Reports Nov 14, 2018 | 9:48 AMby Colin McGourty

Carlsen-Caruana 4: Prep, lies and videotape

Magnus Carlsen switched to 1.c4 for Game 4 of the 2018 World Chess Championship in London, but when he rejected a pawn break on move 15 the game fizzled out into a 34-move draw. The main interest was off the board, since a hastily removed video by the Saint Louis Chess Club appeared to reveal far more secrets of Fabiano Caruana’s preparation than planned. “I will have a look at the video,” said Magnus at the post-game press conference, while Fabiano squirmed.

Fabiano Caruana may have been shaken off the board before Game 4, but he maintained his composure on it | photo: Niki Riga

Opening secrets leaked?

Let’s start with the topic of the day. In our Round 3 report we included an assessment of the players’ chances by Vladimir Kramnik, who was a guest on the Day in Chess show being produced in Saint Louis. You can still read the quote, but the video no longer exists. What happened? Well, this:

Eagle-eyed viewers spotted that a segment on Fabiano Caruana’s preparation for the match included video of some chess database files. It seems there were some attempts to put the cat back in the bag, but it was too late:

The video doesn’t reveal any Caruana team members we weren’t previously aware of from social media or elsewhere (Rustam Kasimdzhanov, Alejandro Ramirez, Cristian Chirila and Leinier Dominguez), and the study of the Carlsen-Karjakin games looks like a little joke – let’s give the cameraman something to film – but it’s the other filenames in the screenshot that catch the eye. For instance, “17.QGD Bf4 10.Rd1 Re8” is dangerously close to Fabiano’s big idea of 10…Rd8!? in the Queen’s Gambit Declined in Game 2. If Team Magnus had seen the video in advance would they have explored deeper and found the option played in the game, or avoided the line entirely?

Mixed emotions for Fabiano Caruana, who had an uncomfortable post-game press conference | photo: Niki Riga

Do the other lines given there hold similar secrets? Jon Ludvig Hammer, a former second of Magnus Carlsen, felt the “Petroff w. Nd7-f6 idea” might be “the biggest opening reveal”. Of course there are other possibilities. Is it deliberate misdirection to put Team Magnus off the trail, forcing them to waste time on ideas that won’t occur in the match? Perhaps, but such subterfuge would be utterly out of keeping with Fabiano’s character. Or is the leak merely unimportant, as others have suggested:

The post-game press conference indicated, however, that it was at least embarrassing for Fabiano, who responded only, “I’d really rather not comment on this, actually”.

Magnus wasn't going to pretend he wasn't interested in the leaked information | photo: Niki Riga

Magnus, meanwhile, never got easier laughs from a crowd than when he responded,

Well, I’ll have a look at the video, then make up my mind. We’ll see then.

Magnus was challenged on whether he really hadn’t seen it yet, to which he responded, after a dramatic pause:

I can truthfully say that I haven’t seen the video, but I’m aware of its existence (I don’t think it “is” anymore).

You can watch the whole press conference below:

Of course watching the video wasn’t the issue, since the single screenshot, and the information contained within, was all that mattered. Team Magnus had avoided such mistakes themselves, with their behind-the-scenes videos carefully blurring out unannounced members of the team, positions on chessboards and computer screens:

It’s probably good for Team Caruana that they now have a rest day to decide whether anything significant has been leaked that will require them to adapt their approach to the upcoming games.

To b5 or not b5

Before the rest day, however, there was a game, even if it wasn’t one that will go on to hold a cherished place in the pantheon of World Chess Championship encounters. You can replay Game 4, and the other games in the match, using the selector below:

And here’s the day’s commentary with Peter Svidler, Sopiko Guramishvili and Alexander Grischuk:

Magnus switched from 1.d4 not to 1.e4 (does a Petroff battle still lie ahead?) but to 1.c4, the English Opening. 

The inevitable question at the post-game press conference about playing that in London wasn’t helped by the questioner describing it as the English “Defence”. Magnus:

It’s not the most offensive opening, but it’s still not a defence, necessarily!  But no, there was no special significance. I’m quite aware that we are currently in England, part of the United Kingdom, a country that this particular opening is named after, but I feel like that joke is a bit abused.

When pressed on whether he had chess reasons for playing it…

Well there must have been, right?!

Fabiano responded with 1…e5, so that what we got was a Sicilian Defence with reversed colours, and if 6…Bb4 had followed we could even have claimed to have had the third Rossolimo of the match! Instead the move was 6…Bc5:

Alexander Grischuk, who joined our commentary after an hour, revealed that he’d been the first top player to employ the move, in a game against Pavel Eljanov from the 2017 Geneva Grand Prix. He explained the move and his philosophy behind it:

Basically I should not get any credit for this move, because it was just the computer showed it. From my very childhood I always had an impression that after 1.c4 e5 Black just should not be any worse, because obviously White is a tempo up, but e5 is obviously a better move than c4, so at some point I just tried to find a way for Black not to equalise but just to play on even terms with White. I just was putting different positions on the computer, and here after 6.Bg2 it actually showed 6…Bc5 as the best move - giving zeroes, of course, and I was quite happy, looked a bit further at it and still could not find any refutation, and then I played it.

Caruana had played the line with both colours, and in fact up to 10…Nd4 was following a blitz game he played against Wesley So in the Paris Grand Chess Tour earlier this year. 

The excitement of Game 1 has given way to cautious battles in the next three games | photo: Niki Riga

11.b4 by Magnus instead of Wesley’s 11.Rc1 was the first new move of the game, and play continued relatively fast until 14…c6 was on the board:

This was to turn out to be the critical moment of the whole game, with 15.b5 the obvious follow-up for White. Instead, after a 20-minute think, Magnus went for 15.Re1!?, when after 15…Bd7! the break was no longer a threat and the game simply fizzled out into a draw in 34 moves. One watching chess legend was puzzled:

Magnus said afterwards:

I spent a lot of time here, so that’s obviously what I was considering, but it didn’t seem to work very well for me. When I’m allowing 15…Bd7 basically it’s half of a draw offer. After that the position is very dry and very equal, but I just didn’t see what to do.

He added a little later, “mainly it was about b5 or not b5”. For some idea of why Magnus rejected the move check out Peter Svidler’s recap of the action:

That means that after one third of the match is over we’ve had all draws so far:

After the next game, where Fabiano has White, Magnus will have White for two games in a row, and he'll be very keen to have finally opened the scoring by Game 7. So far, Black has been very much ok, but Magnus rejected the suggestion that it was easier to play as Black:

I wouldn’t say that it’s an advantage. That’s a rash conclusion to make on a very limited sample size. It’s true that Black has been comfortable so far, but I think there will be sterner tests in the games yet to come.

First, however, there’s a rest day. The World Champion showed a touch of sarcasm as he answered the question of what he’ll be doing:

Probably prepare for the next game, try to regain some energy after these gruelling games that we’ve been having!

For chess fans there’s only one choice that makes any sense – tune in to Banter Blitz with Peter Svidler at 15:00 CET

As a Premium member (Go Premium for 1 year with the voucher code LONDON2018 and you’ll get 3 extra months free!) you can challenge Peter to a game.

See also:

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