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.

Alex Colovic
A professional player, coach and blogger. Grandmaster since 2013.
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