Reports Nov 19, 2018 | 8:38 AMby Colin McGourty

Carlsen-Caruana 7: Magnus “way too soft”

Just as in New York two years ago, Magnus Carlsen has now drawn the first 7 games of his title defence, with Fabiano Caruana looking more comfortable by the day. In Game 7 we got the same Queen’s Gambit Declined as in Game 2, until Magnus varied on move 10 only to immediately get surprised himself by the response. Alexander Grischuk was scathing of what he called, “childish preparation”, but at least the World Champion managed to retain a small edge. It came to nothing, however, as he confessed afterwards that his play had been “way too soft”.

We didn't get the full-blooded battle we were hoping for in Game 7

To get the full picture of what happened in Game 7 of the London World Chess Championship make sure to check out Peter Svidler’s recap:

You can replay all the games so far with computer analysis using the selector below:

After Magnus Carlsen started his first three games with the white pieces 1.d4, 1.c4 and 1.e4, it would have been amusing if 1.f4 had made an appearance in a World Championship match, but instead in Game 7 it was a return to the 1.d4 of Game 2, and the relatively quiet waters of the Queen’s Gambit Declined.

After getting shocked on move 10 in that game, Magnus was the first to deviate this time with 10.Nd2 instead of 10.Rd1:

He still got shocked on move 10, though, since with barely a pause for thought Fabiano retreated the queen that had just come to a5 back to d8 with 10…Qd8, a move that sent Magnus into a 9-minute think. He would say afterwards in the press conference, “I knew that the move existed, I just didn’t expect it”.

Anish Giri was among those who spotted the opportunity for an instant “silent draw offer” by repeating the position:

Of course that wasn’t in Carlsen’s plans, but Alexander Grischuk, when he joined our live show, was again deeply puzzled by the World Champion’s opening preparation:

It was a memorable rant, with pedagogic content:

We have another childish preparation by Magnus. When you’re preparing it should be like digging. When you dig a big hole you go the widest at the surface and the deeper you go the smaller it becomes, but his preparation is more like when you have a light, then actually the further you go the wider will be the light. Every time he just misses a move on move 1 or move 2 of his analysis with White. The most important thing is to check all possibilities at the very early stage, and then the deeper you go the less important it becomes. A lot of people do this mistake – they just start to analyse too late. You should start from the very beginning. It seems like already 10…Qd8 shocked him.

Of course this is something that happens. Alexander, sparing none of the blushes of his colleague, went on to tell the story of Game 3 of the Candidates Tournament final in Kazan:  

Grischuk: You remember when once in the Candidates in 2011, when I was playing the final against Gelfand, I told you, “you don’t have to go deep, but just please analyse c5, e5 and b5 on every move”.

Svidler: I actually don’t remember you saying that. I trust that you did tell me that, but c5 and e5 registered in my head, and b5 just didn’t register.

Grischuk: And then of course he plays b5 on move 2 of our analysis, and already White has to fight for equality!

Svidler: I’m very famous for being a perfect second! No blemishes on my seconding career whatsoever. Don’t listen to this, people. Everyone should hire me instantly. I’m very open for offers.

Gelfand's 9...b5!! rocked Grischuk in this position, and he burnt up a lot of time before the game ended in a 14-move draw - Boris eventually won the last game of that 6-game final and went on to play the 2012 World Championship match against Vishy Anand

But getting back to 2018, Grischuk concluded:

Actually I think the level of play is very high, there are very few mistakes, and the level of preparation with Black is very high. It’s just still I cannot believe you cannot find anything with White – just any one idea!

"Another case of a misplayed White" was how Magnus described the game | photo: Niki Riga  

In Carlsen’s defence it could at least be noted that 10…Qd8 is a very rare move in the position. In his recap Peter Svidler concluded that the setup of meeting 11.Nb3 with the novelty 11…Bb6 is a strong idea for Black, who needed to make sure that the lines with 12.Rd1 and 12.0-0-0 weren’t dangerous:

This is probably a very serious idea from Team Caruana. It doesn’t appear to be only good for one game - it appears to be an actual very, very serious new approach to an old line.

Magnus wasn’t too worried, as it didn’t look as though he was going to get blown off the board:

It wasn’t too much of an unpleasant surprise, since I felt like there should be many safe options for White, and perhaps some chances to play for something, but what I did was just way too soft. Then I had one chance to play actively, but I didn’t entirely believe in it.

That chance came after 12.Ne2 Qe7 13.Bg5 dxc4 14.Nd2 Ne5:

Here Magnus played 15.0-0 and noted, “Castling is just essentially an admission that the position is equal”. The other move he was contemplating was 15.Nce4!?, which was also the idea Fabiano had spent half an hour investigating when he played 13…dxc4. The challenger had seen the spectacular 15…Bd7 16.Qc3 Nxe4 17.Nxe4 f6 18.Qxe5! when, at least for now, White is a full piece up:

In his recap video Svidler notes that the computer coolly plays 18…Bc6! now, while Fabiano had prepared the line 18…fxg5 19.Bxc4 Rac8 20.Bb3 h6 21.0-0 and, “we get this position which is rather unusual, but if White consolidates this then it could potentially get a bit unpleasant for me”.

Having seen how deeply Caruana had explored the position it’s unlikely Magnus really regretted that, as he put it, “I just couldn’t make up my mind to go for it.”

Caruana: "Of course there’s pressure, but I think I’ve adjusted to it. At the start I was a bit unused to it and I think my play was suffering" | photo: Niki Riga

In the next 10 moves pieces began to be exchanged and it looked as though we were heading for a quick draw, but there are always dangers involved in such positions against Magnus. After 24.Qxc3 our commentators felt Caruana could wrap things up easily:

24…Bb5!, with the plan of exchanging the bishop for the knight, and also another pair of bishops, would have given Black a symmetrical position with the usually superior queen + knight against queen + bishop. It was hard to imagine he could be worse there, but instead Fabiano quickly played 24…Bxg3!? 25.hxg3 Qd7!?    

We later got confirmation both that Caruana had been careless…

I played a bit carelessly near the end and got some slight pressure, which I didn’t expect, but still it was always very much a draw.

…and that Magnus had harboured some hopes:

I was hoping to outplay him in the ending with knight against bishop, but I don’t think there was anything there.

When the ending arose visually it looked uncomfortable for Black:

But computers tell us Black is fine, and starting with 33…f6 Fabiano played with computer-like precision until the game was drawn by repetition on move 40:

So Magnus had failed to make anything of the sequence of having two white games in a row in the middle of the match.

Given what had happened in Game 6, however, he wasn’t too disappointed overall:

After the last game it kind of felt like I got away with murder, and in that sense it’s easier to be calm about a draw today. I’m not loving it, but I’m not in any sort of panic mode either. It could have been worse, and the match is still equal, and with Black it’s going ok. I’m not at all thrilled about my play today, but yeah, life goes on - it’s not a big deal.

Magnus will always have in the back of his mind that if the match goes to rapid and then blitz tiebreaks he’ll be a heavy favourite over Fabiano. You have to get there first, though, and in Game 8 in New York it was Sergey Karjakin who struck the first blow in that match. He did it with the black pieces, while Fabiano will have White on Monday:

Let’s hope for a slightly livelier encounter!

It’s going to be an intriguing battle whatever happens, and once again Peter Svidler, Alexander Grischuk and Sopiko Guramishvili will be at your service to commentate on the whole game (Anish Giri joins from Wednesday onwards!) live here on chess24 from 16:00 CET.

See also:

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