World Chess Championship Game 8: Carlsen Dodges Bullet In Sveshnikov Sicilian
After one of the most exciting draws in the match, the score is still equal. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

World Chess Championship Game 8: Carlsen Dodges Bullet In Sveshnikov Sicilian

PeterDoggers
PeterDoggers
Nov 19, 2018, 1:11 PM |
133 | Chess Event Coverage

"It kind of felt like I got away with murder," Magnus Carlsen said about game six. In game eight, he dodged a bullet. After another draw in their world championship match, this time in a Sveshnikov Sicilian where Fabiano Caruana had good chances, the score is 4-4 with four classical games to go. 

"If he doesn’t win today, I think he’s probably going to lose the match." Hikaru Nakamura didn't mince words today as he joined the Chess.com live broadcast. (You can follow the game and the show every day on our world championship events page.)

"When Hikaru analyzes too fast," a meme video from the Chess.com live broadcast made by the YouTube member "vjrus."

And indeed, if Caruana does not win the match, game eight might be the one he thinks about the most. The challenger never felt his position to be close to winning during the game (it wasn't like missing a penalty, as one journalist suggested), but Norway-based supercomputer Sesse gave White an advantage of more than two pawns at one moment.

"It was a minor disappointment because I thought I, at some point, had a very promising position. But I didn’t quite see at what exact moment," Caruana said after the game. His team might do better not showing him today's evaluations by the strong engines.

Carlsen was relieved: "It was a tough game and he was the one who had all the chances.”

Carlsen World Championship 2018 Game 8

Carlsen felt relieved after the game. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

The world champion had taken some risks in the early middlegame by pushing his g-pawn, thereby letting go of some king safety. A key moment was move 21, where the Norwegian monster engine gave a close to winning advantage to the thematic c4-c5 push, a move one plays without thinking in blitz.

Sesse analysis Caruana-Carlsen game eight

Sesse's evaluation went as high as +2.45 today. | Image: http://analysis.sesse.net

Caruana did play it, after a long think, but American hopes for drawing first blood in the match were soon tempered as its Brooklyn boy didn't follow up with the most critical moves. The move 24.h3 was especially slow. From then, Carlsen was back in the game, the queens got traded and the game petered out to a draw.

Caruana Carlsen World Championship 2018 Game 8

A spectator's view of game eight. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Unlike on most previous days, Caruana was the one to arrive first at the board. He again walked with a very relaxed stride, holding a bottle in his right hand, his left hand in the pocket of his trousers.

It took less than half a minute for Carlsen to join him, and some of photographers who chose to sit on the floor as a way to get closer to the players were quick to notice that Carlsen was wearing red NBA socks.

Demis Hassabis

DeepMind founder and CEO Demis Hassabis made the first move today. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

After trying the Rossolimo three times (dubbed the "Sicilian Berlin" by Margeir Petursson in the press room today!), Caruana finally went for the Open Sicilian, a day after Maxime Vachier-Lagrave had suggested he should try his luck against the Sveshnikov. And indeed, it was that Sicilian that Carlsen had prepared (and not the Accelerated Dragon, as Jon Speelman predicted in the press room).

After Caruana's 3.d4, Carlsen didn't blink and quickly took on d4. But after 4.Nxd4, he sat back for a while, and took a sip from one of the four Isklar bottles (each player starts with four bottles of the sponsor's water next to the clock).

The world champ spent another 10 seconds or so looking in the direction of some photographers—as if he wanted to raise the tension even more—before he played …Nf6 and …e5, meanwhile covering his face with his left hand, to hide from the cameras. (Not all photographers follow the rule of non-flash photography).

Caruana Carlsen World Championship 2018 Game 8

Carlsen wasn't too thrilled about the many photographers, it seemed. Luckily, they are only allowed to bother him for five minutes. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Used successfully by Boris Gelfand in his match with Vishy Anand in 2012, the Sveshnikov Sicilian was known as the Lasker-Pelikan before Latvian-Russian grandmaster Evgeny Sveshnikov popularized the opening in the 1960s and 70s, when leaving a "hole" on d5 was still considered highly anti-positional.

Unsurprisingly, Caruana was fully ready for it. He had prepared the sideline with 7.Nd5, and many experts liked this choice.

Nakamura said: "It’s all about calculation. That’s why I think 7.Nd5 was quite a brilliant move. You only need to calculate a handful of moves as White. That’s what’s Fabiano is great at."

It's not at all certain whether Caruana will try it again. Nakamura: “It's a very good surprise for one game but when [the] opponent and team has had time to look at it, I think it’s not gonna be effective next time around."

It was Carlsen's 27th Sveshnikov in his career, but only the third time that he faced 7.Nd5. Interestingly, in one of the two earlier ones it was Caruana's second Rustam Kasimzdhanov sitting on the other side of the board. Caruana played 9.a4, where his helper had tried 9.c4, back in 2007.

Fabiano Caruana World Championship 2018 Game 8

Caruana, ready for the Sveshnikov today. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Nakamura was surprised that Carlsen allowed a4-a5, and he also wasn't sure about the move 14...e4 ("a very big concession"), a move that deviated from a 2015 correspondence game. This might have been the basis for Carlsen's later problems.

Both sides got a strong knight, and that combined with the pawn structure (pawn majority for White on the queenside, and one for Black on the kingside) predicted a possibly hyper-sharp middlegame.

Carlsen's 18...g5 however, after a 14-minute think, was too much, according to Nakamura, who called it "very shaky" and "not a Magnus move." The American GM said that Kasparov had once told him that Carlsen “doesn’t like to push his pawns forward and create weaknesses.”

Caruana Carlsen World Championship 2018 Game 8

Carlsen wasn't looking too happy about his middlegame position. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Carlsen needed another long think after 20.Bc3 (21 minutes this time), and by then he had only 34 minutes left on the clock, vs 1:27 for Caruana. For the first time in the match, Black was under serious pressure as a result of White's preparation.

The journalists in London and the thousands of chess fans were awaiting a big moment in the match: would Caruana play 21.c5, the move Sesse gave a staggering +2.45 evaluation? And why was he thinking so long?

But after 33 minutes, he played it. 

"I actually didn’t even consider another move besides 30.c5," Caruana said at the press conference. "I still thought I should think about it before playing it…I was really trying to make d6 work. It felt very natural."

Carlsen quickly took on f3 and c5, when Caruana spent three minutes on 23.Rad1. Sesse's evaluation dropped somewhat (it had preferred 23.Rae1, while other experts had suggested the maneuver Rf1-e1-e6 sacrificing the exchange), but the real error was 24.h3.

Carlsen's reply came quickly, and it became clear that the worst was over for him. And he kept on playing strong moves, thereby making it very clear that White's advantage had fully vanished.

“That’s Magnus’s biggest strength: when he gets these bad positions, he just finds the best moves, regardless,” said Nakamura. "Just because you put pressure on Magnus doesn’t mean he collapses or anything," Caruana would later say.

Sam Shankland

Here's Alex Yermolinsky's take on game eight:

So, why didn't Caruana win today? The reason might be fairly typical: if the side with the advantage has many different promising possibilities, it's hard to choose the right path.

"There were so many moments when I had different options," Caruana said. "I think 21.c5 is correct. And after 21...dxc5, I don’t know if there’s something here. Of course I have many possibilities. 22.d6 is one of them and I tried to make it work."

The American player admitted that 24.h3 was not the strongest (our commentator Shankland gave it two question marks, one for "mistake" and one that marked his disappointment probably!). "In a lot of lines he gets …g4 and …f3 and I would really prefer to have this covered," Caruana said. "Maybe I should go for 24.Qh5 Bg6 25.Qh6. I underestimated 24…Qe8."

Caruana Carlsen World Championship 2018 Game 8 press conference

The press conference underway. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

On the Chess.com show, Nakamura had not only complimented Caruana on his play, but also described him as "not very good at blitz and rapid" because "he doesn’t have the natural intuition, the natural feel."

Asked to comment, Caruana said: “What can I say? Hikaru has his opinion. I feel weird talking about my style so I’d rather not talk about it."

Fabiano Caruana World Championship 2018 Game 8

Caruana at the press conference. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

After some football analogies had been mentioned, one journalist at the press conference asked if Carlsen is looking forward to the "extra time," i.e. a tiebreak. "There’s a lot of chess to be played and before we may come to that time I’m sure there will be twists and turns to come," Carlsen replied.

On the day that the third world champion José Raúl Capablanca was born 130 years ago, the players drew their eighth game. They have now leveled the record of the 1995 Anand-Kasparov match, which also started with eight draws. Two years ago, after seven draws Carlsen lost the first decisive game to Sergey Karjakin in their New York match. ("That was to a much larger degree an own goal" —Carlsen.)

In hindsight, that loss was a wake-up call the Norwegian perhaps needed to get himself together. He'll be fully awake after this game, but this time the score is still equal.

Crowd Caruana Carlsen World Championship 2018 Game 8

Spectators can watch the press conferences, too. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Mike Klein contributed to this report.

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.


Previous reports:

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