Reports Nov 22, 2018 | 9:22 AMby Colin McGourty

Carlsen-Caruana 9: Injured pride

World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen went into Game 9 of his title match against Fabiano Caruana with a black eye, but by the time it had ended in a draw on move 56 it was only his pride that was wounded. He responded with one-word answers and obvious frustration in the post-game press conference after winning the opening battle but then allowing “his” type of position to fizzle out into nothing in the space of a couple of moves. There are now just three classical games to go before tiebreaks, with Fabiano White in two of them.

A new image for the World Champion | photo: Niki Riga

As the World Chess Championship in London enters its final stages we were able to raise the commentary bar again, with Sopiko Guramishvili and Lawrence Trent featuring in a pre-game show before world no. 5 Anish Giri joined as a main commentator alongside Peter Svidler and Alexander Grischuk. Relive the action below:

And once again for the definitive word we have Peter Svidler, who looked deeper into the game afterwards before producing a 36-minute recap:

The one-eyed man is king (for now)

All the draws have left mainstream journalists starved of an easy narrative for the match, so it seems somehow fitting that one Norwegian journalist inadvertently created a story of his own by colliding with Magnus during a football game on Tuesday:

The match is heating up

A post shared by Magnus Carlsen (@magnus_carlsen) on

So much for the rest day…

Of course a head injury isn’t necessarily a laughing matter for a chess player on the eve of one of the most important games of his life. Doctors were involved, though the jokes didn’t end there…

Puns and related plays on words were hard to avoid - “London Eye” got a mention, but perhaps the best came from John Saunders…

We were making chess history…

But of course mainly it was a diversion. In the post-game press conference Magnus wasn’t keen on prolonging the story:

Were you in any pain from your injury during the game?


Opening surprises?

Fabiano Caruana’s preparation with the black pieces had been supreme in the match so far, but his one-time manager Lawrence Trent was perhaps tempting fate in our pre-game show (note you can watch with this wide view on the tournament broadcast page by clicking the new "theater view" icon in the top right of the video):

Magnus once again switched opening move, and as in Game 3 we got 1.c4 e5 and a reversed Sicilian, until Carlsen was the first to vary with the near novelty 9.Bg5 instead of 9.Bd2:

At first Magnus may have been dismayed by Fabiano quickly responding 9…Nxc3 10.bxc3 f6 11.Bc1 Be6, but after 12.Bb2, threatening d4, he sank into his first serious think of the game:

Fabiano said of the opening afterwards:

I wasn’t surprised. I’d looked at the line, but couldn’t remember the details, and it’s a very complicated position, so I was just trying to figure it out as best I could… which I didn’t really manage!

It took around 10 minutes for Fabi to play 12…Bb6, while after 13.d4 he agonised another 20 minutes over 13…Bd5

For once Fabiano was forced to work hard in the opening with Black | photo: Niki Riga

Objectively it looked as though Black should have been fine, but it was a strategically risky position in which to be on your own. His dream scenario would have been for the game to end in a draw by repetition at this stage, but Magnus had no interest in that… much to the relief of the watching Anish Giri!

A controversial choice

On move 17 Fabiano took a bold decision:

17…Bxf3!? cut the strategic battle short to go by force into a position in which the only question was how big White’s advantage was. Giri said he almost dropped his cup of tea, while Svidler and Grischuk were also both surprised:

Afterwards, however, Fabiano gave a lucid explanation for his decision:

I have other moves I can play – 17…Na5, I can play 17…Qd7 or 17…Be4 – I have so many moves here, but I didn’t feel totally comfortable. I thought if I start to drift it could get very unpleasant. White's moves are easy – e3 and then Nd2 at some point. So I wanted to make it more concrete. Of course I’m basically admitting that my position is very unpleasant, but still the drawing margin is very high with these opposite-coloured bishops… I have less time, so I thought it will be easier to play if I simplify the position a bit.

Scottish Grandmaster Jonathan Rowson was impressed by the challenger:

Magnus himself commented:

I had kind of mixed feelings about 17…Bxf3. On the one hand it leads to a very comfortable advantage, but on the other hand, as Fabiano says, it simplifies the game quite a lot.

Our commentators initially thought that the position wouldn’t be simplified enough for Fabiano to avoid a long torture:

Grischuk: Fabiano put the vacuum cleaner mode on...

Giri: Yes, but like an old vacuum cleaner, it gets stuck in there, you need to change the filter and go back into the room...

Grischuk: A rusty one!

Giri: The bishops on b6 and b7 are never going to be sucked into the cleaner...  

An easy escape

Caruana artfully dodged Carlsen's punches | photo: Niki Riga

As in the previous game, though, the suffering for the player with the black pieces ultimately only lasted a couple of moves. Magnus would later regret his 24.h4 (suggesting slower moves such as Kg2 and Bf3), while after 24…g6 his 25.h5?! marked the end of any real winning chances:

It wasn’t clear if White had anything better by this stage. Magnus explained:

If I don’t play 24.h5 then 24…h5 is going to come followed by f5, and it feels like it’s obviously quite comfortable, but I don’t really see how to make progress. It’s just too solid.

In the game Fabiano seized his opportunity with the concrete 25…gxh5! 26.Qc4 f5!

Caruana said afterwards:

Basically it wasn’t such a difficult decision as I am getting very quick counterplay with h4. White’s king becomes vulnerable as well.

In the moves that followed the challenger was now at his confident best. For instance, after 31.Qf4:

Many moves should draw, but 31…Bc5! was a good sharp reply, since 32.Qxc7?? now would run into 32…Bd6! 33.Qc4 f4! and Black wins. It was to the World Champion’s credit that he still managed to reach the time control with at least a nominal advantage, and he would go on to stretch the game out until move 56. 

He wasn't feeling talkative after the game...

...and was clearly angered by a question about why he’d prolonged the game in a drawish ending. It didn’t help that the Norwegian journalist wondered when he’d "understood" it was drawn:

I understood it immediately. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t play. I’m trying to entice him to play h5, and if he does play h5 I at least have a target, but obviously if he just keeps still and keeps his fortress, just waiting for my king to enter, then there is nothing. But there is no harm in playing, and I really don’t understand the point.

Grischuk had pointed out during the live commentary that h5 was what Magnus was hoping for, and he also told a story that exemplified the World Champion’s huge determination even when the odds seem against him. It was reason enough to be grateful that the game had been prolonged!

The draw, when it came, was historic, but not for the best of reasons!

The obvious frustration of Magnus at the end is perhaps enough to refute the suggestion of Sergey Shipov and others that Magnus is now cynically playing for the tiebreaks that would follow after three more draws, though Giri could be added to those who consider Magnus a heavy favourite in speed chess. His prediction for the remainder of the match:

I'm just afraid that Fabi is going to play three very good games now, not be able to break through, and then just be destroyed in the rapid.

Fabiano himself disputed that assessment:

I’m really not thinking about the tiebreak now. If we get there, then I’ll start to think about it, but there’s still a lot of chess to be played and I really don’t agree with most people about my chances in the tiebreaks.

In some ways the statistics back him up, though not if the tiebreaks extend past the rapid games to blitz:

First, though, we have another three classical games to go, and Fabiano will be White in two of them. Earlier in the match that didn’t seem to be an advantage, but in the last few games normal service has been resumed. It’ll be fascinating to see if we’ll again get an open Sicilian in Game 10 on Thursday.

Follow all the action live here on chess24, with the pre-game show starting at around 15:10 CET!

See also:

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