Now it's Karjakin's Turn to Attack
Games 3 and 4 lasted a combined 172 moves adding up to around 13 hours of mental torture. You have to love the effort of both players. Look at Carlsen in Game 4 wandering all over the board with his king trying to find anyway to break into Karjakin’s fortress. And Karjakin in Game 3, finding the incredible idea of sacrificing his bishop to secure the draw. It’s almost unfair to the games to describe them in such an abbreviated way, so if you haven’t seen the games, click on the links and let lichess' best players, led by Kingscrusher show you just how brilliant those games are.
Everyone has been impressed by the endurance of Games 3 and 4, but what’s the most impressive feat of chess endurance of all time? The 1984 World Championship between Kasparov and Karpov. No question. The match had innocent sounding terms: the first player to win 6 games is World Champion. Simple, easy to understand, but completely impractical match rules that would lead to a total disaster.
Karpov won 4 out of the first 9 games, and it appeared this would be a quick match. Games 10 to 26 were all drawn. Let that sink in for a moment. Karpov won game 27 and now held a commanding 5-0 lead. 4 more draws. Kasparov won game 32. Kasparov played 31 chess games, didn’t win a single one, and still had fight left in him to win game 32! 14 draws followed. Then Kasparov won games 47 and 48. The match score was 5-3 Karpov but because of the momentum of the match, many felt Garry Kasparov was the favorite to win!
It was at this point FIDE President Florencio Campomanes called off the match despite the objections of both players. Karpov had lost 22 pounds since the beginning of the match while Kasparov’s health had not waned. The match was called off and a rematch was scheduled with more reasonable terms. Karpov retained his title.
So while we’re all watching Carlsen and Karjakin spar over the next week and half, let us keep the 1984 WCC Match in our minds and remember: 4 draws is nothing, the 1984 match had 2 streaks of draws longer than this whole match.
Carlsen has played the white pieces twice so far in the match. Both games featured Carlsen pulling the game to a similar endgame: Carlsen having a knight and rook, Karjakin having a dark-squared bishop and rook. Is this significant? Has Carlsen spent the last months studying this type of endgame? I don’t know. It’s only 2 games, and way too small of a sample size to glean any insights. But if he does it again, that will make 3 games in a row, and I think we can say yes: Magnus has been studying this type of endgame in his lair.
I feel like Karjakin is most brilliant when Stockfish’s evaluation of his position is -1.4. Look at Game 4; Karjakin is playing white, he’s developing a nice kingside attack, and decides to trade his e-pawn for Carlsen’s h-pawn. This dubious decision gives Carlsen a slight edge. But that’s the thing: Karjakin performes best when Carlsen has a slight advantage. So when Carlsen has the edge, Karjakin really has the advantage. I have to be careful or I might go on an insane 25 minute rant about cheese, milk, and over the dangerous effects of overhydration.
But seriously, Karjakin just cannot lose! Here’s the last (and only) time Karjakin’s beaten Carlsen in a classical game. The game features an innaccuracy from Carlsen on move 18, Karjakin capitalized on the mistake, and converted that advantage to a win. For Karjakin to win Carlsen will have to do something he hasn’t really done so far this match: make a mistake.
The players are rested, both players have their color they win the most with, we have some of the best lichess players doing commentary, all systems go, set for Game 5 take off in 3...2...1
Carlsen opened with the Giuoco Pianissimo for his third game as white. The Giuoco Pianissimo hasn’t been seen in World Championship level play in 35 years. Karpov was the last to try it against Korchnoi, both resulted in a draws.
Carlsen then chose a little-played variation of the Giuoco Piano by pushing his queenside pawns to a4 and b4. Some speculated this is over-extending, and exactly what you should avoid doing against an amazing defender like Karjakin. I disagree, I believe Magnus keeps doing the same thing: making second and third-tier opening moves because he gets ‘fresh’ positions.
For the complete game annotation please consult the lichess streamers’ study above. But let’s look at the position that might give Karjakin a sleepless night...
Bishops of opposite colors, somewhere between a the middle and endgame. Karjakin just brilliantly sacrificed his d5 pawn, as his bishop will be much more effective on the square. This is Karjakin’s chance! He’s in the driver’s seat!
Karjakin gave a really clear answer (unlike Carlsen) as to why he didn’t play the winning move. I’ll try to relay it as clear as I can. The best (and possibly winning) sequence is ...Rh8, Qe4, Qh6, Kf1, then Qh1
Karjakin said he didn’t see Qa1, and instead planned Rd8. Rd8 would have been countered by Rf1. This insight from Karjakin gave us a clear picture of what kind of things are going on in his mind, and how deep he is calculating these positions. The game is not over after Qa1 by any means. But this insight from Karjakin was very illuminating, so thanks Sergey!
I want to look at this game through the lens of the post game press conference, which was the most telling press conference yet. Game 5 was a draw, the first in which Karjakin had winning chances, but Magnus saved the draw. Yet Magnus was in a very bad mood at the press conference.. On the other hand Karjakin was smiling from ear to ear, he even announced a new partnership that will supply him with computers. When Anastasia Karlovich, World Chess Federation Press Officer, asked Carlsen to go over his game Carlsen quickly pulled up the position after black’s 23rd move and said “Of course I have a better position, he has no ideas!”
To see me live tweet these increasingly interesting Press Conferences follow @tylervsnyc
This has been an incredibly tough match, so I have to give both players a pass on their post-match behavior. With that said, I think both players’ attitudes convey the same message: neither imagined the match would be going like this.
About the Author:
Tyler Schwartz is a passionate chess ambassador. Tyler is the President of Chess at 3, teaching chess to children all over the world at the suprising age of 3. He is the Head of Media at lichess.org. Tyler also manages a chess club on the upper east side of Manhattan.