The Politics of the Draw - First Move Chess -First Move Chess

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Heading to a central London location to hear chess terms such as “endgame”, “stalemate” and “zugzwang” being banded around by the national media as they discuss lots of resignations? If so, then the destination of choice is not the World Chess Championship Match at The College, Holborn, but instead the seat of power at 10 Downing Street, where the ongoing bout of national self-flagellation that is Brexit has seen chess metaphors galore with more government ministers resigning from office during the past 36 hours than games now between Magnus Carlsen and Fabiano Caruana!

Seven government ministers and minor government officials have resigned so far, but the impasse continues unabated between defending champion Carlsen and his American challenger Caruana, as game 5 of the best-of-12-series also ended in a draw, the fifth of the match – but certainly not without the latest showing something of an adventurous spirit, as the tension inexorably builds as the contest remains tied, now at 2½-2½, with just seven games of ordinary play to go.

There was 34 moves and three-and-a-quarter hours of play before the inevitable draw came – but there was no damp squib in this box of fireworks! Despite the battleground yet again being the Sicilian Rossolimo, the ever-meticulously prepared Caruana tested Carlsen’s opening theory knowledge by venturing an Evans Gambit-like aggressive pawn sacrifice that similarly prompted gasps from the live audience and the online commentators.

But the crowd-pleaser of 6.b4!? was no new innovation to try to catch out Carlsen – not only has this early 1970s move been seen before in the theory periodicals, but it’s also been played in the past against Carlsen! And sure enough, the world champion, after a little thought and some very comical facial contortions, soon found the most energetic way to respond to Caruana’s adventurous punt.

“Well, this line is really interesting and if black is cooperative it can get very exciting,” Caruana explained during the post-game press conference. “But Magnus knew the line quite well and I think played in a very logical way.” And the Norwegian world No.1  also liked that the game took a turn for the wild side: “To be honest I was pretty happy about the opening,” he added. “I felt as though after it calmed down, only black could ever really be better. But I couldn’t find a way to push it.”

We now move to what could conceivably be the ‘danger zone’ for Caruana, as the American challenger faces the prospect of back-to-back blacks in games 6 and 7 against Carlsen, as the colour sequence is rotated at the midpoint of the contest. If the world champion can strike here, then that could all but crack his challenger’s dogged resolve.

Match score: Carlsen 2½-2½ Caruana
Photo: Despite another draw, it was a lively game – as was the press conference! | © World Chess / Official site

GM Fabiano Caruana – GM Magnus Carlsen
World Championship, (5)
Sicilian Defence, Rossolimo Attack
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Yet again the Rossolimo, making this the battleground in a title match, much like it proved to be the battleground for Anand-Gelfand World Championship Match in 2012. 3…g6 4.0-0 Bg7 5.Re1 e5 6.b4!? An all-but brief flurry of excitement with this daring Evans Gambit-like move that’s attributed to Georgia’s free-thinking Bukhuti Gurgenidze (1933-2008), hailed as one of the most original players of the Soviet era. But this surprise is not as speculative as it initially seemed, as Carlsen has faced this move before. Not only that, but even I once dabbled with it after discovering it in a 1984 Batsford book! 6…Nxb4 Safer than 6…cxb4 7.a3 and the added threat of the game being ripped open for White’s bishops to wreak havoc. 7.Bb2 a6 8.a3 axb5 9.axb4 Rxa1 10.Bxa1 d6 11.bxc5 Ne7 This was all covered in the 1984 Batsford book The Anti-Sicilian 3.Bb5 by Razuvayev and Matsukevich, that considers Black’s position to be ‘satisfactory’ after 11…Ne7 – the exact line that Carlsen now essays. Not so safe, though, is 11…Qa5 due to 12.Nc3! dxc5 13.Qe2 Bd7 14.Qd3! and it is all just begins to get more than a little awkward for Black, with White having potential multiple threats with Qd6, Nd5, Bb2 and Ra1. 12.Qe2 Perhaps more of a test for Black is 12.cxd6 Qxd6 13.d4! 12…b4! Carlsen would have been in trouble if it wasn’t for this timely resource! 13.Qc4 Qa5 Carlsen has expertly taken all the ‘fizz’ out of Caruana’s speculative punt of 6.b4!? 14.cxd6 It looks fraught with danger, but Carlsen has it all under control. 14…Be6 15.Qc7 Qxc7 16.dxc7 Nc6 Carlsen may be a pawn down, but he has the bishop-pair, his pieces are better placed, his king is going to be closer to the centre, and White’s c7-pawn is a dead man walking. 17.c3 Too slow. Caruana had to try 17.d4! Nxd4 18.Nxd4 exd4 19.Rd1 Kd7 20.Bxd4 Bxd4 21.Rxd4+ Kxc7 22.Rxb4 Rd8 23.h3 – but even here, despite being a pawn to the good, Black should comfortably hold the balance with his active pieces. But nevertheless, a pawn is a pawn. 17…Kd7 18.cxb4 Ra8! Even more frustrating for Caruana, as the bishop is forced to c3 disrupting the development of the Nb1. 19.Bc3 Kxc7 20.d3 Kb6 Now the b4-pawn is a target and if Caruana is not careful, he could face a difficult ending if Black has a passed b-pawn running up the board supported by his pieces. 21.Bd2 Rd8 22.Be3+ Kb5 23.Nc3+ Kxb4 24.Nd5+! [see diagram] Time to initiate the bailout! This is the only way to safely remove the potentially problematic b-pawn. Caruana may well go into the ending a pawn down, but with all the pawns on the same wing of the board, this endgame can easily be contained. 24…Bxd5 25.exd5 Rxd5 26.Rb1+ Kc3 27.Rxb7 Nd8 28.Rc7+ Much better to have the king capture the d-pawn, as there lurks a cunning trap. 28…Kxd3 29.Kf1! h5 Carlsen has to keep his wits about him here, as it could be all-too-easy to fall into the humiliating self-mate of 29…e4?? 30.Ne1#! 30.h3 Ke4 Black could try 30…Bf6 but after 31.g4! hxg4 32.hxg4 Not only has another set of pawns been traded, but Black still has a job to do to get his Nd8 into the game without risking his f7-pawn. For this reason, Carlsen heads to the easy draw option now. 31.Ng5+ Kf5 32.Nxf7 Nxf7 33.Rxf7+ Bf6 34.g4+ ½-½ Both players accept the inevitable, as after 34…hxg4 35.hxg4+ Ke6 36.Rc7 Ra5 neither side has much material to work with to try and even think about how to squeeze a win out of this position.

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