Carlsen Fights Off Karjakin To Draw Again As White

Carlsen Fights Off Karjakin To Draw Again As White

| 69 | Chess Event Coverage

Albeit briefly, for the first time in the 2016 world chess championship Magnus Carlsen was on the defending side against Sergey Karjakin today. This was the result of one bad move, made in confusion as earlier in the game Carlsen had forgotten to write down one of the moves.

Photo: Maria Emelianova for WorldChess.

Anatoly Karpov and Viktor Korchnoi started with seven draws in their world title match in 1978; Viswanathan Anand and Boris Gelfand drew their first six in 2012. The fifth draw between Magnus Carlsen and Sergey Karjakin is not a world championship record yet, but we're getting close.

"Yeah, sure, I was lucky," said Carlsen at the start of today's press conference. "I screwed up and I was lucky not to lose."

How exactly he had "screwed up" would only be revealed much later.

Whereas he had been cheerful and energetic after each of the first four games, today the world champion seemed like a different person. He was annoyed, evasive and, despite the rest day, made a very tired impression.

Karjakin was as cheerful as always. "At least I'm happy that today I finally got a good position," he said.

Carlsen and Karjakin at the press conference: two opposites.

Yet again it was the world champion who chose the theoretical territory today. After the Trompowsky and the Ruy Lopez, for his third white game Carlsen chose the Giuoco Piano.

The move 3.Bc4 hadn't been played in a world championship match since 1981, when Karpov tried it twice in his second match with Kortchnoi. Before that, we have to go back all the way to 1890, when Isidor Gunsberg, Wilhelm Steinitz's third official match opponent, played it five times.

Carlsen brought back 3.Bc4 into world-championship match history.

In recent top tournaments 3.Bc4 has been seen quite a lot, and so Karjakin can't have been too surprised. He was the first to spend time on the clock though, after White's 11.d4.

A few moves later he chose to go for a typical positional combination in the center involving the pseudo-sacrifice 13...Nxe4. Right there, Carlsen created a strategic imbalance by giving up the bishop pair. In return, White got a strong knight on c5.

Especially when he found 17.Ra3! — also the first choice of the computer — it became clear that Carlsen was again in good shape today. But Karjakin was too.

His 19...Qh4! was important, with which he managed to limit White's advantage to a minimum. Soon after he took White's knight on c5, reminiscent of game four. However, there his Bxc4 was a mistake. Although some experts were again surprised about the challenger's choice, this time the open b-file was less useful for Carlsen.

After the slightly surprising 32.a5 pawn push, which could have been played a bit later perhaps, Karjakin found a safe haven for his king on the queenside. Some piece shuffling on the kingside followed, and suddenly a dubious king move on move 41 allowed his opponent to grab the initiative. Commentator GM Sam Shankland called 41.Kg2 "clumsy," whereas Carlsen himself went as far as "a huge blunder."

For the first time in the match, the world champion was on the defending side.

Carlsen was visibly worried for a bit, but when Karjakin failed to make the most out of it — he should probably have grabbed the h-file on move 43 — the reigning champ held the draw after all.

The game really consisted of two separate fights, split by that time control. Carlsen couldn't hide his annoyance when press officer Nastja Karlovich asked him when exactly his advantage was most clear. "I am the only one who can play for anything. My position is better, there's nothing to explain!"

The one moment where Carlsen was in danger was at move 43, but Karjakin gave a clear explanation for why he didn't grab the h-file there. He expected the white king to run to f1, and didn't see a clear continuation. Only after opting for 43...Bd5, he found the idea of maneuvering his queen via h1 to a1. 

Karjakin said that it wasn't about having trouble switching from defense to attack. "The problem is that I could not make use of Rh8."

"I'm happy he didn't play it," Carlsen said about that critical moment. "I didn't know the evaluation but I knew at that point I knew that I had screwed up. Big time."

Carlsen: "At that point I knew that I had screwed up. Big time."

It was only after the press conference that it became clear why Carlsen had made that mistake on move 41. Speaking to Norway's NRK, he revealed that he had forgotten to write down one of his moves, and he was really surprised that time was added to his clock after making his 39th move (in reality his 40th). Kg2 was a result of this confusion.

And so we have seen another draw, but one that must have boosted the challenger's confidence. Karjakin can now enjoy the luxury of two white games in a row — halfway through the match the colors will be reversed.

About his play so far, Karjakin said: "I make mistakes almost in every game, but it's because the games are interesting and the pressure is high. I wouldn't say it's normal but it happens."

Carlsen: "I am also not happy about the mistakes I am making," said Carlsen. "But I agree that the games have serious content, so that at least I am happy about."

Rest day activities

On Wednesday, Carlsen played basketball for a little more than two hours according to NRK reporter Mads Nyborg Støstad. That's a shorter session than he was normally playing in Sochi. The pickup game was played on a court in the shadow of the Freedom Tower.

"He's getting more confident," Støstad said. "He's hitting his mid-range shots. He has the look of someone who plays a lot but has never had professional instruction."

Støstad went to the New York Knicks game last night but didn't see Carlsen there. How would he describe the champion's game? "He's a Carmelo Anthony with the three-point shot of Ricky Rubio."

Karjakin spent part of the rest day in Central Park being interviewed by Match TV, which is covering the tournament for prime time Russian television. "It's like NRK Sport," Maria Emelianova of Team Karjakin said.

Karjakin and his second Vladimir Potkin (l.) in Central Park | Photo by Team Karjakin photographer Maria Emelianova for

Karjakin then decided to walk back from the park to his hotel near South Street Seaport, a distance of about six miles. "Sergey is really, really fast," she said.

Karjakin strolling back to his hotel. | Photo Maria Emelianova.

Mike Klein contributed to this report.

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