A dramatic moment in the match! After getting nowhere with 1.e4 in three games with White Sergey Karjakin switched to 1.d4. Were we about to witness a turning point? Not exactly… Once again World Champion Magnus Carlsen proved to be better prepared, though what followed was something of a comedy of errors that saw the players stumble to a 7th draw in a row. Only five games now remain before potential tiebreaks on Magnus Carlsen’s 26th birthday.
This was the second game in a row that Sergey had the white pieces, and if he was going to make that quirk of the schedule work in his favour this was the last chance. Chess fans were ready!
Karjakin decided it was time to abandon attempts to gain an edge in the Ruy Lopez and switched to 1.d4, to which Magnus replied with the Slav Defence. Karjakin introduced a slight move-order wrinkle on move 5, but it was Carlsen’s 10…Nc6 that provoked the first long think of the day (capturing on c5 or d1 are Black's normal moves):
Russian English schoolboy knows:
The move 10…Nc6 was itself played by Saviely Tartakower against Edgar Colle in 1925, but had been seen very rarely since. The fact the computer gives a healthy edge in White’s favour and Magnus Carlsen played the move almost instantly with Black is as good an indication as you’re going to get that his team had something devious in mind.
That’s perhaps why, despite his explanations in the press conference (he mentioned planning 12.Nb3 but missing 12…Bd6), Sergey settled on 11.Nd2?! Bxc5 12.Nde4, when after only 12 moves the question was simply whether Black was seriously or only slightly better.
Anish Giri went out on a limb:
But later had to eat humble pie:
What happened in the intervening few moves? Well, first Magnus rushed 15…0-0 without seriously considering what appeared to be the very serious option of 15…f5, later shrugging that move off with an irritated “dunno” in the press conference…
Then, to quote Tartakower himself, “The blunders are all there on the board, waiting to be made”. 16…Rc8? was one of those moves, allowing White to implement his one trick in the position in the best possible version:
17.Nf6+! Bxf6 18.Bxb7 and Black is left with a choice between different unpleasant endgames. Peter Svidler commented on how he’d feel in Magnus’ position:
I'd be absolutely fuming... I'd be screaming at myself. The game was supposed to be over already.
Magnus didn’t allow himself to get too shaken up this time, though, and steered the game towards a fortress position. He later summed up:
Obviously it was not necessary to give up a pawn, but fortunately there are more than enough resources in my position to hold. I felt that after 12.Nde4 it’s already clear that he cannot be better, but basically if I play any other move than 16…Rc8 it should be a very straightforward draw. In the game I had to work a bit, but it’s nothing special.
Though a kid asked it better:
The final stages were indeed less than thrilling, with the
best moment perhaps some inadvertent comedy from our commentary duo...
In case you missed it:
The game itself ended on move 33, with fears of a long grind from the challenger proving unfounded.
For a full analysis of the game check out Jan Gustafsson’s recap:
Niclas Huschenbeth also looked at the game:
And, of course, you can check out the full commentary by Jan and Peter:
Two relatively quick draws in a row - after three long and incredibly hard-fought games – have inevitably seen draws become the hot topic in the post-game press conferences and online.
Teimour Radjabov referenced Kasparov’s long drawing sequence against Karpov in their first match, Karjakin in the press conference brought up the subject of Grischuk drawing his way through the 2011 Candidates Tournament in Kazan (true, only to note that just when tiebreaks seemed inevitable Gelfand won the final game), while even Hikaru Nakamura got in on the act:
An overreaction? No doubt, but the extra pressure the drawing sequence is putting on the players is becoming a factor.
The scores as they stand show a first hint of imbalance, but only in the colours:
Magnus will now have White in three of the remaining five games, and a couple of his responses in the post-game press conference sounded very like a statement of intent to make something happen:
For Sergey, meanwhile, each draw increases his chances of winning the match, as Grischuk noted in our previous report. Karjakin is also creeping up the live rankings at the rate of 1.1 points a draw:
Let’s end with some comments by Russian-born Polish Grandmaster Michal Krasenkow, who goes against the prevailing opinion on the match. He was writing after Game 6, though Game 7 only supported his view:
The clear favourite in all predictions was Carlsen: both his rating is much higher and in direct encounters he leads 4-1 (true, with a huge number of draws). But before the start of the match I was already almost certain that Karjakin would win. A historical trend! PiS, Brexit, Trump – one more surprise like that would be logical. However, it wasn’t quite clear on account of what the Russian could win…
And now half the match is behind us. 6 games – 6 draws. In the Norwegian’s career it’s a long time since he went so long without winning a game! You can see that Carlsen somewhere deep down underestimated his opponent: in games 3 and 4 he outplayed Karjakin, but, after achieving overwhelming positions, he relaxed and let the wins slip. No doubt the World Champion knows perfectly well that until the point is chalked up on the score table you have to maintain total concentration – but he didn’t manage, and his opponent defended stubbornly right to the end.
In the fifth game Carlsen clearly snapped, lost his sense of danger, and in an equal position he started to play for a win without any basis – however, this time round it was Karjakin who, getting chances, spoiled them. It seems he wasn’t entirely ready for such a turn of events.
So then, we’ve got what we’ve got. It’s already clear that the match hasn’t been any kind of walk in the park for the favourite. And although the first half of the match mainly took place in the challenger’s “half of the pitch”, I still believe in the trend: Karjakin will win. How? Either the World Champion will play some game badly (that’s happened more than once even with him), or it’ll go to tiebreaks, a lottery of nerves – but Sergey (in contrast to Magnus, who barely has any such experience) has already emerged victorious from those lotteries in numerous World Cup battles.
Will I turn out to be right? We’ll see in the coming days.
Game 8 is on Monday, when Magnus will have the white pieces and may be tempted to go all out for a win after coming through two Blacks in a row unscathed. Once again Jan and Peter will be there to guide us through all the action!
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