Carlsen Escapes, Draws Karjakin In Game 9

Carlsen Escapes, Draws Karjakin In Game 9

| 81 | Chess Event Coverage

Today GM Sergey Karjakin came very close to winning his second game in a row, and delivering a huge blow in the 2016 world championship. Just before the time control he chose a strong continuation over a winning one, allowing GM Magnus Carlsen to escape with only a few scratches.

Karjakin now leads the match 5-4 and needs 1.5 points to become the new world champion.

In round nine, many expected leader Karjakin to just try to hold off giving champion Carlsen any winning prospects for the remaining four games. Despite the prevailing belief, the other viewpoint was that he could nearly put the match away by pressing as White to try to go to plus-two.

Today seemed at first to be the former case given Carlsen's knowledge of the opening. The Norwegian had 47 more seconds on his clock than he began with by the time he played his 20th move; many of his replies came instantaneously.

Eventually, the latter fully came about when Karjakin refused to be complacent. He played both actively and accurately, while spending less time on the clock than his opponent. Carlsen was on the ropes just before the time control, and was lucky to escape with a draw.

"There were many difficult moves for sure. I'm just happy to survive," admitted the defending champion.

The opening diverged from Karjakin's first three tries with the Ruy Lopez. Today was still a Spanish, but this time Carlsen picked the active 6...Bc5, a move that signifies more intentions to fight for the center.

The Norwegian had played the line only four times before in his career, last in 2011, but he also faced it five times as White. He never lost. 

Carlsen hasn't lost yet in the Archangelsk.

Karjakin played it 13 times, only as White, and lost just once, to GM Fabiano Caruana — the man Karjakin beat to earn his seat here in New York, and who once defeated Karjakin using the same system as Black.

From there the two diverged from that ill-fated game rather early. Karjakin went for the center with 7. c3 instead of pressuring the advanced b-pawn with 7. a4.

The two played the current main line of this line called Archangelsk, and followed the game Nakamura-Kasimdzhanov from the 2014 Tromsø Olympiad, until Carlsen's 21st move, a novelty he needed only one minute to choose.

Despite having prepared so deeply, two moves later Carlsen thought for more than half an hour.

As is typical of these lines, White gets the bishop pair and an extra pawn. Usually you only get one or the other, so where does Black's compensation come from? White's king is exposed, his pawns are all doubled or isolated, and White has weak squares on f4 and d5.

Karjakin felt that he was better out of the opening, especially 23...Rfd8, where he felt that the immediate 23...Qd7, also suggested by commentator Judit Polgar, was better.

The challenger continued confidently, and spent little time maneuvering his king's rook to h4 — a remarkable square that looked aggressive, but Polgar emphasized the defensive qualities: it protects h2 ad d4, and prevents the black queen from coming to h3.

Karjakin showed confidence right out of the opening — but so did Carlsen.

Some normal moves followed, including the typical blockade of White's isolated d-pawn with Black going Nf6-d5. And then, after Karjakin put pressure on that knight with a bishop-queen battery, it was Carlsen's turn to show confidence with a remarkable rook move. 32...Rb5 was also quickly played, and tactically justified.

"Magnus defended brilliantly," said Karjakin about this phase of the game.

It was about here where the game could have seen a spectacular win for White, as shown by Karjakin in the press conference, if Black had played 33...Nb4??.

Here play continues 34.Qxg6+!! hxg6 35.Bf6 and Black gets checkmated. Karjakin got an applause from the audience and media for showing this line, and Carlsen also had a big smile on his face.

Back to the game, where time started to play a role. At several moments, Carlsen had half of Karjakin's time on the clock or went under it. After spending 17 minutes on his 33rd move, he had 13 minutes and 20 seconds left (plus increment) for his next seven, against 37 minutes for Karjakin.

Soon after Mike's random poll, Carlsen erred with 38...Ne7, a move that was very logical (for getting the knight to f5), but tactically flawed. By then, the world champion's clock was showing 1 minute and 52 seconds for his next two moves. 

Sensing that there had to be something in the position, Karjakin then took a big think himself.

Move 39 in game nine, one of the critical moments in this match.

After 25 minutes his clock even went under that of his opponent's, and, visibly tense, he finally went for the bishop sacrifice 39.Bxf7+, where 39.Qb3 was also very strong and maybe even winning.

An auditory groan was heard in the playing hall, but White was still on top.

Immediately following up with 40.Qc4+, it was Carlsen who had to find the only move 40...Kg7, and he played it with 24 seconds left on the clock. The champ had made the time control, and was still alive. The question was how much.

After 41.d5 Carlsen decided to give back the piece and try and defend an endgame a pawn down. He managed without much effort.

So, how winning was 39.Qb3 exactly? Well, engines will beat humans with it, but Karjakin admitted that he had missed the key move Bf7-g8 in this line. "Completely insane," said Carlsen.

The endgame that appeared after the time control wasn't much for White. "The only chance is to exchange bishops," said Carlsen, but he also pointed out that Black can avoid that.

In a more general remark, Karjakin said: "Actually I think I played not bad at all but at some point Magnus defended brilliantly and I couldn't do anything. But it happens."

He also called it "an interesting game," and in fact exchanged quite a lot of variations with Carlsen during the press conference.

The world champ was rather down-to-earth about the current situation: "It's not a very comfortable situation of course. I think the way I have to think about it is: I have to win one game out of three, and normally that's something I'm capable of doing."

Carlsen again appeared first at that press conference, after once again declining interviews with Agon reporter Kaja Snare and Norwegian media. Where he had lost his patience the other day, this time Carlsen spent some time chatting with his manager Espen Agdestein, until Karjakin finished his interviews and joined him on stage.

Espen Agdestein, left, confers with Carlsen just prior to the press conference.

When asked about the previous game, the world champ duly replied: "I didn't play very well, and he played better than me and he won." And when pressed for a comment about leaving the press conference, Carlsen said: "There is an appeal so I shouldn't say any more."

Earlier in the day FIDE officials had given an endorsement of the rules stipulating that Carlsen would be subjected to five percent of his prize money being forfeited to Agon and another five percent to FIDE for not (fully) attending round eight's press conference.

This was in line with the statement on FIDE's website.

"What controversy? I just want an autograph!" spoke with appeals committee chair WIM Beatriz Marinello, also a vice president of FIDE. She confirmed that at 5:50 p.m. an appeal had been filed by Carlsen's team. She would not elaborate on the grounds for the appeal, but said that since the issue is financial and not results-based, the normal window to file an appeal (two-hour window after a game ends) did not apply. 

This seems to be in contradiction to rule 7.3.1, which states that all matters, not just results-based appeals, must be appealed within two hours. The specific language: "All protests must be submitting in writing to the Appeals Committee not more than two (2) hours after the finish of the relevant playing session, or particular infringement complained against" (emphasis mine).

FIDE released its statement yesterday, so the two hours have long since passed. Also, the rule stipulates that rulings be given in two hours.

[Note: Marinello corrected on November 26; the language of the regulations says that rulings should be made in two hours "if possible" and Marinello said that the case was too complicated to settle in that amount of time. She also said it was a "protest" and not an "appeal" despite all of the other interested parties, Carlsen included, calling it an appeal. The regulations use the words interchangeably and do not offer different rules or a distinction between the two words. She said that because it was a "protest" that Team Carlsen was given leeway to file their appeal after the two-hour window. She added that Team Carlsen is satisfied with the resolution, a reduction from 10 percent to five percent.]

Further complicating matters, the match regulations state that it is the duty of the appeals committee chairperson to "apply" the fine. So essentially Team Carlsen is appealing to the person who was supposed to levy the fine in the first place.

The game was rich, and so Karjakin and Carlsen enjoyed more analysis sharing than during other rounds.

Agon director Ilya Merenzon told that although Agon stands to receive five percent of Carlsen's winnings should he lose the appeal, Agon took no part in the levying of the fine. Merenzon said he was notified by FIDE after it had made its decision. He also would not comment on the grounds Team Carlsen used for its appeal.

"It's good and bad," Merenzon said of the incident, which made mainstream television morning shows in the U.S. He said that some media outlets complained they didn't get their footage or access, and of course fans that bought expensive tickets didn't get to hear from the champ.

On the other hand, Carlsen storming off stage captured the attention of other news outlets.

"It wouldn't be sport without it," Merenzon said. "He's an emotional guy. That's what makes him interesting...All the (top) guys are really stars. Anything they do will really create a buzz about it."

Agon officials told that Team Carlsen paid to file the appeal (the regulations state €3,000 is the amount), which will be refunded if the appeal is upheld.

Mike Klein contributed to this report.

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