Carlsen Presses But Karjakin Holds In World Champs 1st Round Draw

Carlsen Presses But Karjakin Holds In World Champs 1st Round Draw

| 87 | Chess Event Coverage

The Hollywood actor Woody Harrelson made the first move of the 2016 world chess championship, but his principled 1. d4 wasn't the story. Rather, it was what followed one move later.

Less than a minute into the biggest chess match of the year, World Champion GM Magnus Carlsen answered 1...Nf6 with 2. Bg5. The Trompowsky! The provocative opening rarely graces the Norwegian's board these days, as lately in a series of rapid and blitz games Carlsen has preferred to stop the bishop one square short on f4.

Forty moves later, the two reached an impasse and agreed to a draw in round one.

According to's research, today was the very first time the Trompowsky has been played in a world championship match. That's a collection of almost 1,000 games. Challenger GM Sergey Karjakin said he was not surprised by the line; he'd had plenty of time to study the champion's past catalogue.

"It was not a revolution to me," Karjakin said afterward.

Twitter was more surprised, and broke out in various puns of jokes like: "The U.S. has been Trumped and Tromped in the span of four days."

Carlsen Tromped a few opponents in open tournaments in his junior days, but he also selected 2. Bg5 to beat GM Vladimir Kramnik at the 2013 Tal Memorial. The opening led off the bullet game that generated the famous "too weak, to slow" quip from Carlsen against his friend GM Laurent Fressinet.

GM Magnus Carlsen clears the dust off a bishop that usually lays dormant longer than move two.

Fans of may also remember that not all the history is good. Remember when a CM even beat Carlsen as Black in the Trompowsky in a simul on this website?

That footnote in history would not repeat itself today.

Carlsen "gambited" a pawn on c4 on move seven, but really it was just a question of when he would take back. Julian Hodgson this was not. Like the famous Stanford marshmallow experiment, Carlsen was trying to delay his gratification and go for more than just one marshmallow.

Eventually, the recapture of the lost pawn led to quick liquidation into a rook-and-minor endgame. Karjakin had slightly damaged pawns, but in return a bishop against knight -- pretty much exactly what you might expect after an early Bxf6 exchange in the Trompowsky.

GM Sergey Karjakin handled his first world championship game and the accompanying attention well. "Today was a new experience for me. I was trying not to think too much about it," Karjakin said.

Would Carlsen try to squeeze something from nearly nothing? In the 2013 match that won him the title, he showed in the sixth game that he possesses a relentless spirit in rook endings. But today the presence of the black bishop didn't allow a repeat of history.

Rule 3.8.3 stipulated the normal 30-move rule before a draw by agreement is allowed. The players' pace became much more deliberate as they approached this mark, despite the initial impression that this regulation was the only thing extending the match.

Instead, Carlsen played on. Was there something there, or was it just "Magnus being Magnus?"

Sure, fans didn't get a win for either player, but on the bright side, the game had much more than the 16 moves of Carlsen's round-one game in 2013.

"It was good to get the championship going," Carlsen said. "Apart from that nothing too much happened. I couldn't really pose him any real worries."

Carlsen has now drawn all three round ones in his three title matches.

Agon coverage issues

The biggest problems on this day were not for the players to solve. The official coverage from Agon saw the usual first-round hiccups. While this can be common at many chess events, two undeniable facts stand out for New York: this is a world championship, and viewers now have to pay for upgrades that they used to get for free.

After getting the necessary experience at the Candidates' Tournament back in March, creating all the hype and suing other websites who wanted to show the moves in real-time, the first-round coverage was disappointing according to many fans who reacted to technical glitches.

This was mostly related to the self-developed software, which still isn't up to the standards of some other platforms and websites.

This is what viewers saw for much of the first hour: the "Groundhog Day" of Chess. As Bill Murray might quip: "I'd say the chances to the Trompowsky are 80 percent...75/80."

 These issues repeated today at the outset, and were severe enough to have the official commentators switch over at the last minute to Chessbase's board.

When the issues were resolved, the layout of the broadcast looked good, and that wasn't just because our own Peter Doggers joined the live show (which he will every day).

A few final notes on the day. Asked several times after the game about that alliterative relationship between his opening choice and the U.S. president-elect, Carlsen said, "If I'd have known about all the questions I'd get about it, I would have played something else."

As for Harrelson, his ceremonial first move for the world champion means he's come a long way from the "poker, chess, and dominoes" that neighbor Willie Nelson said they play in Maui. Still, he's had his moments. Harrelson is the king of the park in Asheville, NC, and he did draw GM Garry Kasparov (with some heavy help from GM Yasser Seirawan) in 1999.

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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