Magnus Carlsen still champ

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Bobby Ang

Chess Piece

World Chess Championship
London, England
Nov. 9-28, 2018

Magnus Carlsen NOR 2835, 6.0/12

Fabiano Caruana USA 2832, 6.0/12

Time Control: 100 minutes for the first 40 moves, then 50 minutes for the next 20 moves then 15 minutes play-to-finish. 30 seconds added to clock after every move starting move 1.

World Championship Tiebreak
London, England
Nov. 28, 2018

Magnus Carlsen 2880 3.0/3

Fabiano Caruana 2789 0.0/3

Time Control: 25 minutes play-to-finish with 10 seconds added to the clock after every move starting move 1.

The world chess championship match between defending champion Magnus Carlsen (Norway 2835) and his challenger Fabiano Caruana (USA 2832) ended in a 6.0-6.0 score after 12 straight draws, the first time in the history of the world championships where there was no decisive game in the whole series. Magnus Carlsen then won the rapid tiebreak 3-0 to retain his title for another two years.

After ten well-contested draws where Caruana fought on equal terms with Carlsen the defending champion clearly steered for the rapid tiebreaks in the last two games, even offering a draw in the 12th game from an advantageous position where he could have pressed for the win with almost no risk.

No matter what we think about these tactics Magnus proved his strategy correct when he dominated the rapid tiebreaks. Clearly Fabiano was not his equal in these faster time controls.

Carlsen, Magnus (2880) — Caruana, Fabiano (2789) [A22]
World Championship Playoff London (1), 28.11.2018


Unlike Caruana who stuck with 1.e4 all throughout Magnus would alternate his opening moves starting with 1.d4, then next White game 1.c4 followed by 1.e4.

1…e5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.g3 Bb4 4.e4!? 0–0

Black could have taken the proffered pawn on e4, but he cannot keep it: 4…Bxc3 5.bxc3 Nxe4 6.Qe2 Nf6 7.Qxe5+ Qe7 8.Qxe7+ Kxe7 9.d3 White has the two bishops.

5.Nge2 c6

Hereabouts Black’s passive play does not make a good impression.

6.Bg2 a6 7.0–0 b5 8.d4! d6

Once again Black can pawn grab with 8…exd4 9.Nxd4 bxc4 but after 10.e5! Ne8 11.a3 Be7 (11…Ba5 12.Ne4 is even worse) 12.Qa4 a5 13.Bf4 White is dominating the board.

9.a3 Bxc3 10.Nxc3 bxc4 11.dxe5 dxe5 12.Na4 Be6 13.Qxd8 Rxd8 14.Be3 Nbd7 15.f3 Rab8 16.Rac1 Rb3 17.Rfe1

Now after Bf1 Black’s c4 pawn will fall.


GM San Shankland maintains that it was much better for Black to give back the pawn and at the same time compromise White’s structure. Therefore 17…Rdb8! 18.Bf1 c3 19.Rxc3 Rxc3 20.bxc3 Sam Shankland: ‘Black is a bit worse and will suffer, but I think it is probably holdable.’ 20…Rb3 the position might already be equal.

18.Bf1 Nd6 19.Rcd1 Nb5 20.Nc5! Rxb2 21.Nxe6 fxe6 22.Bxc4

Very difficult now for Black to untangle his pieces.


I thought that best for the second player is 22…Kf7 but it turns out that 23.Bxb5! axb5 24.Bg5! wins a piece.

23.Bxd4 exd4 24.Bxe6+

Black has a surprising resource here: 24.Rxd4 Kf7 25.Red1 Ne5! 26.Rxd8 Nxf3+ 27.Kf1 Nxh2+ 28.Ke1 Nf3+ 29.Kf1 with a draw by perpetual check.

24…Kf8 25.Rxd4 Ke7 26.Rxd7+ Rxd7 27.Bxd7 Kxd7 28.Rd1+ Ke6 29.f4 c5

White is a pawn up but his king is stuck in the first rank. This position might be drawable.

30.Rd5 Rc2 31.h4 c4 32.f5+ Kf6 33.Rc5 h5 34.Kf1 Rc3?

This has to be a mistake as it lets Carlsen’s king out of the first rank. Black should push the c-pawn: 34…c3 35.Ke1 Rg2 36.Rxc3 Ke5 37.Kf1 Ra2 I don’t see how White can make progress.

35.Kg2! Rxa3 36.Rxc4 Ke5 37.Rc7! Kxe4 38.Re7+ Kxf5 39.Rxg7

The h5–pawn is going to fall, after which White has a clear win.

39…Kf6 40.Rg5 a5 41.Rxh5 a4 42.Ra5 Ra1 43.Kf3 a3 44.Ra6+ Kg7 45.Kg2 Ra2+ 46.Kh3 Ra1 47.h5 Kh7 48.g4 Kg7 49.Kh4 a2 50.Kg5 Kf7 51.h6 Rb1 52.Ra7+ Kg8 53.Rxa2 Rb5+ 54.Kg6 Rb6+ 55.Kh5 1–0

Before I show you game 2 of the tiebreaks let me make a few comments on the Sicilian Sveshnikov. Including the three tiebreak games, Caruana had white times in the match and always opened with 1.e4. In 4 of those games we had the Sveshnikov (some would say that the particular variation they used would more accurately be described as the Pelikan, but I will just follow the normal convention) and in three the Rossolimo. Out of those seven Carlsen won the 2nd game of the tiebreaks and got a winning position in game 1 and a highly advantageous one in game 12.

This tends toward the conclusion that Carlsen felt more at home in the dynamic positions of the Sveshnikov than Caruana. The American GM’s inability to get more from his white games was a major factor to his match loss.

We were talking about the openings there. Of course, after the 12 draws it was time for the quick-play games and Magnus Carlsen scored heavily there. Kasparov had this comment which I agree with completely: “Carlsen’s consistent level of play in rapid chess is phenomenal. We all play worse as we play faster and faster, but his ratio may be the smallest ever, perhaps only a 15% drop off. Huge advantage in this format.”

Caruana, Fabiano (2789) — Carlsen, Magnus (2880) [B33]
World Championship Playoff London (2), 28.11.2018

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 e5 6.Ndb5 d6 7.Nd5!?

Magnus Carlsen had used the Sveshnikov in games 8, 10, and 12 and now here in game 2 of the tiebreak. In all four instances Caruana resorted to this line instead of going for the main areas of battle with 7.Bg5.

7…Nxd5 8.exd5 Ne7

This is a bit of a sideline. For example, the Greek GM Vasilios Kotronias wrote a major book on the Sicilian Sveshnikov for Quality Chess, a publishing house known for their excellent theoretical tomes, and only covered 8…Nb8 with no mention at all of 8…Ne7. But why is that? Why isn’t 8…Ne7 as well regarded as 8…Nb8. Well, a common maneuver for Black is Bf8–e7–g5 to exchange dark-squared bishops, and 9…Ne7 just gets in the way.

9.c4 Ng6 10.Qa4 Bd7 11.Qb4 Qb8

Carlsen played 11…Bf5 in the 12th game. It continued 12.h4 h5 13.Qa4 Bd7 14.Qb4 Bf5 15.Be3 Caruana avoids the repetition but now his opponent completely outplays him. 15…a6 16.Nc3 Qc7 17.g3 Be7 18.f3 Nf8! 19.Ne4 Nd7 20.Bd3 0–0 21.Rh2 Rac8 22.0–0–0 Bg6 23.Rc2 f5 24.Nf2 Nc5 25.f4 a5 26.Qd2 e4 27.Be2 Be8 28.Kb1 Bf6 29.Re1 a4 30.Qb4 g6 31.Rd1 Ra8 and suddenly Carlsen offers a draw which was of course immediately accepted by White. Obviously all the winning chances are with Black.

12.h4 h5 13.Be3 a6 14.Nc3 a5 15.Qb3 a4 16.Qd1 Be7 17.g3 Qc8!

The correct plan. Carlsen will work on the white squares on the kingside.

18.Be2 Bg4

Provoking f2–f3.

19.Rc1 Bxe2 20.Qxe2 Qf5!?

The intention is to follow-up with …e5–e4 and …Ne5.


On the wrong track — he should have castled.


[21…dxc5? 22.Bxc5 Bxc5 23.Qb5+]

22.c6 bxc6 23.dxc6 Rfc8 24.Qc4 Bd8!

Amongst other reasons, it also makes way for his knight to go to e7 and win the c6–pawn.

25.Nd5 e4! 26.c7?

A serious mistake. 26.Bd4 would have continued the battle.

26…Bxc7! 27.Nxc7 Ne5 28.Nd5


28.Qd5 is met by 28…Rab8 (getting the rook out of range of the white queen) 29.0–0 Rxc7! 30.Rxc7 Nf3+ and wins the queen;

28.Qe2 Nd3+ 29.Kd2 Qa5+ is a rout

28…Kh7! 0–1 <D>


Be careful! 28…Nxc4?? 29.Ne7+ Kh7 30.Nxf5 The tables have been turned, but now, after 28…Kh7 29.Ne7 Qf3! There are no more unanswered questions.

At the closing ceremonies Magnus Carlsen paid tribute to his opponent: “Fabiano is the toughest opponent I have faced in World Championship matches, and in classical chess he has as much right as I do to call himself the best in the world.”

Well, it is easy to be gracious when you have just won €550,000 (roughly P32.7 million). Caruana did not do too badly either – he got €450,000 (P26.7 million).


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.