Raymond Keene

Beneath the surface

Beneath the surface
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After 12 games of classical chess, the world championship between the incumbent, Magnus Carlsen of Norway, and his American challenger, Fabiano Caruana, ended in a record-breaking twelve draws. My initial impression was that both contestants were willing to wound, yet somehow afraid to strike at the climactic moment. The more Machiavellian explanation for such overt lack of ambition was that Carlsen was so confident of his superiority at speed chess that he was content to keep things level and just wait for the speed chess tie-breaks. In fact, this turned out to be the case. Carlsen was lying in wait like a crocodile. When the rapidplay games started, the jaws snapped and Caruana was defeated three times in succession, winning Magnus €550,000 in prize money and at least a further two years’ tenure of the title. Here is the second tie-break game, where White is crushed almost out of the opening phase.

Caruana-Carlsen: World Chess Championship Rapidplay Play-off (Game 2) London 2018; Sicilian Defence

1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 e5 Once again, Carlsen chooses the sharp Sveshnikov Variation of the Sicilian Defence, despite the fact that he already had a 1-0 lead in the play-off. 6 Ndb5 d6 7 Nd5 Nxd5 8 exd5 Ne7 9 c4 Ng6 10 Qa4 Bd7 11 Qb4 Qb8 11 ... Bf5 was Carlsen’s choice in game 12 of the main match. 12 h4 h5 13 Be3 a6 14 Nc3 a5 15 Qb3 a4 16 Qd1 Be7 17 g3 Qc8 Black must do something about White’s intended Be2 which will immediately threaten his h-pawn. 18 Be2 Bg4 19 Rc1 Bxe2 20 Qxe2 Qf5 (see diagram 1) 21 c5 A brave , or possibly foolhardy, decision from Caruana. It is certainly the sharpest try in the position but runs the risk of walking into some Carlsen pre-game preparation. However, Caruana is already minus one in the play-off , so maximally sharpening the position is in his interests. 21 Nb5 and 21 0-0 are simpler choices. 21 ... 0-0 21 ... dxc5 is met by 22 Bxc5 Bxc5 23 Qb5+ with good play. 22 c6 The point of White’s play. He obtains a powerful passed pawn on c6 and a clamp over the central light squares. The drawback is that his development lags and his king is not yet safe. 22 ... bxc6 23 dxc6 Rfc8 24 Qc4 Bd8 25 Nd5 Optically this move looks very good, as White now has complete central control. Unfortunately for him, the tactics all work for Black. 25 Nb5 was a better try. 25 ... e4 An excellent move. It is tempting to play 25 ... Ba5+ 26 Kf1 Qf3 but after 27 Kg1 Black grinds to a halt and White can untangle with Kh2 and Rhd1 (see diagram 2). 26 c7 A blunder, based on an oversight but the position is already good for Black , as the coming ... Ne5 will be very strong. 26 ... Bxc7 27 Nxc7 Ne5 28 Nd5 Desperation, but Caruana had probably by now noticed that 28 Qd5 is refuted by the quiet 28 ... Rab8. Despite White’s extra piece he is defenceless against the numerous threats. 28 ... Kh7 White resigns Black sidesteps the fork on e7 and White’s position falls apart.