We are living in a time where everything has to be bigger and better than it was ever before. Sponsors pay millions in advance, advertisement campaigns get planned a long time before the actual events. Tickets get sold in advance and they are always more expensive than they were before of course. Expectations go through the roof and then when it finally happens, it is usually a big disappointment.
What do we have here? We have a player, who is ranked 10th in the world, becoming the challenger. Many people don’t even know Karjakin, because he didn’t get much coverage for quite some time. He didn’t play in the Grand Chess Tour for instance. Him dethroning Carlsen could be a huge bust to the industry, because he is not the kind of guy whom you can do TV spots with, certainly not in the US.
Even worse, he seems to like Putin…
Top Russian player Karjakin (ex-Ukraine). I'd translate it, "won't leave his guys behind." Russia runs Kirsan's FIDE. pic.twitter.com/0gE3sw5fv4
Oh boy, what happened to political correctness in Russia?
I am not claiming that Karjakin wouldn’t be worthy of the title, but he would certainly be less glamorous. Well, maybe that’s what chess is these days, simply less glamorous and less spectacular. The technical revolution that once replaced painters with photographers leaves us with chessplayers who are trying to emulate computers.
Svidler showed the forced draw in the position about half an hour before the position appeared on the board, but Karjakin missed it. In the end Carlsen finally got the chance to grind it out, which he did.
Nevertheless it has to be said that Carlsen got absolutely nothing out of the opening and I assume that he was ready to go home after 20. Nd2. It’s better to be lucky than good!
Since Karjakin tried his best to keep his pawn structure perfect so far, Carlsen decided on a more brutal approach. He got his knight vs. bishop scenario and all of Karjakin’s pawns were bad. The question remains if this approach is any good, because we can do a simple point count after move 22, which shows that black is worse.
It goes like this:
extra pawn (1,0)
bishop pair (0,5)
passed d-pawn (0,3)
overall: 1,8 pawn units.
isolated white d-pawn (0,3)
two isolated white f-pawns (0,6)
doubled white f-pawns (0,3)
isolated white h-pawn (0,3)
overall: 1,5 pawn units.
You may add weak kings for both sides, but this is a matter of taste. If we subtract the scores for both sides, then white is about 0,3 pawns ahead and that’s pretty close to the computer assessment. Note: The reason why this position is kinda unique is that white has all the advantages and all the disadvantages at the same time.
Why would you go into such a line with the World Championship on the line? I don’t know! Is this position really better than everything that you could get from a Paulsen Sicilian? Maybe their assumptions about Karjakin’s strengths and weaknesses were just dead wrong. Maybe they didn’t see how white could improve his position. It is difficult for white to push the d-pawn and make a pawn break after all.
If you follow the coverage on Carlsen on Youtube, you will see some very intense reactions from him every once in a while. The most memorable moments happend at the Blitz World Championship 2015 when he clearly had difficulties in handling defeat. I am not trying to claim that this is bad for a chess player, because being a sore loser can also help to unleash the full potential. If you hate losing, then becoming the World Champion is somewhat of a must.
You may also remember that Carlsen lost to Wojtaszek and Naiditsch by simply trying to throw the kitchen sink at them. He played in the same fashion against Van Wely, except this time he managed to swindle his opponent.
In my opinion Carlsen is convinced of his superiority and if things don’t go his way, he becomes impatient and tries to force the result. If trying to unnerf his opponent by playing symmetrical dull positions was part of Karjakin’s “real” strategy, then he was successful. He certainly got Carlsen to blow up.
Still, this match is far from over. We know from the Karjakin-Svidler mini-match that the tide can turn with every game.
Unfortunately this World Championship has the potential to become a huge snoozefest: For european viewers the games start at 8 pm, the live commentary on the internet didn’t feature a single joke yet, and on top of it, we can expect 12 games where the white player is trying to extract a technical win from +0.15 positions. Even the strategy for both players is already clear: Carlsen tries to exploit the difference between knights and bishops, while Karjakin tries to prevent exactly that by keeping everything symmetrical.
On the other hand, this World Championship also shows what a winning chess strategy is all about these days. Carlsen is the ultimate Anti-Drawmeister after all. Like no other, he manages to slow down the game and to create minor imbalances that he can exploit with his exceptional technique. This sort of smallball-approach takes down the money from the new generation of average players who are hiding behind their computer-assisted Elo 3400 opening repertoires.
Today’s game features a very unique approach by black that reminded me of the touch-move-rule.
Apparently this all happened before, according to my database exactly once:
If you really think about it, then the strategy of pushing the g-pawn is very popular for white in all sorts of position. Maybe this version isn’t that ridiculous after all. It’s a small sample, but a very nice performance so far.