Sergey Karjakin has won the most extraordinary final you’ll ever witness to snatch the 2015 World Cup from Peter Svidler’s grasp. All ten games of the match were decisive, with swings, blunders and occasional outbreaks of fine chess combining to provide some wonderful entertainment, even if it’s unlikely to have won over many fans to the idea of deciding the World Championship this way. It was both a “circus” and “heartbreaking” for Svidler, while Karjakin called it “probably my best result in my life” and dedicated his victory to Vugar Gashimov.
We may have thought Karjakin’s amazing comeback from 2:0 down in the classical games was special, but that was just a gentle warm-up for the mayhem that followed in the tiebreak games. Sadly Jan Gustafsson can’t provide a video summary just now – he was busy travelling to Vienna for a simultaneous display by Magnus Carlsen on Tuesday – but let’s take a brief chronological glance through the games:
Peter Svidler’s experiment with passive defence with Black had ended in a debacle the day before, so in the first tiebreak game he got back to doing what he does best – playing active chess and happily sacrificing the odd pawn for the initiative. Soon he had a completely dominant position, but behind on the clock he failed to deliver a knockout blow - for instance:
39…Qf5! 40.Bg3 Rxa2!, exploiting the fact that the c2-rook is pinned to the queen, would have left him on the verge of victory. Instead Karjakin got back into the game and won a pawn, though it seemed as though opposite-coloured bishops would ensure a draw. That was counting without Karjakin’s icy composure and filigree technique, though, and the young Russian manoeuvred until he was ready to break through:
80.d5+! However Black captures there’s no way of stopping the white king from making its way to the black kingside pawns. There was probably still a study-like draw to be had for Svidler, but a rapid game playing on increment wasn’t the place to find it. He resigned on move 89.
Things were looking bleak for Svidler. He’d thrown away another good position and lost his third game in a row after going unbeaten in his previous 22.
Now, for the first time in the 2015 World Cup, he had to win on demand, but it seemed he had little out of the opening.
However, this is when Svidler reminded the world how he’d got to the final. When he picked up a pawn it looked very tough to make anything of it, but then Peter gave it back to force a position where his knight was dominating the black bishop. After exchanging queens he found the brilliant 41.Rb8!
White gives up a pawn with check, but the knight is headed to d7 via c5 to win a piece. Karjakin instead pre-empted that by giving up the exchange, but Svidler made easy work of the ending. It’s fair to say that the first two rapid games were the high point, in chess terms, of the day’s play.
A disastrous game for Karjakin saw him in trouble before move 10 and lost by move 20. Svidler was beginning to get into his stride and found a crushing blow:
23…Rxd2! - the key point was that 24.Rxc6 doesn't work due to the only move 24...Rxe2! Karjakin resigned on move 40.
So that was 7 games of the final that had ended decisively…
So, after a harrowing final, Svidler only needed a draw with White to finally win the 2015 World Cup. Surely this time he’d do it? Instead, though, he played the opening as badly as Karjakin had the game before. A Maroczy bind unravelled almost immediately and pawns began to drop off, though given the circumstances Svidler’s resignation in a position where he was “only” two pawns down seemed a little premature.
The match went on to 5-minute blitz games, with Armageddon looming on the horizon.
This is when it really became clear it wasn’t going to be Peter Svidler’s day. A keen student of Jan Gustafsson’s chess24 Marshall video series, Svidler followed Jan's recommendation until 17...Bg6:
Here Karjakin played not the mainline 18.g3 but the "novelty" 18.Bc2?, one unlikely to repeated any time soon since it all but loses on the spot to 18…Nxc3!. Instead Peter spent almost half of his five minutes on the dubious 18…b4?! 19.c4 b3 20.Bd1! (perhaps the move Svidler had missed). Karjakin was soon well on top, but then all hell broke loose. 29.Rb1? was another blunder by White:
Svidler spotted the flaw instantly with 29…Qxb1 (29…Bxf3! may be even better) 30.Qxh5 Bxf2+! 31.Kxf2 Qb6+ and Black was up an exchange. Not only that, Peter had a huge advantage on the clock and seemed on the verge of another black win. Then, however, the gods deserted him. We got to witness a blunder that made all that had come before look flawless…
You can watch the blunder, and Peter’s reaction, on the live broadcast:
It was almost a disaster for the grandmaster father of a new-born child:
For a fellow Russian grandmaster that inexplicable blunder was the straw that broke the camel's back:
Peter himself would later share some “priceless” advice he was given after his blunder in a won position in the third classical game:
Svidler: “For those who understand )) – a screenshot from Saturday evening”. The screenshot shows: Vassily: “I’d also like to give you a useful tip – this is important – don’t blunder any more rooks”
How on earth do you come back from a blow like that?
Well, Peter did pretty well, getting just the kind of position he needed to press for a win.
In his first must-win game with White he’d successfully simplified and managed to win in technical style. He went for a repeat of that approach here with 22.Qxd5, exchanging queens, but this time Karjakin whipped up real activity and despite some extremely tricky chess from Svidler Black’s defences held. Instead 22.Qd1!, keeping the queens on the board and switching the queen to the kingside next move, looked like the way to go.
Karjakin needed only a draw but went on to win, ensuring the final will go down in history for a staggering sequence of all ten decisive games. And that was that – Sergey Karjakin was the last of 128 players standing after 25 days and 433 games in Baku.
The shell-shocked players attended one last press conference before the closing ceremony. Karjakin noted that logic had gone out the window in the final:
First of all I can say about today’s match that completely anything could happen. He could win, I could win. It was just an almost random match. Still, of course I’m very happy to win this event. This is probably my best result in my life, so I’m just very happy and I’m looking forward to the Candidates Tournament.
Karjakin thanked his fans and his wife for their support, but also made a special dedication to Sarkhan Gashimov and his brother Vugar, who died tragically young:
[Sarkhan] gave me some very useful advice and thanks to him I managed to win this match. Of course I’d like to dedicate today’s win to Vugar Gashimov, because we were very close friends and one of the very last words he told me was that I should play for two – as if instead of him – and today’s victory is our joint victory.
For Peter Svidler is was a bitter-sweet end to his 2015
World Cup campaign, with the emphasis on the bitter, for now:
I tend to agree with what Sergey said, but for me of course the main feeling is a feeling of regret, because I had so many opportunities to close out this match. If I didn’t do it I didn’t deserve it, obviously, but it’s unpleasant, because I was winning in one move in Game 3 in classical. Ok, Game 4 is best forgotten, but today once again I couldn’t manage to make a draw with White and then I had opportunities in the last two games as well - in both of them. Because we were so tired the level of play dropped compared to the previous rounds quite significantly and I was basically given an opportunity in more or less every single game and I took some of them, and I completely failed to take more. So in the end Sergey made fewer mistakes and he’s a deserved winner, but for me of course it’s a bit bitter-sweet, because of course I wanted to qualify for the Candidates, but having done that to not win a match I did not win here in the final is a bit heart-breaking… but I’ll live!
Peter was later asked if the ten decisive games meant they’d found the recipe to prevent the draw death of chess:
Basically the recipe for solving the drawing problem in chess is very simple – you take two reasonably strong players, you make them completely exhausted and then you make them play a long match, and you will get results, as you have all seen, but I don’t think this match is any kind of representation of the future of chess, or even the present of chess. It was just a little bit of a circus in the Roman sense of the word. Lions either won or lost. It’s up to the public to decide whether lions won or lost. It was a very specific set of circumstances.
He also noted to a question on applause after each game:
We’re providing entertainment, but I would prefer to deserve slightly more of that applause.
Both players took to Twitter after the final, with Sergey struggling to believe it was really over:
For the first time in my life I took part not in a chess match but a real brawl!
Svidler unleashed a stream of tweets (here combined):
‘twas not to be
…but were you not entertained?
Congrats to @SergeyKaryakin, he kept his nerve better when it counted – which made all the difference in the end
If you miss as many shots at an open goal as I did in the final, you don’t deserve to win
Lawrence Trent’s life was already in danger after a minor misunderstanding meant he congratulated Svidler on World Cup victory after Game 2 of the final. And now?
Congratulations, commiserations and reflections on the extraordinary show poured in:
So where do the players go from there, and how do we fill the gaping hole in our lives left by the World Cup starting at the same time each day for so many days? Well, for starters both Peter Svidler and Sergey Karjakin had said they’ll play in the World Rapid and Blitz Championship in Berlin this weekend, with Magnus Carlsen, Vishy Anand and Vladimir Kramnik among the other notable names in attendance!
Yeah, I think I’ll probably play. It feels slightly ridiculous, but I’ve given the organisers my word, so I normally don’t really take these things back. It’s not ideal after a tournament like this, especially with the final the way it went and you would normally want to crawl into a hole and spend a week there, but it’s not an option so we will have to make do.
Millionaire Chess, with the US dream team of Hikaru Nakamura, Fabiano Caruana and Wesley So topping the line-up, also takes place this coming weekend, with events like Poikovsky, the PokerStars Isle of Man and the Monte Carlo Women’s Grand Prix ensuring there’s hardly a moment free from top quality chess.
Chess life goes on!