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.

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