Magnus Carlsen and Fabiano Caruana, those two gladiators of the mind, will duel in London during the remainder of this month for the title of world chess champion.
Twelve games will be played, and if no clear victor emerges there will be a rapidplay tie break on November 28. It is my prediction that in spite of the fact that their ratings are very close (Carlsen 2835, Caruana 2832), the more artistic Caruana will succumb to the extreme pragmatist Carlsen, by the score of 6½ to 4½.
Should Caruana somehow escape to a level score after the stipulated dozen games, then I hold out little hope for him in the speed chess tiebreak on 28 November. Carlsen has hitherto dominated Caruana in quick games and I foresee no miraculous reversal of this trend.
Caruana-Carlsen: Wijk aan Zee 2015
(see diagram 1)
White is actually OK if Black takes the exchange here with 31 … Bxa1. Instead Carlsen activates his rooks when the mating threats make it impossible for White to defend. 31 … Rf4! 32 c3 After 32 Ke1 the reply 32 … Rd8 is very strong. 32 … Rd8 33 d4 Bh6 33 … Bxd4 was also winning as after 34 cxd4 Rh4 35 Kg1 Kh8 Black forces checkmate. 34 Ke1 Rxe4+ 35 Kd1 c5! The final trick. 35 … Re2 is met by 36 Rb2 but after 35 … c5 36 Nxc5 Re2 will win. 36 Kc2 cxd4 37 Kd3 Re2 38 c4 Rxf2 39 Rd1 Re2 White resigns
Caruana-Carlsen: Stavanger 2015
(see diagram 2)
In this game Carlsen defended with the Berlin Wall variation against the Ruy Lopez, a line used with great effect by Vladimir Kramnik against Garry Kasparov in their World Championship match in London 2000. With his previous move, Caruana has set a trap into which Carlsen now falls. 22 … Ne6? Carlsen either had to sit tight with 22 … b6 or risk the complications after 22 … Bxf5 23 gxf5 g6 24 fxg6 Ne6. 23 Nxe6 Bxa3 Carlsen doubtless planned 23 … fxe6, overlooking the brilliant reply 24 Be7!! which wins at once. 24 Nexg7 Bf8 25 e6 Bxf5 26 Nxf5 fxe6 27 Ng3 This is the nightmare scenario for the defender of the Berlin variation. White can exploit the kingside pawn majority and Black has no counterplay at all. Caruana makes no mistake in wrapping up. 27 … Be7 28 Kg2 Rf8 29 Rd3 Rf7 30 Nh5 Bd6 31 Rf3 Rh7 32 Re3 Re7 33 f4 Ba3 34 Kf3 Bb2 35 Re2 Bc3 36 g5 Kd7 37 Kg4 Re8 38 Ng3 Rh8 39 h4 b6 40 h5 c5 41 g6 Re8 42 f5 exf5+ 43 Kf4 Rh8 44 Nxf5 Bf6 45 Rg2 Black resigns