Magnus Carlsen couldn’t have got a better birthday gift than the affirmation of his World Chess Champion’s status for the third time. The Norwegian also proved his superiority in rapid chess. It was all over in four games of rapids after Carlsen led 2-1 after three. In the fourth, Karjakin needed to win with Black but the reigning World Champion had something up his sleeves. Carlsen went for the Sicilian and Karjakin landed himself in a passive position. Carlsen didn’t allow Karjakin to create any counter-play and in the end, came up with a scintillating queen sacrifice to finish his work by mating Black. The Russian defended to the best of his abilities but Carlsen proved too mighty on the last day and won at 3-1. There was no need for blitz games.
After the 6-6 deadlock resulting from ultra-quick draw in 12th game, the war of wits shifted to the first part of the tiebreakers. The rapids allowed 25 minutes with 10-second increment. In the first game, Karjakin had Whites and he opened with 1.e4. But after Carlsen responded with 1…e5, knights moved out in the next. Carlsen stuck to a variation of the Ruy Lopez since he didn’t have any reason to play a deviation. 6.d3 had been Karjakin’s main weapon in the championship, though he never really got any advantage out of that. The champion retracted his knight back to b8 in the style of Ruy Lopez Breyer but when Karjakin went for Ne2, he pushed c5 since Carlsen’s knight no longer threatened to enter the d5 square. After 13.h3 a5, Black reached a very comfortable position despite White being structurally better. Black found himself in a position to put pressure on the a4 pawn and White’s superior structure didn’t amount for much. The game continued innocuously until the 37th move and ended as a draw.
In the second rapid game, Carlsen had Whites and they started with 1. e4 e5; 2.Nf3 Nc6; 3. Bc4 Bc5. Carlsen could have responded with Bb5 but that would have taken the game into the Berlin. Instead, the Norwegian chose Giuoco Piano since that held better chances for a win. Carlsen made a slight error of playing a5 on move 12 after Karjakin played Bf1. Karjakin was quick to make an exchange on e5 and placed his knight on c4. While Carlsen expanded on the queenside to create space, Karjakin tried some simplification but Carlsen gave up the e4 pawn to bring some spice into the game. After the 25th move, White had two pieces for a rook and looked far better than Black. At this point, if they had gone for the queen exchange, it could have been a clean draw. However, Carlsen decided to keep the pieces on board. The queen exchange did take place on move 37. That eased Karjakin’s defensive task but Carlsen reached a winning position. By now Karjakin was running out of time and he was relieved to reach the endgame. He also made some quick moves with the rook and gained time on his clock. After 58th move, Carlsen lost his f2 pawn but he was still in position to launch an attack on the Black king. It was fantastic game that ended as draw after 84 moves. Carlsen had come close but Karjakin’s sharp defensive tactics prevented his defeat.
They began the third game at 1-1. After the first 8 moves, Carlsen goes for 9…Na5. This was the variation of Nb8 in the first game earlier. Black gave up his bishop but had the kingside pawn majority. Now Carlsen with both bishops launched a seething attack on Black. It looked dangerous for Karjakin since White could push away his knight from d4. Karjakin looked in trouble as Carlsen went full-throttle. Then Carlsen went for a superb positional pawn sacrifice and established complete domination. The only possible defense was Rb1 but Karjakin missed it. He resigned, when he lost the bishop after 38 moves and Carlsen took a 2-1 lead going into the last rapid game.
Karjakin had Blacks for the fourth rapid game in a must-win situation because only a victory would have kept him in the championship. After 1.e4 c5, it was a Sicilian. Berlin was no longer the ideal choice. By playing 2.Kf3 d6; 3 d4 cxd4; 4.Kxd4 Nf6 and 5.f3, Karjakin was ready for Najdorf but Carlsen decided to take the game to a Maroczy bind territory and played 5…e5. The pressure was on Karjakin and he needed to retain his pieces for a win. Carlsen was cool and looked like enjoying his game with a knight dance. By 35th move, Karjakin overstretched himself and yielded clear advantage to White. The clock went against Karjakin and with less than minute left, Carlsen came up with a brilliant queen sacrifice and Karjakin resigned.
Magnus Carlsen was crowned the World Champion with a 3-1 win in rapids. The Norwegian was entitled to 60% of the $1.1 million prize while Karjakin took the rest. More than 6 million people around the world followed the rapid games that decided the championship, which also kept the city of New York in great spirits for three weeks.
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