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Karjakin Beats Carlsen, Leads World Championship

Karjakin Beats Carlsen, Leads World Championship

In round eight of the 2016 world championship, GM Sergey Karjakin had multiple chances to ignite the match against GM Magnus Carlsen. It was a tale of three one-square moves: the first played, the second missed, but the last one, and the most spectacular, found.

GM Sergey Karjakin beat GM Magnus Carlsen in classical for only the second time in his career and the first time since 2012. HIs other win also came as Black. "It's much better to play well than to play White," Karjakin repeated today.

Karjakin's win, the first decisive game of the match, catapulted him into the lead, 4.5-3.5, with only four rounds to go. The energy at Fulton Market spiked after Carlsen resigned, but the attention was not welcomed by all.

After the game, Carlsen refused to answer questions from Agon reporter Kaja Snare and Norwegian media and immediately went to the press conference area. Because Karjakin gave his customary private interview with Russian television, Carlsen was all alone for almost two minutes.

With the world champion growing visibly uncomfortable, his manager Espen Agdestein asked for the press conference to begin without Karjakin. A few moments later, Carlsen threw up his arms and stood up, exiting back through the private door to the playing area. He did not return.

According to paragraph 6 of the match regulations, he may forfeit five percent of his prize money to Agon and a further five percent to FIDE. The prize fund is $1 million, with 60% going to the winner and 40% to the loser, or 55-45% in case of a playoff. 

Organizers have not commented yet if the penalty will be enforced. Agdestein later commented: "He was frustrated and angry with his own performance."

Update: although it could have been phrased more clearly, it seems FIDE has confirmed that Carlsen will be penalized.

Carlsen sat in anguish for almost two minutes before removing himself from the stage.

The match has now diverged from the last title bout in New York in 1995, when Garry Kasparov and Vishy Anand started with eight draws, before the latter opened the score.

Carlsen opened the eighth game playing the Colle System for the first time in his life. It was a attempt to "get a game," as he himself described his typical opening ambitions (or lack of) many times.

Early in the game came Karjakin's first big chance. Instead of taking the opportunity to set up a dangerous and unique attacking motif with 19...Qg5, and have N-Q-N named after him for all time, he played a more timid move on the opposite side of the board.

"The position is completely crazy," Karjakin said of his long think on this move and the next. "It's very hard to understand."

Later the challenger missed an even larger chance before the first time control. With the clock staring menacingly back at him, Karjakin overlooked a queen retreat to consolidate his advantage.

"I didn't have time at all to calculate," he said about the critical differences between 37...Qd3 and 37...Qa4. "Having one minute on the clock, it was impossible to understand."

We now know why he mistakenly thought the chosen 37...Qd3 to be equally as good. In his perfunctory calculations, the challenger missed the obstruction move 41. e4, which allowed White's kingside initiative to continue.

Karjakin swung and missed in his first two chances, but found the hardest winning idea of them all late in the game.

Finally, the third time was indeed the charm. In an ending in which he was "more or less sure Black is winning," the computers actually suggest that only due to Carlsen's several inaccurate queen moves did Black have a third winning chance. 

The subtlety of the move, and the fact that only it wins, left many staring at screens to see if Karjakin would find it. He did: 51...h5! The balance of the match had finally been tipped.

He suspected he was going to win anyway, suggesting that walking his king to b2 was his original intention. "White is in big trouble," Karjakin said after 50...Ne5 blockaded White's bishop for good.

Karjakin did not have company at the press conference.

For much of the day, the game looked to be the hissing fuse that erupts a built-up powder keg of fan excitement. No pieces had been traded by move 20, unlike the previous seven contests. But instead of the challenger taking his first advantage of any early middlegame, he played a pusillanimous one-square bishop move.

A few moves later, three consecutive captures seemed to throw water on any potential explosion, but not so. Carlsen ended the string of trades by willfully fracturing his own queenside pawns. Karjakin reacted simply, targeting the helpless a-pawn while White went for an assault on the Russian's king.

"Of course if he takes with the rook (on move 24) he can never be worse," Karjakin said.

After Gunsberg-Steinitz, New York(!) 1890, another Colle System was seen in a world-championship match today.

The tension inside the tournament hall among the spectators became more visible than at any other point. Random shouts from fans at the television monitors caused necks to crane inside the press room.

While Carlsen's queenside crumbling, he tried the desperate lunge 35. c5?! Karjakin said he was "very surprised" and was expecting 35. Ne5. It could have been a bluff, and since Carlsen didn't attend the press conference, we don't know. Both players' clocks dwindled as Carlsen's queen slithered into the attack of f7.

Karjakin had two ways to route his queen to d7, the only square available for defense. He chose the wrong one. Carlsen crashed through via tactics and Karjakin made the time control with less than 10 seconds on his clock. Upon making his 40th move, Karjakin slumped his head in his hand.

Had he played 37...Qa4, he would have had an advantage at least as large as his potential plus in game five, according to GM Robert Hess. Moreover, Hess said that this conversion would have been more simple than Karjakin's past chance. 

Finally, Karjakin made use of his third chance, giving Carlsen the first deficit of his world championship life.

"It was a very tense game," Karjakin said. As you might guess, he had a harder time hiding his smile today, though he was careful not to make any prognostications about his overall chances.

Chess.com asked Karjakin if his opportunities came from Carlsen's common tendency to push equal positions. "I used his ambitions [against him]," Karjakin said in half agreement, but added that if Carlsen didn't go for the full point with White, then something would be wrong with that, too.

Karjakin admitted that most of the match's critical moments have come courtesy of Carlsen. "He really tried by sacrificing two pawns (today)," Karjakin said. "He created a very interesting game."

"I am very happy for sure, but it's only the beginning," said Karjakin's manager Kiril Zangalis. "I am sure Magnus will change his tactics.

"I told Sergey, it's like the Greek football team in 2004. We must score one goal, and now it's... about defense. Sergey is a good defender, and psychologically he is very strong."

GM Ian Nepomniachtchi, who was on site for the first time today, said that Carlsen played both not at his best, and over-ambitiously. "I was expecting something like this from Magnus because sometimes, when he cannot win a game for a long time, he is pushing too hard. After game five, it seems again today he went into berzerk mode."

According to the Tal Memorial winner, in this match situation he would not have played 44.Qc6. "It's about psychology. Magnus was pressing too hard. Maybe he thought it was his ultimate chance to win a game and gain the initiative in the match. It's a cold shower for the current champion."

Peter Doggers contributed to this report.

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