The nights are getting shorter, and, coincidently, so now are the games at the World Championship Match taking place at The College, Southampton Row, Holborn in London between defending champion Magnus Carlsen and his American challenger, Fabiano Caruana, as both players – for the first time – called it a day in game 4 of their 12-game series before they had even reached the end of the first time control. The fourth consecutive draw left the match still deadlocked, tied at 2-2.
Despite having the white pieces, Carlsen was yet again frustrated by Caruana’s well-prepared opening strategy with the black pieces. The world champion diverged from playing 1.d4 and the QGD to paying homage to his hosts’ with 1.c4 and the English Opening – but the ever-diligent American challenger easily nullified any attempts the world champion tried to make for complicating the game in his favour.
“He seems to have out-prepared me with the black pieces so far so I’ll have to try harder,” bemoaned Carlsen in his post-game press conference. But the world champion may have inadvertently stumbled across an amazing own goal from the challenger’s own team that could offer him an invaluable insight into how best to crack Caruana.
Before game 4 on Tuesday morning, a two-minute clip from inside Caruana’s training camp seemed to reveal details of his top-secret preparation was uploaded to the Saint Louis Chess Club’s YouTube channel, only to be then hastily taken down again – but not before crucial screenshots were captured and spread on social media that showed footage of an open laptop with a list of openings purportedly researched in-depth by the challenger specifically for the match.
Caruana politely, though a little brusque, declined to comment on the accidental big reveal during the post-game press conference – but it immediately brought the world champion to life again, who, with a wry smile on his face, chipped in with “Well, I’ll have to have a look and see if there’s something I can use,” that prompted much mirth from the assembled crowd.
Match score: Carlsen 2-2 Caruana
Photo: Will the big reveal allow Carlsen to crack Caruana? | © World Chess / official site
GM Magnus Carlsen – GM Fabiano Caruana
World Championship, (4)
1.c4 After not liking how Caruana safely dealt with his QGD in game 2, many pundits did correctly predict that Carlsen would perhaps play the English Opening. 1…e5 Caruana plays many things against the English, but lately, he has favoured this reply. 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.Nf3 Nc6 4.g3 d5 5.cxd5 Nxd5 6.Bg2 Basically we have a Sicilian Dragon Reversed, with White having the extra move. 6…Bc5 Standard has been 6…Nb6 – but this is a relatively new and trendy idea attributed to Alexander Grischuk. Commentating on Chess24.com, the Muscovite says he discovered this move by accident – or rather, his computer did! – after inadvertently leaving his computer running on the position after 6.Bg2, and it started to discover after 6…Bc5 several resources for Black. 7.0-0 The first point is that 7.Nxe5 Nxc3! 8.Bxc6+ (White has to play carefully here, as after 8.Nxc6?? Qf6! we suddenly see the big hidden resource with the …Bc5!) 8…bxc6 9.dxc3 (After 9.bxc3 Qd5! 10.Nf3 0-0 and, while Black has the split queenside pawns, he has more than enough compensation for it with the bishop-pair and open files on b8 and e8 for his rooks.) 9…Qxd1+ 10.Kxd1 Bxf2 11.Rf1 Bc5 12.Rxf7 Bd6 13.Rf3 Bxe5 14.Re3 0-0 15.Rxe5 Rf1+ 16.Kc2 Bf5+ 17.e4 Bg6 18.b4 and both sides have their pawn weaknesses, and this will see the game petering out to a draw. 7…0-0 8.d3 Re8 Also possible was 8…Bb6 9.Nxd5 Qxd5 10.Bd2 Qd6 11.Bc3 Re8 12.Nd2 Qh6 13.b4 Bh3 14.b5 Bxg2 15.Kxg2 Bd4! that worked out well recently for Black in Ding, L-Navara, D, Batumi Oly. 2018. 9.Bd2 Nxc3 10.Bxc3 Nd4 11.b4N Carlsen improves on a known recent blitz game Caruana has played with this line, that went 11.Rc1 Bb6 12.Re1 Bg4 13.Bxd4 exd4 14.a3 c6 15.Nd2 a5 16.Bf3 Be6 17.Qa4 Bc7 So,W-Caruana,F Paris GCT 2018,1/2-1/2 (40). 11…Bd6 There’s really not much difference between this and 11…Bb6 – either way, Black has easily equalised from the opening and seems to have a risk-free position. 12.Rb1!? It’s an interesting plan from Carlsen, who, given a free rein, will look to expand on the queenside with a4 etc. 12…Nxf3+ 13.Bxf3 a6 On Chess24.com, Alexander Grischuk pondered on the immediate 13…c6 14.b5 and to follow up with 14…c5!? Again, either way, Black is going to emerge with a totally risk-free position – and easily containing Carlsen with black has to go down as a big success for Caruana’s match strategy, as he is clearly frustrating the world champion. 14.a4 c6 15.Re1 This goes down as one of those ‘mysterious rook moves’ that Aaron Nimzovitch coined in his seminal tome My System. It just doesn’t really make any sense as, ideally, the rook would be better placed on d1 or c1 after a Qc2. And in retrospect, perhaps Carlsen should have tried 15.b5!? and getting on with trying to create a weakness on the queenside. But even here, Black looks to have a relatively safe position with no immediate dangers to sweat over. 15…Bd7 16.e3 Qf6 A nicely timed move that for now stops any immediate ideas of Qc2 or even Qb3. 17.Be4 Bf5 18.Qf3 Bxe4 Again, credit where credit is due to Caruana – he’s found the most efficient way to trade pieces and leave Carlsen staring at a totally sterile position that he can not make anything of. 19.Qxf6 gxf6 20.dxe4 b5 21.Red1 Bf8 22.axb5 axb5 23.Kg2 Red8 24.Rdc1 Carlsen attempts in vain to keep some life in the position – but reality tells you that Caruana has nothing to fear here and the challenger has it all in hand. 24…Kg7 25.Be1 Rdc8 26.Rc2 Ra4 [see diagram] Attack is always the best form of defence – and instead of hunkering down to a passive defence of c6 with …Ra6, Caruana counters the threat of the rooks doubling on the c-file by attacking b4. 27.Kf3 h5 Just stopping any awkwardness of the king getting to g4 and possibly on to f5. 28.Ke2 Kg6 29.h3 f5 Simply undoubling the pawns. 30.exf5+ Kxf5 31.f3 Be7 32.e4+ Ke6 33.Bd2 Bd6 34.Rbc1 ½-½ Carlsen offers the draw and it is accepted. The point is that no progress can be made in white’s position after 34…Kd7! 35.Rd1 Kc7! and both sides will be tied down to their relative weaknesses on b4 and c6.