But yet afraid to strike, as Alexander Pope would doubtless have described the first seven games of the World Championship currently in progress in New York. It is not that there has been a dearth of opportunity, just a frustrating lack of realisation. Like Marshall Grouchy at the Battle of Waterloo, no sooner are the players presented with an opportunity for advantage than they march briskly away from the sound of the cannons.
Take game five, for example.
Carlsen-Karjakin: World Championship, New York (Game 5) 2016
(see diagram 1)
Here Black has an excellent chance to exploit the windy position of White’s king with 43 … Rh8, when the following variation is forced: 43 … Rh8 44 Qe4 Qh6 45 Kf1 Qh1+ 46 Ke2 Bd5 47 Qf5+ Kb8 48 Qd3 Qa1. Here Black has an excellent position with very good winning chances. 43 … Bd5 44 e6 Giving back the pawn disrupts Black’s attack and, importantly, controls h8. 44 … Qxe6 45 Kg3 Qe7 46 Rh2 Qf7 47 f4 gxf4+ 48 Qxf4 Qe7 49 Rh5 Rf8 50 Rh7 Rxf4 51 Rxe7 Re4 Draw agreed After 52 Rxe4 Bxe4 53 Kf4 Bd5 54 Ke5 Kd7 55 Kf6 Ke8 56 g5 Kf8 57 g6 White can manoeuvre his king across to capture the b7-pawn. However, Black replies … Bb5 and White can then make no progress.
When I first played over this game I was struck by a feeling of déjà vu. The third game of the 1896 World Championship reached a similar configuration, though White’s light-square wounds were far worse in this classic example.
Steinitz-Lasker: World Championship, Moscow (Game 3) 1896
(see diagram 2)
31 Rf1 If instead 31 Qd2 Re6 32 Rf1 Re3 33 Bxh4 Qe6 when White is helpless. 31 … Rg8 32 Qd2 Or 32 Re1 Re8 33 Rc1 Re3 34 Bxh4 Qe4. Note that Black has various attractive tactics at his disposal due to the mating threats generated by his battery of queen and bishop. 32 … a5 Even more direct is 32 … Re8 with the threat of … Re3. 33 a4 The last chance is 33 Qf2 Re8 34 Rg1. 33 … Re8 If now 34 Bxh4 Qh5 35 Bf2 Re2 36 Qc1 Qf3 when White cannot avoid checkmate. 34 f5 Rg8 35 Re1 If 35 Rg1 then 35 … Rxg5 36 Qxg5 Qd6+ wins. 35 … Qxf5 36 Re5 Qf3 37 d5 Qg3+ 38 Kh1 Qxe5 39 dxc6+ Kxc6 White resigns
The deadlock was broken when Carlsen overreached and lost game 8. I will write about this next week.