Carlsen Rejects The Berlin In Game 2

Carlsen Rejects The Berlin In Game 2

| 83 | Chess Event Coverage

After yesterday's 2016 world championship opening game, Norwegian number two, GM Jon Ludvig Hammer, speculated on ChessCenter that the opening choice by countryman GM Magnus Carlsen was a joke. Today was all business.

Challenger GM Sergey Karjakin parlayed his first move into the oldest of openings, the Ruy Lopez. The chess world held its collective breath after White's third move, objecting to even the possibility of the oft-reviled Berlin Defense.

It didn't take long for Carlsen to decide that erecting one Norwegian wall against Russia was enough for the time being. He didn't need one and held the draw.

GM Magnus Carlsen was "close-minded" today against GM Sergey Karjakin. 

The Berlin was an all-too-frequent visitor in Carlsen's first two title matches (eight Berlins in 21 games). This time Carlsen needed only a few moments to decide on 3...a6 (earlier this year, he chose 3...g6 against Karjakin at Tata Steel). The champion thus entered his first "non-Berlin" Spanish in the world championship. The Closed Variation has been completely absent from the last few one-on-one title bouts, a long way from, for example, the eight instances in the Karpov vs Kasparov match in 1990.

Despite the dullness of the game, the two players mostly enjoyed the press conference again. asked Carlsen if his choice was based on actual preparation, or was he simply tired of playing the Berlin? He borrowed a page from his opponent's playbook. Since Karjakin has refused to give any lucidity to his preparation, Carlsen said, "His answer about not revealing anything about the opening was really nice, so I'm just gonna copy that!"

After the opening sequence, a series of trades led to near symmetry, save the Russian's control of the a-file. With the entire right side of the board a mirror-image for each player, could Karjakin squeeze through the mouse-hole-sized opening on the queenside?

Today Karjakin got to show some tiny aggression, but with very little advantage, his one-inch punch didn't quite have Bruce Lee's power.

Like their opening foray yesterday, the players' pace slowed incredibly just before move 30, and with the same result. Some light poking and prodding led nowhere except simplification, and like Karjakin's structure a day before, Carlsen's slightly damaged kingside pawn structure did not ail him.

"I would ask you for your understanding that this is a long match, and there aren't going to be fireworks every game," Carlsen said to the capacity crowd.

Carlsen explained that he was not surprised Karjakin ended the tension in the middle with 18.dxe5.

"I'm very solid in the center," Carlsen said. "He would like to regroup the knight (on c3) to g3, but then there would be problems in the center."

After one turn with each color, the two combatants now get a rest day, as is the "usual" three-day cycle through the match. Unlike Sochi 2014, where limited people and options meant the only available pastimes were basketball or soccer at the host Radisson Blue, in NYC, the players can venture out into a city of 8.5 million.

How to describe the two players' relationship? "I wouldn't say that we are friends," Carlsen said. "We are colleagues, and we have no problems with each other."

Neither player hinted at their plans, but Carlsen said it was too early for a break, and he would prefer to set up the pieces again instead of taking Sunday off. Carlsen was not aware of the size of the audience until he came out for the press conference, and he hinted that it would be more ideal to give them more chess the next day. "Let's Play Two!" as Ernie Banks would have said.

Carlsen may want more chess, but he doesn't want more interviews. For the second day in a row, he left immediately after the open press conference, while Karjakin stayed for more questions.

Alas, the sold-out crowd had to file out of the Fulton Market knowing the continuation would have to wait until Monday. "I prefer a free day," Karjakin said. 

The weekend meant even more spectators flocked in than for the opener. Even two hours into the round, there was still a line to get a view of the players behind the glass wall.

One issue they did agree on? The number of games. Gone are the days of the 24-game match, and even longer gone are the days of the "first to X wins" format, which could mean the match bridging several seasons (and creating a scroll on Wikipedia), as it did in the grueling 1984 bout.

Carlsen said more games means a better chance of finding the strongest player, but that the match "can't go on forever."

The weekend crowd queueing to see the players.

Peter Doggers contributed to this report.

FM Mike Klein

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Mike Klein began playing chess at the age of four in Charlotte, NC. In 1986, he lost to Josh Waitzkin at the National Championship featured in the movie "Searching for Bobby Fischer." A year later, Mike became the youngest member of the very first All-America Chess Team, and was on the team a total of eight times. In 1988, he won the K-3 National Championship, and eventually became North Carolina's youngest-ever master. In 1996, he won clear first for under-2250 players in the top section of the World Open. Mike has taught chess full-time for a dozen years in New York City and Charlotte, with his students and teams winning many national championships. He now works at as a Senior Journalist and at as the Chief Chess Officer. In 2012, 2015, and 2018, he was awarded Chess Journalist of the Year by the Chess Journalists of America. He has also previously won other awards from the CJA such as Best Tournament Report, and also several writing awards for mainstream newspapers. His chess writing and personal travels have now brought him to more than 85 countries.

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