Russian challenger Sergey Karjakin had something up his sleeves. He refused to lose to Norway’s Magnus Carlsen in the first seven games in the ongoing 12-game title clash at New York City. But on Monday night, he drove the reigning World Chess Champion in a tight spot by winning the eighth game. It wasn’t that Karjakin produced some new tricks but Carlsen made some mistakes and the Russian made the most of those wrong moves. With four games remaining, Carlsen will have to look for some ingenuity if he wants to retain his World Championship title. It was in 2013, when Carlsen became the World Champion after snatching the title from India’s Viswanathan Anand. If the Norwegian fails to beat Karjakin now, this will certainly turn out to be Karjakin’s most successful chess year. The battle has just begun and now the onus will be on Carlsen to wrest the initiative back from the Russian.
The 12-game 2016 FIDE World Chess Championship between reigning World Champion Magnus Carlsen of Norway and his Russian challenger Sergey Karjakin began on November 11, 2016. The grand event is being staged in the Fulton Market building near Manhattan waterfront in New York close to Wall Street and the Brooklyn Bridge. The champion and the challenger played the first seven games until Sunday November 20 and drew them all.
On Monday, Carlsen had white pieces and he was itching for a win. He began with 1.d4. This was the first time since the opening game that Carlsen had begun with the queen’s pawn. However there was a difference in the 1st and 8th game. In the opener, Carlsen had adopted an offbeat line of the Trompowsky but in the 8th, he decided to continue with a standard game plan. The champion wanted to use the advantage of white pieces and unsettle Karjakin with some mid-game variation. By playing 3.e3, Carlsen avoided the Queen’s Gambit Accepted. The two contenders went on without facing any threat from one another for a while. Then Carlsen pushed his pawn in 13.a3 and made Karjakin to take a critical decision. The Russian was forced to play 13…a5 to keep Carlsen from expanding with b4. With each move that Carlsen made, he tried to elicit some error from Karjakin. But the Russian didn’t fall in any traps. Playing Rxc8 in the 19th move was the first error that Carlsen made. That allowed the Black to escape and even assume control. But Carlsen had both bishops, which was a superior structure compared to Karjakin.
Until then, Karjakin typically chose to play safe rather than indulge in any active counter-play. After move 21, there was a series of trades that reduced White to fewer pieces than Black. However, Karjakin didn’t want to swap rooks. A few moves later, Carlen took Karjakin’s knight but that didn’t take him to the winning position and the game became too complex. By this time, Carlsen had lost adequate protection for his King and Black’s rook and two pawns began to look threatening. On move 34. Qd4Kg7, Karjakin coolly stepped up. Carlsen’s knight was too slow to attack the knight on f6 and the King protected the hanging piece. The game changed in Karjakin’s favor with 35…Re8. Now White became desperate for a draw. Krajakin’s 35…Rxd8 was the best move of the day since it kept him ahead of the White.
The Russian could have kept the advantage alive by playing 37…Qa4 but he erred. Regardless, Karjakin still looked in the driver’s seat. Then Carlsen came back into the game by forcing the draw, when he played 38. Nxe6. Karjakin missed this tactic. After that, Carlsen cut off his opponent’s Queen’s protection and Black faced some trouble. Carlsen made some unusual moves and kept Karjakin on the edge late in the game. Just when, the Russian was fighting tooth and nail, everything changed all of a sudden. On 48.Qxb6 Nd3, White went up a pawn but not enough to claim any advantage. Karjakin had a Knight on e5 to dominate over Carlsen’s bishop. Now Carlsen looked in trouble. On move 49, Carlsen got his queen behind the passed pawn, but Karjakin wisely pressed forward with 49… Qc5. Carlsen’s bishop on g2 had to defend his king and his 51st move of Qe6 lent Karjakin a chance to beat him. The Russian played h5, It was all over after Carlsen came with h4 and Karjakin responded with a2. In his zeal to claim a full point, Carlsen took too many risks and lost the game.
With four games left, Carlsen still has his chances. But it would not be easy because of Karjakin’s tenacious stance. The Russian is not known for making many mistakes and he will have White pieces in 9th game on Tuesday. Carlsen may be forced to take more risks for winning but that could be his undoing.