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2016 WCC, Game 1: Carlsen Plays the Tromp?

Tyler Schwartz Chess

Will Karjakin Survive Magnus' Offbeat Opening?

November has already seen two underdogs become champions. The Chicago Cubs won the World Series and Donald Trump is the President Elect. Will Sergey Karjakin defeat World Champion Magnus Carlsen? The odds are against Karjakin but so far in November odds haven't mattered.

Game 1 of the World Chess Championship began on November 11th in New York’s South Street Seaport. The 25 year-old, Norwegian, World Champion Magnus Carlsen had the white pieces. The 26 year-old, Russian, challenger Sergey Karjakin had the black pieces. Well, Carlsen had most of the moves with the white pieces, Actor Woody Harrelson stopped by to make the ceremonial first move.

Photo courtesy of Agon

What to Expect

Playing Carlsen in chess is like playing craps in a casino, the longer you play, the more likely it is you’re going to lose. Carlsen is probably the best endgame player in the world, so if you’re going to beat him, you have to beat him with a quick knock-out. In the last World Chess Championship against Anand, Carlsen lost one game. It was because Anand didn’t let Carlsen get to the endgame, as Carlsen fell into Anand’s famous opening preparation.

Two reasons to be optimistic for Karjakin. One; Karjakin has the black pieces today. As discussed in the lichess.org preview article, Karjakin and Carlsen have played 47 games. Karjakin has won 11 of them, 9 of those wins were with the black pieces. Two; Carlsen has a habit of starting tournaments badly. Some say it’s because Carlsen is bored and needs to make chess more difficult to be interesting. But this isn’t a tournament, it’s a match, and it’s difficult to image Magnus bringing anything but his “A game”.

Game 1

https://lichess.org/study/vENPCM25/IcO95dAl

Not what anyone expected! Magnus pulls the Trompowsky Attack out of his bag, an opening never seen in a World Championship Match. The Trompowsky attack achieves a couple of objectives for Carlsen, it trades off pieces and accelerates to the endgame where Carlsen is so dangerous. Such an offbeat opening also circumvents probable preparation from the opponent. The Trompowsky Attack also damages Karjakin’s pawn structure giving him permanent weakness for Carlsen to target, all at the cost of a bishop for a knight.

Photo courtesy of Agon

Mass exchanges were had and when the dust settled on move 19, all that was left for each side were a minor piece, a rook, and 6 pawns. Karjakin had a dark squared bishop, Carlsen a knight. Carlsen also had better pawn structure, as Karjakin had doubled f pawns, and an isolated h pawn. Magnus had a slight edge, not enough for a normal human to convert to a win, but this is Magnus Carlsen, and he is anything but a normal human!

But in the end Magnus played too many commital pawn moves making his position inflexible. To be specific, Carlsen's 27.f4 was critizied by Karjakin in the post game press conference. Karjakin claimed the move made the position too static, making his defense easier.

Karjakin has the white pieces on Saturday. What opening will he chose? Will Karjakin get winning chances?

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.