Category : Tournaments

Sochi Impressions

Several days ago I was invited to open the first Archibald Chess Professional tournament, organised by the Archibald Chess Company in Sochi, Russia.

While I didn’t get to see much of Sochi, there was plenty of action on the boards. It is so much different when you follow a tournament from a playing hall (even when not playing) as opposed to sitting at home and doing it online.

When I am in the playing hall, looking at the games in progress I have a much sharpened feeling for what is going on. The opening ideas are much more valuable than when I see a game in a database from home – with an engine running it is so much easier to discard many interesting ideas that you can only fully “humanely” understand if you look at with with your own eyes and process it with your own brain.

Below I present fragments from the games that left impressions of different kinds.

There are no more easy Rounds 1 in opens and many surprises are not surprises anymore. Here’s what happened to GM Bogdanovich against IM Yandarbiev (who has a surprisingly low rating).

I have noticed that players who win in the early rounds without apparently deserving to do so usually do very well later in the tournament. The rationale I have understood is that when points come even when the play isn’t on a high level, will continue to come when the play returns and the player starts to play on his usual level. After 6 Rounds Bogdanovich was leading with 5/6 (losing only to Kovalenko).

Some players like to take risks against lower-rated opponents. This may work, as it did for Timur Gareyev who played the Schara-Hennig Gambit against Margarita Potapova.

The opening of the following game was interesting to watch for 2 reasons: first, White was playing a-tempo until he got a winning position, and second, it appeared that Black made all the logical moves and yet ended up positionally lost after 16 moves.

The opening of the following game was very curious: I wasn’t sure whether Black was blundering or provoking White.

When the strongest players started playing each other some interesting opening ideas appeared. For example, I didn’t know of Black’s 6th move in the Exchange Variation in the Caro-Kann. This game was the duel between the sole leader Kovalenko on 3/3 and one of the other rating favourites Alekseev.

In the same round Russian talent and hope Esipenko lost again (the other game I had in mind was the crucial one from the European Individual in Round 10 against eventual winner Artemiev) in the same line of the Fianchetto Grunfeld to Stupak. Perhaps time to change the line?

There were quite a few more interesting examples, but you get the point. When you are in the hall everything is interesting, because on every board there is tension and struggle and you feel it, something that is easy to forget when sitting at home behind a screen.

The internet has allowed us to follow games from all over the world in real time, but watching the games in person is a different experience. Things are much more personal when you observe the position on the board together with the players who are playing it and this personal experience is probably the closest thing to playing yourself.

Now that I have returned home and I follow the games on the internet I try not to forget the feeling from Sochi and be more understanding of the players. It is more human like that.

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Refutation of the Gothenburg Variation

Or perhaps I should have named this post “How to Make a Draw Among Friends?”

The ongoing tournament in Ivory Coast, part of the Grand Chess Tour, saw the game Karjakin-Nepomniachtchi in Round 1. It featured the Gothenburg Variation of the Najdorf.

A line with rich history and alas, no future. Introduced in Round 14 of the Gothenburg Interzonal in 1955 by the Argentinian trio of Najdorf, Pilnik and Panno in the games against the Soviet players Keres, Spassky and Geller, respectively, it was handsomely met by the spectacular move 13 Bb5! (first played by Geller, as the story goes) and it resulted in the Argentinian fiasco with three beautiful wins for the Soviets.

It was considered that the line was refuted by this move, but three years later, citing sources from a Soviet magazine, 15-year old Bobby Fischer improved with the incredible 13…Rh7! in the crucial game against Gligoric in the last round of yet another Interzonal (in Portoroz) to secure qualification for the Candidates Tournament in 1959. (Another story goes that Fischer actually asked Gligoric about this line at some point earlier in the tournament – while swimming – and Gligoric said he didn’t know much about it.)

Fischer’s move is considered best even nowadays and the analyses have shown that this line ends in a draw. This has been known for a very long time.

However, another thing has also been known for a very long time. And that is the fact that the move 11 Qh5! (instead of the flashy sacrifice 11 Ne6) leads to an advantage for White, thus basically refuting the Gothenburg Variation.

Here’re the details (note that I’m using lichess for this one as chess.com has been having some issues with the game viewer):

Please bear in mind that by “refutation” I don’t necessarily mean a lost position for Black, but rather a prospectless position at the end of the line, making the whole variation unappealing to play. Similarly, you can take a look at another refutation here.

It is quite apparent that both Karjakin and Nepomniachtchi played this “game” in order to make a spectacular draw, as I am pretty sure that both knew the best way how to play against the Gothenburg Variation.

Some time ago Carlsen brought up the subject of these kind of “games” and it gave rise to some controversy with the accused Karjakin and Mamedyarov denying vehemently. But if you have been in the business for long enough, you learn to detect these things and understand what is happening under the surface.

Circumstances aside, bringing up the forgotten page from chess history, the Gothenburg Variation, is something I appreciate, so thanks to both players for that. After all, they could have played the Exchange Slav instead…

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Kramnik

I am not sure how I felt the moment I read that Vladimir Kramnik was retiring. But I am sure that the next day I was sad.

If I could condense into one single word what I feel and think about the man that word would be respect. He earned it when he beat The Unbeatable in 2000 without losing a game. Nobody else could do that, it had to be him. Smyslov’s theory that World Champions are born immediately came to mind and it definitely applies to Kramnik.

Whenever I would check games from a tournament I would always check Kramnik’s games first. Because of the openings. If you want to see the state of theory, not the present, but also the future, you should look at Kramnik. What he does, everybody else does next.

Two things – beating Kasparov and enriching theory. That’s Kramnik for me in a nutshell.

I have followed Kramnik from the very beginning. Not surprising if you take into consideration that he is only half a year older than me. I remember the orange cover of the Russian 64 magazine with the report from the junior match Yugoslavia-USSR in 1991. Kramnik played in that one. The next year he scored 8.5/9 at the Manila Olympiad, won gold medal, both individual and team, and became a star.

In 2015 the European Club Cup was held in Skopje. A very good friend of mine managed to arrange an interview with Kramnik. But he couldn’t do it while in Skopje and told us to contact him in a few days when he would be home. Our thoughts – no chance he’s taking that call.

But he did! He didn’t know us, yet he spent several hours (!!) talking to us on all possible subjects. His kids were running in the background, but Big Vlad with big headphones on his head was having a video call with some guys he saw for the first (or second, in the case of my friend who arranged the interview) time in his life. RESPECT!

One of the things he didn’t know, and something we informed him about during the interview, was the existence of Kramnik humour. He loved it. In case you haven’t heard of it, here’s a glimpse:

  • When Kramnik was invited to the Melody Amber blindfold tournament for the first time he couldn’t understand what the difference was.
  • In 1991 Kramnik was surprised to learn that the Berlin wall has fallen and promised he will fix it soon.
  • Kramnik was named the best painter of all times since no one can match his drawing technique.
  • Russia is working on a new supercomputer with an exceptional hard drive since no other machine can store Kramnik’s analyses.
  • Houdini managed to beat Rybka after studying Kramnik’s games.
  • Magnus Carlsen is so popular in Norway he even got an invitation to the TV show “Who Wants to be Vladimir Kramnik”.
  • Even God is afraid of playing Kramnik. The games always end in a draw, but Kramnik still knows how to put pressure on his opponent.
  • While Kramnik’s classmates were busy proving the Pythagorean theorem, little Vova proved that chess is a draw.

I’ve often been critical of Kramnik’s play in the last period, especially at the Berlin Candidates and since, but now it all has a different meaning.

Kramnik said he came to this decision a few months ago. So Wijk must have felt like a last round on the merry-go-round. Like a kid, he wanted it to last as long as possible. He knew that when the music stops he will come down never to go back again. He wanted to make it memorable, he wanted to squeeze the last single drop of joy out of it. Because it was the last one.

It is a pity to finish a stellar career with a last place in a tournament, but that doesn’t matter anymore. Vladimir Kramnik did it his way, from start to finish.

Kasparov said that only the player knows when it’s time to go. And Vladimir Kramnik always knew what he was doing.

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Wijk aan Zee 2019 Impressions

After Round 8 we have a very curious situation in Wijk aan Zee – we have World Champions on both ends of the standings.

The last two World Champions are leading the field with 5.5/8. The one before them is dead-last with 2/8.

While the results of the current World Champion are not surprising, I would like to take a closer look at what his two predecessors are doing.

It was Mikhail Botvinnik who first wrote of the need for “auto-programming” (as he called it) as a player ages. He was the first one to do so scientifically – before him Lasker was also very successful at an old age, but he never wrote about it. Botvinnik took into consideration the changes in his body and mind and successfully adapted to these by adjusting his style and approach and this helped him remain at the very top until his retirement at the age of 59.

At the very top of today’s chess pyramid we have Vishy Anand and Vladimir Kramnik as the oldest players. Anand is 49, Kramnik is 43. It is surprising that of the two it is Anand who followed Botvinnik’s path rather than Kramnik, who was a student of the Patriarch.

The most notable differences as a player ages are his decreasing energy, mental stamina and deterioration of calculational abilities. It is possible to compensate for these by training hard, but training can only get the player so far.

Anand went Botvinnik’s way. He adapted his style to power-saving mode, using his exceptional opening preparation to keep him safe and not minding draws. His results have therefore been consistent, mostly around the 50% mark but when things went his way he managed to win a tournament or two. Most importantly, he practically never had a disastrous result. Things are apparently going his way in Wijk and by beating both Kramnik and world’s number 4 Mamedyarov he is leading the field.

What Kramnik decided to do is completely the opposite. Instead of adjusting in the direction of energy-saving he upped the energy-consumption sky-high.

In a way, I find Kramnik’s decision akin to Roger Federer’s. With age Roger became a much more aggressive player, going to the net often with the idea to shorten the game points. He reasoned that with shorter game points the matches would also be shorter, which would suit him when playing younger players with more stamina, especially when having to meet them in several matches in a row.

While Roger had great success I doubt that Kramnik will achieve the same. What Kramnik achieved was a transformation of his style into one of the most exciting one. Even though his openings have remained the same (especially with Black, the Berlin, the various Queen’s Gambits etc.) he continuously manages to inject life into all positions – even an Anti-Berlin is guaranteed to spring to life if Kramnik is playing it.

The above change of style is great for the audience, but bad for the man himself. The high tension and strain that he provokes in his games makes him vulnerable when facing young and very precise-calculating players. Even though Kramnik calculates excellently, he often cannot sustain that level for the duration of the whole game and this leads to drops in the quality of his moves. The young are then unforgiving. A typical example was his game with Giri from Round 2. Still early in the tournament, so he couldn’t have been tired, yet he faltered in a very promising position.

Even though Kramnik repeatedly states that he enjoys the way he’s playing, I can assure you that no player enjoys being trashed. As any World Champion, Kramnik has an extremely high self-esteem and self-confidence and this unfortunately leads him to loss of objectivity. Perhaps the clearest case of this was his play and behaviour at the Berlin Candidates, but in Wijk he has displayed similar erratic judgement.

In a way Kramnik’s 14 g4 reminds me of Alekhine’s 7 g4 from the 7th game of the first match against Euwe, but I’d still say that Alekhine’s move was more positionally justified!

If Anand’s controlled way assures him against disasters, Kramnik’s gung-ho approach is one that invites them. Not only in individual games, but also in tournaments. With his current result Kramnik is losing 20 rating points and has dropped to number 14 on the live rating list. Anand is number 6.

Kramnik has always been one of my favourite players and it is sad to see him beaten as a result of his own attempts to “have fun.” I am afraid that once out of the Top 10 he is not coming back in. He has made a conscious decision to alter his style and he will not change it. Alas, his style suits his younger opponents better than it suits him. And he won’t have “fun” for much longer after getting repeatedly beaten.

Looking at the results of Anand and Kramnik it appears that Botvinnik was right. One must adapt to advancing age.

As a final thought, an idea I had as why Kramnik changed and started playing as if he’s a Tal reincarnate. Perhaps he does it now to compensate for the fact that he never played like that in his youth? Perhaps he always wanted to play like that but he couldn’t because he was always trying to achieve something and for that he needed to play in a way that brought results and minimised the risk of a loss? Perhaps without anything to strive for anymore he just wants to feel free of the constraints of his positional style? Who knows. And Kramnik will never tell.

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Carlsen-Caruana, WCh 2018 – Tie-Break

It was one-sided, even though it shouldn’t have been.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing. It seems like a stroke of genius now, that draw offer in Game 12. It is all justified looking backwards, there is no argument against success.

And that success was achieved today in a clean sweep. It seemed effortless and dominant, yet things were not like that before the games began.

I am convinced that Caruana did his best (and probably more than that) to improve his skills at rapid chess. He even started to show them in Game 1 as he managed to escape from a lost position. But then disaster stroke.

Carlsen’s opening in Game 1 was very shrewd. He was doing quite well in the Rossolimo in the match so what he basically did was play the same Rossolimo with White! It was amazing how quickly this brought him a winning position.

This game was the one that decided everything. Caruana pulled a miraculous escape, but unfortunately faltered at the end, when all the hard work was done and one more precise move was required. As I write in the comments, had he managed it would have broken the whole narrative of him being the hopeless underdog. It would have proven that he is at least equal in rapids and the match would have been open. All his hard preparatory hard work would have been rewarded. But it wasn’t meant to be. He erred and Carlsen won.

As he admitted in the press conferece, this first win was crucial as it gave him the necessary confidence. In spite of what everybody is saying, Carlsen still needs a win to reaffirm that confidence. And he got it when he needed it most.

In the second game Caruana at one point decided to go all in. As if he lacked the patience for a long struggle, he wanted a quick revenge. Alas, his lunge was premature and he was severely punished.

A brutal game after which the match was practically over. It rubbed in even further the whole narrative of the hopelessness of playing rapid with Carlsen, made Carlsen almost certain to win the match and killed Caruana’s spirits. But still, it was a very fine line between success and failure. Caruana’s attempt was a very ambitious one and he tried his luck, just that he was playing already-confident Carlsen who managed to refute his idea.

The third game was a wonderfully controlled game by Carlsen. Needing a draw he played in exactly the same manner as in the final rapid game of his tie-break with Karjakin in 2016. No main line Sicilians, a sideline giving him a space advantage and then carefully making sure nothing bad happens. This is how must-draw games should be played. And for the other player, when faced with this type of controlled play, the win-at-all costs attitude usually ends in a loss as he tries to avoid a draw at the expense of worsening his position.

Caruana could have easily drawn this game, but that wouldn’t have changed anything. What was important in this game was that Carlsen always kept things under control and never allowed Caruana to even come close to creating chances for a win. An exemplary game.

So after a 100% drawn classical part of the match we had 100% decisive rapid tie-break. The “small” things worked in Carlsen’s favour in the latter and he will remain a World Champion for the next two years. This was by far the most evenly contested World Championship match in recent history and it was also one with a very high level of play throughout. The opportunities were few and far between and even when they arose they were extremely complicated to capitalise upon.

At the end I am curious about two questions. Carlsen himself admits that in the last few years he has been stagnating and not playing his best. Will this triumph spur him to solve that problem or will he rest on his laurels?

Caruana showed that he is at least equal to the World Champion in classical chess. He is automatically seeded in the 2020 Candidates tournament. Will this defeat spur him to improve even further and try again to dethrone Carlsen?

Two years is a long time, but they will pass in no time.

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Carlsen-Caruana, WCh 2018 – Game 12

This was definitely not the end of the match I expected.

Staying loyal to their principles and preparation the last game saw another Sveshnikov. The last time a Sicilian was played in a World Championship final game that was decisive for the outcome was the famous 24th game of the 1985 match between Karpov and Kasparov. Back then it was the Najdorf/Scheveningen, this time a Sveshnikov.

The opening went Carlsen’s way. He varied from the theoretically more sound 8…Nb8 from Games 10 and 8 and chose 8…Ne7. I remember that this was considered dubious since the match Yudasin-Kramnik, but theory doesn’t stand still and Carlsen’s choice means that the move is quite reliable – otherwise he wouldn’t have chosen it in such a responsible moment.

Carlsen’s choice was also a shrewd one. The line offers White the possibility to repeat the position and make a draw immediately. From the time spent in this moment it was clear that Caruana was seriously considering it. He was somewhat surprised by Carlsen’s choice and the temptation to end it there and then must have been great.

Yet after spending more than 20 minutes Caruana displayed character and decided to play on. This is worthy of praise. In the most important game of his career so far he was faced with a World Champion’s preparation and he still decided to try his luck and attempt to outplay him. Quite the contrary to what Carlsen did in his 12th game against Karjakin.

Unfortunately, Caruana didn’t follow up his courage with good play and he drifted into a very unpleasant position. His problems started when he envisioned the plan or Rh2-c2. It did seem as it should ensure against queenside problems, but he misevaluated the position.

And then we saw the real attitude Carlsen brought to the game. Instead of using any of the several very promising opportunities to open the game and play for a win, he consistently chose options that were limiting in their character and were aimed at keeping his position as safe as possible.

Carlsen was afraid of taking a risk in the decisive game. He got a fantastic position which was risk-free and he still refused to play for a win. Before the game he decided that draw was what he wanted and even when something more was possible he didn’t want to go for it.

Quite a surprising trait on display, but people show their true colours when under pressure. And Carlsen showed he was human, he was scared of losing. He was afraid of staking everything on a single game.

Chess usually finds a way to punish for the missed chances. The worst of those are the ones that were not taken deliberately. Carlsen feels more comfortable now, having 4 (and not 1) games to decide the match, but will the price he paid for this comfort be too high? What if the score after the 3 rapids is 1.5-1.5? It will again depend on a single game, does he think he can do better then?

In the battle of characters Caruana won today. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean anything for the tie-break on Wednesday. Or perhaps it does?

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Carlsen-Caruana, WCh 2018 – Game 11

Carlsen really decided to shut it down for his last White game.

It started very promising. Carlsen’s 1 e4 was met with the Petroff and this time he went for one of the most critical lines, the modern 5 Nc3. Caruana deviated slightly from his usual repertoire, instead of 9…c6, as he played against Robson at the last US Championship and against Aronian at the Olympiad, he went for the less common 9…Nf6.

This must have been expected by Carlsen and I find his statement that he was surprised in the opening hard to believe. Carlsen went for mass simplifications soon enough with 12 Kb1. This meant two things: 1. Black is OK in the sharper lines after 12 Bg5 and 2. Carlsen wanted to keep it as safe as possible and draw the game, not dissimilar to the 12th game in the match with Karjakin.

In fact this game was the most devoid of content compared to all the previous ones. It really reminds me so much of the 12th game of Carlsen’s match with Karjakin. Just that in London there is one more game to go and I doubt Caruana thinks along the same lines as Carlsen, eargerly awaiting a tie-break.

Usually cynically playing for a draw is punished in chess. I remember only one match (but I may be wrong) where one player was cynically playing for a draw with White and got away with it. Drawing the games in 11, 17 and 25 moves with White was Kramnik and the match was the Candidates match Kramnik-Yudasin in 1994. Kramnik won with Black in Game 1 and didn’t feel the need to try for anything with White. Yudasin was in awful form in that match and instead of levelling the score he lost another one with White, so Kramnik won the match with two Black wins and the score of 4.5-2.5. (Coincidentally, Yudasin also played the move 7 Nd5 against the Sveshnikov in that match).

Obviously things are different here, I was only sharing the analogy this game brought. Still, letting Caruana off the hook so easily doesn’t seem like the right thing.

From the matches where the score was level before the last game – Botvinnik-Bronstein (1951), Botvinnik-Smyslov (1954), Karpov-Korchnoi (1978), Kramnik-Topalov (2006), Anand-Topalov (2010) and Carlsen-Karjakin (2016) only Karpov (with White) and Anand (with Black) managed to win that crucial last game.

There is a free day before the last game and I am pretty sure Caruana will take advantage of it to become the third player on the above list. Whether he will succeed is another question.

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Carlsen-Caruana, WCh 2018 – Game 10

Another game I watched live at the venue.

It is incredible how the impression of seeing the game without (or sparse) engine input affects the whole experience. As you will see in the comments below, the humans observing often liked one or the other only to learn that it was all “just equal.”

Caruana went for the same line in the Sveshnikov and in spite of his opening success in the previous game it was him who introduced the novelty. I think that Carlsen knew what he was doing and again we saw a very unbalanced position where Carlsen was aiming to attack the king while Caruana was trying to control it and win on the queenside.

The game seemed to be full of ups and downs while computer analysis suggests that the players played on an exceptionally high level with very little deviations from the optimal line. This was an amazing discovery that just confirmed to me how strong these two are. Under such tension and for so high stakes they still manage to produce moves of the highest quality.

I was in fact surprised that Carlsen repeated the Sicilian. I thought that with the match nearing its end he would opt for something safer. But on second thought I realised that this would have been an admission of fear and lack of confidence, which is an awful sign to send to the other side.

And the Sicilian didn’t disappoint. Caruana was also principled and allowed an attack with the hope to be able to control it and win with his passed a-pawn. The way both players managed to both further their own play and limit their opponent’s is worthy of high praise. This meant that neither Carlsen got his attack going as much as he wanted, nor Caruana got to push his a-pawn very far.

This fine fencing on the whole board led to an equal endgame that didn’t look equal. With his central pawn mass it looked better for Black. But Caruana knew better, or he knew just as good as the engine, that entering there he would have no problems.

In fact it was Carlsen who made a careless slip (quite uncharacteristic) and allowed some unpleasantries, but it was all manageable.

Another draw, 5-5, with two games to go. Each has one White left and I am not sure whether we will see a turn towards safety or they will try to use their last chance to win before the overtime. Somehow this is more relevant for Caruana, who will have White in the last game, because the games when he is White are much sharper and more volatile. Will he want to have such a game in Game 12?

Carlsen’s White games were more controlled, so I expect the same sort of sustained attempted pressure in Game 11, as long as he manages to find an idea similar to the last one. If he gets something similar, then it will very uncomfortable for Caruana to suffer like that in his last Black game.

With a free day coming up, both will work hard on their last attempts. It only remains to be seen how serious these attempts will be.

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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.

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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!

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