Reports Nov 13, 2018 | 9:42 AMby Colin McGourty

Carlsen-Caruana 3: Fabi squanders opening edge

It’s three games, three draws in the 2018 World Chess Championship match in London, with Black the side pushing at the end of all three of them. On this occasion both players had ample reason for regret, with Magnus Carlsen giving the one-word answer “nope” to the question of whether he was satisfied with the outcome of the opening. Fabiano Caruana got a significant edge, but then threw it all away in one careless move. After that he was made to suffer, but not too much. As he said at the post-game press conference, “I think that Magnus could have tortured me for a bit more”.

It was a game that left both players with a lot to think about | photo: Niki Riga

We’re already one quarter of the way through the 2018 World Championship, and so far no blood has been spilt. You can replay all the games using the selector below:

With Game 3 never quite sparking into life on the board, we were lucky to have more brilliant commentary from Peter Svidler (now commentating on every game to the end of the match), Sopiko Guramishvili and Alexander Grischuk:

And afterwards Peter did a recap video on the game, which should be your first port of call if you want to discover exactly what happened:

As in Game 1, Carlsen played the Sicilian on Monday, and Caruana went for the Rossolimo variation with 3.Bb5 rather than the sharper lines after 3.d4. He’d lost the opening battle in that first game, but this time came prepared with a new idea on move 6, playing the much less common 6.0-0 instead of 6.h3. That got Magnus thinking, but not too much, since in less than a couple of minutes he responded with 6…Qc7:

Fabiano would later say that they were on their own early on, and that his response 7.Re1 was made, “because it looked logical”. That reply took only four minutes, though, which Svidler felt was probably a sign that the queen move hadn’t caught Fabi entirely off-guard. Peter assumed Caruana’s team would also have been following in former World Champion Vladimir Kramnik’s footsteps:

He would probably scoff at me if he heard me, but I belong to, at least in spirit, the Kramnik school of analysis, which basically says, "you determine what the starting position of your analysis is, and then at every turn you list all the moves which make some sense and analyse them for at least a little bit".

Svidler worked with former World Champion Vladimir Kramnik intensively during the 2004 match against Peter Leko, but, when questioned by Grischuk, also revealed a surprising role in the 2000 match in London:

I claim like 1% responsibility for the current horrible situation in world chess, because I did write a short memo to Kramnik before the Kramnik-Kasparov match: “The Berlin is quite playable!”

For different reasons, Kramnik and the Berlin would be relevant to the game, but meanwhile Magnus was playing boldly, showing no hesitation before offering a pawn sacrifice with 9…0-0:

Grischuk felt it might have been worth calling the World Champion’s bluff and grabbing the pawn, but after 10.Nbd2 Fabiano also maintained control of the position, with Carlsen’s 10…Bg4!?, preparing to give up the bishop pair, far from an obvious decision.

Fabiano Caruana had the advantage in the early stages | photo: Niki Riga

By the time Grischuk joined the commentary with 13…a5 on the board he felt Black had misplayed the position:

Here, however, was where Fabiano went astray. After 14.bxa5 Rxa5...

...he hurriedly played 15.Bd2?!, and after 15…Raa8! Black suddenly didn’t need to concede control of the a-file. Instead after 15.Rxa5! Qxa5 16.Bd2! Qc7 17.Qa1! White would have had a very pleasant advantage.

Both players understood all this during the game, with Magnus giving a one-word response when asked about how satisfied he was with the opening:

He then elaborated:

Clearly after Qa1 Black is nowhere near equality. It might not be so bad since the black position is fairly solid, but I’m not going to equalise the game anytime soon. There was absolutely no reason to be satisfied. I was just in for a long day, and then obviously I was much happier.

Caruana told Norway’s VG.TV that he was, “a bit disappointed – I didn’t think I played very well”. He said of 15.Bd2, “I played this really bad move that I regretted immediately”:

Grischuk commented:

The thing with such inaccuracies is not that the inaccuracy itself is a big deal, but it's usually a sign that future inaccuracies, or mistakes, or blunders will follow.

To some extent that was the case, with Caruana admitting that he drifted in the play that followed, ending in one of those places you don’t want to be against Magnus – a slightly worse ending. Grischuk was surprised, since he noted Caruana normally handles such Anti-Berlin structures very well, with Kramnik, phoning into the show in St. Louis, expressing the same surprise. Vladimir had this assessment of the players’ chances:

I would say there are two variations, in my opinion, because Fabiano’s play is very much depending on form, much more than Magnus. His level is very different when he is in good form or not. If he is not in good form then he has little chance, in my view, because even being in good form it’s still difficult to beat Magnus! Not at your best, it’s practically impossible. But if he gets into his best form… then I believe he has real chances. When he’s on a run he’s extremely strong. If everything starts to go for him he’s an incredible calculator – in calculation, I think he’s probably the best. If he gets his type of game, he gets confident and in good shape, then probably for me he would be a slight favourite, but very much things are depending on his form, and so far we have to admit that he’s not yet at his best.

The game now was short in obvious drama, with Norwegian TV filling in for that with a somewhat manufactured controversy…

Magnus afterwards explained simply, “I said j’adoube”, before adding:

I understand the hunger for stories, but there’s not one but two arbiters in the playing hall, and they’re supposed to deal with it if something happens, and they have the video…

Meanwhile the chess drama was that Fabiano was in an uncomfortable position:

Svidler: It's this weird situation where nothing is really threatened, but you still dislike your position and would like to have a plan to do something.

Grischuk: The P-word. I think Gustafsson doesn't allow people to use the word plan in a chess sense. Actually I completely agree with him! Plans do not exist. There are some ideas, they exist, and then when you've played lots of ideas in the game you can say, “ok, this was my plan”, but not beforehand. It's like, what is your plan in life? It's impossible to answer until your life actually happens.

Svidler: Deep. I will go as far as to say profound…

Fortunately for Fabiano, his opponent did come up with a plan after 37.Kd1:

Magnus went for 37…fxe4?! 38.dxe4 c4 39.Nd2 Nc5, later admitting:

I really just wanted to give him the choice on move 40 of whether to take on c5. That was my thought here, but I suppose there was no real reason to provoke a crisis in the position quite yet.

Fabi still had five minutes on the clock and correctly decided that he could play 40.Bxc5! He had no problem going on to draw after that, even doing it with a flourish by giving up his knight, since the black bishop was the wrong colour to aid the black h-pawn in queening on h1.

So in a sense Magnus had let his opponent off the hook, but at least he hadn’t worn himself out before having White in Game 4:

Grischuk: It would be a funny thing if the first half of the match goes like this. Magnus presses with Black but then just plays for almost no reason at the end, gets tired and cannot do anything with White.

Svidler: That would be an interesting cycle of non-violence.

So much for Fabi's opening advantage...

The attempt to play for a win with White by Caruana had ended in another fiasco, and Grischuk toyed with the idea that it might mean Fabiano abandoning such attempts:

Grischuk: A couple more games like that and he will just revert to Karjakin's strategy of playing for a draw with both colours.

Sopiko: Won't he be afraid of tiebreaks?

Grischuk: Ok, usually people prefer a slow death to a quick one!

Svidler: I don’t know if that’s true.

Grischuk: It’s true, it’s true. Watch all those movies, like “please don’t kill me!” Ok, the guy knows he screwed up with the mafia or something, he gave away his secrets, he knows they will kill him, and still when he gets caught by them he starts to pray, “please don’t kill me, please don’t kill me”.

Some more movie discussion followed (Svidler countered with people saying, “Just get it over with!”), but of course even if the temptation to go for draws and “play for tiebreaks” exists, it’ll no longer be an option if Magnus can open the scoring in the match. He has White in Game 4 and, in fact, he’s going to have White for three of the next four games:

It’s going to be fascinating to see how that goes, starting on Tuesday in London, when you can again follow the game here on chess24 with our commentary team of Peter Svidler, Sopiko Guramishvili and Alexander Grischuk!

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