In Round-9 of World Chess Championship in New York on Wednesday, current champion Magnus Carlsen and his Russian challenger Sergey Karjakin played for more than 5½ hours and settled for an extremely tense draw. Now just three more games are left and Karjakin leads Magnus Carlsen 5-4. But Carlsen survived a dangerous middle-game and narrowly missed his second consecutive defeat. In a very complicated struggle, Karjakin waylaid Carlsen by sacrificing his bishop in the 39th move. This made the play very difficult for Carlsen, who somehow stayed in the match and managed a draw. The situation would have become nearly hopeless for Carlsen if he had lost. The gap of 2 points against the steady Russian could easily have been a monumental disaster for the Norwegian world no.1.
Sergey Karjakin began Round-9 with White pieces and had a natural advantage. His first move was 1.e4 and Carlsen responded with 1…e5. The two of them continued from here until Carlsen adopted the classical Ruy Lopez to maximize his chances to fight for a win with Black. The champion played 6… Bc5. After this they followed the known paths over several moves, without springing any surprises upon one another. Then Carlsen sacrificed a pawn in order to create an unbalanced position. Carlsen probably thought he could break up the pawn cover surrounding Karjakin’s king. However, the Russian had sensed this and covered himself well. For long, the chances on either side looked almost equal. Afterwards, Karjakin managed to improve the placement of his pieces and gradually increased the pressure on Carlsen. Now the Russian had a superior structure but the position of pieces on board looked too complex. With loss of precious time by both players, they made some errors as well, but not big enough to lend decisive advantage to the other side. On move 39, Karjakin played the sharp 39. Bf7 and looked like having derived a big edge. Carlsen took the bishop but seemed in trouble. Many viewers felt that Karjakin had edged ahead of Carlsen and he could win. However, many others including US Grandmaster Fabiano Caruana felt that if Karjakin had instead played 39 Qb3, his winning chances could have been far more significant. The champion had to make many critical decisions in the middle-game including placement of his king to the queenside or leave it on the kingside. After Karjakin obtained some advantage by sacrificing his bishop, Carlsen was able to dodge the worst and survived in the end.
Karjakin kept trying to force his way but could not make any headway for the win. To his credit, Carlsen brought himself out of hot waters. The game finally ended on the 74th move with the two players signing a draw. Avoiding defeat was the best course for Carlsen since another victory for Karjakin could have taken the championship in a decisive mode. With someone like Carlsen, it is still a wide open contest because the Norwegian has the ability to turn things around. On November 24, the players go for round-10 and Carlsen will have White pieces. However, the Russian is not likely to throw caution to the winds after a one-point lead with three rounds remaining.
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