Carlsen-Caruana, WCh 2018 – Game 8
The first open Sicilian proved that it was worth waiting for. If only they started playing it from Game 1…
It became obvious to Team Caruana that Carlsen was feeling more comfortable in the maneuvering positions arising from the Rossolimo, something I argued in my comments to Game 3. It was time to change and there was no other option but the open Sicilian.
It wasn’t really a big surprise that Carlsen went for the Sveshnikov, as there aren’t many reliable options in the Sicilian at this level. In fact, after 2…Nc6 it is only the Sveshnikov (and after 2…d6 it’s the Najdorf). The real surprise was Caruana’s choice of 7 Nd5 instead of the main line with 7 Bg5. We again see the desire of the players to spring a surprise as soon as possible.
When it comes to opening theory it always pays to follow what Vladimir Kramnik does. Lately he has started to play 1 e4 more often and at the Olympiad in Batumi he had to face the Sveshnikov against the Serbian GM Roganovic. Guess what Kramnik played on move 7?
Yes, Caruana followed in Kramnik’s footsteps, but Carlsen went for the theoretically best move 8…Nb8 (instead of the Roganovic’s choice of 8…Ne7, which is considered dubious – in fact Kramnik was getting dubious positions after that move in Games 1 and 3 of his Candidates match against Yudasin back in 1994, though he managed to win one and draw the other. In Game 7 of that match he switched to 8…Nb8.)
Caruana was playing fast while Carlsen seemed to struggle to remember his preparation. But things were more or less normal until move 18 when Carlsen played the very risky move 18…g5. I am convinced that he mixed something up as the move opened his king and allowed White to open up the position in the centre with forceful play.
Caruana spent more than half an hour on the strong 21 c5 but three moves later he missed his chance. He had a choice of two very good moves, both promising him big advantage, but he failed to navigate the complications (in spite of his exceptional calculational abilities) and let Carlsen off the hook. After this moment the game quickly simplified and was drawn.
A game with mixed feelings for both players. Caruana finally managed to pin down Carlsen in the opening with a rare idea and put tremendous pressure, but failed to capitalise on it. Carlsen messed up his preparation, but saved half a point.
After the rest day Carlsen is White and this time I expect a much better opening preparation by him. In fact, I expect something similar to what Caruana did in this game, finally putting pressure on the Challenger in the opening, only I cannot say how that will look – a main line in the Petroff or the QGD or something completely unrelated. For this one though, I will be in the playing hall to witness it live!