By Torbjørn Ringdal Hansen
Magnus Carlsen surprised everyone by offering a draw in the last classical game at the 2018 World Chess Championship. It turned out to be a cold-blooded and correct decision as the champion showed no mercy in the tiebreaks.
During the classical games, Caruana was calm, and it looked like he enjoyed every minute of the match. He was equal to the World Champion and proved to be an exceptionally strong player.
Magnus is feared for his skills in rapid chess, and thinking about how he outplayed Karjakin must have been a headache for Team Caruana. While Karjakin had too much focus on openings in 2016, Caruana might have been too predictable. I'll show you what I consider a brilliant choice by Magnus, and at the same time, a strategical inaccuracy by Caruana.
Rossolimo and a reversed Sicilian
In the first game of the entire match, Magnus surprised Fabiano with the Sicilian. Caruana's response was to play the Rossolimo.
When White plays the bishop to b5 we have entered the Rossolimo. Magnus' response was to play the move 3...g6.
This position happened three times in the classical games, and in the first game of the match, Magnus was about to outplay Caruana. The position had a closed character, and it looked like the champion knew the subtleties better than the challenger. Nevertheless, the game ended in a draw. After sticking to Rossolimo for three games, Caruana finally switched to the open Sicilian and thereby sharpened the game considerably; a decision that was applauded by the spectators.
You can reach the reversed Sicilian by playing the English Opening. If that sounds tempting, check out two lessons about the English Opening in the Magnus Trainer!
I was pretty sure we weren't going to see more Rossolimo in the match, but then in the first rapid game, the players blitzed out their moves, and suddenly the players reached this position.
Once again, we have the Rossolimo, but this time with colors reversed. It's precisely the same position as in the previous diagram, but this time it's White's turn to move. Why did Caruana go for this choice?
In this game, Magnus got the much more comfortable game and emerged with an extra pawn in the endgame. The position was objectively still a draw, but accuracy was needed to the very end. As often happens in rapid chess, the player under pressure made a mistake, which Magnus exploited perfectly. After this win, Magnus had a considerable advantage when it came to the match situation, but also psychologically. We all know the end of the story; Magnus won the next two games and successfully defended his title.
I'm not saying this was the decisive moment of the match, but the choice of openings led Caruana into problems after relatively few moves. To beat Magnus with short time control, I have the feeling that his opponents must try to take control and dictate the game from the very start, even if it involves taking a risk.
With that said, when Magnus once again defends his title in 2020, my advice to the challenger is to stay away from the tiebreaks.
Photo by David Llada