Reports Nov 23, 2018 | 12:38 PMby Colin McGourty

Carlsen-Caruana 10: Too much at stake

Magnus Carlsen said it was a case of “too complicated and too much at stake” after a fantastic double-edged struggle in Game 10 of the World Chess Championship match in London also ended in a draw. Fabiano Caruana sprung an early surprise in the Sveshnikov and gained an edge on the clock, but as Magnus found himself going all-in for a mating attack it seemed anything could happen. The position defied human analysis, but somehow still simplified into a draw, even if Magnus wobbled at the very end. There are now just two classical games remaining before tiebreaks.

Things are really heating up... | photo: Niki Riga

Game 10 of the FIDE World Chess Championship in London was arguably the best yet, and you can relive all the action with our live commentary team of Peter Svidler, Anish Giri and Alexander Grischuk, plus the bonus of Sopiko Guramishvili hosting Loek van Wely in the pre-game show:

If any game needed an expert recap it was this one, and Peter once again was the man:

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Anish Giri commented as the opening moves of Game 10 were being played, “I thought it’s 2018 and you don’t repeat an opening again”, but so far in the match the players have stubbornly been sticking to their guns, especially when Caruana has White. In all 5 games he’s played 1.e4 and Carlsen has replied with the Sicilian:

The first three were the Rossolimo variation with 3.Bb5, while in Game 8 and now Game 10 Fabiano has switched to 3.d4, with the Sveshnikov appearing on the board. Magnus must have had something prepared against the 12.Bd2 that Fabi played in the earlier game, but he didn’t get to show it since the challenger was ready with the outright novelty 12.b4!?

Whether trying to remember notes or entirely out of book, Magnus took 12 minutes before responding 12…a6 13.Na3 a5 when 14.bxa5 was already a move that Giri noted in the past would simply have been dismissed as “anti-positional”. It’s all much more concrete now in the era of powerful computers, and those same computers felt that White was doing very well out of the opening:

By this stage, though, Fabiano was also on his own, and after a 17-minute think he went for the bold 19.Ra3!?, threatening to swing his rook all the way to h3. As you can see from the screenshot above, it wasn't the computer's choice, but it upped the pressure on the World Champion, who later commented, “First of all I was pretty happy after the opening, and then I kind of missed this concept with Ra3”. Magnus spent 12 minutes over 19…Qg6, and every move had become critical. 

A lot to ponder... | photo: Niki Riga

Grandmaster Erwin l’Ami felt the moment had finally come:

After 20.Bc7 e4 21.Kh1 Magnus thought for 15 minutes before deciding to go for the bold 21…b5! (21…Qh6! was another very good option):

Magnus said by this stage he’d decided to burn his bridges:

I thought for so long and I wasn’t sure about it, but I thought I’d just go for it and up the stakes even more. Either you win the game or you get mated.

But it was perhaps only after 22.Nb6! (after a 14-minute think) 22…Nxb6 23.Bxb6 Qg5!? that the game had really reached the moment of truth:

Objectively the move Magnus made may not have been strong, but it cleared a path for the black rook to reach g6 or h6 and support a mating attack. Fabiano sank into an 18-minute think as Svidler explained the situation:

Even if Fabi suspects this attack is incorrect he still has to refute it over the board. The computer evaluations are good for guidance, but they aren't really practically relevant. It's this old chestnut of everything being 50:50 - either Black gives mate or he doesn't!

The big computer move was 24.Bxb5!, with the idea of coolly following up with Re1 and then being able to retreat the bishop to f1 to defend the kingside. Alexander Grischuk described that plan as, “like the smile of a baby,” and anyone who’s been watching the live commentary will know that Sasha should be an expert on that! It wasn’t easy to play, though. Fabiano:

I really didn’t want to take on b5. It feels kind of greedy, and I thought Rf6. I just didn’t really see how to defend against this attack.

One of the main moves being looked at by our commentators was 24.f3, but in the end they were shocked by Caruana’s 24.g3!? He also had second thoughts when he talked about this stage of the game afterwards:

It’s the type of game I expected from this line. It’s very, very double-edged. Both sides are taking risks. Black takes some very clear risks, because he’s going for an attack, so he’s sort of going all-in, and of course I’m getting attacked, so I could potentially get mated, but at some point I really did feel like I would have an advantage.

When I played 24.g3 – this was such a difficult moment, because after 23…Qg5 I had so many options. There’s a lot of potential for attack, but it’s still a bit slow, and I have to decide how to set up my pieces. I think 24.f3 was probably the best way to do it. After I played 24.g3 I started to wish I’d played f3.

Fabi has been ice cool all match, but the pressure is growing and growing | photo: Niki Riga

Magnus responded with 24…b4! and there was chaos on board:

Remarkably quickly, though, the dark clouds around the white king began to lift and a drawn outcome to the game began to look entirely plausible. Perhaps the best way to grasp the raw emotion and confusion at this stage is from Grischuk’s exasperation in the live commentary!

He would go on to call a later move by Magnus (30…Bd8), “the worst move of the match,” and say it was, “the first game in which the level of play is horrible”. On the other hand, he’d previously described the game as “real chess”, and later suspected he’d gone a bit too far!

Computers showed that neither player had gone far wrong, although the World Champion had a similar impression of the game:

I think it was just a case of too complicated and too much at stake, I think that was the main thing here. I think I could have played better at many times. I think both of us made many mistakes.

The tension in the position quickly reduced as the immediate mating threats dissipated, but in the run-up to move 40 time became a factor. Fabiano said he didn’t consider it too serious, but Magnus confessed:

There was a little time pressure, for sure. I cannot say that I kept my cool one bit!

Still, with just over a minute and a half remaining Magnus found the devilish trap 35…Qe2!, which knocked Caruana off balance for a moment:

It seems as though White has everything under control and can play 36.Qb3+?? Kh8 37.c4, but that loses on the spot to 37…Rxb6!! You could spot that, breathe a sigh of relief, and switch to 36.Qd4??, only to run into 36...e3!, as pointed out by Magnus, and again Black wins.

If one of those "blunders" had happened in the game a tweet from Thanksgiving two years ago might have come back to haunt Fabi!

He commented:

There were so many moments for both of us to deviate along the way. The only stupid moment was I’d missed… or I didn’t miss Qe2, but I just didn’t think this move was possible.

Luckily he still had over 6 minutes and used half of that time to settle on 36.Re1, when after 36…Qxe3 37.Rxe3 d5 38.h4 Rc8 39.Ra3 Kf7 there was just one more move to make before getting an extra 50 minutes:

Fabiano could have wrapped up a draw comfortably with 40.Ra7!, but instead with just over 30 seconds remaining he went for the natural 40.Kh2!?. That left our commentary team worrying for Black’s survival after 40…Ke6, when the black king looks set to dominate the white one. Whether he’d seen it in advance or not, however, 41.g4! was just enough to keep a draw.

The fact that the game became prolonged ultimately worked in Fabiano’s favour, since Magnus got a little too ambitious with 44…Kd4?!

45.Rb5! meant White was winning a pawn, and Magnus admitted he “had to suffer a bit”, but in the end the computers were right all along…

…and the game ended on move 54. Fabiano would have been within his rights to play on for another hour or two with his extra pawn, but there had already been enough torture for both players!

It had been a brilliant and bruising game, and it was understandable that when Magnus was asked about applying the Norwegian Chess approach of playing an Armageddon game after a draw he wasn’t thrilled:

Not after this one, that’s for sure! A better idea is probably to prolong the match, and then there will be less at stake in each game and slightly more room for experiments.

He suggested 16 or 18 games, but this time round the match is 12 classical games, and that means there are just two remaining. 

A 16 or 18-game match is all well and good, but what if you still enter the last few games with the score level? | photo: Niki Riga

As Grischuk put it:

Things are getting emotional... Now it's really time to start following. Something interesting will unavoidably happen!

Either the match will be decided in Monday’s Game 12, or it’ll all come down to tiebreaks on Wednesday! Grischuk, when asked who will be the favourite for that, responded, "You can beat Magnus - that's perfectly possible - but you can never be a favourite against him!"

First though, we have a rest day, and as usual that means that Peter Svidler will be hard at work playing Banter Blitz – catch his show from 16:00 CET!

See also:

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