The 2018 London World Chess Championship match between Magnus Carlsen (Norway 2835) and Fabiano Caruana (USA 2832) ended in 12 draws. Magnus Carlsen then won the tiebreak match 3-0 to retain his title.
But don’t go about thinking that the match was a snoozefest. There were lots of intriguing battles and I think there is universal agreement that game 10 was the best of the series. In fact, former Russian Champion Evgeny Tomashevsky has called it “one of the best games in World Championship history.”
Caruana, Fabiano (2832) — Carlsen, Magnus (2835) [B33]
2018 World Chess Championship London (10), 22.11.2018
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 e5 6.Ndb5 d6 7.Nd5
Flashback: Vladimir Kramnik was the new star of the 1992 Manila Olympiad. Sixteen years old only and not yet even a GM, he silenced all critics with an 8.5/9 score, performance rating of 2958, and won the gold medal for his board. Success followed success in just two years later he was playing Leonid Yudasin in the 1994 Candidates Match. Kramnik pulled a surprise when he responded to his opponent’s 1.e4 with the Sicilian Sveshnikov. Yudasin also avoided the main line (7.Bg5) and adopted the same move that Caruana used here with 7.Nd5. Kramnik won a brilliancy in game 1 but when he tried the same line again in the 3rd game just narrowly avoided defeat after Yudasin misplayed a winning rook-and-pawn endgame.
After the match, in his “Best Games” compilation, Kramnik assessed that “this way of playing the opening has to be deemed unfavorable for Black, as the position he obtains is too sterile.”
7…Nxd5 8.exd5 Nb8 9.a4 Be7 10.Be2 0–0 11.0–0 Nd7 12.b4
A new move. Previously either 12.Kh1 or 12.Be3 were played.
DeepMind, the artificial intelligence division of Google, developed AlphaZero which is currently revolutionizing the chess world. Instead of relying on the hybrid brute-force (you know, as in looking at all the possible moves in a position) which most chess engines use today AlphaZero opts for an extremely selective search that emulates how humans think. A few months ago it played a 100–game match with the world computer chess champion, Stockfish, and won with a score of 64–36 (28 wins 0 losses and 72 draws). Anyway, GM Matthew Sadler got access to AlphaZero and used it to analyze the world championship games. Of particular interest is its evaluation of the current position. According to the artificial intelligence Black should try to keep his queenside undisturbed as much as possible and go straight for a kingside pawn push, to wit: 12…f5 13.a5 a6 14.Na3 f4 15.Nc4 e4 16.Nd2 Nf6 (16…Bf6 17.Ra3 Qe7 is also ok) 17.Ra3 Qe8 with a very exciting game ahead of us.
Carlsen is not into these abandon-one-side-of-the-board and go all out in the other approaches. He fearlessly challenges White’s set-up and opens up the queenside. I say “fearlessly” because, as noted by GM Shankland, it was obviously a prepared line by Caruana.
Take with the rook or with the queen? The answer is it does not matter – they lead to the same position. After 14…Qxa5 15.Nc4 the queen has to go back to d8. 15…Qc7 is not so appetizing as then white has the resource 16.a5 and now 16…b5 17.Nb6 Nxb6 18.axb6 attacks the black queen and White gets a much better position after 18…Qb7 19.Rxa8 Qxa8 20.Qd3 Bd7 21.Be3 the passed pawn on b6 will be a thorn on Black’s side.
15.Nc4 Ra8 16.Be3 f5!
Finally Black commences kingside operations.
17.a5 f4 18.Bb6 Qe8
Caruana had been playing very fast until now when he settled for a long think. This is probably not because of unfamiliarity with the position but more to adjust his mind to the firefight that is coming up.
One of Black’s possible plans of attack is …Rf8–f6–h6 and Caruana responds to this by putting his rook on the 3rd rank first.
19…Qg6 20.Bc7 e4 <D>
POSITION AFTER 20…E4
A very exciting position! Black’s two pawns will either overrun White’s position or prove to be a weakness and fall off the board.
[21.f3 e3 22.Qd3 Qg5 followed by Rf8–f6–h6 is obviously very scary for White]
Carlsen: “I thought for so long and I wasn’t sure about it but I thought I just go for it and up the stakes even more. Either you win the game, or you get mated.”
The “obvious” 22.axb6 faills to 22…Rxa3 23.Nxa3 f3! 24.gxf3 Ne5! 25.Rg1 (25.fxe4 Bh3 26.Rg1 Qxe4+ with a mating attack is too obvious) 25…Qh6! 26.Nc4 exf3 27.Nxe5 (27.Bf1 Nxc4 28.Bxc4 Rf4 Black is winning) 27…fxe2 28.Qxe2 dxe5 29.Bxe5 g6! White still retains chances but Black’s two bishops should ultimately prevail.
22…Nxb6 23. Bxb6 Qg5!
Clearing the way for …Rf8–f6–h6.
Caruana’s idea is that 24…fxg3 is met by 25.Rxg3 (remember the rook on a3!) while 24…f3 is refuted by 25.Bxb5 Rf6 26.Re1 Qg4 27.Rxe4! Qxe4 28.Re3 Qf5 29.Rxe7 the winning chances are all with White.
A very deep move. You will see why later.
Very accurate. Black wants to play …Bh3 and …f3 but the move order is important — he should play …Bh3 first. Why? Let us see … 25…f3 26.Bb5 Bh3 27.Re1 (this would not have been possible if Black had played Bh3 first. See why later) the crucial e4–pawn is threatened and it is awkward for Black to defend it. Short of retreating his bishop to f5 if he uses his queen then 27…Qf5 28.Rxb4 Bf6 29.Rbxe4 White is winning.
Absolutely the correct square for the rook. If he had gone 26.Re1 then 26…Bf6! 27.Rxb4 Bc3 28.Rxe4 Bxe1 29.Qxe1 Rae8 It is Black who is going for the win.
White is defending well. If 27.Bb5? which is the “obvious” move then Black goes 27…Rf6! Black intends to mate the opposing king via the h-file. 28.Bf1 now it is too late 28…Bg4 29.Be3 (not 29.h4 Rh6!) 29…Qh5 30.Bc4 Rf5 (now the threat is …Qxh2+ followed by …Rh5 mate) 31.Re1 Bh3 32.Kg1 (32.Bf1 Bxf1 33.Rxf1 Qh3 34.Rg1 Rh5 the end) 32…Bg2 now …Qxh2+ and …Rh5 check followed by mate can only be stopped by giving up ruinous amounts of material.
[27…Qh5 does not work: 28.Rxb4! Rf6 29.Bxh3 Qxh3 30.Be3! (covering the h6 square) 30…Rf5 31.g4 Rff8 32.Rg3 the attack is at an end and White has a decisive advantage].
It is quite easy to overlook that Black’s attack is not yet over. After 28.Rxf1? Qg4! 29.Rxb4 Rf5! White is still going to be mated on the h-file.
After 28…Rf6 29.Rxb4 Qh5 30.Be3! and once again the attack is repelled (But not 30.Rxe4? Rh6 31.h4 Bxh4 32.Rxh4 Qxh4+ 33.gxh4 Rxh4+ 34.Qh3 Rxh3#).
Now White is out of the woods but still needs to be careful. And the material situation is surprisingly absolutely equal!
29…Qe6 30.Rb5 Bd8 31.Qe1 Bxb6 32.axb6 Rab8 33.Qe3 Qc4 34.Rb2 Rb7 35.Rd1 Qe2! 36.Re1!
Almost an “only” move.
36.Qxe2 fxe2 37.Re1 Rxf2 38.Kg1 Rbf7! 39.Rbb1 (39.b7 Rf1+ 40.Kg2 Rxb7 41.Rxe2 Rxb2 42.Kxf1 Kf7 Black is left a pawn up) 39…d5! 40.b7 Rf1+ 41.Rxf1 exf1Q+ 42.Rxf1 Rxb7 Black is better;
36.Qb3+? Kh8 37.c4 “trapping” the black queen, but the “trapper is trapped himself!” 37…Rxb6! 38.Rxe2 fxe2 Black wins;
36.Qd4? e3! 37.c4 exf2! 38.Rxe2 fxe2 Once again Black wins.
These lines are not just armchair analyse\is done in the comfort of my home — Magnus Carlsen pointed them out even after the game to illustrate why he played 35…Qe2!
36…Qxe3 37.Rxe3 d5 38.h4 Rc8 39.Ra3!
Setting a trap himself.
White is not the only one who has to avoid pitfalls. Black could very easily have blundered here with 39…Rc6? and be bamboozled by 40.Ra8+ Kf7 41.Ra7 Rxa7 42.bxa7 Ra6 43.Rb7+ Kf6 (43…Kf8 44.Rb8+) 44.Rb6+! White’s pawn will queen.
[40.Ra7 Rcb8 holds]
40…Ke6 41.g4 Rc6 42.Ra6 Ke5 43.Kg3 h6 44.h5 Kd4 45.Rb5!
Carlsen has been outplayed in the endgame and will lose a pawn.
45…Rd6! 46.Ra4+ Ke5 47.Rab4 Ke6! 48.c4 dxc4 49.Rxc4 Rdxb6 50.Rxe4+ Kf7 51.Rf5+ Rf6 52.Rxf6+ Kxf6 53.Kxf3 Kf7 54.Kg3 ½–½
At my level I would continue to try and win with 3 pawns vs. 2 in the kingside, but at the 2800+ level this is a trivial draw.
A titanic struggle!
Bobby Ang is a founding member of the National Chess Federation of the Philippines (NCFP) and its first Executive Director. A Certified Public Accountant (CPA), he taught accounting in the University of Santo Tomas for 25 years and is currently Chief Audit Executive of the Equicom Group of Companies.