This post is inspired by a recent vlog that was posted by Jacob Aagaard and Nikos Ntirlis on the Quality Chess blog. If you haven't already seen it, and all their previous posts, you really should do so as it seems both of them have done an excellent job in presenting interesting and instructive material.
The Vlog in question discusses 2 interesting endgames that arose in the recently concluded World Championship match and I was particular intrigued by the 2nd one because like many others, I had assumed that had White played 39.Qb3 in that extremely critical game 9:
Position after 39.Qb3!?
....White would obtain a winning position, and with a tremendous 2 point lead, Karjakin would very likely become the new World Champion. In the Vlog, Jacob pointed out that Magnus could have constructed some kind of a fortress in the game with a fair bit of originality and style. This immediately caught my attention due to the fact that 1) no one, not even Peter Svidler or Fabiano Caruana had highlighted this possibility in their post-game analysis, and especially because 2) Magnus had famously said that he doesn't believe in fortresses and that he has often been able to break them down. It would be a hoot to see Magnus saving his skin by using a theme that he doesn't believe in.
However, it appears that Jacob's attempt does not quite work as I think I found a way for White to breach Black's defences but it doesn't in any way take away the instructional value of his analysis. I do not proclaim to be an expert in any form of endings (it's probably the weakest aspect of my game) but for what its worth, here's the game with my annotations. I've highlighted all the bits that were given by Jacob:
This is not the end of the story though. After going through Svidler's recap and the replay of his live commentary on Chess24, I was interested to see whether there was a concrete win after 42...Kg8 43.Rc7 Nd4:
Optically, it looks awful for Black and it seems that White has an elementary win by simply marching his king to the g5 square. However, achieving this is not that straight forward and I am putting my neck on the chopping block by claiming that Black holds with best play! Don't believe it? See for yourself, here:
After all this talk on fortresses, I went back to Jacob's Endgame Play which has a whole chapter on this theme itself. He has very interesting things to say on the subject and there will be a part 2 on this blog but for now, see if you can find the solution to the following puzzle which was extracted from Lichess:
White to play and find the best move
Now, I'll just like to share my thoughts on that "awful" game 12 where Magnus basically forced a draw right from the opening and left many spectators befuddled. The amount of "abuse", or should I say "insults" was simply astounding. One guy wrote on my twitter that Magnus is a "coward" and that he had "destroyed his legacy" while there are a few famous players who are simply outraged at the audacity of the reigning World Champion not playing for a win with the white pieces.
Being an amateur player and a huge chess fan, I had slept early and woke up at 3am just to follow what I thought would be a history defining game, and I was one of those that was left utterly disappointed. However, I think it is an extremely clever strategy because:
1) He had 2 days to prep for the rapid, since he obviously knew there was not going to be a game 12, info that Karjakin was not privy to;
2) He is extremely strong in rapid and statistics had shown that his level of play remains consistent with his play at standard time control and more importantly;
3) It is very logical to take his chances over 4 games rather than push hard in that one final game, especially after what happened in game 8.
It is also important to remember that Magnus Carlsen, as an athlete, has the responsibility to win by any legal means possible and I really don't see why he has the moral obligation to consider the feelings of us amateurs and chess fans, people who never helped him make his way to the top apart from applauding his every win. He owes it to his family and his team of seconds to do whatever it takes to retain the title. More importantly, he is representing his country and I really doubt the Norwegians really care about Game 12 that much. Magnus's sparkling performance in the tie-breaks and the truly orgasmic Qh6 move in that final game more than justify his strategy.