Carlsen-Caruana, WCh 2018 – Game 9

What a day. I spent the whole day in (and out) of the playing hall in Holborn College.

I went to all the possible places: the scene where they play, the media centre, the VIP room, the live commentary room. I can tell you that the World Championship atmosphere “from the inside” is something quite different.

The busiest place is of course the media room. All the chess journalists you have ever heard of are there. They are all working on their laptops preparing the review you (and I) are reading after every game.

The social aspect is what makes visiting the match such an occasion for me. Talking to all the people I know, making plans, discussing various ideas, staying in touch – personal contact is what makes the chess world go round and what a better place for it than the World Championship match! To give you an idea how important is to be here, the new FIDE President is expected to come to the game tomorrow for Game 10.

However, as a chess professional, there is one drawback to being in the buzz of things – it is not possible to concentrate on following the game itself. From time to time I would patch a few minutes when I could concentrate on the screen and then try to think a bit about the position, but it was not enough to follow the whole game through. Even the random exchange of lines with Nigel Short in the VIP room is just that, random. Quite different from following the game from home with full concentration.

So after the long day and coming back to my friend’s place in London I had a better look at the game. And from what I saw it seems to be a game in line with all the previous ones where one of the players had a chance for more – one moment, one chance, but also one that is so difficult to take and was missed.

Carlsen returned to the English Opening. I argue that he was hoping for a repeat of Game 4 when he could show a fresh idea. Caruana obliged, a risky decision, but one that shows infinite belief in his preparation. This allowed Carlsen to show his idea and soon enough Caruana was feeling uncomfortable enough. He was also some 50 minutes down on the clock and this led him to look for simplifications that led to a position where Carlsen thrives.

And yet, in spite of the static advantages White had at his disposal, he felt the urge to act quickly. Carlsen wanted to prevent Black’s defensive set-up of putting the pawns on light squares, but this prevention turned out to be worse than the disease. It allowed Caruana to force further simplifications and draw the game.

Usually lack of patience in statically advantageous positions is a bad sign. It shows lack of nerves, which are required to carefully build up the pressure. But I also understand Carlsen’s haste, probably he felt it would be impossible to break through if he allowed Black’s set-up. Still, allowing Black to escape easily from what seemed like a position ideal for an hours-long torture feels like a missed chance.

With three games remaining and two Whites for the Challenger, plus this escape from an unpleasant position, things look slightly brighter for Caruana. The match has been so much about tiny advantages and miniscule advances and with single-opportunity chances from time to time, all it takes to resolve it can be one bad move.

Still, I won’t hold my breath waiting for it.

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