It’s quite amazing that the Dragon is a super sharp opening, while with reversed colors it is quite harmless. Once again Caruana was prepared to defend a slightly worse but eventually drawn position. It looks to me that he doesn’t even try to fight for clear equality, but rather accepts a weakness or a slight disadvantage as long as he has analyzed this extensively. There is nothing else to say about it.
The Rossolimo leads to an asymmetrical structure where white has two reasonable pawn-breaks. In the first game we saw the f4-pawn-break, in the this game we see the b4-pawn-break. At first glance Caruana didn’t get anything, but analysis shows that things were not so easy. Apparently Carlsen’s 13…a5 was too optimistic.
Here is an interesting point: In the first game Magnus spoiled a huge advantage. In the second game he chickened out early and had to defend a worse position. In the third game he misplayed the position once again. So far Fabiano has made less big mistakes.
In the second game Caruana played an interesting sideline in the Bf4-QGD, which is quite surprising because the mainline is supposed to be safe for black. The interesting point is that the queenless middlegame should normally suit Carlsen very well, so I must admit that I don’t really get it and my engine doesn’t get it either.
This whole game is pretty weird, because it feels like Carlsen got bluffed. Regardless how long you let the engine run, the evaluation is around +0.5 everywhere. There are no tricks, no sacrifices, no couterplay, no nothing for black, just endless suffering. It is even hard to imagine why this should be better than the QGA or the Vienna, the lines that got Caruana in the position to play the match.
The Berlin and the Rossolimo can lead to similar structures. Team Carlsen has obviously made the decision that they rather want to defend it with the bishop on g7 than on c5. The game proves them right, because black is already better after move 16. Failing to convert this advantage sucks, but it’s even worse for Team Caruana. Their whole preparation got neutralized and their guy got tortured for 115 moves to finally escape with a super lucky draw.
Later today we will be able to witness one of the more interesting World Championships in quite a while. Caruana stands for trying to prove an advantage for white in the most principled way, while Carlsen stands for avoiding forced draws at all costs and grinding every game out until naked kings. It’s not exactly like Tennis where a grass-court specialist meets a sand-court specialist, because in chess the board always has the same surface, but it’s close.
The biggest question is if Caruana had access to AlphaZero while preparing for the match. If Fabiano manages to tear down the Berlin Wall, it would be a huge indicator. Why does this remind me of Ronald Reagan?
Anyways, what is my prediction? Carlsen is the better player, but Caruana has the better preparation. Therefore it should be a coinflip. On the other hand, if Carlsen gives up too much rope in order to dodge the american multi-million dollar preparation, then Caruana could very well be good enough to convert it.
Poor old Boris lost more than 40 points over the last year and he has dropped out of the Elo-2700-Club again. Isle of Man wasn’t exactly kind to him, because this time he had to face an underrated opponent who gets his prep from Leko. In order to avoid the drawish mainlines of the Qc2-Semi-Slav Gelfand chose a sideline and actually managed to equalize quite comfortably. In fact he even managed to drum up some play on the queenside, but eventually it all fizzled out and Vincent Keymer simply took over in the trouble phase. The culmination of the game was the unforced 39. Qxd8 which sealed the win.
The method to beat lower-rated players is to get them out of their prep and to slowly outplay them in the middlegame. Gelfand just couldn’t do it and this is good and bad at the same time. Clearly bad for the veteran, but very good for the young newcomer.
This game caught my attention for obvious reasons. Both players were ready to play a critical line of the French, except not exactly as expected. White was allowing a variation that I had previously considered to be safe and black was willing to play a move that I had previously claimed to be refuted. Maybe it is time to switch on the engine again. How about this time you do it?
Play it safe!