Thursday, December 1, 2016

World Chess Championship 2016 Highlights: Part 1

Yesterday the chess world concluded one of its most historic events of the year: The World Chess Championship 2016. This year saw Carlsen faced with his biggest challenge yet, for Karjakin was able to hold out throughout the classical games and even achieve a one-point lead (briefly) in Game 8. The results were finally decided in hair-raising tiebreakers where the Norwegian routed his opponent 3-1.

WCC 2016, Carlsen's toughest championship test

With so many instructive games in the past two weeks, I cannot resist going through some of them. Hence, I will dedicate a new series of articles to analysis of selected WCC 2016 games. Don't worry though, I haven't forgotten about wrapping up the doubled pawns series I started last month!

What better way to kick off than with one of the match-deciding games from the tiebreakers!

Karjakin, Sergei vs Carlsen, Magnus
World Chess Championship 2016 Tiebreakers Round 3

In the previous game, Karjakin escaped with a miraculous draw after sacrificing several pieces and pawns to force a stalemate. Going into the final two rounds, we will see whether he can continue his unbreakable spirit, or whether Magnus will finally wear him out.

1. e4 e5
2. Nf3 Nc6
3. Bb5 a6
4. Ba4 Nf6
5. O-O Be7
6. d3 b5
7. Bb3 d6
8. Nc3 O-O
9. a3 Na5
10. Ba2 Be6
11. b4 Nc6
12. Nd5

You may be wondering whether White could simply wreck Black's pawn structure with 12. Bxe6 fxe6. Yes, White does get doubled pawns, but they are not easily attacked in this closed position. In fact, they may even help Black by controlling more squares in the centre and opening up the f-file for his rook.

12... Nd4
13. Ng5 Bxd5

While damaging White's pawn structure Black has to give up his bishop pair, but this isn't particularly alarming since the two bishops cannot fully unleash their power in this closed position.

14. exd5 (D)

Position after 14. exd5

Not 14. Bxd5? giving up the bishop pair for nothing, and also losing a piece after Nxd5

14... Nd7

Making room for an f5 push, expanding on the kingside while keeping the centre closed. 14... c6 comes into consideration, giving Black's pawn centre some free reign. However, he wouldn't want to undouble White's pawns and open the centre for the bishop pair, so this plan is cast aside in favour of the main line.

15. Ne4 f5
16. Nd2 f4

Things are starting to go Black's way. While White has the bishop pair, one is blockaded by the enemy pawns, while the other babysits a friendly pawn on d5. This is why Carlsen chooses to keep the centre closed.

17. c3

Otherwise 17... f3 follows.

17... Nf5
18. Ne4 Qe8

Bringing reinforcements to the kingside.

19. Bb3

Since Karjakin can't do anything about White's plans for now, he tries to find counterplay on the other wing. Here, the aim is to push a4 and (hopefully) get the light-squared bishop onto a better diagonal.

19... Qg6
20. f3!? (D)

Position after 20. f3

A natural and solid looking move, preparing 21. Ra2/Rf2 as a response to 20... Nh4. But some consider this questionable: White's queen is cut off from interfering, and the e3 square becomes a tempting outpost for the enemy. For now only the bishop on f1 stands guard over it.

20... Bh4

White needs to be watchful of a potential bishop sacrifice on g3, which would open up the h-file and bring the pawn onto g3, covering the White king's escape squares. This is a common attacking motif against an undefended kingside.

21. a4 Nf6
22. Qe2 a5!

Magnus creates problems for his opponent, who was starting to run into time trouble.

23. axb5?

The wrong choice made under time pressure. This lets Black exchange on d4, weakening e3 and giving White multiple pawn weaknesses. After 23. bxa5 Rxa5 24. Ra2! bxa4 25. Rxa4 Rxa4 26. Bxa4 White has achieved what he wanted: Get some space for his bishops. While Black still has strong pressure on the kingside, at least White can give him some problems on the opposite wing.

23... axb4
24. Bd2 (D)

Position after 24. Bd2

Black chooses not to take the extra material, since he has a hanging rook and a vulnerable d4 square to take care of.

24. Rxa8 Rxa8 25. cxb4? Nd4! The extra material is worth nothing since it comes in the form of isolated doubled pawns.

24... bxc3
25. Bxc3 Ne3

With the bishop no longer covering e3 Black can brazenly step in. Karjakin's position is becoming very cramped, and the fact that he is down on time isn't helping at all.

26. Rfc1!

Setting up a trap. The key is that Black's king is under indirect fire by the light-squared bishop, which means the d5 pawn cannot be taken straightaway.

26... Rxa1

There are many ways Black could have gone wrong here:

  1. 26... Nfxd5? 27. Qxe3! fxe3 28. Bxd5+ Gaining a rook, bishop and pawn for the queen. But what is more important is that Black's attacking strength is severly reduced, and the e3 pawn will fall very soon.
  2. 26... Nexd5? 27. Nxf6+ is even worse for Black, for the pin ensures he remains a piece down after the exchanges.
  3. Finally, 26... Rab8? falls prey to a discovered attack: 27. Bxe5! dxe5 28. d6+ $1 Kh8 29. dxc7 Rbc8 30. Nd6 At the cost of his bishop White gets a powerful passed pawn.

27. Rxa1 Qe8

It seems weird to retreat from the kingside when you were putting so much pressure on it. But flexibility is a virtue of war, and here Black switches sights to attack the queenside weaknesses.

28. Bc4 Kh8

Stepping away from the line of fire. Now Black threatens to capture on d5.

29. Nxf6 Bxf6
30. Ra3

30. Bd2 with hopes of getting rid of the e3 knight fails after 30... e4! 31. Ra3 exf3 32. Qxf3 opening up the e-file as an invasion point for Black's queen. There is no way White can trade on e3 now, otherwise a passed pawn is born.

Black has the edge with his strong knight, and his position has less vulnerable points than White's. But White still holds the fragile line with his bishop pair. Can the world champion find a breakthrough here?

30... e4!

Sacrificing a pawn to gain entry.

31. dxe4

White is very happy to undouble his pawns, so why not?

31... Bxc3
32. Rxc3 Qe5! (D)

Position after 32... Qe5

The point of 30... e4, to clear the d5 square as a staging point for the invasion. Black's dark-square dominance is indisputable.

33. Rc1 Ra8
34. h3 h6
35. Kh2 Qd4
36. Qe1?

Cold-blooded engines would not hesitate to play the counter-intuitive 36. Ba2 temporarily halting Black's invasion of the 1st rank, but for a human to find this with less than 5 minutes on his clock would be too much to ask.

36... Qb2

Threatening a mate in one; the next move is forced.

37. Bf1 Ra2
38. Rxc7??

With seconds left on his clock, Karjakin makes his final error. But the endgame was already extremely difficult to defend.

38. Rb1 was the only defense; 38... Qf6 39. Be2 Black still maintains a huge advantage but has no immediate win.

38... Ra1 (D)

Position after 38... Ra1

White must give up the queen or face ... Nxf1+/Qxg2#.

With this win Carlsen gains a huge morale victory; he only needs a draw in his next game to defend his title!

Part 1:
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