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Carlsen Wins Marathon Game To Even Match With Karjakin

Carlsen Wins Marathon Game To Even Match With Karjakin

GM Magnus Carlsen got to be Magnus Carlsen today.

He already tried to break down GM Sergey Karjakin with the Ruy Lopez and the Giuoco Piano in the 2016 World Championship. Today, he used a hybrid, but it was his continuous endgame edge that finally wore down the challenger after more than six hours.

With his opportunities to equalize the match score dwindling, Carlsen mustered pressure, then finally, his first full point. His win evened the match 5-5. There is still everything to play for with two classical games remaining.

The accumulation of many favorable positions finally paid dividends for the world champion. His conversion wasn't perfect, but it was good enough.

"It feels very good," Carlsen said, visibly more ebullient than at any other point in the match. "It wasn't easy, but I made him break."

Carlsen's longtime second, GM Jon Ludvig Hammer, viewing from Norway, told Chess.com that he had never seen Carlsen this happy before.

For the first time since week one of the match, GM Magnus Carlsen bent his opponent; this time Karjakin finally broke.

If it was sporting excitement you wanted on Thanksgiving, the timing was nearly perfect. If you clicked over to chess shortly after watching the Detroit Lions kick a field goal with no time remaining to come back and beat the Minnesota Vikings, Carlsen-Karjakin was hitting its prime too.

In New York City, Carlsen had reached a nearly unique position by move eight. One of the few prior players was his childhood coach, GM Simen Agdestein!

Not long after, Karjakin had a chance to enter a likely drawing line with some dancing knights.

The dressage would begin 20...Nxf2+. Then the best Carlsen could do was move his king to g2, unless he felt like playing a dangerous ending (for more on that see the analysis below). Karjakin's other steed would follow with 21...Nh4+! White could not capture since opening the g-file would mean instant death. The only legal move left, 22.Kg1, would result in a repetition after 22...Nh3+ and 23...Nf2+.

Instead of playing the shortest game of the match, GM Sergey Karjakin found himself "Under Pressure" for many hours. Fittingly, Queen front-man Freddie Mercury died 25 years ago today.

Carlsen seemed to sense the draw, as he uncharacteristically fumbled some of the pieces with his 20th move. While playing the retreat 20.Nd2, his knight hit his queen. He duly adjusted her. While this was not any sort of violation, the indelicate maneuver may have been a physical manifestation of his mental realization.

"I just missed that he could take on f2, and then it would be a draw immediately," Carlsen explained. "I just thought the game was over."

Instead, Karjakin almost immediately played 20...d5. 

"What just happened?" GM Ian Nepomniachtchi wondered aloud on the commentary. He, like many others, expected the drawing line and a quick handshake. After all, Karakin would be eliminating one of Carlsen's two remaining Whites with an almost effortless game.

We found out after the game what happened. Karjakin said that he missed the end of the Kg1 variation. Specifically, he missed the idea of playing Nf4+ (twice!) to reach a rook-and-two-pawns versus two-knights position.

"I was relieved," Carlsen said.

Carlsen received loud applause when he arrived at the press conference.

Karjakin then missed another similar repetition (also beginning with ...Nxf2+) on the next move. Carlsen made a few quick moves to press his clock advantage (Karjakin had about 19 minutes for as many moves, not counting increment).

Also, right after the queens were traded, both players missed a tactic that would have given Black a fine position in a rook endgame. As the reader can see, the players missed multiple key details in this phase of the game.

Finally, the champion and challenger reached the sort of position many had expected throughout the match:

Game back on.

In a far more strategic than tactical position, Carlsen was able to lean on Karjakin for some time. Early in the game, Black's rooks had planted their flag on the f-file; now Carlsen took over that line and hit multiple weak pawns.

The Norwegian then attempted to open up a second flank right at the time control with 40.b4.

On Thanksgiving, Carlsen didn't "punch" Karjakin as he promised earlier in the match. But he did poke him repeatedly.

In a recurring theme of the match, Karjakin had some holes but he attempted to close down all open-file possibilities and create a fortress (in round four, Carlsen said he generally doesn't believe in fortresses). Both players' jackets came off as they settled in for a long fight. 

GM Maurice Ashley joked in the commentary that if Carlsen didn't win such a Karpovian position, he may "jump off the Brooklyn Bridge." Carlsen kept Karjakin guessing where the pawn lunge would come from as he would move a piece on one side of the board and then the other.

Just like yesterday, a cheer came from the spectators on site. This time, the sparser Thanksgiving crowd applauded Carlsen's long-awaited pawn breakthrough 57.b5. He wasn't just being cruel by waiting; the timing came at the exact moment when Black's rooks couldn't defend properly.

Karjakin was able to hold in his smile after his win in round eight, but Carlsen didn't have a similar poker face today.

Carlsen said later that he was "pretty optimistic" after advancing the pawn.

The idea was thus: Black's pawns on b7 and e6 were very weak, and Black could no longer play ...Rc8 after the b-file opened. Without this option, there was no way to prevent White from getting a rook to b6: the crushing maneuver Carlsen had been waiting to employ.

Karjakin tried to switch suddenly to active defense, but it was too late. Carlsen's rooks broke through, and although he didn't play the optimal winning method, the conversion was effective nonetheless.

Carlsen's jacket, like Kasparov's famed watch, came back on when his position became clearly winning. 

"It was ugly," Karjakin said of the position he tried to hold in the ending.

"It's a huge relief obviously," Carlsen said. "I haven't won in 10 games, and that's something that really hasn't happened to me before ... The first loss left me in a pretty desperate situation."

Asked about his fitness, Carlsen admitted that the match is "taking its toll."

Despite his loss, Karjakin talked with the media and even shared a smile or two at the press conference.

Video Analysis by IM Danny Rensch:

Chess.com also learned the specifics of the appeal filed by Team Carlsen, which was resolved today. According to regulations, FIDE imposed a 10-percent fine of Carlsen's prize money for skipping the round-eight press conference. Half the fine was to go to FIDE and half to Agon. That amount would range from $40,000-$60,000 USD depending on the match result.

FIDE Press Officer Anastasia Karlovich told Chess.com that the appeal did not seek to waive the fine but only to reduce it. She said the appeals committee upheld this request and reduced the fine to five percent. It was her understanding that both organizations would now receive 2.5 percent.

Team Carlsen successfully appealed to have the fine reduced.

Karlovich said that the appeals committee, which is led by FIDE Vice President Beatriz Marinello, was persuaded by two factors. First, they factored into their decision that Carlsen has never previously skipped similar press conferences.

The second assuaging item was a letter sent by FIDE Deputy President Georgios Makropoulos which stated his belief that Carlsen was disappointed at the loss and "that was the only reason he left the press conference." Makropoulos said that Carlsen's actions were not meant as an affront to journalists or to disappoint fans.

To date, Team Carlsen has not made any public statements about the incident. Chess.com asked Carlsen's manager Espen Agdestein for a comment as the round concluded today, but he declined to provide one.

The spectators on site always find time to play a game.

Peter Doggers contributed to this report.

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