ANOTHER BRICK IN THE BERLIN WALL, KARJAKIN HOLDS IN A 7 HOUR MARATON
After relatively exotic opening choices in the first two games oft he World Chess Championship 2016 match, Carlsen - Karjakin game three finally represented „reality check“ for all chess fans that were hoping that the unbreachable Berlin Defence won't appear to bore us all this time.
Karjakin's 3… Nf6 signalled that he is not ready to „risk it“ like Magnus did in the previous game by entering the Closed variation of the Ruy Lopez, but that he would rather stick to very reasonable – don't-lose-with-Black tactics, much to the disappointement of the spectators, the majority of which probably immediately felt the urge to paraphrase Dante : „Leave all hope ye who are watchin'. „
Or maybe that was just me. Highly possible.
Anyway, those who were expecting something along the lines of the first two encounters, where battle quickly pettered out, were gravely mistaken because game three was very first game where one player gained serious winning chances. After incorrect display of activity by Sergey, Magnus ended in position with a pawn up and pretty centralized pieces. And since he has grinded wins int he past even when his advantage was much less substantial, few were in doubt that opening his account in the match is inevitable.
However, much to the delight of the author of these lines, Sergey confirmed the pre-match forecasts and proved once again his resilience in defence, since he managed to salvage a draw in a position where many other players would crumble under the pressure.
The initial phase of the game features two interesting surprises by the World Champion. Firstly he avoided the main line of the Berlin by playing the move 5 Re1, and later in the opening he played the absurd - looking move Re2, followed by Re1. The fact that this idea in a very similar position was played by Maxime Vachier Lagrave (a.k.a the Three-Name Frenchman, MVL in the further text) led to suspicion that MVL is one of Carlsen's hidden seconds, which he immediately denied on Twitter (and everybody knows that everything you read on Internet is true, so there is no reason not to believe him).
However, such opening subtleties once again didn't result in anything tangible for the World Champion and as a result of the opening phase we had a queenless endgame around move 20 with the knight slightly better standing than the bishop.
The position had some resemblance with the position in game one, and almost everybody was expecting another quick and colourless draw. However, at a moment where only one accurate move (30... Bh6) was required, Karjakin (already in time trouble) played a pair of seemingly active, yet inaccurate moves (30... Ra2 and 31... c5), which allowed Magnus to activate his pieces considerably and get serious chances.
Karjakin sacrificed a pawn to isolate all White pawns, but that didn't help him much since White's pieces very seriously active. It seemed that Magnus is cruising toward another typical Magnus win, but Karjakin was trying to "sell his skin very costly" (another very intelligent Croatian phrase) and was creating as much obstacles as possible, thus confirming his reputation as a very strong defender.
After long maneuvering phase a critical point of the game was reached, when Karjakin was forced to give a piece to retain serious winning chances. The cost of every move rose sharply and when the fatigue started to give in, mistake started to be made. First Carlsen missed the best, but far from obvious continuation on move 69, then Karjakin played the losing move on move 70 and finally Carlsen returned the favour on move 72, missing his final chance and allowing Karjakin to escape.
In the end, it is very hard to judge the result in this game. It wouldn't be undeserved if Carlsen won since he played great tehcnical chess and exploited the early mistakes by Karjakin. However, Karjakin's tenacity in defence, ignoring the slip on move 70, managed to salvage a very difficult position against none other then the Master Grinder himself. So I would conclude that draw can be considered more or less fair result, especially if we know that Karjakin shouldn't have suffered in the first place (although someone might dispute this statement since it is impossible to win a chessgame without some contribution from your opponent).
One thing is certain. This was a battle on the grand scale, and although there wasn't anything flashy in the game, true chess lovers should praise the skill and the virtuosity of Magnus in such dry positions, and I think that very careful study of this game can do wonders for the technical aspect of any players game (especially if you are struggling in the endgame field like the author of this lines; but more on that maybe in some other posts).
Let's look at the analysis of the game.