Magnus Carlsen has won the World Chess Championship for a third time after unleashing a glorious queen sacrifice on the final move of the match. That meant the birthday boy had won the tiebreaks 3:1, after also winning Game 3. Sergey Karjakin reminded us what he was made of with a stunning escape in the second game, but he was always on the back foot and admitted he was “completely not ready to play rapid games”. Relive the action and watch a final recap from the one and only Peter Svidler.
Some of the drama that was to unfold on Wednesday in New York would become clearer after it was over. Magnus revealed the thinking behind the quick draw in Game 12, explaining that knowing there would be tiebreaks and there was going to be no real game gave him extra days to prepare:
I felt that it was an advantage for me that I didn’t really have to think so much about Game 12 and he did. Also I felt my head was working better than it was a few days ago and also he was perhaps playing a bit worse, so in that sense I thought playing four games instead of one seemed like a very good idea. Besides, it was very refreshing to play a bit faster after all these weeks!
The pattern of play in the rapid games was initially much as in the match, with Sergey again getting little to nothing from the openings, leading to puzzled reflections on the 1 million euro his team said it had cost them to prepare:
Karjakin confessed afterwards:
I spent a lot of time to prepare to Magnus but it didn’t really work and he was jumping to different openings and I didn’t really use my preparation. I can admit a few times I completely forgot my preparation and I mixed up my preparation - in the classical games, but also in the rapid. There were so many things to prepare that I didn’t manage to remember everything. Maybe it was better to have a fresh head and not to repeat so much.
Now let’s get to the action, which consisted of four rapid games where both players had 25 minutes for the game plus a 10-second increment on each move:
The first game was the calm before the storm. Sergey Karjakin played the 6.d3 Ruy Lopez and briefly seemed to be making progress in the middlegame before Carlsen smoothly steered the game to a draw. The two points to note were that Karjakin was playing more slowly than his opponent… and that there was huge interest in the games. We suspect these photos may have been photoshopped but they weren’t so far from the reality:
Nigel Short was quick to lament another unremarkable game…
If what followed wasn’t exactly Tal, it was still an absolute thriller! Carlsen played the Giuoco Piano, broke through on the queenside and soon had what seemed an overwhelming position, especially as he had much more time than his opponent. Giri called the game in the reigning Champ’s favour:
The first turning point, though, came when Karjakin offered the bait of a pawn to exchange queens:
Magnus surprised our commentators by accepting, since that seemed to increase the chances of Black holding, but the World Champion had earlier made it very clear that he’s not a believer in fortresses in chess. Mathematically he was proven right, since on more than one occasion computer chess engines announced mate for White…
…but as earlier in the match, Magnus failed to find the killer blow. It was Sergey who got to demonstrate stunning defensive ability with only seconds left on his clock:
79.gxh5 f5! 80.Bxf5 Rxe7+! 81.Kxe7 Kg8 82.Bd3 Kh8 83.Kf8 g5! 84.hxg6
Stalemate! Sergey had done it again:
Unfortunately for Karjakin, though, he couldn’t bask in that glory for long…
This seemed to be Sergey’s chance to strike with the white pieces just when his opponent had suffered a huge blow, but instead it was Magnus who emerged on top in another Ruy Lopez middlegame. There were even signs the old swagger was back. Magnus marshalled his pieces against the white king and then took a surprising decision not to capture on f6 with a pawn and open the g-file for an attack. It wasn’t just our commentators who were completely bemused by the bishop capture (Rustam here is Fabiano’s coach Rustam Kasimdzhanov):
There was method in the madness, though, since on the very next move Carlsen played a pawn sacrifice to seize control of the dark squares:
It was by no means winning, but after his heroic attack in the previous game Karjakin allowed the black pieces to gang up on the 2nd rank and then blundered with the pseudo-active 38.Rxc7??
38…Ra1! was immediately game over. Suddenly, after three weeks of heroic effort and coming within a move or two of claiming the World Championship title, Karjakin was facing a wall. He had to beat Carlsen with Black, after a match in which aggressive attacking chess had hardly been his trademark:
Karjakin did what players usually do in this situation and played the Sicilian, but Carlsen set up the famous Maroczy bind with pawns on c4 and e4. To break down that wall Sergey had no choice but to take some objectively dubious decisions and, for a while, he did a reasonable job of creating a world in which his dreams could still come true. Caissa had chosen her favourite already, though, and the hundreds of thousands of chess fans tuning in across the world got to witness a moment of chess history.
The best way to relive the conclusion of the game is perhaps from the moment our commentators Jan and Peter spotted a fantastic possibility for White. Would Magnus go for it, despite having much simpler winning options?
The answer, of course, was the most resounding yes you could imagine!
You can rewatch the moment below:
So Magnus had retained his title 9:7 after tying the
classical portion of the match 6:6. For a fuller account of how he did it don’t
miss Peter Svidler’s final recap;
Niclas Huschenbeth also gives his take on the final showdown:
Magnus was treated to a rousing Happy Birthday as he entered the room for the final press conference:
His first comments after the game were to praise his opponent:
First of all, I’d like to thank my opponent Sergey for a great match. I think it was a wonderful fight…
Those last two words were interrupted by a very long and loud round of applause, since Sergey’s whole approach to the match both on the board and in the post-game press conferences has won him fans far beyond Russia.
Magnus admitted there were some very tough moments, comparing this victory to his scraping through in the 2013 Candidates Tournament in London:
I’m very happy that at the end of the match I managed to find joy in playing. Today, I have to say, it was fun to play. To some extent I think that is the most important thing. I was in kind of a dark place at some point in this match but I feel that now it’s better, so I’m looking with confidence at the future.
The crisis came when he lost in Game 8:
It was very tough after Game 8. Before that even though it was frustrating not to win some better positions I still thought that I was going to win, but after Game 8 I had all sorts of negative thoughts in my head and it was very difficult to settle down and play normally.
How did you deal with that?
I tried not to think about it but that wasn’t so easy. I think there’s a cliché in sports that you always need to focus on the process instead of results and that became very difficult during those few days, but I think in the 10th game at least to some extent I managed to stay calm when I needed to.
Sergey, meanwhile, had been leading with three games to go and could pinpoint why he lost to missing a forced draw in Game 10, though he admitted the right man had won:
Of course it was a very important moment when I didn’t realise that Nxf2 in the game that I lost was drawing immediately, and that was probably the most critical moment of the match. Still, I don’t want to say that Magnus was lucky, because he was basically winning in games 3 and 4, so it could turn in different ways. It happened as it should have happened. I will try to improve my play.
Sergey vowed to be back, while by the next time he has to defend his title in 2018 Magnus will have held on to the crown for 5 years.
We hope you had a wonderful time following the match here on chess24 and apologise for a few hiccups at the start of our final broadcast. Stick around for the chess action coming up in the weeks and months ahead – the big one on the horizon now is the London Chess Classic, the final stage of the 2016 Grand Chess Tour. It doesn’t have Sergey or Magnus, but it starts in just over a week and has every other player in the Top 10!