Reports Nov 25, 2018 | 2:33 PMby Colin McGourty

Carlsen-Caruana 11: Cold, hard facts

“He’s been very well-prepared and I haven’t gotten much with White – those are the cold, hard facts,” reflected Magnus Carlsen after a draw in which he failed to make any impact on Fabiano Caruana. Magnus allowed the Nd7-f6 Petroff that had infamously been leaked as Fabi’s intention in a video earlier in the match, but was either surprised almost immediately or hesitated at the board to challenge his opponent in the sharpest lines. He chose a safe option and it will all now come down to Monday’s final 12th classical game, where Fabiano has the white pieces.

That moment when you turn around and find the previous World Championship challenger entering the room | photo: Niki Riga

Our commentary on Game 11 of the World Chess Championship in London featured Sopiko Guramishvili interviewing former Russian and European Champion Evgeny Tomashevsky in the pre-game show – and you can watch that, plus Anish Giri, Peter Svidler and Alexander Grischuk, below:

Evgeny said Game 10 had been, “one of the best games in World Championship history,” and felt that, “maybe Magnus would try something more risky today,” so as not to go into the last game as Black with the scores still level. Alas, if that was ever the intention, it certainly wasn’t what happened. For the best possible summary of Game 11 check out Peter Svidler’s recap below – you definitely don’t want to miss the first 30 seconds!  

And in case you haven't seen it yet, we'd certainly recommend checking out AlphaZero's view on the match before going into more detail on Game 11...

The ceremonial opening move was quite a surprise, in more ways than one:

Sergey Karjakin shares the same Russian chemical company sponsor (PhosAgro) as the championship, but to have not a celebrity but the last challenger making the move definitely raised some eyebrows. Alexander Grischuk has never been one to mince words:

I think for a person who, you know, sort of screams at every corner that, “I want to be World Champion,” this is extremely humiliating.

Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves, though, even if the 1.b4 move was of course quickly reversed, though sadly not to be replaced by “the Bird”, 1.f4:

Instead we got 1.e4, to complete a sequence of Magnus cycling twice through his first moves in his white games: 1.d4, 1.c4, 1.e4, 1.d4, 1.c4, 1.e4. Our commentators, who have often struggled to fathom what the World Champion is aiming for with White, at least felt this was a clever approach – giving his team a whole week between each use of a move in which to prepare something against Fabiano’s response.

Caruana stuck to his guns and replied with the Petroff, and on move 4 Magnus went for the mainline 4.Nf3 instead of the 4.Nd3 that had got him nothing but eventually trouble in Game 6. The interest of watching fans perked up as 8…Nd7 appeared on the board, and with 9…Nf6 it was confirmed – Fabiano was playing the #videogate line that had been leaked earlier in the match in a video by the Saint Louis Chess Club:

Magnus would later comment on that:

He managed to surprise me nevertheless. If that was indeed some kind of gambit, it worked well.

What followed in the opening was, however, deeply puzzling. Magnus played the most common move 10.Bd3, and then paused for 10 minutes when Fabiano responded with the most common reply, 10…c5:


Grischuk, who talked of, “another miserable preparation by Magnus with White,” pointed out the move had been worked out by Alexander Riazantsev, whose pupil Alexandra Kosteniuk played it back in 2011 (and twice more since). Perhaps Carlsen had intended something like 11.h4 here, but then got cold feet at the board facing Fabiano and his inevitable preparation. Again Magnus chose the most popular move 11.Rhe1 and again Fabiano responded with the most popular reply 11…Be6. There were only a handful of games from the position, but they were ones you couldn’t have missed (as you can see from the Database tab under our broadcast):

Giri and Karjakin were both commentating live on the game at this point, while Pentala Harikrishna chimed in to point out what not to do:

12.Bg5 h6? in that game had been hit by 13.Bxh6!, but of course Caruana wasn’t going to fall into a similar trap. Here Magnus delayed another 12 minutes, before deciding against trying to go for any kind of attack:

Instead he played 12.Kb1 and after 12…Qa5! 13.c4 (our commentators felt 13.a3!? was risky for White) 13…Qxd2 14.Bxd2 queens had left the board. It’s curious that in this position we were still following Sasikiran-Miroshnichenko from Saint Louis a couple of weeks ago, and that Evgeny Miroshnichenko, better known as a commentator, had also played a game there that featured the Petroff variation from Game 6. It was only Caruana’s 14…h6! that seems to have been an improvement on Miro's 14…Rfe8:


There were many options here, and squeezing something out of a microscopic advantage used to be the World Champion’s thing, but instead his next decision drained all the tension out of the position. Magnus took his last long think of the game to play 15.Nh4, but after 15…Rfe8 16.Ng6 Ng4! there was already little doubt about the outcome. By move 30 we’d reached a position where White had an extra pawn, but with opposite-coloured bishops it needed only a minimum of care to ensure a draw:


The scholar in Magnus noted we’d reached an endgame Anatoly Karpov had managed to win against Ljubomir Ljubojevic in 1975

…but the practical player was unable to work any magic over the board, with Fabiano having demonstrated time and again that he’s mastered the art of patient, precise defence and counterattacking when given the chance. There was at least a nice study-like conclusion:


If Fabiano takes on f5 he loses immediately (55…Bxf5?? 56.h5! and the pawn queens or the bishop is lost), but he doesn’t have to take, and after 55…Bc2! a draw was agreed. If White ever takes on g6 Black will recapture with the pawn and there’s no way to make progress.

Not the most exciting game of chess we've ever witnessed... | photo: Niki Riga

So the game itself was absolutely nothing to write home about, but it was still a lot of fun to watch. For instance, here Giri commented, “I’ve seen many draws in my life…” and Svidler couldn’t help but laugh, just as he did a little later when Anish used the unfortunate phrase, “back to the drawing board”. On this study-like conclusion Giri pointed out that it was like a “miracle”, but that it had been foreseen in advance by Fabi, and there were plenty more “miracles” he could have used to draw. That prompted Grischuk to share the story of the London 2013 Candidates press conference when he counted Vladimir Kramnik using variations of “by a miracle” 22 times before Levon Aronian started to retaliate with “incredible”! We also got our commentators choice of the all-time Top 5:

Peter later had some doubts about whether to replace Capablanca with Karpov and both players mentioned they'd overlooked Anand. Grischuk, who had asked the question, chimed in with his own selection:

Svidler shared the story of how he once resigned a drawn position against Kramnik when Vladimir wasn’t even at the board, prompting him to wonder whether Peter hadn’t managed to persuade the arbiters to let him claim a draw. Even all the stories struggled to distract attention from the game, though, with Grischuk at one point resorting to the desperate, “What’s your favourite Stephen King novel, Peter?” before shortly afterwards going off air with the immortal words, “I’ll take a short break because nothing is happening and nothing is going to happen!”

Our Spanish commentary team of Pepe Cuenca and David Martinez had the same issue, and took a very different approach to livening things up. Don’t miss this video! (no Spanish required)

But what of the players? Well, after the game Fabiano was of course fine with a game with the black pieces in which, “not much really happened”. He gave an interesting response to the question of whether before the match he would have happily taken the situation where he was a win with White in the last game away from becoming World Champion:

Sometimes you get asked this question if you would take a situation like this, but the truth is I wouldn’t, because I want to enjoy the process of it, and I would feel kind of bad missing the first 11 games of the match. It’s a normal situation, it’s not a bad one at all, but I also wouldn’t accept any sort of offer before the match.

Fabiano Caruana - enjoying the process | photo: Niki Riga

For Magnus, there seemed to be obvious frustration:

I’m not thrilled, obviously. I got surprised in the opening and then just decided to shut it down. I just wanted to play it safe… I thought in this match situation there was no reason to go crazy.

He famously decided to play for a draw in the last game in New York because he preferred to play a 4-game mini-match in rapid chess than put everything at stake in a single classical game (plus he could already start preparing for rapid while Sergey had to sweat the final game). That prospect may look even more tempting against Fabiano Caruana, who he outrates by a hundred points in rapid and almost 200 in blitz, though there’s one obstacle on that path – he has the black pieces on Monday! If Magnus keeps playing the Sicilian (changing at this late stage risks running into opening bombs in other openings), and Fabiano wants a fight, he can probably get one:

In our commentary, Alexander Grischuk was reflecting that his dream of 12 draws and tiebreaks might be in danger:

Grischuk: Normally a draw should be a big favourite, but I feel like the whole universe will be fighting against it.

Giri (somewhat later): But Alexander, don't you think if the universe wanted 12 draws not to happen the universe would have intervened by now?

Svidler (a little later again): I will allow one joke of that kind today, and that will be [user] MrDodgy saying, "if the universe wanted 12 draws then Anish would have won the Candidates!"

On that note, all that’s left to do is wait and see what happens on Monday. Will it be a thriller like in Game 10, the damp squib we got in New York, or something in between? Whatever happens, it’s going to be a very big week in chess!

First though, we have an extra rest day, and this time Peter Svidler will be playing Banter Blitz together with Sopiko Guramishvili – catch the show from 16:00 CET!

See also:


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