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Carlsen Can't Airlift Karjakin's Berlin In Round-3 Draw

Carlsen Can't Airlift Karjakin's Berlin In Round-3 Draw

"We are all Berliners," former U.S. president John F. Kennedy tried to express once. Today that included both would-be world chess champions.

After choosing not to investigate the Berlin's intricacies Saturday at the 2016 world championship, today the grandmasters headed straight to the Rathaus, then lingered for about six hours. After each had their missteps deep into the ending, and the game ended drawn.

GM Sergey Karjakin countered GM Magnus Carlsen's Spanish in round three with the first Berlin Defense of the event. They explored some very subtle ideas, but never wavered from equality early in the contest. Then the Russian unexpectedly made several inaccurate moves in a row. His efforts to switch from passive to active defense gave the champ a small opening, and required Karjakin to draw the game all over again.

"You have to fight for every last thing there is, even if it takes energy," Carlsen said. 

GM Magnus Carlsen has now played the ninth Berlin of his world championship era. He didn't squeeze a win, just some extra energy from his challenger.

"I didn't see a forced win," Carlsen said. "Certainly it's disappointing."

Prior to the pawn-up ending (which eventually led to a piece-up ending!) chess fans were growing restless after yet another game without dynamic play. Like the Berlin airlift transferring much-needed supplies to residents in the late 1940s, right now the audience on site is hoping for some way to break the blockade on excitement. 

Fans of technical endgames could be delighted at the chance for Carlsen to press, even if the play was not perfect.

GM Sergey Karjakin and a deserving smile after he held the long defense.

Even Carlsen seems eager to get things going. He said Saturday he didn't want to take a day off early in the match, and today he did something he almost never does. Carlsen showed up first at the board.

"I was quite happy with what I got from the opening," Carlsen said. "It's not much but it's safely better."

"I don't think the endgame's so bad," Karjakin said. Still, he put himself through an ordeal to keep the match level. He exited the playing room with his hair slightly off-kilter and some sweat noticeable on his brow. 

Hard to say what was stranger Monday: Sergey Karjakin allowing White all the play, or Magnus Carlsen not converting such an advantage. Maybe the explanation is celestial. Today's "super supermoon"? (Photo: Tomruen, WikiCommons.)

Shortly after the game began, Carlsen repeated an idea from another world champion, GM Rustam Kazimdzhanov. First, his rook retreated to e2, then one move later, back to e1! Surely the champ had more in mind than in 2013 when he told Chess.com he couldn't explain 21. Rc2 and 22. Rc1 against GM Gata Kamsky.

Karjakin's first think came for his 10th move. He took nearly a half-hour in deciding on 10...b6.

Carlsen labored when faced with the exchange of queens, but eventually he decided the ladies had to go. Like the first two rounds, they didn't last past move 20.

IM Greg Shahade, who will be on tonight's ChessCenter, always has ideas for making the format more enticing. He didn't seem too eager to sit through the long battle today:

Just as in round one, we had rook+knight vs. rook+bishop, but unlike the opening game, Carlsen didn't even have weakened kingside pawns to poke. He eventually shattered some holes, leading to hope for some real action. Carlsen won a pawn, which enabled him to get closer than ever to his first win.

"He blundered but I couldn't capitalize," Carlsen said. 

After the game Karjakin lamented several times not playing 24...d5. He said he missed the reply f4.

Later, White's advantage swelled before the Russian's reputation for defense was proven.

"I thought it was going OK up until [move 55], then I just got stuck," Carlsen said.

After such a long and complicated game, Carlsen was asked if he feared what he'd find when he analyzed the game further.

"Yes, absolutely," he said.

Back to the mystery of Re2 and Re1. How to explain it? 

Around two years ago, GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave was sparring on PlayMagnus, the smartphone application developed by Carlsen’s team on which you can play against the world champ at different age levels. Vachier-Lagrave got a similar position as in today’s game, wanted to play Re5-e1, but accidentally dropped the rook on e2.

“Then I thought, I might as well check it,” the Frenchman told Chess.com today. He did just that by playing it against GM Anish Giri in 2014, and several grandmasters have followed suit. The idea is to be able to double rooks later on, or if Black takes on e2 with his king’s rook, to take with the queen and also play Rae1 later.

No doubt Carlsen was inspired by Vachier-Lagrave, but also by the Bundesliga game Kasimdzhanov v.s Melkumyan from this year. This game was followed for two more moves, when Karjakin came with the novelty 11…Re8.

"I think it was just a fantastic struggle," GM Jon Ludvig Hammer said on ChessCenter.

Carlsen joked the explanation was far less intricate. When FIDE's press officer Nastja Karlovich set up the joke and asked whether it had slipped out of his hand and so he moved it back to e1 the next move, the world champ replied, generating laughter: "It slipped out of my hand so I moved it back to e1 the next move!" 

That would be the "full MVL."

Karjakin then admitted that he knew about the idea in another position, but not in this one: "But of course it is my poor preparation to this game."

Peter Doggers on the live show reminded viewers that Vachier-Lagrave and Carlsen are on friendly terms, and that it is certainly possible the two could be working together. 

We also learned on the show about the two players' schedules yesterday. Carlsen's friends said he played cards and basketball. "He's very competitive," one of his Norwegian friends said on the live show. "Mostly he wants to relax and do stupid, silly things with us."

GM Judit Polgar thought that his athletic passions are vital. "If you would take away sporting ability from Magnus, his rating would drop 100 points," she said on the live show.

If that's all he did, then he won't be making the biggest risk of all, according to renowned journalist Leontxo Garcia. "What will happen if Magnus gets in love someday?" Garcia wondered (Polgar said that for the right person, that can actually help).

A view from below. Even the worms were bored until Karjakin mixed things up.

Karjakin's manager Kiril Zangalis said Karjakin preferred to be more alone on the rest day. He explained that while he did spend time with his most trusted second, GM Vladimir Potkin, most of the challenger's Sunday was spent taking a "five-to-six hour" walk.

Most pundits agree that the longer the match stays level, Karjakin's chances will go up. Not one of these top personalities and players picked him before the match began.

At the press conference, softball questions are usually lobbed at the players, but today that was different. GM Denes Boros, working for a small radio station in St. Louis, took the mike and asked Carlsen about being more cavalier with the g-pawn with 17. g4 instead of 17. g3.

Carlsen paused at the question, spot-checked it, and his praise grew with the few moments he had to ponder it.

"I like this suggestion. It's very nice," he said.

The "rule of three" says that related events often happen in triplicate. In the U.S., the two events dominating the news this month were the Chicago Cubs unexpectedly coming back from 3-1 down to win their first World Series in 108 years, then Donald Trump unexpectedly reversing most polls to make one of the biggest comebacks in presidential history.

Carlsen does not want the third surprised of the month.

If Carlsen is successful in disproving the rule against the betting underdog, he will need to find some new ideas in the remaining nine games, and take more advantage of the opportunities presented.

Peter Doggers contributed to this report.

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