NEW YORK — The 2016 World Chess Championship between title-holder Magnus Carlsen of Norway and Sergey Karjakin of Russia was shaping up to be a tense festival of long games that ended up as draws — until last week, when in Game 8 Carlsen overpressed with the white pieces and went down to defeat.
In Game 9, Carlsen needed a draw with black to stop the bleeding, but Karjakin conjured his best game, with a bishop sacrifice after a 20-minute deep think that recalled Bobby Fischer at his peak and sent a shock wave through the elite chess world.
Would Carlsen, the two-time defending World Champion, the “Mozart of chess”, go down two full points to the Russian challenger — a nearly insurmountable deficit in a 12-game match?
As it turned out, Karjakin’s bold play looked more impressive than it actually was, once the lines were crunched by computer analysis. Carlsen, whose accuracy during this match has been questioned, found the right defensive combinations under serious time pressure and was able to draw the game. It was an epic save.
That set the stage for Game 10, with Carlsen wielding the white pieces. Needing the full point to tie, he used the Ruy Lopez opening, and Karjakin countered with the infamously drawish Berlin Defence.
But a draw wasn’t in the offing. Karjakin finally showed some cracks, missing a few crucial, subtle calculations that enabled Carlsen to achieve a modest advantage, converting it to a win by the 75th move.
The match is now tied 5-5, with two games remaining. Game 11 takes place on Saturday in lower Manhattan, at 2PM ET.
If the score is deadlocked after the 12 classical games are all in the books, the players will go to tiebreaks: four “rapid” games, with each player having 25 minutes on his clock, with a ten-second time increment added for each move. If this match is still after that, 5-minute “blitz” games will decide the outcome.
Thus far, Karjakin’s bishop sac has been the most exciting moment in a WCC match that hasn’t been much of a spectacle for opening theory or bold, attacking play. Fischer himself would have appreciated the bishop blowing open the defence of the back king on the f7 square — a weakness that the last American World Champion often targeted.
Endgame enthusiasts have enjoyed a treat, however, as the players have ground out numerous exhausting games that went beyond 40 moves. Will Games 11 and 12 be more of the same? Not if one of these two men wants to capture the title with a win in a classical contest.