The Epistle to Dr Arbuthnot by Alexander Pope contains a memorable excoriation of his fellow wit and former friend Joseph Addison. When they fell out, Pope lampooned Addison as Atticus (Cicero’s Athenian correspondent) in The Epistle, the most telling phrase of which runs, ‘Willing to wound and yet afraid to strike.’ There could not be a better epithet to encapsulate the London World Championship, which finished this week. In previous articles I focused on missed wins in Game 1 (Magnus Carlsen) and Game 6 (Fabiano Caruana). This week: Caruana’s failures to strike in Game 8.
Caruana-Carlsen: World Championship (Game 8), London 2018; Sicilian Defence
1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 e5 This move is the hallmark of the Sveshnikov Variation of the Sicilian Defence. Black accepts a very obvious weakening of the pawn structure in return for free piece play. 6 Ndb5 d6 7 Nd5 The main lines of the Sveshnikov occur after 7 Bg5 which is a direct attempt to exploit Black’s self-inflicted wound on d5. 7 … Nxd5 8 exd5 Nb8 9 a4 Be7 10 Be2 0-0 11 0-0 Nd7 12 Bd2 f5 13 a5 a6 14 Na3 e4 15 Nc4 Ne5 16 Nb6 The knight is well-placed here as it controls key squares on the queenside. However, if play erupts on the other wing it will find itself misplaced. 16 … Rb8 17 f4 exf3 18 Bxf3 (see diagram 1) 18 … g5 Very aggressive and, in retrospect, a mistake. Carlsen weakens his own king in an attempt to attack White’s. More circumspect would be 18 … Nd7, challenging the black knight, followed by … Bf6. 19 c4 f4 20 Bc3 Bf5 21 c5 This is an excellent pawn sacrifice that enables White to exploit the weaknesses in Black’s position. 21 … Nxf3+ 22 Qxf3 dxc5 (see diagram 2) 23 Rad1 This is where Caruana misses his main chance. His choice turns out to be insufficiently dynamic and Carlsen is able to organise his defences in time. 23 Rae1 was strongly advocated by grandmaster Nigel Short during the game and analysis demonstrates that this move is far stronger. White has ideas of h4, Qh5 and Nc4 and Black will struggle to defend. 23 … Bd6 24 h3 Far too meek. With 24 Qh5 White could maintain considerable pressure against Black’s position. For example after 24 Qh5 Bg6 25 Qh3 Rf7 26 Nc4 Bf5 27 Qh6 Bf8 28 Qh5 Bg7 29 d6, White has a clear advantage but Black is certainly in the game. 24 … Qe8 Carlsen regroups effectively and defends without too much trouble. 25 Nc4 Qg6 26 Nxd6 Qxd6 27 h4 Earlier on this would have been strong but now that the position has become simplified, this thrust loses its potency. 27 … gxh4 28 Qxf4 Qxf4 29 Rxf4 h5 30 Re1 Bg4 31 Rf6 Rxf6 32 Bxf6 Kf7 33 Bxh4 Re8 34 Rf1+ Kg8 35 Rf6 Re2 36 Rg6+ Kf8 37 d6 Rd2 38 Rg5 Draw agreed