In the aftermath of American lone wolf Bobby Fischer winning the world title in 1972, society was in a state of flux, and later that same year, Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side” touched on many taboo subjects. The hit song, from his seminal Transformer album, was controversial, to say the least. But back then, conservative views were being challenged, and chess, mainly due to the influence of Fischer, was an all-out, unmitigated battle for the very soul of the game.
For Fischer, risks were taken at the board in pursuit of victory at all costs. There were no easy draws – and certainly, no “GM draws”! – when you played Fischer, and an opponent knew they had been in a battle for their very survival across a chessboard. Such epic battles are few and far between in today’s more cautious, modern game – but Magnus Carlsen and Fabiano Caruana produced an epic of such proportions in game 10 of their World Chess Championship Match in London.
Although it ended in a tenth straight draw in the match – which is still tied, now at 5-5, with two games remaining in the series, and the prospects of a tiebreak playoff looming – this proved to be very much a Lou Reed-like walk on the wild side where anything could have happened – the sort of game worthy of a draw between two players at the top of their game, and who, with so much at stake, risked all in a truly fighting effort to try to break the deadlock.
“I felt that it was very close to mate,” a near exhausted looking Carlsen said of his kingside attack in the post-game press conference. “The problem is if I don’t mate I’m losing. So I was trying to find some middle ground and my time was running out. I don’t know. I was just so nervous, I couldn’t make it happen. It ended up just being nothing…It was just a case of too complicated and too much at stake.”
“It’s the type of game I expected from this line,” added Caruana, who, to be fair, looked calmer and more refreshed than his opponent! “I mean, it’s very, very double-edged, both sides are taking risks. Black takes some very clear risks because he’s going for an attack so he’s sort of going all-in. And, of course, I’m getting attacked, so I could potentially get mated.”
And after all that high drama, both players will look forward to Friday’s rest day before the €1m ($1.14m) match resumes on Saturday with Carlsen having white in game 11. And the format changes slightly going into the final games, as there will be an added rest day in-between the penultimate and final game. And if still tied, then the prospects of a nerve-wracking tiebreak playoff to decide the ultimate prize in chess.
Match score: Carlsen 5-5 Caruana
Photo: “Fabi comes from Miami, FLA….” – so expect a walk on the wild side, Magnus! | © Maria Emelianova/Chess.com
GM Fabiano Caruana – GM Magnus Carlsen
World Championship, (10)
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 e5 We return to the razor-sharp Sveshnikov we saw in game 8 – a line that was once named after former champion Emanuel Lasker, who first played it during his 1910 title clash against Carl Schlechter, but now named after Soviet-era Russian GM Evgeny Sveshnikov, who has done much to pioneer this sharp choice. 6.Ndb5 d6 7.Nd5 Nxd5 8.exd5 Nb8 9.a4 Be7 10.Be2 0-0 11.0-0 Nd7 12.b4!? Caruana has built his career on having a good work ethic: one that’s been based on lots of hard work, carefully exploring opening theory to come up with new ideas. And here, in arguably the most testing ground of it being in a critical World Championship Match, he comes up with a new idea in the Sveshnikov that immediately took Carlsen by surprise, as he has to carefully negotiate the wild complications at the board. 12…a6 13.Na3 a5 The typical Sveshnikov thrust of 13…f5 also had to be in Carlsen’s thinking here – but I can imagine he might well have wanted to first stop Caruana clamping down on the queenside with a5, just as he did in game 8, that achieved a lasting grip on the queenside. 14.bxa5 Rxa5 15.Nc4 Ra8 16.Be3 f5 17.a5 f4 18.Bb6 Qe8 It’s a true Sveshnikov struggle – White goes on the queenside, and Black on the kingside. 19.Ra3 Initially the rook lift looks good, but it is a very committal move that offers Carlsen some active counterplay. 19…Qg6 20.Bc7 e4 21.Kh1 b5! A big move and moment for Carlsen, as he finds the brave tactical hit that looks to remove the invaluable Ra3 as a defender against his intended …f3 assault. As Carlsen himself explained at the post-game presser, “I thought for so long and I wasn’t sure about it but I thought I just go for it and up the stakes even more. Either you win the game, or you get mated.” 22.Nb6 Forced, as after 22.axb6? Rxa3 23.Nxa3 f3! 24.gxf3 Ne5 and there’s no holding back Black’s attack now. 22…Nxb6 23.Bxb6 Qg5!? This is a pure kidology of a move, with Carlsen attempting to hoodwink Caruana that he has more than he really has is in the position – but perhaps Carlsen simply hoodwinked himself into believing this was the best way forward? The simple reply would have been 23…b4 24.Rb3 Bf6 25.Rxb4 Bc3 26.Rb3 (If 26.Ra4 Bd7 27.Rc4 Bxa5 28.Bxa5 Rxa5 29.Rc7 Bf5 Black stands better.) 26…Bxa5 27.Bd4 (No better is 27.Ra3 Bh3! 28.Rxh3 Bxb6 and Black stands well.) 27…Bd8 28.Rg1 Bf5 where Black certainly has a little “something” extra, but not enough to force through a winning attack. 24.g3 Can you blame Caruana for being swayed by what Magnus’ intentions may have been on the kingside? The position has turned very complicated, very quickly, and it was easy for the armchair grandmasters, with the safety of their playing engines churning in the background, to all gleefully point out that the “easy” solution was 24.Bxb5! Rf6 25.Bc6 (Another option is 25.Re1 Rg6 26.Bf1 Bf5 and one slip either side now will prove fatal.) 25…f3! 26.gxf3 Rh6 27.Be3 Rxh2+ 28.Kxh2 Qh5+ 29.Kg1 Qg6+ and it is “only” a draw – easier said than done when you are facing wild complications in the heat of battle in one of the most important matches of your life! Another wild ride that proved “fun” over at Chess24.com for Messers Svidler, Giri & Grischuk, was 24.f3 e3 25.g3 Rf6 26.gxf4 Qh5 27.Bxe3 Qxh2+ 28.Kxh2 Rh6+ 29.Kg1 Rg6+ 30.Kh2 (Unfortunately for White, there’s no king run to safety, as 30.Kf2?? Bh4#!) 30…Rh6+ 31.Kg2 Rg6+ etc and a repetition. 24…b4 25.Rb3 Bh3 26.Rg1 f3 27.Bf1 Bxf1 28.Qxf1 Qxd5 The dust has settled somewhat, and while there’s still an element of danger for Caruana’s king, he now needs to decide how to stop Carlsen’s pawn centre of d5, e4 and f3 finding a way to crash through for the win. 29.Rxb4 Qe6 Best, as it supports …d5 and just keeps the danger lurking longer on Caruana’s king with access to h3. 30.Rb5! Caruana continues to find all the right moves to stay competitive in this edgy position – and this is a testament to his psychological strength as the title challenger, as many would likely have crumbled here under pressure from Carlsen. 30…Bd8 The only logical continuation now, but we see the strength of Caruana’s clever defending of a potentially difficult position, as after the natural looking 30…d5?! White strongly counters with 31.Qd1! Rf5 32.g4! Rg5 33.Be3 and, with d5 hanging, suddenly it is White who holds an advantage. 31.Qe1 Bxb6 32.axb6 Rab8 By now many had accepted that this was going to fizzle out to a draw – but what a draw, as both players played from the heart and, even with so much at stake in the latter stages of a gripping and evenly-poised title match, took risks in a wild ride of a position! 33.Qe3 Qc4 34.Rb2 Rb7 35.Rd1 Qe2! [see diagram] With a little skullduggery, Magnus still finds a way to create chances for himself – but Fabiano stays calm and covers all the bases. 36.Re1! As the ever-reliable and always entertaining Chess24.com trio of Svidler, Giri & Grischuk pointed out, it would have been so easy to have fallen into Magnus’ bear trap of 36.Qb3+? Kh8 37.c4 Rxb6!! 38.Rxe2 fxe2 39.Qc2 Rb2! or even 36.Qd4? e3! 37.c4 exf2!! both winning for Black. 36…Qxe3 37.Rxe3 d5 38.h4! The only worrying issue for Caruana is his king stuck on h1 – so he gives it a little “luft” with the very practical solution of pushing h4, g4 to get his king into the game via h2-g3-f4 etc. 38…Rc8 39.Ra3! White’s position is not without risks, as pushing for an early liquidation backfires after 39.Rb5? Rxc2 40.Rxd5 Rxb6 41.Rxe4 Rxf2! winning due to the double threat of the back-rank mating threats and doubling of rooks on the seventh. 39…Kf7 40.Kh2 Ke6 41.g4 Rc6 42.Ra6! The correct option from Caruana, who rightly judges that keeping the rook active is better than both rooks being locked into a b-file defence. 42…Ke5 43.Kg3 h6 44.h5 Kd4?!? Magnus relentlessly continues to push the envelope, but this is a push too far. “I was playing for a win and then immediately after (44. … Kd4), I saw (45. Rb5) and I realized I was going to have to grovel for a draw,” Carlsen explained. “Fortunately, I managed to do that, but I think he could have put a stronger test to me.” 45.Rb5! As ever, Caruana hits back with the correct move. 45…Rd6! 46.Ra4+ Ke5 47.Rab4 Ke6! 48.c4 dxc4 49.Rxc4 Rdxb6 50.Rxe4+ May as well accept now what is inevitable, and that is a 3 vs. 2 rook endgame and just a technical draw. Caruana could have “tortured” Carlsen a little longer with 50.Rf5!? but, with correct play, we will just get what happens in the game after 50…Rb4 51.Rc6+ Kd7 52.Rg6 Ke8 53.Re5+ Kf7 54.Rge6 R4b6 55.Rxb6 Rxb6 56.Rxe4 and a draw. 50…Kf7 51.Rf5+ Rf6 52.Rxf6+ Kxf6 53.Kxf3 Kf7 54.Kg3 ½-½ What a wonderful, no-holds-barred scrap by Carlsen and Caruana, and especially with it coming at such a critical stage of a title match!