Category : Tournaments

Total Domination

Carlsen is winning everything.

I have to admit that I like that. I enjoyed watching Kasparov win everything in the 90s. Perhaps I feel that chess is a game of kings and it needs a proper king to rule and show his strength.

In 1959 the third round (from rounds 15-21) of the Candidates Tournament was held in Zagreb. It was in Zagreb that Tal overtook Keres and established a point and a half lead over his main competitor.

It is exactly 60 years later (thanks to efforts of the world-famous Croat Garry Kasparov) that an event comprised of only elite players returned to Zagreb. In 1959 there were 8 candidates, in 2019 11 players from the top of the rating list.

The results of both tournaments were identical. One player showed absolute superiority. If Tal brought dynamism and creating a mess to the fore, Carlsen’s current domination is a result of a successful reinvention of himself.

There are several factors that Carlsen changed that made him the irresistible force that he is right now. Here I would like to take a look at one of them. His Opening Preparation.

Ever since the match with Caruana the Sveshnikov Sicilian has been Carlsen’s main opening against 1 e4. The Sveshnikov offers rich dynamic possibilities in many lines and coupled with the thorough preparation made before the World Championship match, which included practice games and serious memorisation of all the prepared lines, it has been a fantastic choice for Carlsen.

However, there are a few lines in the Sveshnikov where Black’s counterplay is stymied and I’m surprised why they haven’t been tried against him more often. For example:

Carlsen’s choice of the Sveshnikov shows his changed approach towards his Black games. Fischer once said that a dramatic change in his career happened when he realised he could play for a win with Black too. Now Carlsen is doing the same.

An illustration of this is that even in the rare cases when he’s not playing the Sveshnikov, this aggressive and counter-attacking approach is shown in the other lines he’s choosing. Here’s what he played against Caruana in Zagreb:

When playing White Carlsen mostly varies between 1 c4 and 1 d4, in both cases with clear preference for closed games. In Zagreb he played 1 d4 in all but one game (in which he played 1 Nf3) and here again he is showing a lot of new ideas in the openings. Quite a fertile ground for his new ideas has been the Vienna (perhaps understandably so as it has been one of Caruana’s main openings prior to the match):

Carlsen has also shown his approach in the Grunfeld, preferring the line both Karpov and Kramnik successfully used in their matches against Kasparov, the line with Be3. His last round win in Zagreb against Vachier was deceptively smooth.

I find it difficult to understand what Vachier’s preparation consisted of here, as he immediately ended up in a worse position, but that doesn’t diminish Carlsen’s own.

As you can see, Carlsen is playing the main lines now! Not only that, he’s also introducing new ideas in these main lines and this gives him even bigger practical advantage than the previous Carlsen-style of avoiding theory and going for offbeat lines.

I see this shift towards playing the main lines as the single biggest evolution of Carlsen’s general approach to chess this year. As the positions he’s getting after the opening and his current results suggest, he has hit the bullseye. The players will of course adapt to the new Carlsen, but for now he’s flying as high as ever. Personally, I hope it continues for a long time.

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Anticlimactic Altibox 2019

I don’t understand why people start with the premise that a draw is bad.

When the premise is erroneous then everything that follows cannot be right. The way too many attempts at tinkering with the format of chess tournaments has led to mediocre at best results. The rationale has always been that the change is in order to make chess more televised, but that never happened.

Norway Chess saw the last attempt at “making chess more exciting.” But if people don’t find chess exciting as it is, no “end of the world” change will make it more exciting for them.

Still, with private endeavours the organisers are free to do whatever they like and they pay the fiddlers, so they will play.

And played they did. Even until the end of the world. I’m glad we saw “the end” very early in the tournament, in Round 1. The video of the Armageddon game between Aronian and Grischuk speaks louder (pun intended for the Spanish commentary) than words.

I have always seen chess as a game with dignity. And where is the dignity when the noble game is reduced to panicky piece throwing and chasing with seconds left on the clock? Why are we reducing ourselves and our game to park hustling? Why do we expect that by dumbing down our game and making the players clowns we will be able to sell it to a wider, usually not very interested, audience? If we don’t respect ourselves, do we really expect the rest of the world will?

The format of the tournament followed the same idea. A win in the classical game is worth 2 points and a win in the Armageddon 1.5. So why sweat for hours for an extra half a point when you can make a quick draw, Grischuk’s 15-move draw with So an exquisite example, guarantee yourself half a point and then pray to the gods of television to give you the extra point, even by drawing with Black in a completely winning position.

Following up on the absurdity of the point system, Ding Liren scored an undefeated +2 in classical, the same results as winner Magnus Carlsen, and yet finished 6th (!) behind players who had 50% score in the classical. Surely the classical should weigh more? But probably not.

The most absurd was of course the draw with Black counting as a win. By trying to eliminate the draw the format in fact encouraged an even more bizzare occurence – the players offered draws in winning positions because a draw was in fact a win! That’s Armageddon indeed. If I can somehow understand the need for it after a lot of played games at different time controls in a World Cup, here it was just a mockery of the game and the players. I read a good joke in a forum that suggested that the draws in the Armageddon should be replayed with classical time control.

I am sure that there were many who enjoyed watching these games. I didn’t. Because I don’t like to see the game and the world’s best players dragged down and paid to perform to a whim. Does anybody still remember the “new classic“? That one was also inspired by the same ideals of making chess “more interesting” and we see now how it ended.

History has shown that there is no shortcut to making chess popular or interesting to the masses. It has always been the game of kings. Changing the rules, the formats or putting players in VR suits are cheap stunts that don’t work. What works is a long-term strategy of education and positive public image by emphasising the benefits of chess. By doing this long enough we will start to see our game become even more popular. Unless we shoot ourselves in the foot too often and induce the end of the world prematurely.

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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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