Carlsen Draws World Champs Game 4 In 'Weak Moment'
For the second time in as many days, once again the irresistible force couldn't overcome the immovable object in the seventh hour. It's not just a thought experiment, it's the real-life situation unfolding at the 2016 world chess championship.
Defending champion GM Magnus Carlsen got the bishops early, but from there the criss-crossing scissors couldn't carve up challenger GM Sergey Karjakin as the Russian found a late fortress. A series of small cuts wasn't enough to tilt the match in the champion's favor.
"That was just a very weak moment," Carlsen said of his oversight in the ending. "It's not the standard that I hold myself to."
Carlsen should feel right at home in the U.S. After all, even before his entire family arrived in New York, there were more "Carlsens" in American than in Norway!
Together with round three, the underdog has now defended for 13 hours of generally worse positions in the last two days. It's hard to say what's a bigger story: Carlsen's ineffectiveness in conversion or Karjakin's continuous stalwart play against the world's highest-rated player.
The additional question is who has won the psychological battle after their 20-plus total hours at the board thus far: the man who has achieved several winning positions, or the man who has refused to submit?
"Of course it was two very difficult games," said Karjakin. "Now maybe I will need some doping to continue!"
If Karjakin has nine lives that may not be enough in a 12-game match.
Today, Karjakin faced an earlier crisis than yesterday after trading bishop for knight to loosen Black's queenside pawns. It didn't take long for Carlsen to show that idea to be dubious.
The position was born from a Closed Spanish, but with one key wrinkle from round two. Karjakin's 8. h3 "Anti-Marshall" deprived the chess world from possibly seeing the famous gambit of the same name, which has been absent from world-championship play since GM Peter Leko's fantastic bust of GM Vladimir Kramnik's analysis in 2004.
Until 12…Bf8 the players followed Anand-Navara, Wijk aan Zee 2007. Carlsen must have known that game well, because he was playing on the same stage. (Then 16 years old, the Norwegian made his debut in the highest group of Wijk aan Zee that year.)
Several moves later the imbalances began to appear. At Chess.com's request, Karjakin's decision-making was analyzed by the man whom he beat to punch his challenger ticket to New York City.
"I was a bit surprised by (19.) Bxc4 because it leaves the b2-pawn chronically weak in every endgame," world number two GM Fabiano Caruana told Chess.com. "But I already felt like Karjakin was under pressure after Qc6.
"After e4 falls it feels like only Black could be better, so I assume Karjakin felt that extraordinary measures were already necessary at that point."
Hair tousled, manager's nerves racked, but still even in the match for Team Karjakin.
Carlsen's prize, his two bishops and their menacing diagonals, looked to rip through White's position long before Black's isolated pawns could be hunted down.
For the first time in New York City a true middlegame emerged, and soon after some tactical and positional intricacies needed to be navigated by the challenger. The queens stared each other down for several moves before eventually trading. But this endgame, unlike the opening three, netted Carlsen more bishops.
Indeed, only one purportedly weak Black pawn, c4, held back several of White's. Essentially, Black held a de facto one-pawn edge on the kingside.
The ending looks like one of those classics between whatshisface and whatshisface from whoknowswhere in about 1832.#CarlsenKarjakin— Jonathan Rowson ( @Jonathan_Rowson) November 15, 2016
Magnus is the best partly because he diligently studied those whatshisface against whatshisface endgames from around 1832.#CarlsenKarjakin— Jonathan Rowson ( @Jonathan_Rowson) November 15, 2016
Two bishops and a surplus pawn...Game over for the champ, right? Not quite.
Just when it seemed Black could break through and create crises on both sides of the board, Karjakin erected a roadblock on both flanks. His reputation for being a premier defender continued to earn merit.
"It was a game of one move," Karjakin explained, pointing to 18. Bxh6. "I thought it was brilliant."
He then showed the line 18...Nxe4 19. Rxe4 f5? 20. Rxc4! and although White's queen is en prise, the discovered attacks on the a2-g8 diagonal save White.
"I thought it was brilliant at this moment! But then when he played Qc6 I thought, 'What have I done?'"
Karjakin's been interrogated for 13 hours over two days, but you couldn't tell afterward.
"In general I'm not a big believer in fortresses in chess," Carlsen said afterward, juxtaposing his belief that players like his two-time match foe GM Viswanathan Anand often rely on them.
"Somehow I have experience in breaking these fortresses down. I thought it was easily winning with (45...) f4. I didn't even think about whether it was a fortress when my king was on b3. That was sloppy."
Somehow I have a feeling that by closing the position with 45...f4 any sort of winning plan became a lot, lot harder. #worldchess2016— Hikaru Nakamura ( @GMHikaru) November 16, 2016
Just like in 2013, Carlsen has endured four draws to open the title match. Unlike in the opening games in Chennai, he's squandered several prime chances to get a breakthrough here in New York.
In that first face-off with GM Viswanathan Anand, he warmed up quickly after the quartet of draws. Wins in rounds five and six propelled him to the title.
"In Chennai I was close to winning the fourth game," Carlsen said, calling that the most interesting game of the 2013 bout. "It's not all bad. I'll try again."
It's gonna be a rough match for Karjakin if he gets bad positions every day,but maybe he's showing off how well he defends #CarlsenKarjakin— Fabiano Caruana ( @FabianoCaruana) November 15, 2016
Just like after round two, he wanted to get back in the ring instead of taking another day off. The length of games three and four left him unfazed.
"Chess isn't easy," Carlsen said. "It's hard work. I would gladly sit down and play six more hours tomorrow."
Unlike yesterday, Carlsen exited the playing hall knowing exactly what error he'd made. The somber mood continued until Karjakin was asked by Chess.com's Peter Doggers about a tweet...
...which suggested that Karjakin should be named Vladimir Putin's Minister of Defense? Karjakin's reply: "I would be happy!"
Today Carlsen also revisited something he did in his other match, in Sochi 2014. No, it wasn't the result or the opening, it was the mid-game relaxation.
Whereas in his last match his head slumped in his chair while he seemingly dozed mid-game, today he "upgraded" from chair to sofa. During some of the critical opening decisions for Karjakin, Carlsen entered the players' lounge and stretched out fully on the couch.
Carlsen lounged in the lounge. What, was something important going on outside the door?
Tonight when his head hits the pillow again, it's quite possible his mind will force him to relive the déjà vu from round three.
"So far on the board Magnus has clearly shown to be the stronger player," commentator GM Judit Polgar said. That may be true, but it hasn't netted him any plus on the scoreboard.
"He's hanging on," Carlsen said.
Peter Doggers contributed to this report.