World Chess Championship Game 5: Caruana's Surprise Gambit Doesn't Break Impasse
Magnus Carlsen leans back in reaction to Fabiano Caruana's 6. b4!? | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

World Chess Championship Game 5: Caruana's Surprise Gambit Doesn't Break Impasse

MikeKlein
FM MikeKlein
Nov 15, 2018, 12:21 PM |
85 | Chess Event Coverage

With four opening draws, the first week of the 2018 world chess championship was about to be labeled the "calm b4 the storm" after an early thunderclap today. But even wing gambits can't seem give either player separation.

In today's round five, Magnus Carlsen went back to the Sicilian, and again Fabiano Caruana repeated the Rossolimo. But just when it seemed some small nuance would differentiate the action from rounds one and three, the challenger hit the board with the spike 6. b4!?

"It's really obvious that if we both insist on the same opening, that there are going to be alterations," Carlsen said. True enough, but this one was the most unexpected opening idea yet in London.

Magnus Carlsen

Magnus Carlsen didn't have his "wings" clipped today after 6. b4.  | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

It turned out to be not so surprising. In fact, it wasn't even Carlsen's first rodeo. Back in 2005, a teenaged Carlsen faced it against GM Daniel Stellwagen. The champ ended up offering the wrinkle: he took with this knight this time, unlike 13 years ago when he chose the pawn.

"This line is very interesting and if Black is cooperative it can get very exciting," Caruana said. "But Magnus knew the line quite well and played it in a very logical way."

Funnily enough, there was another person in the otherwise spartan room with even more experience in the position than the world's highest-rated person! How could that be? Well, in 1969, then-WIM Nana Alexandria played 6. b4 against Valentina Borisenko at the USSR women's championship, and had the exact same game for the first 10 moves!

Alexandria is serving as the assistant arbiter in the match and explained that while she couldn't remember the year, she was taught the idea by her trainer, the late GM Bukhuti Gurgenidze.

Nana Alexandria

WGM / IA Nana Alexandria and Magnus Carlsen are now connected in a way she surely wasn't expecting! | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

"It was nice when men on that level play the same things!" Alexandria said about seeing the game unfold as hers did nearly half a century ago.

However, the obscurity of the line didn't lead to significant chances for either side. Carlsen briefly looked at the crowd after the thrust, then returned to playing. He quickly gave the surplus pawn back to equalize.

Magnus Carlsen

Magnus Carlsen briefly reacts to the photographer corps after 6. b4 came, but then showed he was adequately prepared. | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

Caruana spent substantial time figuring out how to organize his pieces. Eventually he settled on the minute improvements Ba1-c3-d2. Carlsen said this setup was much better for White than placing the queen's knight on d2.

Carlsen's king went wandering, but there wasn't enough munitions left on the board for it to matter. In a mythical game of King of the Hill, Carlsen would win, but that's about the only victory he could claim on the day. Well, another diffusion with Black was also earned, but that side of the board has hardly been suffering at all in London.

Magnus Carlsen Fabiano Caruana

A real head-scratcher: Why is Black seemingly for choice every round?  | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

"After it calmed down, only Black could ever really be better," Carlsen said, but Caruana thought he was never in danger in the ending. Carlsen thought that 20...b5 might have been preferable to 20...Kb6 as he played, but Caruana would still execute the bishop retreat to d2 and then follow with Nc3.

Here's U.S. Champion Sam Shankland's take on the game, where he shows a fun mutual-promotion line, that still would not have broken the deadlock!

Sam Shankland

GM Alex Yermolinksy files his video recap with in-depth analysis for Chess.com below.

Carlsen wouldn't call this his best opening ever in a world championship game, but he was still pleased with how it turned out.

"I was happy to get this position out of the opening since it's safer for Black," he said. "And at least superficially there might be options to play for more. Clearly it was a success."

"If a game was like this where we both play more or less correctly and neither of us makes a serious mistake, I don't think I can be disappointed," Caruana said.

Jimmy Wales Fabiano Caruana

Today Caruana got "help" in his game from Wikipedia. The website's founder, Jimmy Wales, made the first move. | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

Carlsen now enters the critical "double white" phase of the match. That's because he gets his normal alternating White tomorrow, then the second half of the match begins Sunday, where the players reverse the alteration. Hence, he will take the first move in games six and seven.

"That's either your opportunity to strike or when you're at your most vulnerable," Carlsen said. Caruana called this a "serious challenge" despite it being assured to happen from the match's outset.

Magnus Carlsen

Water bottles as pieces?  | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

Recall that the task could be even more important than usual after the apparently accidental release of snippets of Caruana's training notes. Most of the file names shown on the challenger's computer screen dealt with this preparation as Black.

Carlsen insisted at the press conference he has still not seen the video, but as you might guess, he's been apprised of what all the fuss was about after round four.

"I've been made aware of its contents by people who I for some reason trust," he said.

Even before Caruana must navigate around the faux pas, one other grandmaster became its first public victim. The veteran journalist GM Ian Rogers resigned from future work as a Chess Life Online correspondent over a disagreement over how much they wished to edit his work.

Dan Lucas, the senior director of strategic communication for the US Chess Federation, gave a statement to Chess.com:

US Chess decided not to post the screenshot (although we were OK with description of it) since we did not create it and the creators took it down. US Chess is ultimately responsible for what we post on our website, so we must retain editorial control. We have had a most positive relationship with GM Rogers—one of the world's premier chess journalists—for over a decade, so we are sorry to hear he no longer wishes to work with Chess Life Online.

The Saint Louis Chess Club has not responded to Chess.com for comment. 

One of Caruana's helpers, GM Cristian Chirila, appeared on the St. Louis live show for more than 10 minutes. He explained some of the feelings in his team's camp.

"As a second, it's very, very difficult to watch the games," he said. "You work during the day and you hope to get some rest during the games but you can never do that."

Fabiano Caruana

Caruana unbuttoning a top button? That's about the only visible sign of pressure according to his team. | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

"Each and every round is more and more tense," Chirila added, but he said that's not trickling down to his boss. "I cannot feel the tension (on Caruana). I cannot see it on his face. He’s handling it quite well."

Chirila added the character trait "stubborn" to the list of ways he'd describe Caruana, but he refused to comment more. He also didn't offer any more elaboration on the video, and did the hosts ask about it, either directly or obliquely.

Fabiano Caruana

Caruana is also "stubborn" in defense, as we saw in several rounds, most notably the opening battle. | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

We learned a touch more about the combatants from themselves. At the press conference, Caruana named Bobby Fischer as his favorite player, but Carlsen's choice was less nationalistic and more solipsistic.

"My favorite player from the past is probably myself from three or four years ago," Carlsen said. "Yeah, 23."

Magnus Carlsen

Four years ago in Sochi, the 23-year-old Magnus Carlsen also had decent low-post moves. | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

Then new journalistic free-agent Rogers took the mike at the press conference. After generating laughs by not being able to name which media outlet he was working for, he duly set up the world champ for bigger laughs: "Do you think you'll ever be able to emulate your idol?" 

Carlsen said no, since his younger self won in game five of the 2013 world championship match, whereas 27-year-old Carlsen could not match that today.

To follow the match, Chess.com has extensive coverage, including daily reports on game days right here on Chess.com/news. You can catch all of the moves live at Chess.com/wcc2018 and watch Chess.com's best-known commentators, IM Danny Rensch and GM Robert Hess, on either Twitch.tv/Chess or Chess.com/TV. Special guests, including Hikaru Nakamura, Hou Yifan, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Wesley So, Sam Shankland and more will be joining the live coverage on different days. 

In addition, GM Alex Yermolinsky will be doing round-by-round wrap-up videos, available immediately after every round on all your favorite social platforms (Twitch, YouTube, Facebook and Chess.com). 

The current U.S. chess champion GM Sam Shankland will provide written, in-depth analysis of each game in our news reports.

GM Yasser Seirawan will share his thoughts on the match standings and inner workings of how the players are approaching each game with videos, exclusive to Chess.com members, on each rest day. 


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