World Chess Championship: Fabiano Caruana’s atypical misstep helps Magnus Carlsen evade defeat in Game 8

Magnus Carlsen had another tough outing in the eighth game of his world championship match against Fabiano Caruana in London on Monday evening. After a 38-move-long battle, however, the world champion had managed to come out of the woods unscathed as the game eventually petered out in a draw. As it stands, the match is still longing to witness its first decisive game as players stand tied at 4-4 with four games to go.

Magnus Carlsen chose the notoriously double edged Sveshnikov variation of the Sicilian to open Game 8. Image Courtesy: World Chess

Magnus Carlsen chose the notoriously double edged Sveshnikov variation of the Sicilian to open Game 8. Image Courtesy: World Chess

After playing two blacks in a row, the American challenger, Fabiano Caruana, had the white pieces in the eighth game. In his usual spirit, he opened the game with 1.e4. Thus far, the trend after Caruana’s king’s pawn opening was for Carlsen to go with the Sicilian and for Caruana to deviate into the Rossolimo system, a side line of the opening. This time, though, Caruana decided to take the bull by the horns and play the open variation.

On his first opportunity to play the open Sicilian, Carlsen chose the Sveshnikov variation, a sharp system that was once dubbed by GM Mark Taimanov as opening theory’s “last great discovery”.

The line is notorious for leading to extremely sharp positions and was, perhaps, an ideal choice to stir things up.

In the spirit of the opening, Carlsen flung his kingside pawns up the board with the hope of hunting down the white king but the boot was on the wrong foot after Caruana found the strong central break 21.c5.

The Norwegian supercomputer “Sesse” had begun to give Caruana an advantage of +2.45, which essentially translates to a winning edge for white. Carlsen’s audacious pawn advances from the opening had left gaping holes around his king and with Caruana’s central pawn break, they became all the more vulnerable. Caruana’s dark squared bishop had especially become a monstrous piece, unleashing its wrath down the a1-h8 diagonal. In combination with the White queen, which was poised to dive into the white camp, this could have spelt doom for the world champion.
But at the crunch moment, Caruana hesitated and played the modest 24.h3 instead of going all in for the attack with 24.Nc4 or 24.Qh5. This gave away a crucial tempo and allowed Carlsen to recoup.

"Maybe there were other options but this was the moment I was most worried," Carlsen said after the game.

Carlsen quickly veered his queen to the kingside with 24…Qe8 in response. A queen exchange followed soon afterwards and the ensuing endgame hardly had any juice in it. A draw was agreed on the 38th move.

When asked about their immediate emotion after the game, Caruana said he felt "some minor disappointment".

"I thought I, at some point, had a very promising position but I didn’t see exactly [at] which moment I had something really good. I assume there were more dangerous options along the way," Caruana said.

Carlsen on the other hand said that his immediate feeling after the game was that of relief. "This was a tough game. He was the one who had all the chances so I am happy to have survived it.”

One of the reasons for Caruana to lose the thread of the position was, perhaps, the fact that he had too many good options and amid so many different possibilities, the challenger failed to choose the right path.

"There were so many moments when I had different options. I think 21.c5 is correct. And after 21...dxc5, I don’t know if there’s something here. Of course I have many possibilities. 22.d6 is one of them and I tried to make it work," Caruana said.

However, the challenger, as mentioned before saw this as a minor upset and not as a "missed penalty", as framed by one of the reporters at the press conference. “I don’t think the position was ever quite like that. Of course, I had some chances but it’s not like it’s always going to work out," Caruana said before reminding everyone that "just because you put pressure on Magnus doesn’t mean that he collapses."

"I had some chances. I don’t know how serious they were but it definitely wasn’t like missing a penalty," Caruana added.

Tuesday will be a rest day in London and the action will resume at 8:30 PM IST on Wednesday when Carlsen will have the white pieces.

Replay Game 8

Aditya Pai is an editor at ChessBase India

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Updated Date: Nov 20, 2018 16:26:17 IST

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