playing unexpected openings (that was obvious with the Trompowsky, the unexpected in Game 3 was the choice of a line that is known to be very drawish) he manages to find equally unexpected but far from innocuous new ideas that pose problems. The finest point of his preparation is that the computer always shows 0.00 and these ideas are easy to miss, while playing these positions over the board is anything but easy, even though they look deceptively drawish.

Karjakin discovered this for himself in Game 3. A rare move by Carlsen (10 Re2) and he was already out of book. The ensuing endgame looked simple, but if a defender like Karjakin managed to mess it up then it probably wasn’t. Don’t look at what the computer says, it’s always 0.00, an unpleasant 0.00 doesn’t mean anything to it. But Karjakin was patient and played well up until a point where he seemed to lose the patience from Game 1. Instead of continuing to play solid moves he lashed forward in search of active counterplay and miscalculated. This was surprising, as, after seeing Game 1 and the way he played up until move 30 in Game 3, I thought that his pre-match preparation was to learn how to defend these slightly passive yet defensible positions, akin to the learning Alekhine did before his match with Capablanca. And yet he lost the patience.

After losing the pawn Karjakin started doing what he does best – put up resistance. It was a very difficult endgame to play for both sides, for two reasons. There were many lines to calculate and it was difficult to evaluate the ensuing positions. Take for example the most characteristic moment, on move 42 – having a choice between two checks, 42 Rb8 and 42 Re5, Carlsen chose the latter and the weaker one because he misjudged the position after the exchange of the d-pawns. Again, if the the world’s best players misjudge positions then it means that these positions are extremely difficult to play. And difficult to play positions produce mistakes.

There were mistakes from both sides, Karjakin missing draws, Carlsen missing wins. Even the winning lines, when white manages to take the h-pawn and remain a piece up are still tricky – remember the 4th game of the match Kramnik-Kasparov when black (Kasparov) saved a position when he was a piece and a pawn down (rook, knight and pawn for Kramnik against a sole rook for Kasparov)? Here the material was similar, Karjakin had a pawn in addition to his rook and this saved him.

A grandiose battle and I expect more of these to come. Usually the player who has saved a lost position is the one who has the psychological advantage, but these things are fickle and can change at a moment’s notice. Game 4 will show us whether and how.

Here is Game 3 with analysis.

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