Game 8: First Blood!
The World Championship match between Carlsen and Karjakin finally burst open Monday evening when reigning champion Magnus Carlsen extended his hand in resignation to Russian challenger Sergey Karjakin. The best of twelve game match now stands at 4.5 to 3.5 in Karjakin’s favour.
Apparently this is the first time that Carlsen finds himself trailing in a world title match. However, this is a typical situation in high-stakes world title matches. With 4 games to go, the Norwegian superstar must stay calm, focused and score atleast 2.5 points. Carlsen will have the White pieces in the final game.[pullquote]It ain’t over ’til it’s over.-Yogi Berra[/pullquote] Readers might remember that in 1987 the World Champion Garri Kasparov found himself in an even more critical situation, having to win the very last game in order to keep his title…and he did!
What happened in game 8 ?
Up to this game, both players had drawn all of their games, the score being tied at 3.5 points a piece. Apparently, Carlsen’s match strategy was to now start to begin to put his opponent under more pressure, both on the board and pyschologically. He started with a slow-moving Reti/QueenPawn game, designed to build up a tense middlegame known for its subtle attacking prospects.
However, by move 15 the Russian had completely equalized the game and the Norwegian star had not the slightest attacking chances. Losing objectivity, Carlsen refused to switch game plan and at move 19 played an overly aggressive move (19.Nb5) that created the first critical point of the game. Had the Russian then played 19…Qg5, then the experts[pullquote]Missing strong chance to win the game![/pullquote] say that he could have won material. However, Karjakin–after spending 20 minutes–refused to take the bait, possibly fearing a trap somewhere that he could not calculate.
This must have given Carlsen re-newed confidence, as he then proceeded to attack in a somewhat reckless fashion, first sacrificing a pawn, and then another. The first sacrifice was probably quite sound, but the second was pushing his luck.
As both players were in severe time trouble, the last moves approaching the first time control saw Karjakin lose his grip, throwing away a probably sure win, and allowing Carlsen an unexpected chance to make a draw. To everyone’s surprise and amazement, Carlsen refused to take the draw and stubbornly continued to chase a win that simply was not there. He resigned after 52 moves.
Press conference penalty!
Both players are obliged to attend the post-game press conference, a match stipulation that is ridiculous in my opinion, especially as both players could be completely wasted by then. However, FIDE wants things done this way, and if either player does not attend, then he is fined 10% of his prize.
Carlsen initially sat down at the press conference table, (even before Karjakin arrived), but he soon had second thoughts and quickly got up and exited the building. It is likely that he will now have to pay atleast $40,000 for this infraction.
What should we expect in the remaining games?
As already pointed out, the situation that Carlsen now finds himself in is typical of world championship chess. That being said, Carlsen must now manage and deal with significantly increased psychological pressure, being fully aware that the slightest slip could spell the end of the struggle and cost him his title.
Karjakin, however, will also face a number of critical match pressures. Especially, he can not afford to let his guard down or try to coast to the finish line. In chess, one must maintain one’s fighting spirit, and it can be fatal if one simply goes on auto-pilot.
In short, should both players remain calm and understand what they must do, then I expect a GREAT finish worthy of two great players.
(I present game 8 below with some notes. The RPB plugin is used, so simpy click on any move to get a pop-up diagram. On the right hand side are some additional notes, video clips, etc. that might help to get some insight into the game)
Carlsen’s 19th move was a blunder, and now Black can get a big edge by moving his Queen to g5. But he did not play it (!), surprising the commentators. Why not? Here is what Karjakin said after the match
Many felt that Carlsen played too aggressively with f4, instead of a slower Karpovian approach beginning with h3 and Kh2, putting the King out of harms way, before playing f4.
But the truth is that Carlsen’s aggressive play was sound, and he was quite ok, even after the first pawn sacrifice. But giving the second pawn on move 35 was just wrong, probably Karjakin’s time trouble seduced the World Champion into playing ‘a la poker’. Carlsen under-estimating Karjakin’s resourceful defensive skills has been a familiar theme in this match. This is how Karjakin after the game described the situation:
The fans were going wild! Moments of raw drama are rare in chess matches. Things especially got intense when Karjakin returned the favour at move 37, giving Carlsen a chance to get back into the game, at least from the point of view of making a draw. Karjakin explained his decision afterwards:
By the time that the 40th move time control had been reached, the game was objectively drawn. Black’s outside passed pawn guaranteed Black the draw. No doubt much will be written about what then transpired, but only Carlsen can truly explain why he so desperately wanted to win this game. Even as late as the 47th move it was still not impossible for Carlsen to save the game.At what point did Karjakin realize he was going to win this game?
And now the moment of resignation, always painful but both players showed great sportsmanship in this game!