A pensive Karjakin. I guarantee you he's not thinking about short working days. Photo: Maria Emelianova

The players had had a day to recover from their exertions in game 8, and to earth themselves again from two dramatically different perspectives. Both were presumably not expecting to be in this position when preparing for this match, though I think it is a safe bet that the match score was more of a surprise to the champion than the challenger. Believing you can take the lead is part of their job, preparing for adversity is sometimes not on a champion’s agenda.

by Jonathan Tisdall

Business as usual?

Carlsen did not talk to the Norwegian press, but went straight to his manager Espen Agdestein while Karjakin was in the mixed zone. Photo: Maria Emelianova

Carlsen did not talk to the Norwegian press, but went straight to his manager Espen Agdestein while Karjakin was in the mixed zone. Photo: Maria Emelianova

There are some hints about the mood in the Carlsen camp from insiders speaking to Norwegian media as the game begins. According to chief second Peter Heine Nielsen, their activities have been business as usual; exercise and relaxation on free day, then preparation.

«It’s too early to go into panic mood,» the Big Dane says, «world championship matches go back and forth. I’m looking forward to seeing Magnus at his best.»

Sister Ellen told VGTV that the match situation meant Magnus was under «a bit more pressure than usual, but things were OK. He has good chances to beat Karjakin over four games. He wants to win them all but a draw today would be fine.»

Ellen made the very sensible point that if Karjakin was ready to draw with white it would be very difficult to do anything about. The rest day had meant sport, good food and a reset for her brother. «This is a different Magnus sitting down today compared to the one that left the board after the last game.»

Ellen told NRK that the big push for the needed win would be tomorrow. There are many fascinating points here. But first some early punditry.

Peace predictions

Many strong GMs on Twitter, including heavyweights like Radjabov and Short, predicted or expected an early draw. Really?

I considered this a far more accurate assessment of the day’s start:

Yes, the plan. Let’s look at this plan closely, as well as the quick draw predictions – and the Carlsen camp declarations – because I think there is a lot to mull over here.

Specialty – the bleeding obvious?

This time they both appeared at the press conference. Eventually. Photo: Maria Emelianova

This time they both appeared at the press conference. Eventually. Photo: Maria Emelianova

I feel a rant coming on. Because I am rather rattled by what seems to me to be widespread refusal to take note of what look to me to be large, vivid, glowing neon facts.

To me this attitude – that today would be a quick draw, Ellen’s mention of not being able to do much with black if white is intent on splitting the point, expresses not only a continuing fixation on the match evolution exclusively from a Carlsen point of view, it ignores completely what Karjakin has been saying – and doing. The evidence is there, it’s not just lip service or bravado.

Why should he burn a white after gaining a point and an even bigger psychological advantage? OK, he’s not going to play the King’s Gambit, we get that he’s not going to take chances. But what makes people think he isn’t going to fight?

He’s been fighting. He says he’s here to fight. He’s just not taking risks. Before he was fighting for his life, so the assumption was that he was here to draw all the games. But that was a sensible attitude when he was getting into trouble and being battered every game. Fighting to survive is a no-brainer, so he got no credit for that.

But he has given every sign that he is ready to pounce if he gets his chance. He created a glimmer in game five, and pounced. He missed; but he was ready. And to get chances he has to play. And, take a look, he’s been getting more and more chances. He’s been telling everyone, every day. We’re fighting. We’re playing. I’m looking for my chances.

He wasn’t intending to repeat after the time control in game 8. He took the chance he got. Why isn’t anyone listening to him?

Looking for an early whistle? Photo: Maria Emelianova

Looking for an early whistle? Photo: Maria Emelianova

The plan

Concern number two. From the camp reports, his past history, and my own expectations, a fit and furious Magnus was supposed to turn up today. Sure, four games is not a lot to turn the match around, but one win will do. He was not going to go crazy today, but surely he would do the Carlsen –  play soundly, keep and build tension, press and play and do what was working perfectly in the first half of the match, and now fully focused, maybe convert.

But as Anish Giri astutely pointed out, the Magnus that turned up looked like he wanted to go back home again quickly and really try tomorrow. His choice of opening variation combined the two most un-Carlsen things imaginable – a load of theory and a lifeless position. This was no time to play a position where only two results were possible, and neither of them the needed win.

When Magnus created a cute tactic designed to sacrifice to perpetual, Karjakin immediately pursued more. And he got it, skillfully building up a menacing attack, while today Magnus alone was in time pressure. The chess world held its breath – a second consecutive win loomed, and the almost certain crowning of a new world champion.

For the first time in the match, Magnus spent most of the game under pressure, reeled on the ropes, but managed to stay up. The post-morten revealed that he had been calculating excellently, but he had saddled himself with a thankless task and Karjakin had been expertly working him over. After the game Magnus went directly to the press conference room, again snubbing the Norwegian media who are partnering the event. His frustration remains, but the official presser went well.


Their natural environment. Photo: Maria Emelianova

Their natural environment. Photo: Maria Emelianova

Karjakin gave VGTV his usual polite and precise summary of the game – he was much better, didn’t see a forced win, and Magnus defended excellently. Maybe a computer would find something clear. The seance with both players was, for me, a delight, the best of the match.

First, the players found some of the sharp variations linked to the critical moment so interesting, that they just went natural. Magnus perked up, and their rapport is still apparently there, they enjoy analyzing together. So much so that Sergey distracted Magnus from answering another question by suggesting a variation and nearly forgot that he was at a press conference.

Magnus was asked about yesterday’s events: «The previous game I didn’t play well, he played better than me, and he won.» This earned a laugh. Magnus decided not to discuss the missed press conference, saying that it would not be wise since it was under appeal.

About the match situation: «It’s not very comfortable. I have to win one out of three and that is something I normally am capable of doing,» Magnus said. «The way to handle it is amassing the energy that is there and using it best.»

Artificial intelligence

Can Magnus Carlsen strike back to level the match? Photo: Maria Emelianova

Can Magnus Carlsen strike back to level the match? Photo: Maria Emelianova

My favorite moment was a question posed by a journalist armed with a supercomputer assessment, and asked what they thought of some finesse in the ending the machine had suggested. This turned into a lovely example of the pointlessness of being armed with information you can’t even understand.

When the players, puzzled, asked the questioner what the idea was behind the move, the journo was of course clueless. Carlsen’s answer: «It is difficult to calculate 47 ply in these positions.» He grinned, Karjakin chuckled. People power.

Another chance

In summary – the champion lives to fight another day. The challenger doesn’t seem to let anything faze him. When chess is center stage, these two players still connect.

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7 kommentarer på "Reprieve"

  1. «39.Qb3 is critical. Carlsen had noticed all the key variations: 39…Nf5 40. Bxf7+ Qxf7 41. Qxf7+ Kxf7 42. Rxh7+ Ke6 43. Rxc7 Nxd4 is what he thought he had to play, with drawing chances due to white’s poor pawn structure – but this is very painful.»

    Later analysis (computer and human) doesn’t see any progress for White in this Carlsen line. Again you have to suggest a plan, as the computer just says +2, which means nothing. Blockade on f-file seems to work just fine, both before and after the h-pawn gets traded. It’s also rather «easy» for Black to play (it’s either lost or it’s not) to some extent, as White will have to find the plan if it’s there, and Black has wide margin of error while waiting.

    • I’m just reporting what they said. And not analyzing with machines 🙂

      • Impressive indeed that Magnus saw and correctly assessed that as best in time pressure. Though he was not at all sure if it was drawn.

        • Actually, 43… Nh4+ is needed (44. Kg3 Nf5+ 45. Kf4 Nxd4 only then), else the g-pawn is weak. But Carlsen might have seen that when it was played.

  2. Very precisely put , i tweeted earlier today .. why all the commentators and spectators r treating Karjakin chances like he is Mr.Noboy , the man is there to fight

    • There’s always some asymmetry in coverage. Back in K-K III, even after Karpov won 3 in a row to tie the score, everyone would rather talk about what was wrong with Kasparov.

      • My point was more that it is difficult to conceive of a proper match strategy if you are ignoring your opponent’s.

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