You may talk about UEFA Champions League football or several Test Cricket series going on India, New Zealand, Australia and Zimbabwe or Lewis Hamilton’s F1 championship chances in next Sunday’s last race of the season at Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina Circuit or intrigues in any other global sports. But everything pales in comparison to the World Chess Championship match in New York because that is about the most exciting sporting event on the planet right now. The battle of two minds from West & East between Norway’s Magnus Carlsen and Russia’s Sergey Karjakin cannot attract football size crowds around the players but the event has captured the imagination of sports lovers across the world in its own way. After Sergey Karjakin led 5-4 at the end of the drawn 9th game, the defending champion bounced back by winning the 10th on Thursday. The 12-game championship match went on draws for the first seven games before Karjakin opened the door for a big underdog story by winning Game-8. They couldn’t break each other in the 9th game but in 10th, Carlsen found the crack in Karjakin’s armor. The champion beat the challenger in 75 moves lasting 7 hours and kept the world engrossed. Thursday was the American holiday of Thanksgiving and although they don’t celebrate it in Norway, Magnus Carlsen decided to do so in New York. Just when things looked gloomy for him, Carlsen fought back and brought the championship fight on equal terms. At 5-5, the players have just two more games of regulation chess left in the championship.
The 10th game was another long game and full of interesting possibilities. Carlsen had the White pieces and he opened with 1.e4. Sergey Karjakin only needed drawn games to win the championship as he responded with 1… e5 and then went for the Berlin System. The Russian probably did so because the Berlin is one system that takes the board game towards draws. Carlsen had sensed this and his priorities were different. Therefore, he sidestepped the main lines of the Berlin by playing 4 d3. The champion didn’t get any immediate advantage but he was able to achieve the sort of position, which would allow him to create endless maneuvers of unsettling Black’s position. Carlsen quietly waited for Karjakin to make some error. Finally, the Russian fell in the trap. After Carlsen played 20 Nd2, Karjakin chose 20…d5. If the Russian had played 20…Nf2 and afterwards 21…Nh4, he could easily have forced a draw. That would have led to a perpetual check since Carlsen couldn’t have played 22.gh4 because of 22…Qg6. But in his over-eagerness of drawing the game, the Russian overlooked the simple variation. Magnus Carlsen admitted later that he was relieved to be seeing Karjakin making the tactical error. After Carlsen played 21.Qh5, Karjakin could still have forced the draw by playing 21…Nf2; 22Kg2 Qf7; 23Kg1 Qf6 etc.
But Karjakin had bought the trouble, after missing those chances in the middle-game and that allowed Carlsen a small edge, with which he kept nagging his opponent. Regardless, Karjakin kept defending admirably until move 56, before he made another mistake. Instead of playing 56… Rg8, the Russian misplaced his rook with 56… Rhh7. Now Carlsen got a free reign and he broke through Karjakin’s defenses. There was no retreat for the Russian at this point as Carlsen converted his advantage after 75 moves and 7 hours of toil. It was a huge release of tension for the Norwegian and his face oozed with relief as he broke into a big smile.
The contest is now tied at 5-5 and if the stalemate is not resolved after 12 regulation games, the players will go through the tie-breakers of rapid and even blitz games. Friday and Sunday are rest days. The 11th game will be played on Saturday and the 12th on Monday. If the players are still tied, they will play the tiebreaks on Wednesday November 30. As per FIDE criteria, the tiebreaks consist of one 4-game rapid chess, followed by five 2-game Blitz and if the tie still persists, an Armageddon game will be used to break the tie.
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