Last week I compared the Norwegian world chess champion Magnus Carlsen to a lurking crocodile, ready to grab its oblivious prey. Perhaps a more apt metaphor is that of the whale in Milton’s Paradise Lost: ‘haply slumbering on the Norway foam…’. Mariners in Milton’s narrative mistake the leviathan for an island, moor their craft, and are undone as the whale wakes and dives.
So it was with Carlsen, who destroyed Caruana once he roused himself to action. This week, the third, final and decisive game from the tie-break which confirmed him as world champion again.
Carlsen-Caruana: World Chess Championship Rapidplay Play-off (Game 3) London 2018; Sicilian Defence
1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 e6 3 c4 Needing only to avoid defeat in this game Carlsen chooses a safe line. He quickly sets up the so-called Maroczy Bind centre with pawns on c4 and e4. The advantage of this set-up is that whenever Black tries to break the bind with … d5 the resulting simplification often leads to completely equal positions. Interestingly, in the final game of the 2016 play-off (where Carlsen, playing Sergei Karjakin, also needed only to draw) he chose 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 d6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 f3, an offbeat line that nevertheless has the advantage of again allowing White to establish the Maroczy Bind centre with c4 on the next move. 3 … Nc6 4 d4 cxd4 5 Nxd4 Bc5 6 Nc2 Nf6 7 Nc3 0-0 8 Be3 b6 9 Be2 Bb7 10 0-0 Qe7 11 Qd2 Rfd8 12 Rfd1 Ne5 13 Bxc5 bxc5 14 f4 Ng6 15 Qe3 d6 16 Rd2 a6 17 Rad1 Qc7 18 b3 Carlsen has carefully established a rock-solid fortress and made it difficult for Black to find any plan that can complicate the position. 18 … h6 19 g3 Rd7 20 Bf3 Re8 21 Qf2 Ne7 This is a good try to generate some dynamism in the position. Black’s idea is to manoeuvre the knight round to c6 and then play … e5 and … Nd4. 22 h3 Red8 23 Bg2 Nc6 24 g4 Carlsen is alert and cuts across Black’s plan. 24 … Qa5 25 Na4 (see diagram 1) 25 … Qc7 Caruana’s intended 25 … e5 is refuted by 26 g5 hxg5 27 fxg5 Ne8 28 Nxc5, exploiting the d-file pin. 26 e5 Not strictly necessary, but it does help to simplify the position to a situation where White is highly unlikely to lose, which obviously suited Carlsen perfectly. 26 … dxe5 27 Nxc5 Rxd2 28 Rxd2 Rxd2 29 Qxd2 Ba8 30 fxe5 Qxe5 31 Nd7 Qb2 32 Qd6 Nxd7 33 Qxd7 Qxc2 34 Qe8+ Kh7 35 Qxa8 Qd1+ 36 Kh2 Qd6+ 37 Kh1 Nd4 Caruana can draw with 37 … Qd1+ but this was of no use to him given the match situation. 38 Qe4+ f5 39 gxf5 exf5 40 Qe3 Ne6 41 b4 (see diagram 2) 41 … Ng5 Correct was 41 … Nf4 42 c5 Qd1+ 43 Kh2 g5 but then Black can never win as his king is so exposed that White will be able to give perpetual check. 42 c5 Qf6 43 c6 Ne6 44 a4 Nc7 45 Qf4 Ne6 46 Qd6 Qa1+ 47 Kh2 Nd4 48 c7 Qc3 49 Qc5 Qe3 50 c8Q f4 51 Qg4 Black resigns