The tension inexorably continues to build in the €1m (roughly $1.1m), best-of-12-game World Championship Match in London between the Norwegian three-time defending champion Magnus Carlsen and his American challenger, Fabiano Caruana, with game 3 also proving to be yet another tough draw between the two title combatants, leaving not a cigarette paper between them, as the match is tied at 1½-1½.
Once again, the battleground was the Rossolimo Sicilian – only this time, unlike the opening game of the match, Caruana took a more cautious approach to the opening, and the American challenger emerged with a nice little edge; and one that could well have been more to his advantage had he not missed the crucial difference between 14.Rxa5! rather than inverting the exchange with 14.bxa5?!, which all but took away his advantage.
After the slip-up, it was Carlsen who came into his own, as he attempted once again to do the impossible by squeeze blood from a stone – but Caruana defended diligently throughout, and he easily managed to nullify any potential endgame problems to comfortably escape with a draw after 49 moves and four and a quarter hours of play. “I thought it was uncomfortable from the opening and I may have mixed up something,” Carlsen explained during his live post-game interview (with thanks, as always, to the ever-diligent Norwegian journalist Tarjei J. Svensen!). “Then I got an advantage in the endgame, I don’t think I had any chances, but I would have liked to do something more.”
“I just made one really, really bad move,” Caruana said. “It was just a blackout…I think Magnus could’ve tortured me a bit more.”
But after three games and three draws and the match deadlocked at 1½-1½, we’re now about to enter what could well become the “danger zone” for Caruana, with Carlsen having the big advantage of the white pieces in three of the next four games. You may wonder why, but this was the reason why Carlsen chose black in the opening game after he won the right to select the colour sequence. And to fairly distribute the colours throughout the match, at the halfway stage, the players switch the sequence again, so in game six Carlsen will have white. This is just one of the peculiarities of matchplay chess – but by winning the right to dictating the colour sequence, those three whites could just tip the match in the Norwegian’s favour.
So the burden is going to be firmly on Caruana over the next four games now, as his mettle will be tested to its very limits, as Carlsen will try his best to up the match ante by exerting as much pressure on his American rival as he possibly can now, as a win would go a long way in breaking the challenger’s spirit and resolve.
Match score: Carlsen 1½-1½ Caruana
Photo: Caruana and Carlsen deadlocked after three games | © Mike Klein / Chess.com
GM Fabiano Caruana – GM Magnus Carlsen
World Chess Championship, (3)
Sicilian Defence, Rossolimo Attack
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Once again the battleground is the Sicilian Rossolimo, named after the one-man UN, GM Nicolas Rossolimo, the US-French-Greek-Russian, who started his Olympiad career playing for France in 1950, then played for the US until 1966, before reverting again to the French tricolour for his final Olympiad in 1972. 3…g6 4.Bxc6 dxc6 5.d3 Bg7 6.0-0 One bitten, twice shy! Caruana diverges from his prophylactic opening game choice of 6.h3 that Carlsen more than easily countered. 6…Qc7 7.Re1 e5 8.a3 Nf6 9.b4 0-0 10.Nbd2 Bg4 11.h3 Bxf3 12.Nxf3 cxb4 13.axb4 Caruana has a slight structural advantage due to two factors: Firstly, he has one long pawn chain stretching from b4-h3, while Carlsen has two pawn islands. Secondly, and probably more important is that Caruana’s b-pawn makes it slightly awkward for Carlsen to develop his Ra8 without causing further structural damage. Added together it is not a big factor, but it just gives Caruana the confidence of having gained something he can bite on. 13…a5 14.bxa5?! A serious inaccuracy by inverting the capture sequence. It may not look obvious at first sight, but this is the wrong capture, and one that Caruana may well regret, as he had the opportunity to put lasting pressure on Carlsen with 14.Rxa5! Rxa5 15.bxa5 Qxa5 16.Bd2 Qc7 17.Qa1! The difference with the game being that here, the queen (and with possibly Rb1 and Be3 to follow) leaves White with a dominating position that will leave Black facing an unpleasant, long-term defence to avoid having his queenside being compromised. 14…Rxa5 15.Bd2 Raa8! And with this strategic retreat, Carlsen keeps the fight for the a-file. 16.Qb1 Nd7 17.Qb4 Rfe8 18.Bc3 b5 19.Rxa8 Better was 19.Qb2 tying down the e-pawn and looking to fight for control of the a-file. 19…Rxa8 20.Ra1 Rxa1+ 21.Bxa1 Qa7! [see diagram] If anything, Carlsen is over the worst of it now, and his position is starting to make more sense than Caruana’s. Another factor is that the simplified position and now control of the a-file, makes it more likely for Carlsen to now start turning the screws for a trademark squeeze. 22.Bc3 Easier would have been 22.Bb2! Qa2 23.Qd6! which all looks to peter out to a safe draw. 22…Qa2 23.Qb2 Qxb2 24.Bxb2 With the queens traded, this should safely end in a draw now – but Carlsen here has a minuscule edge, so he squeezes on as only Magnus can squeeze on! 24…f6 25.Kf1 Kf7 26.Ke2 Nc5 27.Bc3 Ne6 28.g3 Bf8 29.Nd2 Ng5 30.h4 Ne6 There’s nothing in the position, but Carlsen just has this little edge which gives him the bragging rights to play on a little longer, taking the game past the first time control. 31.Nb3 h5 32.Bd2 Bd6 33.c3 c5 34.Be3 Ke7 35.Kd1 Kd7 36.Kc2 Caruana’s king has slide over to the queenside, just in case Carlsen creates a problematic passed b-pawn – but with the king there, this is no longer an option for Carlsen, so he looks to switch it up by creating a little something now on the kingside. 36…f5! Carlsen has squeezed as much as he could ever possible squeeze from this position. His king and pieces are centrally placed for a strategic switch to either wing, and his pawns are now advanced on both wings. But, despite the slight discomfort for Caruana, with careful play, he will easily hold the line. 37.Kd1 Much better than 37.f3 f4! 38.gxf4 exf4 39.Bf2 g5 that offers Black hope with having a passed pawn, something he didn’t have before. 37…fxe4 This is a little premature, as it releases all the tension in the position. If Carlsen wanted to try again to extract blood from the proverbial stone, then better was 37…Kc6 or even 37…f4 that would have kept White on the back-foot. I dare say Caruana would have coped, but Carlsen has made a career of squeezing out unlikely wins from such positions. 38.dxe4 c4 39.Nd2 Nc5 40.Bxc5! Bxc5 41.Ke2 Kc6 42.Nf1 The right option. Caruana want’s his knight on the more flexible e3 square. 42…b4 There’s no way to sneak in through the back door with the king with 42…Kb6 as after 43.Ne3 Bxe3 44.Kxe3 only White can be better now – and Black has to be careful he’s not losing after 44…Ka5 45.f4 b4 46.cxb4+ Kxb4 47.Kd2! exf4 48.gxf4 Kc5 49.Kc3! Kb5 50.e5 Kc5 51.Kd2 Kc6 52.Kc3 Kc5 It looks to be a draw – but easy to see how one small slip in a king and pawn ending could come with serious consequences. 43.cxb4 Bxb4 44.Ne3 Kc5 45.f4 exf4 46.gxf4 Ba5 47.f5! This is the easy route to the draw now – Caruana has spotted a nice sacrificial finale that takes advantage of the fact that Carlsen has the wrong rook pawn. 47…gxf5 48.Nxc4 Kxc4 49.exf5 ½-½ This is one of the early trick endgame draws you normally learn when you first enter the tournament arena – all that White does now is head his king to h1 and Black can’t make any progress as his bishop doesn’t protect the all-important queening square.