As it stands, there are only two more games remaining out of the scheduled 12 games of the World Chess Championship match that is underway. On Thursday evening, world champion, Magnus Carlsen and his challenger, Fabiano Caruana agreed to their tenth straight draw at The College in Holborn, central London, leaving the match in a 5-5 deadlock.
Going into the tenth game, Caruana was believed to have a slight edge in the match since he had one more white game in store than the world champion. In this first of his two remaining white games, Caruana opened once again with 1.e4 and Carlsen responded with the Sicilian Defence.
For the first eleven moves, the players repeated the moves from the eighth game of the match. Once again, the double edged sword called the Sicilian Sveshnikov was on the board. In the eighth game, Carlsen had struggled with the black pieces in this line and had even come agonizingly close to a loss. It seemed unlikely, therefore, that the Sveshnikov would repeat itself in the match.
Even though Carlsen’s opening choice entailed a little bit of a surprise, Caruana was well prepared in the line. In fact, he was the one to veer the game into unknown territory with an opening novelty on the 12th move. But once again, with the Sveshnikov, Carlsen was on the hunt for a wild game, and Caruana said he was expecting it, given the opening.
“The type of game I was expecting from this line – it was very, very double edged, both sides are taking risks. Black takes some very clear risks because he is going for an attack so he’s going all in. And of course, I am being attacked so I could potentially get mated,” Caruana said.
And as Caruana had foreseen, Carlsen absolutely went for broke in the game. On his 21st turn, Carlsen came up with an ingenious pawn sacrifice that won the heart of even Garry Kasparov, who is regarded to be the chess player of all time. Before Carlsen had actually played the move, the possibility was being discussed at the Today in Chess webcast by the Saint Louis Chess Club where Kasparov said: “If he does it he deserves to remain a world champion.”
And indeed, 21…b5 was on the board soon enough. The pawn sacrifice, if accepted, could have given Carlsen an extremely strong attack. But Caruana was on his toes. Quite sensibly, he declined the sacrifice and avoided the exchange of rooks, which would have torn two of his king’s defenders away from the battle lines.
Carlsen said after the game that he was happy with the outcome of the opening but had missed black’s defensive idea with 19.Ra3 and 21.Kh1. Talking about his inventive pawn sacrifice, the world champion said: "I thought for it for so long and I wasn’t sure about it. I thought I would just go for it and up the stakes even more – either you win the game, or you get mated."
However, Carlsen neither lost the game nor did Caruana get mated. Caruana’s choice of defence, 24.g3 had given him a permanent weakness on the g2 square but the world title challenger had it under control after the trade of the light squared bishops.
Another interesting moment came on the 35th move when black went 35…Qe2. At first glance, it seemed that the queen could have been trapped with 36.Qb3+ Kh8 and 37.c4 but a closer look revealed that black had the tactical resource 37…Rxb6 to save the day. Again, quite carefully, Caruana went for 36.Re1 and entered an equal double rook endgame where white had a queenside pawn majority against black’s central pawn phalanx. Caruana induced further liquidation with 48.c4, after which both sides had just one rook apiece alongside a trio of pawns on the kingside. A draw was agreed after six more moves.
With game ten drawn, players still remain deadlocked at 5-5 as the match goes into its fifth rest day on Friday. When the action resumes on Saturday, Carlsen will have the white pieces for the last time in the match. Given the way this antepenultimate game of the match has gone, it will not be a surprise if the world champ goes for some more adventurous play in Game 11 in order to seal the match in his name.
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Updated Date: Nov 23, 2018 16:15:35 IST