The entire spectators' zone erupted as Sergey Karjakin moved his rook from d7 to d8. His opponent Fabiano Caruana, seeing no way to avert a checkmate, stretched out his hand in resignation. This victory not only helped Karjakin win the Moscow Candidates tournament in March 2016, but also made him the challenger for the World Championship match against Magnus Carlsen. It was a stellar performance by the Russian as he finished ahead of great players like Vishwanathan Anand, Levon Aronian, Veselin Topalov, Caruana and others.
Karjakin is perhaps the most prodigious talent that the game of chess has ever seen. He became the youngest grandmaster in the world at the age of 12 years and 212 days in 2002. Young Karjakin was ambitious and had the aim to become a world champion by the age of 16. He has had to wait for 10 more years though for an opportunity to fight for the highest title in the world of chess - that of the world championship.
Karjakin's opponent, the Norwegian Carlsen, is considered by many as the greatest player ever to grace the game of chess. He got his grandmaster title at 13 years and three months. While Karjakin struggled to get support and sponsors between the ages of 13 and 19, everything fell in place for Carlsen as he quickly rose through the ranks and became the highest Elo-ranked player in the world in 2011 with a rating of 2,821.
Since then Carlsen has grown in strength, winning one tournament after another, and reaching a career high Elo of 2,881. That's 30 points more than what the legendary Garry Kasparov had managed at his peak. Carlsen also became the world champion in 2013 after beating Anand in Chennai and defended the title once again in 2014 against the same opponent in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia.
For Karjakin, switching federations from Ukraine to Russia when he was 19 was the best decision. He got the right people to spend money for his chess, hire coaches, pay for his training expenses and this helped him become the World Championship challenger.
The World Championship match was scheduled to be held in Fulton Market, New York from the 11-30 November 2016. Carlsen and Karjakin would play 12 games against each other and the first to reach 6.5 points would be the world champion. According to pundits, Carlsen was the favourite by a huge margin. Not only was he a better player than Karjakin, he also had the additional experience of fighting for the World Championship on two occasions previously. This first-hand experience is invaluable.
Some predicted that the World Championship bout won't even go the distance and would be completed in just 10 games with seven draws and three wins for Carlsen. While everyone was trying to decide on the margin with which Karjakin would lose, the Russian was busy preparing hard with his team of seconds. Motylev, Dokhoian, Mamedyarov are some of the best training partners, and Karjakin could afford them thanks to the support of the Russian government. Systematic and meticulous preparation was his strength and that was the only way he had any chance of beating a formidable opponent like Carlsen.
The first two games of the championship were uneventful draws. The players were feeling each other out and slowly getting into their groove. Carlsen even played the off-beat Trompowsky Opening.
In the third and fourth games, Carlsen had clear chances to win. But Karjakin, who is known as one of the most tenacious defenders in the chess world, escaped with draw in both encounters. This was a clear indication that Carlsen was the favourite and it was only a matter of time before Karjakin succumbed to the pressure.
But Karjakin turned out to be a hard nut to crack. As the championship progressed, his confidence grew and without much difficulty, he drew the next three games. With seven rounds gone the score stood level at 3.5-3.5. That's when the world champion started to get impatient and desperate.
In the eighth round, the world champion went overboard. Another draw was an unacceptable result for him. He wanted to win at all costs and took risks which the chess board didn't permit him to. Karjakin won. It was an unbelievable situation for the chess fans all over the world as Carlsen, who was the clear favourite before the start of the match, was now trailing 4.5-3.5, with only four games to go.
Carlsen had played for the World Championship title thrice, including the current bout. This was the first time he was trailing. It was a new situation for the Norwegian and suddenly hardcore Carlsen supporters had changed their loyalties. Karjakin was now the favourite to win the World Championship.
One of Carlsen's best qualities is that he comes back stronger than ever after a loss. In the 10th game, he gave everything he had. After 20 moves, Karjakin could have made a draw with accurate play, but he couldn't find it. The game entered into an endgame in which Carlsen is clearly stronger than all his rivals. Sustained pressure led Karjakin to make an error and Carlsen managed to win. The scores were now level at five points apiece with two games to go.
The 11th game ended in a draw. It was 5.5-5.5. The last classical (long time control) game will be played on Monday (28 November). Everything hinges on this final encounter. One who wins it will be the world champion and can sit on the throne for the next two years. In the case of a draw, the scores will be tied at 6.0-6.0 and we will go into games of shorter time control - rapid chess. It will be an entirely new ballgame, but before that, all the focus and attention is on the 12th classical battle.
The tough battle Carlsen has had to face, it seems, has had its toll on the reigning world champion. The video below shows him getting irritated at having to wait for Karjakin at the press conference, and storming out. Carlsen will, however, have to keep his composure as he gets ready for the World Championship decider.
Carlsen has a clear edge, though, because he not only has the momentum, but also the white pieces. Although he lost the eighth game with white, having the right to make the first move is always an advantage. So what do you think? Will Carlsen defend his world title for the third time in a row? Or will Karjakin be able to fulfil his childhood dream of becoming the world champion? Only time will tell.