There’s a great saying coined in 2003 by Sir Alex Ferguson, in a season when his Manchester United and Newcastle were neck-and-neck in a title race, he said: “it’s squeaky-bum time.” And after an eleventh straight draw in the World Chess Championship Match in London, with Magnus Carlsen and Fabiano Caruana still deadlocked, that priceless little phrase has been reverberating in my mind with the match going into the final game with everything still up for grabs, and the very realistic prospects now of a nerve-jangling tiebreak playoff.
The legendary, no-nonsense Glaswegian former Man Utd boss wasn’t alluding to a sudden spasm of the gluteal muscles here with his comment, which has now become a widespread soundbite – and even entered the national lexicon with a 2005 entry into the Collins English Dictionary – but instead he was perfectly describing the tense final stages of a league competition, and the sound made by squirming around in a plastic seat as your team’s fortunes wax and wane.
And in London, you could visibly see and hear the tension now intensifying for the two players (not to mention and their respective teams) as they held their post-game press conference after game 11. “I wasn’t pleased from the opening and then after that, I just wanted to play it safe,” said Carlsen. “I was trying to push a little bit, but it was nothing real. In this match situation, I thought there was no reason to go crazy.”
Asked about what he now expects for Monday’s Game 12, Carlsen added: “We’ll see what happens. A lot depends on what [Caruana] wants to do. If he wants to shut it down then that’s fine by me, we’ll play rapid. Otherwise, we’ll have a fight.” And for arguably the first time in the match, Caruana looked just a little bit apprehensive. “There’s a lot riding on the last game,” he explained. “It will be very tense for both of us. I’m not going to go crazy or anything, of course, but I will try to put pressure on him.”
The players will have an extra rest-day between now and then, and – if it goes that far – an additional rest-day before Wednesday’s tiebreak playoff. But just whose bum will be squeaking loudest come the end of Game 12 – or, indeed the tiebreak playoff, if it reaches that stage – is anyone’s guess now.
Match score: Carlsen 5½-5½ Caruana
Photo: The tension mounts, as we fast-approach squeaky-bum time! | © Maria Emelianova/Chess.com
GM Magnus Carlsen – GM Fabiano Caruana
World Championship, (11)
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nxe5 d6 4.Nf3 In game 6, Carlsen offered up the rarity of 4.Nd3 but really got nowhere very quickly, as Caruana more than easily equalised. 4…Nxe4 5.Nc3 Nxc3 6.dxc3 Be7 7.Be3 0-0 8.Qd2 Nd7 9.0-0-0 Nf6! The “!” is for bravery and courage in your pre-match opening research. The mainline nowadays is 9…c6, as Caruana has played in the past. But for those that remember the earlier “Videogate saga”, where a St Louis video of one of Fabi’s training sessions was released on YouTube – and then quickly pulled it down – and clearly showed this idea in a screenshot of an erroneously opened laptop. Not wise in a title match to reveal critical info such as this, but it seems Team Caruana have complete faith in their analysis and believe White has nothing here anyway, so he’s not afraid to play it. 10.Bd3 Earlier this year at Grenke Chess Classic, Carlsen played 10.h3 against Hou Yifan. The world champion achieved nothing from this, and he was even a little on the backfoot before escaping with a draw in 98 moves. 10…c5 11.Rhe1 Be6 12.Kb1 This move and Carlsen next move forces an ending that only causes minimal problems to Caruana. If Carlsen wanted something more “interesting” to play, then 12.Bg5 was the order of the day. 12…Qa5 13.c4 Qxd2 14.Bxd2 h6N Caruana’s novelty over the previously played option here of 14…Rfe8 – but it comes with a drawback that Carlsen immediately hones in on. 15.Nh4!? Carlsen finds the sharpest option available to him after Caruana’s novelty – but it is never enough to promise anything other than the better side of the draw. 15…Rfe8 16.Ng6 And this was the drawback to Caruana’s new 14….h6. It looks speculative, and although the game stretches on to move 55, the draw was always going to be the heavy favourite from this move on. 16…Ng4! This riposte more or less forces us into further trades and a position that is just far too sterile for it to be anything else other than a draw. 17.Nxe7+ Rxe7 18.Re2 Ne5 19.Bf4 Nxd3 20.Rxd3 Rd7 21.Rxd6 Rxd6 22.Bxd6 Rd8 23.Rd2 Bxc4 24.Kc1 b6 25.Bf4 Rxd2?! Caruana snapped on this move, perhaps playing it far too quickly for my liking, as he made his mind up that, even although he might lose a pawn here, he’d have salvation in the notoriously drawn opposite-coloured bishop endgame. I think safer would have been 25…Re8 keeping the threat of activating his rook to stay competitive in an otherwise equal position. 26.Kxd2 It’s not much, but Carlsen has a little something to grind away at because, with Caruana’s pawn chain a7-c5 all being on black squares, one of the pawns will surely fall – but it will take more than a pawn here for there to be any chances of converting a win. 26…a6 27.a3 Kf8 28.Bc7 b5 29.Bd6+ Ke8 30.Bxc5 h5 31.Ke3 Kd7 32.Kd4 g6 33.g3 Be2 34.Bf8 Kc6 35.b3 Bd1 36.Kd3 Bg4 37.c4 Be6 38.Kd4 bxc4 39.bxc4 Bg4 40.c5 Be6 41.Bh6 Bd5 42.Be3 Be6 43.Ke5 Bd5 44.Kf4 Be6 45.Kg5 Bd5 46.g4 There is only one trick in this notoriously drawn opposite-coloured bishop ending – and Carlsen goes for it. 46…hxg4 47.Kxg4 Ba2 48.Kg5 Bb3 49.Kf6 Ba2 50.h4 Bb3 51.f4 Ba2 52.Ke7 Bb3 53.Kf6 Ba2! Caruana is alert to the dangers and wisely keeps his bishop as far away from the action as possible, so as not to fall for the sucker punch of 53…Be6?? 54.f5! Bxf5 (If 54…gxf5 55.h5 easily wins.) 55.h5! and the h-pawn passes. 54.f5 Bb1! [see diagram] Caruana is up to the task of defending with the only move available that draws. If 54…gxf5?? 55.h5 f4 56.Bf2! (Capturing is wrong, as it sets up a well-known drawing technique that all players should know by heart, and we discussed in detail in game 3. After 56.Bxf4?? Kxc5 57.h6 Bb1 58.Kxf7 Kb6 59.Kg7 Kb7 60.h7 Bxh7 61.Kxh7 Ka7 Black has sanctuary with the queening square on the rooks file (and this can only happen on the rooks file) and it being the opposite colour to the bishop, where , as long as the king oscillates between a7, b7 b8 and a8, White can only give stalemate.) 56…f3 57.h6 Bb1 58.Kxf7 and White will win as he has the passed c-pawn. 55.Bf2 If 55.fxg6 fxg6 easily draws, as Black simply repeats Bb1-c2-d3 etc. 55…Bc2 ½-½