Caruana vs Carlsen: Openings

Caruana vs Carlsen: Openings

IM vinniethepooh

Begin your countdown. We are just 10 days away as the biggest event of the year is yet to come after a calendar featuring the Candidates and the Olympiad. World Chess Championship 2018.

Why and how can Caruana beat the World Champion? In this blog I discuss what is potentially the biggest part of the game where Carlsen can be overpowered: Opening Repertoire. Caruana is known for his deep novelties while Carlsen just likes any playable position and gives much more importance to the middlegame since there "it comes down to pure chess".

Drawing of lots shall determine the colours over the course of 12 games. The player who pulls out White for the first game will get it again in Game 3, Game 5, Game 8, Game 10 and Game 12.

Image result for caruana vs carlsen

White Black
Fabiano Caruana Magnus Carlsen

O.K. So Fabi is almost a complete 1.e4 player, and has hardly been playing anything else, although I should add here that he has been on a slight experimentation this year (is that to confuse Carlsen?) playing 1.d4 and 1.c4 occasionally. You can almost cancel out 1.Nf3 since he hasn't been playing it at all recently.

Image result for caruana vs carlsen grenke

They played a very interesting game in Grenke this year where both players experimented with Fabi opening with 1.d4 and Carlsen following up with the King's Indian. How interesting is that?

Anything other than 1.e4 is highly unlikely to occur, but it may for a game or two, so let us see a few openings that are likely. A few months ago Caruana played a highly complex London against Giri, but probably that was a one-off..

  • Nimzo-Indian (1.d4-Nf6, 2.c4-e6, 3.Nc3-Bb4)
  • QGD (1.d4-d5, 2.c4-e6)
  • Slav (1.d4-d5, 2.c4-c6)
  • English "Reverse" Sicillian (1.c4-e5)

Now moving on to the main 1.e4. You can almost be assured Carlsen will go for 1...e5, first of all, it's his main opening by a large margin, and he would not like to take the risk of playing Sicillian against an opening monster.

Let's go ahead. Definitely 2.Nf3-Nc6. Now a crossroads where both options are possible:

  • Ruy Lopez (3.Bb5)
  • Italian (3.Bc4)

Is it just me, or anyone feels that Italian is going to come at least once from Caruana in this match? (Oh ya. A former Italian must be playing that ) If that, it is most likely than anything else- 3...Bc5. And then Fabiano will play 4.0-0 or 4.c3.. or whatever. I think that is a good moment to stop.

What about 3.Bb5, the main move? It's a World Championship, and I can smell a Berlin (3...Nf6) but Carlsen has recently been playing classically with 3...a6 only. In any case, a Berlin will most likely be followed up with a Anti-Berlin 4.d3 by Caruana, extinguishing any fear of YABB Endgame (Yet another Boring Berlin )

Moving on. It's suddenly become much easier to process the next moves. 3...a6. 4.Ba4-Nf6. And then a likely 5.0-0-Be7. So we have reached mainstream. I am afraid I will get tangled up into the numerous variations of Ruy if I swim any further.

Image result for caruana vs carlsen ruy lopez

An overview of the openings discussed:

I will now be showing a few theoretically important games played by Carlsen/Caruana in these openings:

White Black
Magnus Carlsen Fabiano Caruana

O.K. So here we have a wide range of choices. Magnus plays round about everything, and it is very hard to predict his openings. Let's have a look at the ones possible other than 1.e4, his main move.

So it seems that Carlsen hasn't been playing 1.d4 this year. (please feel free to point out anything wrong in my statistics) Anyways, if he does, the following openings may occur:

  • Nimzo-Indian (1.d4-Nf6, 2.c4-e6, 3.Nc3-Bb4)
  • QGD (1.d4-d5, 2.c4-e6)
  • QGA (1.d4-d5, 2.c4-dxc4)
  • London System (1.d4-d5, 2.Bf4)

What other openings than 1.e4 have a chance? Let's have a look. In fact, I am getting the feeling that Carlsen won't be playing too much 1.e4..

  • Reti (1.Nf3-d5, 2.g3)
  • English "Reverse" Sicillian (1.c4-e5)

Image result for carlsen vs caruana

Going further to 1.e4. It's highly unlikely for a Sicillian to occur in this match, although Caruana plays it sometimes. Hmm..  1...e5. And here it is rather interesting that Magnus chose the bishop opening with 2.Bc4 against Caruana in Norway. Probably unlikely it is going to repeat again- Caruana will probably come armed with preparation.

2.Nf3. And now we move on to the talk of the town- Caruana's Petroff with 2...Nf6. Ok, before moving on any further.. 2...Nc6 has always been Fabiano's main move, but it is highly unlikely here as he has been playing Petroff over and over again recently, and has created some kind of reputation with that opening.

How is Carlsen going to crack this opening- it is very interesting question. Caruana has been rock-solid and at the same time unforgiving here.

Let's make another review here:

Image result for fabiano caruana petroff

Once again, let us look at a few theoretically important games played by Carlsen/Caruana:

Conclusion: In general, Magnus has a wider opening repertoire while Caruana probably believes in focusing on just a few openings. Magnus does like to play any playable position, although he should watch out for any new ideas that Caruana threatens to pose. It seems to me that the Petroff and Ruy Lopez will occupy more than half of the match, with other likely openings being QGD, Reti, English etc.
Image result for caruana vs carlsen lawrence trent
Will Fabiano Caruana be able to make use of his famed opening novelties or Magnus Carlsen will swim to the uncharted territories and playable positions he loves? Shoot your thoughts in the comments section below!