Law of averages

Magnus admitted it wasn't pretty, but give him enough chances to grind, sooner or later you get ground. Carlsen evens up the match in game 10. Photo: Maria Emelianova

Weeks of frustration have finally ended for the champion, and once again he pauses after the game to speak with Norwegian media. Visibly nearly as weary as he is happy, he cannot hide a face-splitting smile. The match is now tied 5-5, and some might say we now have a two-game title contest.

by Jonathan Tisdall

«It is a strain to sit here every day and not make anything work at all. Today wasn’t pretty by any means, but it worked out in the end, and I am extremely relieved,» Carlsen said, wearing his huge, tired grin. «This changes everything of course. Now I don’t have to plan what I am going to do if I lose. There is still hope.»

Equilibrium

«The second half of the match has been exhausting but there is a completely different footing now, and I am extremely relieved and unbelievably happy,» Magnus added.

The loser fielded the usual blunt questions that tend to add a bit of insult to injury in post-chess game interviews. He did it with the admirable composure he has shown since the end of the very first game. Not only was there no sign of temper, he looked remarkably like he did the night he beat Carlsen – tired, but imperturbable, still with a smile ready with most answers.

Sergei Karjakin has displayed amazing composure and balance throughout the match. Photo: Maria Emelianova

Sergei Karjakin has displayed amazing composure and balance throughout the match. Photo: Maria Emelianova

«I lost because he played well and he caused many problems,» Sergey told VGTV’s journalist. He explained that he would try to do his best when asked how hard he would fight now, and when asked if he was disappointed – fired off a firm «No!» Why not? «Because!» he grinned.

He shrugs and tells the reporter that he can maintain his good mood because he is «just thinking about chess and not about some stupid questions» and smiles warmly to take the sting out of his reply. The real novelty of this standard conversation is that Karjakin is surprised when he finds out his wife has arrived – he had not been told before.

Flesh and blood

The game develops along familiar contours. Carlsen gets the kind of position that he has aimed for throughout, non-theoretical, but with huge potential for pure, drawn-out man-to-man combat. Karjakin has not had anything against this either, but today he assists a bit, taking too much time in the opening, and thus setting the stage for having to battle the clock as well.

The time difference is a topic of conversation among the chess intelligentsia on social media – time pressure has always been a major factor, but it has become a standard part of the modern professional’s armory in an age of quicker controls and living on 30-second increments. Factor in the nearly incomprehensible pressure of playing for the world title, and Karjakin fans have something to fear.

Team Karjakin had a tense day. Photo: Maria Emelianova

Team Karjakin had a tense day. Photo: Maria Emelianova

But then comes another familiar pattern, at least for this event – a bizarre lapse from the champion. This time it is a double – first Magnus plunged into long thought and erased his advantage on the clock, then he produced a move that gave Sergey a chance to completely snuff out the game. Carlsen admitted afterwards that he realized in horror what he had done, and just expected another day to end in frustration.

At this point I had my chronic seizure about analysis engines. This is a topic that is going to be rehashed for the foreseeable future – but still, I must confess that I am a bit shocked about it in this particular setting.

GM and super-trainer Arthur Kogan had a gleeful tweet somewhere around game four that this match was achieving the impossible – demonstrating to the public the pitfalls of believing computer engines – as the ferociously fought early endings featured obviously frightening winning chances being conjured up from numerically harmless positions, and miraculous defensive ideas holding positions where the numbers promised breached fortresses.

Oh, the humanity

Manager Espen Agdestein nervously following the game from the VIP room. Photo: Maria Emelianova

Manager Espen Agdestein nervously following the game from the VIP room. Photo: Maria Emelianova

Now, as the human factors, the drama, pressure, stakes, exhaustion and nerves could not be more starkly or clearly illustrated, the overwhelming noise around the game was once again sneering condescension about all the ‘obvious’ errors. I screamed out into the ether to remember that we were watching fellow homo sapiens, and then resolved to just settle down and soak in the drama and ignore the decimalists.

Anyway, Sergey did not spot the opportunity to force a draw. His reluctance to be tempted into anything resembling risk via sharp variations has arguably been his weak spot in New York, but to be fair, this no risk policy was also the secret of the success that had so far driven his opponent to the edge of despair. Why change a clever winning formula? Well, easy to argue that now.

Regular programming resumed, and Magnus began to grind away. Many top observers predicted a patented Carlsen torture session, though the argumentative made the obvious point that Karjakin had survived worse. This was a plot conflict everyone could understand, and finally the dramatic tension took center stage again, alongside the frail nerves of two heroes.

And a nation waited for their champion to magic forth another success, and to finally knock this guy over after weeks of furious, futile, jabbing.

And in the 10th attempt, Carlsen finally won a game. Stat hunters had mentioned that the Norwegian had not had a streak of nine games without victory in many years, and there was some talk that 10 would be a career record. I would just interject that Magnus ended the Baku Olympiad with a draw, so the streak was actually ten before today…

What now?

Spanish super-GM Paco Vallejo had some Twitter musings about the new situation, and looked forward to tiebreaks:

One very relieved, one not visibly disappointed. Photo: Maria Emelianova

One very relieved, one not visibly disappointed. Photo: Maria Emelianova

At the press conference, the players addressed the balance of power.

«It has been a struggle and it will continue to be a struggle – but at least we are fighting on equal terms now,» Carlsen said.

Asked to comment on the two final games, Carlsen provoked laughter with an honest: «I am happy there will be two more games!» while Karjakin added with a smile: «I just want to play well and would like not to blunder anything.»

And how likely is it that there will be more than 12 games?

Magnus: «More likely than before today.»
Sergey: «Let’s play 12 and see.»

Who will win the World Championshp match?

  • Carlsen (76%, 316 Votes)
  • Karjakin (24%, 99 Votes)

Antall stemmer: 415

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Team Carlsen during the game. Photo: Maria Emelianova

Team Carlsen during the game. Photo: Maria Emelianova

Sergey Karjakin is still able to smile and laugh despite losing a dramatic game 10. Photo: Maria Emelianova

Sergey Karjakin is still able to smile and laugh despite losing a dramatic game 10. Photo: Maria Emelianova

Play Magnus CEO Kate Murphy among the crowd following the press conference on Thanksgiving. Photo: Maria Emelianova

Play Magnus CEO Kate Murphy and Chess.com reporter Mike Klein following the press conference on Thanksgiving day. Photo: Maria Emelianova

Joy in the Carlsen camp once their boss won his first game. Here with ex professional sandvolleyball player Jørre Kjemperud, "security man" Bjørn Gunnar Nesse, and Play Magnus CEO Kate Murphy. Photo: Maria Emelianova

Joy in the Carlsen camp once their boss won his first game. Here with ex professional sandvolleyball player Jørre Kjemperud, «security man» Bjørn Gunnar Nesse, and Play Magnus CEO Kate Murphy. Photo: Maria Emelianova

Sergey Karjakins manager Kyrilios Zangalis has become a cult hero on Norwegian TV after several entertaining interviews. Here with NRK reporter Ole Rolfsrud and cameraman Helge Tvedten. Photo: Maria Emelianova

Sergey Karjakins manager Kyrilios Zangalis has become a cult hero on Norwegian TV after several entertaining interviews. Here with NRK reporter Ole Rolfsrud and cameraman Helge Tvedten. Photo: Maria Emelianova

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  • Nils R Grotnes

    «the overwhelming noise around the game was once again sneering condescension about all the ‘obvious’ errors»

    Yes! This!

    And this time it’s not only «the decimalists» with their traditional arrogance who continue to belittle two of the best players in the world, with Hammer who should know better being a sad example. Worse in my view is that it seems to have rubbed off on commentators that doesn’t (seem to) use computer support, like Judit Polgar and her guest expert Nepomniachtchi for example, that based on superficial variations came up with one theory after another of why the players play so badly, missing the most obvious one; That the commentators themselves was missing crucial details.

    Thankfully we still have Svidler…

  • Your article touches on a real tension. There are armchair quarterbacks galore following these games. They ride the computer analysis and spout all sorts of nonsense when a move get marks read by chess bomb, or wherever. That said the numbers following the match are unprecedented. Being able to ‘ride the decimals’ has brought a great many people to the match who might not be following otherwise.

    I don’t have any answers. But it’s an interesting problem. I never thought chess would be struggling with this tension to this degree.