Magnus Carlsen demolished Fabiano Caruana 3:0 in rapid tiebreaks on Wednesday to retain his World Championship title for another two years. He was defiant afterwards about his decision not to play on in Game 12, saying Garry Kasparov and Vladimir Kramnik were, “entitled to their stupid opinions”, while he explained, “one of the things I’ve never done very well is listen to other people’s advice. I’ve always gone my own way… and it’s brought me this trophy today!”
Relive the final day of the 2018 World Chess Championship with our commentary team of Anish Giri, Peter Svidler and Alexander Grischuk, with the added bonus that in the hour before the action started in London they played blitz against each other:
And you can replay all the games using the selector below:
Facing Magnus in any kind of rapid format is daunting, and to do it on a World Championship stage with so much on the line is perhaps the toughest challenge in chess:
There are bound to be nerves at the start, and when your opponent plays an extremely rare 4th move, as Magnus did with 4.e4, it can be hard to force yourself to stop and think:
Anish Giri felt Fabiano was already in blitz mode and therefore quickly played 4…0-0 without pausing to seriously consider 4…Bxc3. Then after 5.Nge2 he slowed down dramatically, but the position after 5…c6 6.Bg2 a6 was already extremely unpleasant for Black.
Fabi soon ended up with a crippled pawn structure, before the first moment of truth came after 19.Rcd1!
The pin down the d-file is threatening to be lethal, and here Caruana took over 5 minutes to pick the wrong option. He needed to go for the ugly 19…Nb7, stopping a piece landing on c5 at all costs, since after 19…Nb5? 20.Nc5! Rxb2 21.Nxe6 Black’s position was in ruins. It looked as though Magnus was about to pull off a smooth victory.
As in the first classical game of the match, though, things didn’t work out so simply. Another big fork in the road came after 23…exd4:
It was clear Magnus sensed the importance of this moment, since he thought for over 9 minutes, surrendering his lead on the clock. That gave time for computers and grandmasters to spot a subtle option for White. 24.Rxd4! Kf7 25.Kh1!! was surprisingly crushing. The point is that the king steps out of Black’s one idea: that 25.Red1? runs into 25…Ne5! 26.Rxd8 Nxf3+! and Black saves the day with perpetual check. Grischuk noted that if Magnus found such an idea it would be evidence that he was in good form and thinking clearly.
Norwegian hopes suffered a blow, however, as Magnus went for the rook ending after 24.Bxe6+, where he could torture Fabiano but the odds of a draw were high. The World Champion needed some help, and he got it on move 37, when Fabiano should have given a check to clear the f3-square for his king. Instead he grabbed the e4-pawn:
Magnus responded with the brilliant 38.Re7+!, which forces White to take a juicy pawn, but with the point that after 38…Kxf5 the black king is badly misplaced. Moves like this just come naturally to some people…
From there Magnus calmly went on to prove that White was winning, and finally the dam had burst!
Magnus would later comment of the tiebreaks:
I feel that Game 1 was critical for the match. It was very tense and it was the breakthrough for me, and then in the second game I wasn’t so sure about my position, but after I’d won the first one I felt very calm.
Our commentary team were already worried for Fabiano before Game 2 began:
Although Magnus now only needed draws he stuck to his guns and played the Sveshnikov Sicilian, showing a new idea on move 11. Fabiano didn’t blink, though, and it looked like just the kind of position he needed, at least until he pushed 21.c5!?
It was a bold decision based on the little tactic 21…dxc5 22.Bxc5 Bxc5 23.Qb5+, but after the cold-blooded 21…0-0 from Magnus it’s likely Fabi regretted the fact that he hadn’t yet castled himself. He pressed on with 22.c6, but the next pawn push 26.c7? was a losing mistake:
After 26…Bxc7 27.Nxc7 Ne5! White was in deep trouble, and 28.Nd5? was born out of desperation. 28…Kh7! provoked resignation:
Fabiano would later sum up:
I had a very bad start, unfortunately, especially in the second game, but I wasn’t playing my best chess today and Magnus I think played very well.
If it had been an uphill struggle before, Fabiano Caruana now faced a cliff face – he needed to win the next two games, the first of them with the black pieces, to prolong the match. If there had been a confessional Magnus might have been tempted to pay a visit...
As Alexander Grischuk put it:
If Fabiano makes a comeback it will probably be the greatest comeback in chess history and on the level of Liverpool's comeback against Milan in the Champions League final.
He did what he could, aiming to avoid simplifications against Carlsen’s super-solid structure and playing fast – though bitter experience was voiced by Grischuk:
Black was perhaps even microscopically better at some point, but Magnus knew what he was doing and all that was on offer for Fabiano was a draw. Then, at some point, even that was off the table. Grischuk again:
He wants 3:0. This will be an excuse for the 12th game - an excuse he doesn't really owe.
Sure enough, White’s queenside pawns began to march and by the end of the game White had an extra queen:
So Magnus had won the tiebreaks even more convincingly than in New York and will now have stretched his reign to 7 years by the time he next defends his title in 2020.
The party could begin, and the congratulations kept rolling in (including from a guy we’d almost forgotten...):
Garry Kasparov's comments on Carlsen’s rapid skills echoed those of Alexander Grischuk, who had wondered on our live show if Magnus actually has a “negative gap” in quality between his rapid and classical skills – i.e. that he plays better in speed chess! Nevertheless, Garry had led the criticism of the draw Magnus made in Game 12, and wondered aloud if Magnus would be the favourite at all since his nerves seemed to be failing him. The World Champion took the chance to hit back in the press conference!
Watch that in full:
Magnus later commented:
The match went the distance because of very tough defence by both players in tough positions, and it just shows you how difficult it is to win games at this level. It was not for the want of trying - except in the 12th game, when it was exactly for the lack of trying! - but at that point I made a sort of decision that I felt very comfortable with at the time and I would have believed to be the right one regardless of the result in the last game.
Magnus was full of praise for his opponent:
It’s very special for me to win this time. I feel that Fabiano was the strongest opponent I’ve played so far in a World Championship match. In classical chess he has just as much right as I do at this point to call himself the best in the world. I’m very happy to have overcome this great challenge and I’ll continue to work to get better in two years.
Fabiano returned the compliment, telling vg.no:
He deserves to be World Champion and he deserved to win this match. We both had weak moments, but on the final day, the tensest day, he showed good chess and I didn’t. So of course he deserved to win.
Fabiano had also prepared a statement:
On receiving his trophy Magnus predicted Fabiano would be back:
Obviously I’m very happy with the way the match ended, but I don’t think we’ve seen the last from Fabiano in this particular context.
But his speech will be remembered most for the 4-time World Champion and world no. 1 at classical, rapid and blitz chess reflecting on what had got him to where he was standing:
So after three intense weeks the match is over:
We hope you enjoyed the ride!
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