WATER HITS THE ROCK IN GAME EIGHT AS HARRY THE H-PAWN DECIDES THE ISSUE
While I have spent the most of my life as an atheist, the events of the 21st November convinced me that there is one true goddess.
And such a dramatic and interesting game it was, that there is simply no other explanation except that Caissa heard the chess community prayers.
Furthermore, as in any religion, the goddess turned out to be very cruel.
At least from the Carlsen's fan perspective.
Why cruel? Because after missing serious winning chances in the first half of the match, Carlsen played too riskily and was severely punished.
It seems like Carlsen was psychologically unprepared for result to be even so late in the match. The first signs that he wants to win at any costs were visible in game six, where he also experienced serious trouble.
The character of the play in the game eight reminded me of Carlsen's play during the Tromso 2014 Olympiad. During that Olympiad, Magnus often played uncharacteristic and agressive moves which turned out to be speculative. And even though he managed to get away with it sometimes, he lost a couple of games to opposition much lower rated than him.
Therefore, historically speaking this turn of events shouldn't come as SUCH a big surprise. I would like to take another opportunity to brag that I took this possibility into account.
However, GM Ian Nepomniatchc... Nepmniatchhch.... NEPO.. Who knows Carlsen very well also said : "I was expecting something like this from Magnus because sometimes, when he cannot win a game for a long time, he is pushing too hard. After game five, it seems again today he went into berzerk mode." (Source - chess.com)
The game eight saw Carlsen switching back to d4 after two e4 games. And unlike in game one, this time he didn't go for Trompovsky on move two.
However, this didn't mean that d4 deviations will be avoided altogether. Because after the few initial moves it transpired that there will be the very rare Colle system. Which hasn't appeared in the World Championship match since 1890 Steinitz - Gunsberg match.
The typical Magnus way of "getting a game" turned out to be very successful once again. Because around move 15 he was enjoying a slightly better position.
However, the first indication that he is not in his best shape was refusing to play his knight on b5 (and probably missing the b4 tactic). Therefore he was forced to play the "strange" Qe1 - Bf1, just to defend his g2 pawn.
Furthermore, later in the middlegame he jumped with the knight to b5 at the wrong moment, underestimating Karjakin's play on the kingside. However, since Karjakin opted for safety first, avoiding the Qg5 move, it seemed that Carlsen will go unscratched, and play with a draw in his pocket.
furhtermore, instead of contenting himself with only slightly better position and a probable draw, he went on to shatter his queenside to gain some winning chances.
Objectively, that decision was dubious, and Karjakin immediately went on to attack the weak a4 pawn. Due to this pawn sacrifice, Carlsen generated some play in the time trouble, but Karjakin defended calmly, neutralizing White play easily and forcing him to prove the compensation for the pawn.
Carlsen, with few minutes on the clock, went on to sacrifice another pawn with c5. It turned out to be an outright blunder. Karjakin could have defended relatively easily, which would leave him with a clear passed a pawn in the endgame.
However, with 1 minute on the clock, he missed Carlsen's devilish Ne6!! tactic (or more likely the e4 follow up later). Therefore, everybody watching the game was reckoning that Magnus will once again save his head. Similarly as in game six of the 2014 Sochi match.
However, this was not the end of drama. Because after stabilizing his position, Carlsen avoided yet another opportunity to end the game peacefully and opted to "grab the bull by the horns" instead.
With the Black passed a-pawn this decision turned out to be very risky. Because Black's position turned out to be much easier to play.
Finally, when already faced with an unpleasant blockading knight on e5, Carlsen went on to blunder with Qe6.
It seems like he missed or underestimated the strength of h5!!, which was found after 5 minutes thought by Karjakin. Alas, we will never know the answer, since he left before the press conference even started.
And although every chess player can understand the psychological state he was in, I think this is very bad and unsporting behaviour. I think that every great champion should know how to deal with setbacks.
I know that Kasparov was also known for his egoistic reaction to losses. Both players definitely lost some respect in my eyes.
And that is coming from a guy whose personal opinion is that Kasparov and Carlsen are undisputed #1 and #2 in the chess history.
Anyway, the move h5! is definitely the move of the match so far, and kudos to Karjakin for finding that resource. Check the analysis to fully appreciate the strength and the concept behind it.
To conclude, I would like to draw a Pokemon parallel here. Because I couldn't avoid remembering the move called "Selfdestruct" after going through Carlsen's performance today.
I realized I haven't mentioned Pokemon on this blog yet.. It is time to correct that oversight
Now the ball is completely in Carlsen's court. Never before has he been in a more difficult position in a match, and his title is hanging on a thread.
As a final word, I would like to draw a comparison of his current situation with two Kasparov matches.
Firstly, Kasparov - Anand match in 1995 started with the long series of eight draws. And similarly, the first game with the decisive result went into challenger's favour. By crushing Kasparov's Najdorf in game nine, Anand took the lead convincingly.
However, Kasparov immediately bounced back in game ten with the help of really brilliant home preparation. And although it WAS much longer match (24 games format), to recover immediately after a hard loss is a virtue of a great champion.
More extreme and more relevant is the 1987 Seville match against Karpov. It was also Kasparov's third World Championship match and he experienced a serious psychological crisis both before and during the match.
The end of the match is rather well known though. Kasparov managed to win the last game in a situation where draw would mean the loss of the title. Together with Lasker - Schlechter 1910 match, it is the only instance when the World Champion won under must-win conditions.
The Carlsen is somewhere in-between. He isn't yet in a must-win situation, but he doesn't have unlimited number of game ahead of him either.
He has managed to recover after quick losses in the past. But never has he had such a resilient and motivated opponent like Karjakin. Especially since after this win his confidence will grow as well. As it should, after playing h5!!
A move that should undoubtely enter every chess book.
A move that might mark the end of one era.