As someone who reported the first 42 – or was it 44? – games of the first Karpov-Kasparov match, from the USSR, an experience that lasted four and a half months and where fights occasionally broke out in the streets after ticketholders had purchased the rights to watch the latest short and bloodless draw, I would like to ask some segment of chess fans to calm down, maybe even grow up.
Carlsen-Karjakin is not setting any records or ruining anything, not ushering in the end or start of anything. Chess has always been hard, world championship matches have always seen sequences of draws. So far, this one might not have had the kind of swashbuckling chess that we all love but amateurs rarely grow beyond, but every single game has been hard fought.
Lack of goals – lots of quality. To complain about it is like preferring third division soccer ending 8-6 over GER-ARG 0-0. #CarlsenKarjakin
— Erle Marki Hansen (@SjakkErle) November 18, 2016
I don’t know what game some people complaining out there were watching, but what I saw excited me. And I cannot fathom why it didn’t do the same for others. Because the ingredients for the excitement were obvious, not at all the submerged subtleties we’ve had so far. The pieces were flying around, there were tactics galore, a counter-gambit was played.
Has watching the on-screen engine of choice saying perfect play means something near zero turned the public into zombies? Haven’t the earlier games shown how little bearing these soulless numerical assessments have on the real games?
Carlsen is massively frustrated because this game is wicked. He's pressing for 223 moves and it takes only one single poor move to screw up.
— Olimpiu G. Urcan (@OlimpiuUrcan) November 18, 2016
Even the psychological stakes were high and crystal clear; Magnus, after an increasingly frustrating start, was now doing the one thing absolutely everyone said was the one thing he should never do, go charging forward towards the mythical Russian theoretical machine, and he was doing it with a black gambit no less.
This was to be a duel of computers and opening analysis, the one thing Magnus hates, and supposedly never does, can’t do. He was barreling across the field like a furious know-nothing in a bastardly battle.
I don’t know about you, but I wasn’t sure the sudden swift and violent bloodshed would end the way it did.
But it ended ‘peacefully’. And the lessons learned today, at least at first sight, are ones that finally can be put firmly on the Carlsen side. He is prepared for this match, and his team is not so bad either. And he can play anything. He is taking risks, and for all the abuse his opening choices have had in the past, he can do this theory thing as well. And now this is boring too?
For the first time in the match, the players didn't exchange any words or possible variations right after the game. #vgsjakk
— Jon Ludvig Hammer (@gmjlh) November 18, 2016
There is no sinister reason behind the players’ refusal to speak today, and their customary cheerful demeanor was again on display at the press conference, after yesterday’s glitch where Carlsen’s frustration had threatened to plunge him into ‘Hulk’ mode. The lack of post-game chat has a simple explanation – openings are never discussed in a match post-mortem, and the only things to discuss about this game were opening wrinkles. These will be rehashed either later in the match, or after.
Magnus’ mood was restored, and this was something that greatly interested Norwegian media, who wanted to know about his mood after yesterday and six straight draws.
«Today was maybe the least irritating – not very much happened,» Carlsen told VGTV. «I am not satisfied with how I played yesterday but today was an easy day and I’m satisfied with that. There was not so much I could do (about yesterday) – I was glad I survived of course; I was furious because I had messed things up so terribly but I tried to put it behind me and focus on today’s game. And that went quite well.»
On his regained cheer: «There are 12 games here and you can’t dwell on things too long. I’m not satisfied when I make mistakes I can avoid, quite the reverse (but) I have to play the same guy every day. I can’t let things bother me more than a few hours after the game.»
Karjakin said his opponent had played brilliantly in the opening. As ever, he praised his adversary, and stressed the combative side of the contest.
«We’re actually fighting in every game and even today was an interesting game,» Sergey explained, «but he played very well in the opening and somehow we both could not avoid a draw. Magnus’ opening play is underestimated by many players, and I don’t understand why. Sometimes he plays very well in the opening.» Asked how hard it was to beat Magnus, Sergey smiled and said: «Very hard.»
«Games six and seven (where Carlsen is black) are not the games where I’m supposed to do it. Any chances with black are a bonus. But if I get through the next black, I have white in three of the last five.»
I didn’t spot any forecasting from Karjakin, so I leave you with the most ominous tweet I noticed.
The Russians keep their strongest weapon for the end we know that well from WW2 #CarlsenKarjakin
— Darko Polimac (@ChessPolimac) November 18, 2016